24 December 2012

Down but far from out in Paris

A few weeks ago I commented on a pretty gloomy report in The Economist on France. The Financial Times has now run (22 December)  a front page story in a similar downbeat vein: Tax and economy hit French joie de vivre:
The French are popping fewer champagne corks and spending less on toys as higher taxes, a deteriorating economy and an exodus of national icons sap the country’s joie de vivre. “There is a moroseness, a sadness among the French population at the moment which has led to our compatriots drinking a little less champagne this year,” said Paul-François Vranken, chairman and chief executive of Vranken Pommery Monopole, one of the country’s best-known Reims-based houses. “Champagne consumption follows the mood of the country. Today, there isn’t a mood conducive to celebration.”
But a recent visit to Paris left me wondering whether things are quite that bad, at least for some. Le Bon Marché is the second oldest department store in the world, if you agree that the oldest was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, as it calls itself, is in Paris’s affluent 7th arrondissement (left and left bank) and caters for the elite. Its food hall, La Grande Épicerie de Paris, in its own adjacent building, makes those in London look like my local Tesco.

After reading The Economist I was expecting some signs of austerity, even in the 7th, but au contraire. In October the subground floors of both buildings (“-1” as they call it) had been transformed into “l’homme”, a ‘new masculine world’ described below:

which I have attempted to translate:
In the autumn of 2012, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche dedicated to man the whole of its floor ‘-1’. Grouped into a single space in the style of an apartment, all the aspects of masculine elegance are highlighted with a uniform approach. The sharp trends, tailoring, sportswear and exceptional new services (barber, shoe shine ...) offer a unique experience for every visitor. In November, this great locker room will be joined by a new wine cellar concept directly accessible from La Grande Épicerie de Paris, creating a real synergy between the two Le Bon Marché buildings. Thus, this new masculine world will accompany modern man in his choice between diversity and essentiality.
To put it another way, an astonishing amount of expensive men’s clothing of different brands from all over the world, and wine up to 3350€ per bottle (Petrus 1998). Oh, and champagne up to 3000€ per bottle (Billecart-Salmon 1961). Of course, Le Bon Marché, when embarking on this development, may not have expected the European economic downturn to be as persistent. Or is it that the incomes of Paris’s elite, just as London’s, are detached from the austerity experienced by the rest of the population?  It seems unlikely that Le Bon Marché is aiming particularly at the tourist market, being, unlike some of its rival grands magasins, resolutely francophone.


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