Chic Shopping in Paris:
An Interview With l’Eclaireur Founder Armand Hadida
L’Eclaireur is one of the more unique retail businesses in Paris. Owners Armand and Martine Hadida opened their first L’Eclaireur boutique nearly three decades ago, and they quickly became known for their selection of cool and unusual designs. Over the years, they opened several more stores, each one different in look, feel and product.
I’ve been to all of the L’Eclaireur locations — it’s so interesting to discover what each one is carrying. I often shopped at their second destination (now closed) on the rue des Rosiers. It opened back in 1990 in the heart of the Marais — not a big fashion hotspot at the time. But the Hadidas were always ahead of the curve.
I last saw Armand during Haute Couture this summer when his rue de Boissy d’Anglas location hosted a party for Loulou de la Falaise’s new jewelry collection. He began telling me about the L’Eclaireur space he was planning to open later this year, and it sounded amazing. A few weeks ago, it was finished at last. I asked fashion journalist Nora Baldenweg to stop by and meet with Armand on my behalf. Below is her glowing L’Eclaireur coverage:
Nestled within a quiet street of the busy Marais, L’Eclaireur Sévigné is a retail haven for true fashion aficionados. Though the store reads like a who’s who of the coolest, chicest and most exciting fashion brands – Balmain, Lanvin, Mark Fast, Rick Owens, Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Christopher Kane, Haider Ackermann, Balenciaga and Ann Demeulemeester – founding couple Armand and Martine Hadida are above all known for swimming against the mainstream with their surprising and visionary retail concepts. They entrusted artist and architect Arne Quinze with the realization of their new space, and the result is not so much a boutique as an interactive installation where fashion is sold: hidden cupboards, lacquered wood planks, 147 video screens, varnished cardboard sheets, moveable walls, a pile of vintage ballet flats positioned like a stack of fresh baguettes. On my last visit, Armand took me on a little tour and responded to my questions for Susan…
Susan Tabak: Armand, tell me about this new space.
Armand Hadida: The idea behind it is very simple. Fashion boutiques as we know them don’t respond to the expectations of culturally well-informed people anymore….Boutiques have stayed static and are totally out of phase with what is going on. It was time to make room for something new – to create a little electroshock. It was not about being ahead, but living with our time.
Susan: What is new about this venue?
Armand: We wanted it to be the first place where fashion unites with art and nothing else. Through architecture, sculpture, artistic short films and technology, we have managed to dig up a completely new direction. We are at the very beginning of our idea.
Susan: You created the space in collaboration with the artist and architect Arne Quinze.
Armand: He is a Belgian designer, who excels in his world of installations, his well-organized disorder, his cityscapes, and, of course, his architectural developments which have become very important today. But for me he remains an interesting artist and that is why I took him on board. Up until now we had always realized everything internally, but this was a very symbiotic project, and it was a real pleasure to collaborate with him.
Susan: Will the wooden sculpture in the middle of the room stay?
Armand: It’s an expression, which will evolve in time. On our website you will be able to see how the sculpture takes on new forms and sizes. The same thing goes for the films playing on the 147 screens that are all over the place. Our aim is to develop an annual competition, to get schools working, and to accompany young people who are finishing off their studies. The films we’re showing right now are films by Quinze, who was very generous to show us the body of his favorite woman covered in honey.
Susan: And what is the Room Book?
Armand: It’s a video installation by the two artists Naziha Mestaoui and Yacine Ait Kaci of Electronic Shadow. It’s in a room, behind a little door. It is voluntarily a bit hidden. You just have to push the door and you will discover the installation straight away.
Susan: You’ve embarked on a courageously risky store concept. Many of the pieces you are selling are hidden behind moveable walls and have yet to be discovered by your customers.
Armand: The idea behind that is to try and preserve a little ‘secret garden.’ We deliberately wanted to hide parts of our selection, because, even with the sharpest eye, it would be very hard to perceive and digest everything we propose in one glance. It is a whole orchestration of creative genius, so our role is to give life to all of that. That is also why our salespeople are so important. We want to accompany our visitors on their discovery by showing them less at a time. Besides that, we also wanted to give the backroom a double function. It can be totally neutralized from fashion to allow people to communicate using their own images on the screens. It can be used for press presentations, cocktails, etc.
Susan: Since opening your first store on the Champs-Élysées 30 years ago, a lot has happened. You currently have four retail spaces in Paris and each one is truly different.
Armand: Yes, they’re like the fingers of a hand, they’re all attached to the same member, but they have different actions and functions. But it is the unity…which gives us power and strength.
We had other spaces along the line – in St Germain des Prés, at Palais Royal – we often flirted with other spaces, but the four venues now [have stood out]: in Boissy d’Anglas we reunite a rather interesting triptych: fashion, decoration and a restaurant; at rue Malher we reunite men’s fashion and everything that is olfactory; rue Hérold has stayed the discreet and confidential one and here, this new space, it is the most obliging. Here we will constantly improve and confirm our choices. Every space was created in a different period, so naturally we had different momentary feelings, visions and desires to translate into a medium.
Susan: Does each space have a different clientele?
Armand: We do have customers that are loyal to their space, but there are also those who drop by depending on where they happen to be. There is a slight difference in products, but generally we have all sorts of customers – young, old, rich, poor. Even if the poor will never buy anything in our stores, they deserve our respect and the same acceptance as those who spend the most. They are part of the public, thanks to whom we can still exist today. It’s those people who are curious and honor us by their presence, by encouraging us and talking about us.
Susan: Why did you decide to close your famous boutique on rue des Rosiers?
Armand: I think after 20 years, our space on rue des Rosiers really said everything it had to say. It was a fading signature, which was becoming difficult to support. I know lots of people are worried about leaving a space. They want to keep the history and the heritage, but that is so difficult to keep anyway. Besides, when we invested in that area two decades ago, rue des Rosiers was one of the most interesting streets in Paris: it offered real village culture, the typical image of a little Parisian street with hairdressers, butchers, bookshops, patisseries, little shops, restaurants and their smells – it was magical, but unfortunately streets like that are disappearing, and that’s just what happened to rue des Rosiers. It was invaded by fashion. So that’s why, with our new space, we have decided to become a neighbor only to the Musée Carnavalet, the school across the road and the little Petit Bateau shop next door. We just wanted to be on a much quieter, less commercial street. I’m pretty sure no one is going to buy up the museum to set up a vintage store in its premises, and it’s even less likely to happen to the college.
Susan: Going against the current and being different seems to have been the key to your success over and over again. Do you think so?
Armand: It’s true. We have always wanted to be different than the norm, to have a certain distance, anything but plagiarisms. When we invested in rue des Rosiers, we really wanted to disassociate ourselves from what everyone else was doing. We combined fashion with design and the people behind it. So twenty years ago that was the beginning of a new story, which was later called a ‘concept store.’ And then ten years later [when it was a time of luxury and showiness], we decided to go the other way and created our space on rue Hérold: no architect, no special place, no shop windows, no sales. We had to fight those incredible mega spaces that were popping up everywhere, but we managed to set an antipole. We’re happy we did because the space was later named the most original fashion destination in the world by Goldman Sachs.
Susan: What is a must-have piece in everyone woman’s closet?
Armand: It’s the piece you know you won’t see on your office mate, your best friend or anyone in the taxi line or on the metro. The piece that makes you different from the rest.
Susan: Where and for what do you spend your money on?
Armand: I tend to spend my money at L’Eclaireur. We have a great and very complete selection for men. We don’t have any underwear so I buy that elsewhere. I don’t even buy socks by the way. I never wear socks.
Susan: But there must be something you splurge on other than clothes?
Armand: Mais oui! Food, alcohol, restaurants… I am a big consumer because I am a big enjoyer.
Susan: Did you grow up in Paris?
Armand: I was adopted in Paris. I am the perfect example of a roaming Jew.
Many thanks to Armand Hadida and, of course, to Nora Baldenweg for her amazing insight. I can’t wait to check out the latest L’Eclaireur on my next visit to Paris.
photos via Studio Arne Quinze BVBA and by Nora Baldenweg
- L’Eclaireur Sévigné
- 40, rue de Sévigné
- 75003 Paris France