PARIS – American retailer Forever 21 launched its first French store this week, bringing low-cost clothing to the nation of Chanel and Dior. The Los Angeles-based brand is adding a handful of stores to France after success in the UK, Belgium, and Spain. International retailers and fashion brands are creeping into France at an increasing rate, taking advantage of a more accessible market.
The Forever 21 store in the southwest of Paris, at the Vélizy 2 shopping center, joins the ranks of other international brands like H&M, Uniqlo, and Gap that have opened hugely successful stores in France. More recently, American stores like Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch have also opened in Paris, becoming wildly popular options on the French market. Why the influx of so many international – mostly American – chains?
Nirit Sumeruk-Abbou follows the fashion scene in Paris on her blog Paris Popcorn and attended the press party for the Forever 21 store. The infiltration of these new “fast fashion” stores is due to a combination of factors, she said.
High unemployment rates and financial instability in France are leaving many – most notably younger people – without the money to throw down on haute couture. Retailers like Forever 21 are a perfect alternative for teenagers and young adults looking to explore new styles. “Buying cheap fashion is the only way one can both make the macaron and eat it too,” Sumeruk-Abbou said.
Though financial crises alone are not enough to explain why more expensive brands like Abercrombie and its offshoot Hollister are doing so well in Paris. Globalization is of course taking its toll as American and Japanese brands are not only more accessible, but more prevalent. With the increase in blogs and online fashion journalism in France, and successful sites like be.com, Sumeruk-Abbou suggests that French fashionistas are increasingly bombarded with style and couture content, urging them to update their wardrobes faster than ever.
“Look at the celeb-frenzy that fashion weeks have turned into; people want to wear what's on the runways, what's on the streets, what icons and muses are wearing, what bloggers are covering,” she said, “there's quite a bit of pressure there.” Stores like Forever 21 make keeping up with these trends more affordable.
Whatever the cause, Forever 21 is already looking to expand through France. Beginning in the suburbs, the chain could be within Paris on the historic Champs Elysées or Haussman boulevards sometime soon. Vice president Larry Meyer said in Le Figaro that the company is looking “to seize any opportunities for a building.”
The proliferation of low cost “fast fashion” has already meshed with French cultural standards, and Forever 21 is just another option for the wardrobe. “The French still have their collection of haute couture treasures in their wardrobe which they'll happily mix and match with their ever-growing fast-fashion collections,” Sumeruk-Abbou said, adding, “it's become totally accepted.”
Photo: Dominique Maitre