As a former Abercrombie & Fitch employee (in their corporate office), I looked on with interest at the enormous billboard on their future store on the Champs-Élysées. The store will open on May 19th, 2011, and for those of you interested in working there, here’s the rundown: you can only work there if you are French and they exclusively hire GREAT looking people. The shirtless guys in the front get hazard pay if it goes below a certain temperature (at least in the U.S.).
It is extremely difficult to open a mass-retailer in France, as experienced by Abercrombie and H&M, because the government can decide whether a store fits into the environment or not. For many years, H&M was considered a property that might besmirch the beauty of the Champs-Élysées. That’s a sharp difference to a city like New York, where Mayor Bloomberg announced that the city “does not have the legal right to prevent any business that can come here that complies with our laws.” Well, in France–it’s possible.
The Abercrombie store is going in the former building of Thai Airways. It’s located on the lower end of the avenue, which is traditionally not the fanciest part of the Champs-Élysées. But it is close to its competitors in terms of product–across the street is Gap, Zara and Quicksilver. It’s also on the left side of the avenue, which was traditionally for offices until the Louis Vuitton store opened up a few blocks up. Unclear if the company knows the history of the buildings around the store, but I think the context is what makes the location so appropriate for Abercrombie & Fitch. The building to the right is a recently-opened restaurant & bar called Louis 25. However, it was once the sumptuous home of the courtesan known as La Paà¯va. She was born in Moscow in 1819 to a poor family of Polish-Jewish descent. She was married numerous times, all quick and ending in divorce. Her last husband offered her the mansion on the Champs-Élysées (below) and a castle in France.
A popular joke was a play on her name: “Qui paye y va,” or whoever can pay can go. She was also renown for her scandalous sexual life, and during the construction of the house the running gag was a joke on her reported promiscuity:
Q: Do you know if the construction will finish soon?
A: Well, the sidewalk is finished.
Rumor has it that at the housewarming party, she invited all of her lovers and walked down the grand staircase naked. The house cost 10 million in gold to build and Rodin was one of the artists who worked on the faà§ade. In more recent years, the house was used as an exclusive nightclub. Untapped Paris photographer Augustin Pasquet gave me a tour of the new Louis 25 restaurant and he told me the interior bar area was almost exactly the same when the place was a nightclub.
To the left of the Abercrombie & Fitch store is the headquarters of the Dessault Group, a French company specializing in aviation, systems, private planes (known as Falcons) and more. The Dessault group was founded by Marcel Bloch, who was deported to Buchenwald during WWII when he refused to cooperate with the German aviation industry. He changed his name to Dessault, which was a pseudonym for his brother (meaning “assault”), a general in the French resistance. The Dessault headquarters is a massive gated property, but there is a nice gallery (also owned by the company) just next door that you can visit.
For now, you can be assured that this area of the Champs-Élysées will soon be very crowded and smelling of Fierce for blocks.