PARIS - The black and white marble floor, Art Deco furniture, retro escalator and a series of neo-classical arcades evoke the grand department stores of the last century. For todays opening of its first boutique in France, at No. 22 on the prestigious Champs-Élysées, Banana Republic has spared no expense. The upscale American clothing brand, owned by Gap, even had a barge bring over a fleet of authentic New York taxis for the inauguration. Banana Republic, however, is not the first company to play this little game.
In October 2010, Swedish clothing giant H&M invested 50 million euros to install a 2,800-square-meter flagship on the famous Parisian avenue. Last May, Abercrombie & Fitchs inauguration was a bona fide event, marked by 101 shirt-free male models in front of their first French location, at 23 Champs-Élysées. More recently, at the end of November, Marks & Spencer returned to the prestigious strip, after a 10-year absence. The line to get into the store at the inauguration was several hundred meters long.
The worlds fashion showcase, the Champs-Élysées? The high-end address, where some 100 million visitors stroll every year, is coveted by most clothing giants. For the international fashion brands, it is the new strategic address in Paris, like the Grand Boulevards was 10 years ago, says Marc Bolland, the head of Marks & Spencer.
Rumors are circulating about the arrival of Aigle and Levis in February, and the likely arrival of Forever 21, The Kooples Sport or even a third Zara store. Were on our way to having about 50% of the property be occupied by clothing brands, says Phillippe Vincent, founder and president of the consulting firm Clipperton Development. Five years ago, it was only 40%. If its not a fashion invasion, it certainly resembles one. And nothing, not even the explosion of rental prices, seems to be able to stop it.
According to a study published in September by the International Real Estate company Cushman & Wakefield, the Parisian avenue once again became the most expensive commercial artery in Europe, with an average rental price of 7,376 euros per square meter. It is the fifth in the world. Vincent says its worth it cent. The brands gain credibility and visibility, as well as revenue.
Given that the rents are so high, only the big luxury fashion brands can pay for the Champs, complains Lyne Cohen-Solal, an assistant to the Mayors office in Paris in charge of commerce and artisans. But the areas charm is based on diversity. A mixture of luxury, culture and activities. At this rate, it could end up like Oxford Street in London. Uniformity on the Champs-Élysées would mean the end to the most beautiful avenue in the world, Cohen-Solal worries.
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