Seven years ago, when Paris’s queen of concept stores, Merci, pioneered in the nether regions of the Marais, the term “haut Marais” barely existed. In contrast to the neighbourhood’s boutique and tourist-crammed midriff, the rabbit warren of tiny streets in the northern triangle of the 3rd arrondissement– between Rue de Bretagne to the south, Rue du Temple to the west and Boulevard du Temple to the east – remained a quaint but dingy assortment of old notions shops and grimy storefronts that serviced this old garment-making district. Merci was an island of chic on the leafy Boulevard Beaumarchais (the southern extension of Boulevard du Temple, also, confusingly, called the Boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire for two blocks), a sleepy, mile-long thoroughfare connecting Place de la République and Place de la Bastille.
Aware that their clientele was going out of the way to get there – something Parisians do not like to do – Merci made it worth their while. Besides an earnestly hip ethos and ever-so-chic wares, the soaring loft space offered a health-conscious lunch spot, a hip book-lined café and enough juicy goods for men, women and kids to sweeten the trip.
In their search for cooler climes, and to beat the continental drift of more commercial boutiques creeping ever northward, art galleries, architects and a bevy of young, cutting-edge designers began elbowing out the old mom-and-pop shops, and the neighbourhood’s fashion caché went through the roof. Now the cherry on the Marais cake, the Haut Marais is officially Paris’s chicest bobo (bourgeois bohemian) neighbourhood.
As the Haut Marais’ final frontier, Boulevard Beaumarchais/des Filles-du-Calvaire was slow to catch fire. But in 2015 an explosion of fashion-forward boutiques lit up the blocks flanking Merci. The wide boulevard’s grand Haussmann-era buildings and larger storefronts easily accommodated larger, new outposts of established fashion chains A.P.C., Maison Kitsuné, Léon & Harper, Ami and Acme, along with the gourmet grocer and café Maison Plisson and a handful of Paris-only boutiques and smaller one-off shops – all wonderfully diverse but every one of them chic as all get-out.
Now Merci finds itself in the odd position of playing the block’s grand dame. But you wouldn’t know it. The lofty industrial-chic store, ever a benchmark in downtown chic, is cool and refined, with an edginess that channels the neighbourhood’s bobo vibe. Ever wonder where those eclectic, oh-so-Parisian lofts you see featured in the shelter magazines provision? Welcome to Merci.
The soaring, daylight-flooded space covers three floors: downstairs mixes chic French and European clothes for men and women, jewellery, perfume and the fashion collaboration of the moment – which is always fabulous, whether it’s with French Aigle boots or Adidas. Under the skylit rafters upstairs cluster design furniture and accessories, stationery, the art and artisan exhibitions, kids’ fashions and Merci’s own updates on those classic French linen sheets and beehive towels that last for ever and just keep getting softer. On the basement floor, you can stock up on enough fabulous French staples to fill a suitcase: cappuccino cups, carafes, cheese plates, Duralex nesting bowls, pastry and cake moulds, etc., plus stylish hardware and lighting. Restoration in the veggie-centric downstairs café, overlooking a pretty garden, makes perfect sense before you venture out to explore the rest of the neighbourhood.
As you exit Merci, tucked away in a cobbled courtyard to your right, Erotokritos is easy to miss, but you shouldn’t. This wearable line designed in Paris by Cypriot Antoniadis Erotokritos and produced by artisans in his native land, can be dressed up or down for whatever mood you’re in today: demure, elegant, sexy or glamorous.
Knits are the label’s strong suit, and sweaters, skirts and flattering silhouette-skimming dresses may be shot through with metallic thread, cabled or loosely woven for a softer appeal. Made-to-order sandals and scarves come in the colour of your choice and a line of collaborative T-shirts – by Japanese designer Shinsuke Kawahara – adds a nice casual touch.
A Bazaar for Kids
A block up the street, Bonton is like Merci for the 12-and-under crowd. The 8,500-square-foot concept store, modelled as a bazaar for kids, sports a hair salon, furniture and colourful accessories for a photo-shoot-ready bedroom, toys, games and adorable clothes for half-pint fashionistas (Sofia Coppola, Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney shop for their kids here). Bonton’s hipster skateboarder chic is the Right Bank’s answer to that Left Bank bastion of childhood elegance, Bonpoint (both founded by the Cohen family, who also founded Merci) and a fraction more accessible pricewise. Parisian to the core, the line – for boys and girls – builds from the basics: colourful T-shirts and leggings, miniskirts, dresses, cardigans and hoodies, jackets, hats, scarves and shoes, all in fun colours and prints and sturdy natural fabrics.
After a stop at A.P.C.’s newest Paris branch, a few steps from Bonton, and a peek at Whitebird, our favourite multi-designer jewellery shop (both reviewed in past issues), Vanessa Seward’s gleaming new boutique wins best-on-boulevard. Fairly unknown Stateside, except to fashion aficionados, who lap her up like cream, this is a name to watch. Seward cut her teeth at Chanel and Saint Laurent before taking the helm at Loris Azzaro after the designer’s death in 2003. But it was the success of her collaborative line for A.P.C. that put her on the wider fashion radar.
It’s been a busy year for the designer, who opened her first two Paris outposts within 11 months of each other. Her second boutique, opened on the boulevard in early February, is a sleek mix of warm wood and brushed brass that makes a perfect backdrop for Seward’s polished, exquisitely tailored ready-to-wear, that’s vaguely reminiscent of Halston and Azzaro in their ‘70s heyday. High-waisted jeans, a tassle-tie silk shirt, sleek A-line skirts and ultra-feminine dresses. An eye-catching midi-skirt in blue lurex is pure glamour.
Across the boulevard, Maison Kitsuné’s bright new boutique is their biggest in Paris, with all the eclectic and comfy men’s and women’s separates we’ve come to know and love, with the addition of a trendy café downstairs.
If you have a man in tow, or need to shop for one, Éditions M.R.’s drop-dead gorgeous boutique, just across the Passage Saint-Sébastien from Kitsuné, excels in the kinds of understated French fashions that announce themselves via beautifully articulated cuts, luscious colors and luxurious fabrics. Flattering slim jeans and sharp-pleated trousers can be paired with a checked flannel shirt, a soft velour sweater or a satin-lapelled smoking jacket for cocktails. A supple mohair-blend overcoat or tailored trench are the kinds of classics that never go out of style, a hallmark of this label. Guys can add a frisson of Parisian charisma to their wardrobe with a well-chosen separate, or invest in a suit, since prices are fairly gentle considering the quality.
Back across the boulevard, the French chain Leon & Harper caters to a younger, urban crowd. Designed for “audacious, talented and free spirited” young ladies, the styles range from prairie winsome (flower print shirt, miniskirt set, gingham romper), to sophisticated (soft suede skirt and jacket, long cut-out lace dress). Updated peasant blouses and a surprisingly sexy caftans sport geometric detailing or lace-up closures, and trousers might be cropped and baggy or sleek and high-waisted. In this mixed up lexicon, you’ll find minuscule hotpants reserved for tiny French derrières sidling up to oversized cardigans that look great on everyone. Go figure…
Boutiques and Coffee Houses: Shopping and Stopping in the Haut Marais:
Merci: 111 blvd Beaumarchais, Paris 3rd. Tel: +33 1 42 77 00 33
Erotokritos: 109 blvd Beaumarchais, Paris 3rd. Tel: +33 1 42 78 14 04
Bonton: 5 blvd des Filles-du-Calvaire, Paris 3rd. Tel: +33 1 42 72 34 69
Vanessa Seward: 7 blvd des Filles-du-Calvaire, Paris 3rd. Tel: +33 1 70 36 06 11
Éditions M.R: 10 blvd des Filles-du-Calvaire, Paris 11th. Tel: +33 1 48 04 06 08.
Leon & Harper: 95 blvd Beaumarchais, Paris 3rd. Tel: +33 1 42 71 25 01
Merci: The Used Book Café is great for coffee, tea, snacks or brunch; Cinéma Café’s terrace is pleasant for lunch on warm days; Merci Café serves detox juices and delicious vegetarian and gluten-free lunches.
Folks & Sparrows: This funky, Brooklyn-style café, down Rue Saint-Sébastien, a two-minute walk from Merci, serves some of the best coffee in Paris, plus gourmet sandwiches, salads, quiches and yummy homemade cakes. 14 rue Saint-Sébastien, Paris 11th
Boots Café: Too adorable for words, this two-seater café, housed in a former notions shop, serves up an excellent cuppa to go with viennoiserie and pastries, but you’ll have to get lucky or find a bench if you want more than a quick refuel. 19 rue de Pont-aux-Choux, Paris 3rd
Maison Plisson: A neighbourhood favourite, this bustling café, with a spacious outdoor terrace for warm weather, serves up soups, salads, sandwiches, a few warm dishes, and a nice selection of wines by the glass, all from the gourmet grocer section next door. 93 boulevard Beaumarchais, Paris 3rd
Ob-La-Di: A new, ultra-chic address for a small assortment of creative sandwiches, burgers, and splendid homemade pastries, some gluten-free – not to mention truly excellent coffee. 54 rue de Saintonge, Paris 3rd
From France Today magazine