Patrice Wagner on @24 Sevres; bricks and mortar and etailing’s future
Department stores worldwide are on the move. Europeans are opening up new flagships in distant lands, even as American chains stagnate in the United States, victims of growing competition from Internet etailers. However, here in Paris, Bon Marché continues to boom by attracting Parisians and deep-pocketed tourists to its iconic location in St Germain.
That famed shopping emporium – the world’s first true department store – was the scene of the physical launch of @24Sevres, the brand-new high-end shopping site created by luxury conglomerate LVMH, which also owns Bon Marché. Legally the online business and the department store are separated legally. However, they clearly work hand in hand.
“It’s a collective approach. In terms of work, we are the ones who negotiate with the brands and fashion houses. All alone they wouldn’t be able to this. And we alone would not be able to develop the web so successfully,” explains Patrice Wagner, CEO of Bon Marché, located at 24 rue de Sevres in the 7th arrondissement.
@24Sevres debuted this morning with 70 products – limited editions made in collaboration with famed or hip international brands like Miu Miu, Chloé, Barrie, Tory Burch and Olympia Le Tan; along with some 10 LVMH marques.
“It’s not so much limited edition as the personalization of fashion and luxury. Limited edition is great but it is one shot. But personalization is where you give the customer something unique to them. We believe in that very much,” smiled Wagner.
First founded in 1832, Bon Marché revolutionized retailing a century ago. It’s driven entrepreneur Aristide Boucicaut grew the staff from a mere twelve to 1,788 by 1879; opened a reading room for husbands whose wives were shopping; mailed six million catalogs – a concept he invented – to customers; and hired so many women, half his staff were female, many of them living on dormitories on the upper floors. That success continues today. In the past half-decade, few department stores worldwide have performed as well as Le Bon Marché, scoring double-digit sales growth in each of the last four years. But don’t expect a Bon Marché opening far from France any time soon.
“Everyone wants to open up a new store in a foreign capital. But there are many good reasons why that won’t work. The truth is anyone who knows Le Bon Marché in Paris will always be disappointed by a new version abroad. Because they will always compare it to this great space. And they will never enjoy the same experience or same ambiance. That’s already a negative point!” argues Wagner, gesturing around his plush store.
Looking ahead, Wagner plans to keep LVMH’s foray into the web ticking over with regular installations of new products lines and categories from @24 Sevres. Already, Bon Marché has its own site, but the store is handicapped as it does not control its own brand name in either the UK or the US.
“In the US, it currently belongs to Macy’s, though we are currently working with a specialist law firm to change that. In the UK, as you may know, it is a brand made for larger sized ladies,” explains Wagner.
“With @24Sevres our objective was to enter the new century. Today the web gives us far more possibilities to export a great department store via the Internet than by opening a new physical store,” says Wagner, who has followed in his distant predecessor Boucicaut’s path-breaking tradition, staging art exhibitions by everyone from Ai Weiwei to Grace Jones.
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