A bit like last week’s post, Paris is full of surprising shops. Here’s another one!
Located behind a huge black door, only Parisians with a keen sense of fashion know this address since there is no other indication that it exists. Considered the first concept store within the city, L’Eclaireur set new trends with its carefully curated collection of creative pieces.
Long before the term concept store was ever used, Martine and Armand Hadida invented the very idea – fusing fashion, accessories, design, art and culinary chic into a series of surprise retail packages.
How it all began
Their history began back in 1972 on the Champs-Elysées, when a teenage Martine began working Saturdays in a boutique to earn pocket money, and met a young man called Armand Hadida, who managed a nearby store.
Eight years later, after they had saved enough for a lease and the initial stock, they realized their dream – opening up the first L’Éclaireur boutique on the famous avenue; with looks by Marithé et François Girbaud in the debut window; and clothes by Moschino and Vivienne Westwood inside the underground store.
Born in Settat, Morocco, a city south of Casablanca, Hadida discovered fashion and his future métier as a merchant working as a chauffeur doing deliveries. From the beginning he and Martine wanted to mark out their terrain as distant from the dominant ’70s designers with their structured style – Mugler, Montana, Alaïa and Gaultier.
We had to take a different path; a new aesthetic with a twist. To be culturally different and avant-garde, not followers.
Plus, they “discovered” black – from Yohji or Comme des Garçons; and then met the Belgians – Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela – in London, a now-seminal moment in fashion history in 1986 when a group of six Belgian designers trooped over to a London fashion salon, causing a massive sensation with rule-breaking use of fabrics, ethnic influences, street styling and emotion.
Trained as a window dresser, Martine scoured Paris for ideas for her multiple mise-en-scènes, like culling a campaign from outdoor specialist Vieux Camper to creating a whole rural setting for one Girbaud collection. And developing a blend of accessories and fashion, back when these categories were largely separated, becoming the first retailers to bring Timberland, Topsiders and Tod’s to France.
The couple then stretched the retail concept further with a ground breaking, award-winning store on the Rue des Rosiers in my beloved Marais, showing designs by future stars barely out college – Marc Newson, Tom Dixon and Ron Arad.
All told, the family have had eight different locations, later handing them over to favoured friends, like their art space in Palais Royale, which is now Rick Owens’ global flagship.
The couple explained that in the beginning it was not easy. Many customers didn’t accept their mix of ideas. It almost irritated them that there were fine objects next to clothes. And when they added Bulthaup kitchens in the Marais, and invited Alain Ducasse to cook, it really drove them crazy. ,
Martine and Armand also turned heads with their next concept – a gallery located in Saint-Ouen, Paris’ most famous flea market – causing immense consternation among the local antique traders.
The family even expanded briefly abroad, and still has a gallery run by daughter Meryl on North Robertson in Los Angeles, named L’Éclaireur – a French play on two ideas: lighting the way and illuminated thinking. I say “family” because the business is now run by their son Michaël.
Michaël sees his goal as creating a community for L’Éclaireur, which has been the ultimate insider retailer. With the brand’s recently refreshed website, Michaël has added a team of high-powered personal shoppers and a sleeker display of the company’s special product mix – from avant-garde fashion, and over 140 fashion labels from Fornasetti ceramics and Carlo Moretti crystal; to Stella McCartney blankets and Werkstatt: München silver platters. It’s a veritable treasure trove and just the sort of place I love!
Our challenge is to tell the story of L’Éclaireur and explain our savoir-faire. Via the web, we can invite ourselves into people’s home and introduce our personal shoppers.
This allows online clients to organise individual rendez-vous with each store’s expert retailers.
At one stage L’Éclaireur branched out and acquired the Paris-based trade show Tranoï for young and fledgling designers, but ultimately shuttered that. And if Michaël is bullish about retail, he is gloomy about trade shows.
Just as well, he now has a state-of-the-art site to lead L’Éclaireur into its next four decades.
Images courtesy of l’Eclaireur