Marie-France Cohen and her husband, Bertrand, founded and ran the upscale children’s stores Bonpoint in Paris for 33 years; in 2003, they sold a majority stake in the chain and, earlier this year, they opened Merci, a concept shop (meaning you can buy flowers, books, clothes, Annick Goutal fragrances, vintage jewelry, or flea-market chairs — and have an espresso — under one roof) at the north edge of the Marais. Starting September 10, the Gap will open a Merci pop-up store in its space at 680 Fifth Avenue, with a selection of products from the mother store. Marie-France explained the project to Doria Santlofer by e-mail.
Can you explain the concept behind the Merci store in Paris? What are some specific items you sell there?
The idea was this: After selling Bonpoint and having enough money to have a good life … well, what would be exciting and fulfilling, when you are 65, when you have experience, a network, energy, and dreams? Certainly not “checking how the stock is doing daily.” Merci is a happy project, a wonderful team, an amazing space, a refreshing and eclectic choice of products between luxury and simplicity. It’s never pretentious; there’s an always-artistic choice of flowers, books, fashion, scents, home decoration, vintage, design, gourmandises (the café, the restaurant). My husband, Bernard [Cohen], and I are totally unpaid. All the proceeds of Merci go to the charity we created to help, among others, the children from Madagascar, the poorest of the poor.
Can you tell me about the vintage pieces at Merci? What are the highlights and where do they come from originally?
We set the standards pretty high when it comes to vintage because we do not want to be “Goodwill.” We have a young, extremely sharp and talented stylist who knows the next thing that’s going to be in demand. She knows how to catch the spirit of the moment. There are a few donations, but we keep only the top of the top.
Why did you pick the Gap to collaborate with in NYC? What is the idea behind this project?
We [actually] did not pick the Gap. The Gap picked us! We were extremely flattered that the Gap chose us as a brand they admire, while giving us the exceptional opportunity to have exposure on Fifth Avenue. I think the Gap’s idea was to introduce Merci to the U.S., which is very generous.
You asked some artists to customize jeans and other items for the collaboration? How are they selected?
A French painter named Schneider has been working on the jeans. Her website is Laurence-Amelie.com. Another artist will be working on the trenches, but that’s not confirmed yet; it will be finalized in the next day or so. The joy of my life is to move in a circle of talent. I love working with people I admire.
What are some of your favorite items that will be sold at the midtown concept store this September?
Everything that was chosen to go to New York is our favorite. We managed to make 15,000 square feet fit in 500 square feet; therefore, it only the best [of the best].
Is the eighties revival the same in Paris as in NYC right now?
Yes, the revival of the eighties is just the same in Paris as it is in New York.
What is your favorite Parisian flea market?
My favorite flea market is “Paul Bert” at Saint Ouen.
Merci Gap concept store will be open through October 5; 680 Fifth Ave., at 54th St.; 212-977-7023.
Previously on The Cut...