Walk through a discreet entrance and into a courtyard with a friendly Fiat, and you enter the whimsical realm that is Merci. Launched in 2009 by Marie-France Cohen (founder of French children’s clothing line Bonpoint) and now run by Arthur Gerbi (whose parents are family friends of Cohen’s), the emporium has completely transformed the once-overlooked Haut Marais neighborhood into the shopping destination in Paris, where Isabel Marant, Acne, and Vanessa Bruno have all opened outposts.
Inside the airy boutique (a former 19th-century textiles factory), a smartly edited selection of clothing in chic colorways and good materials, apothecary essentials, art and design books, timeless homewares, kitchen goods, and vintage objets stretch across three floors—not to mention a trio of cafés and rotating installations that shift the perspective of the store’s collection every few months.
The space invites a free-associative way of shopping, and it’s best explored without having a clue what you need until you discover it. (Leave that to the experts.) We take a look behind the scenes and meet the people of Merci…
“If we don’t find something we like, we make it—a couch, a watch, linens, agendas,” explains Arthur Gerbi, who took the helm at Merci in 2013, launching an online shop along with the brand’s line of homewares and accessories. “Normally, if you make a couch, you try to do the whole collection—a chair, an ottoman, etc. We don’t. We think a couch is essential but the rest can be found elsewhere.”
This measured approach to only creating what is necessary makes for a unique offering that is always evolving. (“We’re not a fixed idea!” says Gerbi, when the term concept shop pops up.)
Through the eyes of artistic director Daniel Rozensztroch (above), who has been with the company since the beginning, the development of a Merci product becomes an anthropological investigation. (He dedicated his new book, Spoon, to that one utensil, examining the beauty of an everyday utilitarian piece.)
“My job is to observe and understand, then design,” he says. “I ask: What would be the right tool for a specific action? What doesn’t exist yet?”
The former Marie Claire Maison editor curates the shop’s homewares like a living mood board, mixing and layering different styles—a modern pendant light made of folded sheet metal above a rustic wood table; a set of hand-blown drinking glasses on a vintage Formica tray—in an effort to present interesting combinations without being overly prescriptive.
“We’re not here to give lessons,” he says. “We just offer the ingredients.”
For La Nouvelle Table dishware collection, Rozensztroch looked at how we eat—communally (smaller apartments, shared work spaces), nomadically (to-go, snack-based dining), and informally (he displayed the plates at different heights to reflect standing and sitting for a meal).
The glazed terracotta pieces in deep blues and browns, and white and black, are offered individually, encouraging customers to mix and match and break up the traditional set—“much like we did for bedding but for the table,” explains managing partner Jules Mesny-Deschamps, who helped shepherd the project.
He invited New York–based chef Camille Becerra of downtown Manhattan darling De Maria to take up a weeklong residency this fall and bring the dishes to life with her vibrant, plant-based creations. “The collaboration was very comfortable,” says Becerra. “These are people who share my aesthetic and philosophy.”
“The root of the dishes is very Japanese, like a modern-day macro-bowl,” says Becerra of her menu at Merci. The bento box–inspired tableware and minimalist cutlery served as her starting point, framing market-driven small bites like lentil croquettes with beet tahini and pistachio-dusted mirabelle plum shortbread.
The all-in-the-family feel extends to the rest of the team. Merci’s shopkeepers are considered “more hosts than salespeople,” according to Gerbi (or “ambassadors” as Rozensztroch calls them). Even if the company does ship worldwide, exploring the space is still very much part of the Merci experience.
When asked about opening additional stores in different cities, Gerbi is in no rush. “Expansion is very popular now,” he says, “but that’s not the only way to develop a company. Easy, yes, but not so interesting.”
In this image: Merci’s cuisine director, Sylvie Potier, picks fresh ingredients from the garden, which is adjacent to the downstairs café.
Fashion director Valerie Gerbi (above) notes that Merci has carried some of the same clothing lines since the very start, like Forte Forte (French-made slouchy weekend basics in luxe materials), “but we won’t buy the whole collection.” Cherry-picking items from more than 80 brands keeps things fresh, while not having to completely flip the store each season.
“We follow our intuition rather than trends,” she says, echoing Rozensztroch. This also means creating a fluid space where home and fashion cohabit—like the bright mustard and soft coral colorways that appear across the Merci line, from bed linens to suede totes to socks. “We’re interdisciplinary—at the end of a project, we don’t know who did what,” explains Mesny-Deschamps of the company’s collaborative spirit.
In this image: Merci’s managing partner Jules Mesny-Deschamps and owner Arthur Gerbi.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue with the headline The World of Merci.