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Korea's Tom Greyhound Lands in Paris

Korean multi-brand concept store Tom Greyhound has just opened its first international outpost in the Marais quarter of Paris. BoF investigates.
Tom Greyhound | Source: Tom Greyhound
  • Suleman Anaya

PARIS, France — The Marais, the Paris neighborhood once known for its splendid hôtels particuliers, thriving Jewish population and elegant art galleries, is, today, in the final cycles of its rebirth as one of this city's premier shopping neighbourhoods. Replacing apothecaries, bookstores and boulangeries is an unabating influx of fashion and beauty brands aiming to capitalise on the quarter's historic charm and the kind of foot traffic that makes this one of the few areas in Paris that is bustling even on a Sunday.

Significantly, the shifts also point toward the city's increasing internationalisation. Indeed, not only are many of the brands opening stores in the area foreign, but they cater largely to the flows of foreign tourists who visit Paris year-round and for whom shopping for international luxury brands has become as important as traditional sightseeing.

But compared to global fashion capitals like New York and London, the city's retail landscape still feels limited, repetitive and at least a little dated. Which makes the latest addition to the Marais all the more welcome. Not surprisingly, it's an international arrival. Tom Greyhound — the multi-brand designer concept store which runs a successful boutique in the South Korean capital of Seoul and is owned by the Hyundai Department Store Group — has chosen the Marais as the site for its first store outside of Korea, which opened yesterday.

The store is located in the Upper Marais, a part of the neighbourhood that was once one of the city's main haberdashery districts, feels slightly older and less-trodden than the area's southern section, and has emerged as a magnet for labels wishing to stand slightly apart from the crowd, including Christophe Lemaire and APC. Yet, Tom Greyhound is distinct from anything the area — or Paris, for that matter — has seen. From the moment one enters the vast space on the Rue Saintonge, the store's surprising design, product selection and specially-commissioned Brian Eno-esque soundscape set the store a world apart from the artful, if obvious bohemian sophistication of neighbourhood.

Because the city's landmark commission prohibits alterations to the building in which the store is housed, David Kang — Tom Greyhound's managing director for France, who spearheaded the project — and his team decided to turn the location's limited glass frontage into a virtue and conceal the store even further by placing a tall, slatted wall consisting of 49 square wood columns between the street entrance and the shop's main retail space. Each of these columns can rotate and is black, white, gold, mirror-plated, or left in the wood's natural blonde hue.

The point, says Kang, was to offer customers a completely secluded, serene environment. But secluded, in this case, does not mean constricting or uptight — quite the contrary. The moment one steps behind that statement-making wall, the modulation of space, generous lighting and colour palette (copious natural wood and white and mirrored surfaces; a gorgeous dark brown made-to-order geometric parquet floor; flashes of copper throughout) make a bold and fresh impact while establishing a welcoming vibe that is very unusual for Paris. Right away, the customer is invited to enter, spend time and have fun while doing so.

Experiencing the store, designed by Pierre Beucler and Jean-Christophe Poggioli, is not unlike deambulating through a cleverly conceived garden. Except, here, you come upon little sections devoted to a specific designer or mood: here is a small section dedicated to Maison Martin Margiela, there a Korean designer hitherto unknown in Paris. "We want people to enter and have a real experience when they discover things by touching and looking and trying," says Kang. "We want to bring a sense of Oriental welcoming spirit to Paris."

While Kang and his team have succeeded in bringing some Eastern hospitality to this French quartier, the store has also been tailored to Paris. As Kang put it, "We really tried to make sure that we open a store that makes sense for this city and didn't just export a Korean concept to Paris."

But of all the world's fashion capitals, why open in Paris in the first place?

Interestingly, Kang says one major reason for opening a Paris location was to enhance Tom Greyhound's image in Korea. He also sees an opportunity to fill an underserved niche in the city's retail landscape. Indeed, the retailer is trying to distinguish itself with a merchandising mix comprised of young, independent designers, including AF Vandervorst, Christopher Kane, Damir Doma, Delfina Delettrez, Manish Arora, Jil Sander, JW Anderson, Kenzo, Kris van Assche, Peter Pilotto, René Talmon l'Armée, Sacai and Thakoon. "We also decided to give window to some brands that we believe are strong but that don't have a strong visibility in this city like Laura Lauren, Raquel Allegra or even System, a Korean brand, as well as Deke, a Korean accessories company," says Kang.

As for the Marais location, Kang says it was a natural choice given the area's transformation. "For us it became obvious that we would have to be present in this neighbourhood, it's the perfect mix of local Parisians and tourists with taste for fashion."

Ultimately, Kang admits that the Marais store is also a testing ground for further international expansion. "We would love to extend the concept if it works... We would love to be present in the United States, either in New York or Los Angeles."

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