During our Europe trip, we spent an afternoon in the Marais neighborhood to tour the space of Apolis Paris’ retail partner Merci and interview Merci’s menswear style director, Marcel Lassance. Marcel was born in Paris and started as a fabric designer in 1971. Two years later, he opened his first store. He has since become a leader in French menswear with his collection Marcel Lassance. Marcel also spends a portion of his time as a freelance designer, and in 2010 he met the owners of Merci, Bernard and Marie-France Cohen, and they commissioned him to help with a few design projects and eventually develop their men’s business. Marcel has a unique retail perspective for Paris’ menswear community. We recorded our conversation over lunch at their in-store restaurant, La Cantine de Merci. We asked Marcel the following four questions to help all of us better understand the life of an entrepreneur in Paris.
With a couple decades of retail experience, what would you predict the brick-and-mortar retail environment will look like ten years from now?
Merci’s concept is very new and quite unique; of course, it is also due to the space, which has been polished quite a bit since the founders first had the building. Overall, you step into the right retail environment, and there are so many underestimated elements that make people feel welcome. The Merci space is very open, with multiple levels, and it’s considered a destination, not just a shop. People come for an hour to see what Merci’s opinion is of the best within home, menswear, womenswear, vintage, and culinary; we think we allow people to have fun during their visit. Visitors don’t feel any obligation to buy, like you may feel when you are in a normal shop. Ultimately, the ambience and the overall way a space is designed has to be friendly, and, in the end, people will naturally buy something. In my opinion, this philosophy of retail will be important for years to come.
What tips would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Most important, you have to have a point of view, because when you have a point of view, everything is clear. You know what to do, you know what to buy, you know how you want to sell, you know who you want to sell to, and you know the team you need to help execute your point of view. There are quite a few great retailers in Paris with successful points of view that are very different from Merci, and we love these differences. It really comes down to the simple understanding that if you want to open a shop just to open a shop, that’s not going to do it. You have to have a clear point of view, and hopefully the customers follow.
How do you stay excited about your daily work?
I am very curious. I am curious in the music field. I am curious with books, with photography, and, overall, it’s a form of reflection and a way of life. All of this leads my daily decisions—from what I wear, to what I eat, to how I spend my time—and it naturally builds a lifestyle and an attitude. So, altogether, I believe you can find inspiration in everything. It just depends on how you are focused. If you’re lucky enough to understand what you’re good at, it makes getting inspired a lot easier. A music composer walks out onto the street and hears things that you and I would never pick up. A photographer walks into a room and is able to capture an angle that we would never see. To conclude, if you know your unique skill, you are able to stay inspired and motivated, because you truly enjoy your daily work.
What is unique about creating a relevant experience for the Marais neighborhood?
In my opinion, the drive in Paris’ Le Marais neighborhood is very artistic. As I have mentioned, people think of Merci as a space, not just a shop. They’ll come by for food, to grab a book, or to meet up with a friend. From our experience, what resonates most with people in Paris is that they rarely come to our store thinking they need a new pair of pants or a shirt. With this retail climate in mind, I don’t buy like a regular shop buys. I only buy a product that is love at first sight, a product that jumps out at you. I am constantly looking for unique brands, some that are well-known and some that are new and emerging. If people only saw brands they did not recognize, they would be confused, but when they see a notable brand next to a new brand, it creates a unique and authentic representation of menswear.
For more information, visit www.merci-merci.com.
Photos: Pascal Gambarte