By Suzy Menkes. November 17, 2008

The store is at the angle of the Rue Cambon, emblematic as the home of Chanel, and the Rue du Mont Thabor. And it is in the latter street where a quiet revolution has been taking place since the Maria Luisa store, with its raft of artfully selected designers, moved there after 20 years on Cambon. Now the nondescript street that runs parallel to the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue Saint-Honoré, is attracting quirky and original shops in contrast to the plate-glass grandeur of big brands.

Meanwhile, Colette at 213 Saint-Honoré, which became the epicenter, along with Hôtel Costes, of this new Right Bank shopping area, has had a facelift to mark its first decade, while incoming stores continue to refresh the surrounding spaces.

“The street has come together – it makes sense, it’s coherent – and I feel very happy and proud – we have done something for fashion and a lot for real estate!” said Maria Luisa Poumaillou about Mont Thabor on the day of the Yohji Yamamoto opening party. She was referring to the view from her eponymous corner store, with its multitude of cutting-edge brands and intimate cavern of shoes. (“Thank you, Manolo, for always believing in us,” she said.)

Mont Thabor has now become a family affair. There is an art gallery, where Poumaillou’s daughter works. And Ferdi, the restaurant run by her sister Alicia and brother-in-law Jacques Fontanier.

Then there are other quirky shops: the Maison Darré, a design gem where the former fashion specialist Vincent Darré offers his graphic take on interior furnishings; and Masomenos, a shoebox of a store filled with funky and coup de cœur objects. Add an actual shoe store – Gianvito Rossi, opposite the Yamamoto store – and you have the ingredients of an intriguing and original shopping spot.

“I wanted it to be half a couture house and half a shop,” said Yamamoto, who plans to make items to personal order. “It’s by chance that we are on this street. Real estate things are sometimes like a love affair.”

The windows, brushed elegantly with white paint, tell the story of the three-floor emporium, designed by the British architect Sophie Hicks. It is serene and spacious, with an unfolding origami made out of chestnut wood leading to a gallery-like space on the main floor, where clothes are displayed on seven mannequins. On each level – the men’s downstairs and the women’s on the upper area – chill-out zones with soft white couches increase the feeling of tranquillity. And the starkness of the “white box” is challenged by the geometry of a curving staircase and by marble-encrusted concrete.

The clothes? A seamless mix of the different lines, with red facing off black for women and bright male tartans among sharp tailoring. Accessories are laid out on a long table, while rails-on-wheels whizz chosen garments to the changing room.

There is a Japanese shopping vibe throughout this area: a sense of discovery and a desire to be tempted. Colette’s mini-makeover by Masamichi Katayama and his Tokyo studio Wonderwall, has put a clear focus on sportswear, including a wall of wild and wondrous sneakers, brought to the front of the main floor among the techno gizmos, while beauty projects are now upstairs, fitted between the women’s and men’s clothes and Colette’s art space.

“It’s a continuity with before, but with better light and circulation, and giving more space to streetwear,” says Sarah Lerfel, who opened the store with her mother Colette and says that everything is done “very spontaneously.”

For Mina d’Ornano, whose minaPoe shop has moved to 382 Rue Saint-Honoré, across the street from John Galliano and facing the noble square around Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, the store is repositioned at a shopping hub. Adding to her whimsical accessories more clothes, each piece a unique and poetic meld of romantic modernism, the designer/owner says that moving house has been a voyage of discovery for herself.

“I know better who I am – and who I am not,” d’Ornano says. “I want to create temptation and desire – I am incapable of making black pants – I want sculpture and color, embroidery and hand-painting.”

The result? A store with a soul, where there is a sense of discovery rare in today’s shopping experience.

Around the Cambon/St-Honoré epicenter, stores such as Jimmy Choo and Carlos Miele are installed. Roberto Cavalli is on the way. And a few minutes from Colette, Marc by Marc Jacobs has baptized the Marché St Honoré as yet another fashion destination to watch.

© International Herald Tribune 2008

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