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Look Beyond the Show to Find a Show

September 13, 2012

What is so extraordinary about Maison & Objet here in Paris is that it serves as a magnet for a number of other events related directly to M&O, yet different in context and consequence.

Most prominent is Design Week, which overlaps the last two days of M&O and offers unprecedented access to literally hundreds of design studios, cooperatives, concept stores and trade showrooms not normally open to the public. To miss this additional opportunity to absorb new design ideas, techniques and collaborations would be a mistake.

M&O, which co-sponsors Design Week, provides a directory of participants, conveniently listed by neighborhood and is meant to open to these often smaller sources the same opportunity to be seen and discovered by fair visitors as those that are exhibiting inside its halls. Many times, these individual entrepreneurs and forward looking retailers foretell the stories of what's to come.

One concept in particular stirred special nostalgia for me. The re-opening of The Compagnie Francaise de l'Orient et de la Chine (yes, I know that's a mouthful).

The company was founded by the two Dautresme cousins in 1966 after one of them, Francois, made his first trip to China and other parts of Asia. The journey changed his life. He ultimately moved to China to search out the peasant crafts of Asia, China's in particular, for which the company became the sole purveyor and destination in Europe.
It was via the laser focus of the Dautresms that China's craft and decorative home wares - which had never been seen or celebrated in the United States before - that Marvin Traub, Bloomingdale's retail legend, was able to launch a China promotion right after President Nixon opened trade relations between the two countries. The Dautresmes supplied all of the Chinese wares to Bloomingdale's for an enchanting department called China Passage.

After the death of Francois Dautresme, the company suffered and ultimately closed the Paris stores where I shopped for more than 30 years. I was excited to find that as of Design Week, the store has been re-incarnated with a beautiful new retail emporium on Boulevard Haussman by real estate tycoon and patron of the arts, Laurent Dumas. Mr. Dumas fell in love with the concept and is as passionate about it's authenticity and origins as the Dautresms ever were.

Two new designers, Francois Schmidt and Sarah Lavoine, are steering the design and merchandising direction for the new store, adding contemporary styling to the zen atmosphere of this enduring retail destination.

Also of note, the Paris Fleamarket of legend has been annexed to M&O this time as interest in traditional styles is beginning to revive. Given its scope, seven style celebrities lent their name and guidance by proposing seven different routes to their favorite places to shop for antiques in the sprawling market so first time visitors can maximize their time.

Under the direction of Jean Jacques Aillogan, former Minister of Culture, those opening their little black books to international shoppers included fashion designer and retailer, Vanessa Bruno; floral designer Stephane Chapelle; three-star chef Pieree Gagniere; Bruno Racine, the president of the Bibliotheque Nationale of France; interior architect and designer Roxanne Rodriguez; design giant Philippe Starck; and musician-DJ Yuksek.

Proving once again that there is never enough time to reap the wealth of Paris inspiration - but even if you just skim the surface you will come back the richer for it.

Au revoir paris - 'til next time.