Monday, April 27, 2009

New Paris concept store to donate profits to Africa

Mar 6, 2009 - PARIS (AFP)

A high-end artsy concept store unveiled in Paris on Friday aims to chart new shopping waters by handing profits to underprivileged children in Africa and trimming consumerist waste.

Simply called "Merci" or Thank You, the pair of rich retired philanthropists behind a project that is already attracting a cool well-heeled Parisian set aim to funnel funds to children in the Indian Ocean nation of Madagascar.

"For 20 years we worked with people in Madagascar, and I saw the misery there," said Bernard Cohen, 67-year-old former owner of luxury children's fashion Bonpoint, a firm with a 50-million-euro turnover that he and his wife Marie-France sold two years ago.

Offering designer wear and home goods as well as books, perfumes, flowers and food, the Cohens say Merci is Europe's first philanthropic store, and hope to open sister-shops in London, Milan, New York and Tokyo.

"When we sold up, we decided that given that we could continue to work for another decade, we should do something useful," Cohen told AFP.

The pair began working on the project two years ago, before the financial slump, but believe it corresponds wholeheartedly to current consumer concerns to cut costs.

"I know retail, I can see like everybody else that everything is too expensive, that it's all window-dressing," said Marie-France Cohen. "We want to offer goods that are as cheap as possible but as attractive as possible."

Challenging consumer waste, the shop offers vintage and second-hand clothes along with cut-price couture pieces from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Paul Smith and Marni.

Home goods likewise include factory sales and one-off designer pieces.

A high-end brand perfume comes in a refillable flask, the restaurant offers food grown in the shop garden, and 13,000 second-hand books are on hand either for sale or just for a browse over a cup of coffee.

"We hope to change consumer patterns," said Bernard Cohen.