The new Chanel boutique on Paris's avenue Montaigne, one of the world's most prestigious shopping streets, immediately feels different from its neighbours. These days, expansive, open spaces prevail in retail design, but this shop's collection of small, intimate rooms seems unusually domestic. In fact, the two-storey, 6,500-square-foot store, which opened in early March, was modelled in part on the Paris apartment of legendary founder Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel. Each of its rooms has been meticulously organized – there are bags in one, watches in another, shoes toward the back – and judiciously curated, with never too much on display to overwhelm.
This hominess alone, however, isn't what makes the store unique. Whereas Chanel's 31 rue Cambon location, its primary Paris address until now, achieves impact through high-sheen finishes, 51 avenue Montaigne is highly and appealingly tactile. Tweed upholstery – the kind that might be cut into a cropped jacket or an A-line dress – can be found throughout. On wall panels, it is flecked with metallic thread; on the backs of bar stools, it is embellished with tiny beads. Hand-sewn floor-to-ceiling curtains have been finished with silver leather paillettes. It is as if the store, which was designed by Peter Marino, who has been working with Chanel since 1995, was dressed rather than furnished.
The effect is deliberate. Unlike other brands, which have been showcasing accessories such as eyewear and footwear with greater gusto, the Chanel boutique is intended to highlight the six ready-to-wear collections that Karl Lagerfeld designs for it each year, establishing a better connection with customers in the process.
"We are convinced that our customers will feel better in an intimate space, so they can play with the product in a more comfortable way than they're doing in the other boutiques," Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel's president of fashion, says in reference to the new store. "The challenge for us is to provide the best experience for our customers [rather than]to get more customers."
To that end, an array of sofas – including an extra-long, velvety suede one big enough to seat six – dot the ready-to-wear salons, which occupy the second floor of the shop. On the main level, a double-height room featuring a gold patchwork wall covering is minimally and conveniently outfitted: Bags aren't perched atop unreachable shelves, the space isn't packed with product.
When Marino is asked whether he fashions retail spaces to last or whether he feels that stores must continually evolve, the designer answers, "I don't like trendy places, subject to the diktats of fashion. On the other hand, I also don't like the idea of a concrete creation, built to last forever. I like the changing nature of my creations."
He adds: "What I am most proud of is when a store I have designed lasts a generation without ever going out of style."
Mademoiselle Chanel, whom one can imagine wandering through the new shop as if she were gliding through her own home, would surely have approved.