Fifteen years ago, Sébastien Kopp and his childhood friend François Morillion founded Veja to make sneakers that were environmentally friendly from heel to toe. Nine years ago, the pair decided to widen their horizons and create a store/creative space. The result was Centre Commercial. Today there are two stores for adults, and one kids store. The first store is in Rue de Marseille near the Canal Saint-Martin and the Place de la République, an up-and-coming part of Paris’ 10th district and the second one is in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in rue Madame. The space welcomes not only one of the capital’s most exciting and interesting selections of men’s and women’s wear but also can be transformed into a meeting space/melting pot for product launches or events. A project that never stops being surprising.
How did you come up with the idea for centre commercial ?
The common trait of all the participants & brands of Centre Commercial is transparency of production: they know where they manufacture, without it necessarily being something they make a big deal out of. We wanted a space where we could bring together our commitment to fashion, the environment and the social. Since the beginning we’ve seen it as more than just a store.
It’s also a space that can host events, meetings. For us it was the expression of the digital generation, the first that grew up without and, with the Internet. We wanted to find that freedom of expression in a space.
Which brands have been stocked since the beginning ?
Yesterday’s cornerstones are today’s cornerstones. Veja of course, Bleu de Paname, Suzie Winkle, NORSE PROJECTS, Roseanna for women, Church’s, which is one of the rare brands to still manufacture in the UK. Or Paraboot, an anachronistic old French company, which still manufactures in Grenoble and had completely disappeared from stores. In fact there are lots of different types of commitment and we wanted to bring them all together in one space. Veja showed it was possible to produce differently; Centre Commercial is a mix of commitments – it’s not a brand, it’s a movement.
"We wanted to mix fashion with a sustainable and socially
based approach to create
one of the coolest stores in the world."
How have customers welcomed that approach ?
They’re interested by it. We wanted to mix fashion with a sustainable and socially based approach to create one of the coolest stores in the world. At the beginning nobody believed that we’ll succeed. 9 years later we have customers from all over the world who discover our selections. We started with a team of 3 people, now we are more than 30 people. The space has been hybrid since its beginning. We have organized book launches, such as Julian Assange’s about Wikileaks, or projects like Enercoop, a green-energy company, which is the French environmental project. To create an atmosphere for that we emptied the store and forced everyone to wear boiler suits and army gas masks. Everyone took the piss and two weeks later Fukushima happened. Really soon we’re going to have the French launch of Fairphone, a new cellphone made in a more sustainable way. Centre Commercial is a crossroads where we mix people we like and products we love. We’re lucky enough to do what we love – which is a privilege – and when you do things out of love, it’s hard to go wrong.
"Centre Commercial is not a store,
it’s a movement."
How often do you work on special projects ?
It depends on what we love and who we meet. Sometimes three a month, sometimes nothing for two months. Now we plan further upstream, concentrating more on quality. It’s really about who we meet: some people come to see us; others we go and see because we like what they do. We love that, sticking with people, working together in the long term, as well as finding new sources of energy. Everyone involved in Centre Commercial has inspired us enormously, even if they don’t realize it. I really admire each project we stock.
"Centre Commercial is a crossroads where
we mix people we like and products we love"
Where does the name come from, by the way ?
There were two sources of inspiration. Firstly, sociologist Mike Davis’s Dead Cities books. Each chapter is a city, in which he deconstructs the idea of cities that we have. He discusses Kabul, Dubai, Sun City and the US in a totally unexpected way and explains why these cities are world centers today. For him the city of the future will be a Centre Commercial or mall. This is because of their panoptic nature – transparent in all senses of the word. They are places where you are permanently filmed and turned into big data. And there was Bernard Stiegler, a philosopher who has worked extensively on consumerism and the deadening effect of the mall on consumption. How it is a place you go to waste time, so it becomes a leisure space. By giving the store that name, we wanted to say that the future is not inevitable; we are not just victims. The future will be what we make it. Everyone in their own way. We had lots of problems with real French malls that didn’t find it funny at all. We did it anyway though.
How would you describe your style ?
I like useful, hard-wearing clothing, quite basic, with few logos. I hate buying trendy things; I love the idea of clothes you can wear for the rest of your life, without getting bored of them. Not the ephemera of a season. We like climbing gear, workwear, military gear. We have reworked that in Centre Commercial.
Why did you choose this area for the first store ?
The rue de Marseille is my favorite street in Paris, it’s the area where I feel the most like home. There are almost no cars and whenever I’m in the neighborhood I’m telling myself that I would like to live here. I didn’t look anywhere else, but it wasn’t easy to find a place, there was no ad so I had to knock on every door.
It took me 1,5 years, but it was important for me to find something in this street. Back in time everybody told me that ‘This district is dead”. Everybody thought that we are crazy but took it as a good sign. (smiles)
"We’re lucky enough to do
what we love and when you do things out of love,
it’s hard to go wrong."
How does a brand get your attention ?
It’s a gamble. I realize that the success of a brand is 50 percent about the products and 50 percent the person running the project.
How does the project work ?
The goal was to create a space in which people would realize that you can build collaborations and bridges. It takes an insane amount of energy.
The team really found its balance in 2014. We had to find the right blend of ambition for the different projects and people. Which is normal for a project that’s so complex. Since it’s been incredible.
How has the market changed since you began ?
The mainstream went online about five or six years ago, which is why retailers are suffering. But I really believe in quality, from added value to risk-taking.
The Internet has turned things on their head. We’re talking a lot about the Uberization of the economy, but fashion was Uberized before anyone: lots of sites have popped up and many retailers haven’t been able to survive this global competition. This has forced multibrand retailers to have a much stronger vision.
"The collective conscience about what clothing
is and how it’s made is far stronger than it was."
Who is responsible for buying and selecting the products?
Since one year I am less present, but before that I took care of the majority of tasks. Now there is a team of 4 people that manages the everything concerning Centre Commercial. Nicolas is the manager of the 3 stores, Sabra is his right hand, Martin takes care of the Web and Roxane is responsible for events and communication. We work together and that’s great. We make the general selection of products together and I make sure that everything runs smoothly. It’s not easy to have a store and not being able to be present all the time, but I spend every Friday morning some hours in the stores.
I like to see the development of a project, how the team grows. There are 3 Centre Commercial right now: One on the right bank, one on the left bank and one store for kids. We like to work with important brands that might have lost their credibility over the years but start their comeback again with incredible pieces in their collections. Sometimes the brands can’t believe it, but it happens. It’s funny, that’s the power of influencers.
How do you combine digital and physical stores ?
The site is completely integrated into Centre Commercial and is important in terms of turnover. We put a lot of work into it. It’s the same project. One nourishes the other and vice versa, all the time. It’s like the two wheels of a bike. I love crappy metaphors! (Laughs)
Can you tell us about kids shopping center ?
We had a lot of young parents that were clients at our adults store and they asked for a concept store like Centre Commercial to buy products for their children. 10 people asked, 100 people asked and then we’ve decided “why not”? One of our former sales woman at Centre Commercial loved the universe of kids. So it happened very naturally and that’s how we started the project Centre Commercial kids. We knew that there are many outstanding brands for children that put special attention on the sourcing of materials and the production process.
Three years after we’ve opened our doors for adults, the kids store was born, just 30 meters away in rue Yves Toudic. A 100m2 space is dedicated for children from 0-12 years filled with “well made” brands like Bobo Choses, Oeuf NYC, Mini Rodini, Bonton, Poudre Organic, … For the opening we invited the artist duo LAPS, that produces gigantic animals made of recycled materials. Today they make worldwide installations for Hermès!
"It's even easier to find
fair things for children.
It's a new world. "
What’s next for centre commercial ?
We have loads of projects, but we never talk about them before they’re done. We’ve done 30 percent of the journey and done it well. It’s now up to us to continue doing things as well as that, and even better. We first had a local impact; , about three years later a national impact; , a global impact, with customers coming from Canada, the US and South Korea. It’s an interesting time.
Either we become over-ambitious and expand into NYC or Seoul, which I think would be a mistake, or we concentrate on doing what we do well in one place, Paris. I think we’re leaning more towards the latter vision. We try a lot of things and we mess up half the time. We’re not better than others, but we love creating things, being where people don’t expect us, where even we don’t expect to be sometimes. That is what’s fun.
Photography : Salem Mostefaoui