Emma and I sit down for my very first interview to talk about Le Bon Marché, Paris’ oldest department store and one of our favorite places to stroll around on any given afternoon. Fashionistas and bloggers alike are familiar with the luxury store. But how many brave it in their pyjamas?
Kimberly: OK, here we go Emma. [Suddenly speaking in an English accent] So, Emma!
Emma [Giggling]: Yeah.
Kimberly: We’re going to talk about Le Bon Marché.
Kimberly: Which is a place that I chose because you and I have gone there quite often. You’ve gone there more than I have. Because you have lived in Paris almost your entire life.
Emma: Yeah, there have been periods where I’ve gone to the Bon Marché every single day.
Kimberly: Oh my god.
Emma: Um, not necessarily in the clothing or house department, but La Grande Epicerie, which is the secret gem (note: La Grande Epicerie is the luxury grocery store adjacent to Le Bon Marché).
Kimberly: Exactly, I was going to ask you, What do you love about Le Bon Marché? And you would say, La Grande Epicerie first?
Emma: Yeah, the Grande Epicerie is great, also because it’s open late and because it used to open on Sundays, and now the whole thing is open on a Sunday, but it used to be only the Grande Epicerie, and that was cool when you feel like shopping and it happens to be a Sunday. And in Paris, most places are shut. Also, if you feel like spending some money, but you don’t have a lot of it, the Grande Epicerie is good because you can buy something fancy and special and rare that’s not going to cost too much. So that could be something like an interesting brand of Italian pasta or an amazing piece of chocolate or a cake or even a sticky bun!
Kimberly: I always felt when I went to La Grande Epicerie that I needed to buy something with truffles in it. Because it seems like the kind of grocery store where there are truffles in everything. But no, you can also just get normal…
Emma: You can get the best madeleine [both moan], the best financier, all of those very traditional Parisian things, or French things rather, they do very, very well. And they also do the fancy stuff like, pink salt or whatever?
Kimberly [Laughing]: Hawaiian?
Kimberly: Um, let’s talk about…we can keep talking about La Grande Epicerie, but let’s talk about the Bon Marché in general. So my first question is, what makes it stand out from other Parisian department stores, because there’s Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, BHV…why Le Bon Marché?
Emma: I must start by saying that it used to stand out more. And it doesn’t as much, which is a shame. But still, um, it’s still the best department store in the whole of Paris. Because it’s less trashy and touristy and blingy. Because they have the best brands and the best items. Also, so it’s a lot quieter, they play nicer music.
Kimberly: It is nice and calm, I’ve noticed.
Emma: Yeah, other department stores can be very stressful.
Kimberly: Yeah, that’s not on to be reaching and fighting over a luxury designer handbag. That you see at Galeries Lafayette.
Emma: Your shopping…the products themselves don’t differ that much anymore, but your shopping experience is completely different.
Kimberly: You talked about them having the best brands and the best departments. Are there specific brands or specific departments that you like to go to? For example…
Emma: For example, MARGARET HOWELL!
Kimberly: For example, Margaret Howell. Tell me more about Margaret Howell.
Emma [Gushing]: Margaret Howell. The Margaret Howell stall in the store or Margaret Howell as a person?
Kimberly: As a person, and her clothes…why do you like Margaret Howell?
Emma: OK, I like Margaret Howell because she never compromises on anything. Her designs are the best, the fabrics that she sources, everything is ethically made, and the clothes are very expensive for a reason. You never get the feeling that Margaret is after your money. You get the feeling that she is after perfectly-designed articles of clothing. And I feel respected by Margaret. [Laughing] And I respect her.
Kimberly: I get it. Sometimes when I look at Isabel Marant clothes, I think she’s taking the piss a little, you know what I mean?
Emma: Yeah, yeah.
Kimberly: Yeah, but with Margaret Howell, you feel like there is a level of respect there that you don’t find in others. Like, she would wear all of her clothes.
Emma: And she DOES.
Kimberly: There’s not a season where’s she’s being funny or ironic, it’s always really classic.
Emma: And perfect.
Kimberly: Um, you and I talk about this a lot, that you are quite a perfectionist when it comes to clothes, you have a very high standard. And it has nothing to do with the label or the brand or how expensive it is. You’re really looking for quality, even if you’re digging through a pile of clothes at the flea market.
Emma: Or, through a pile of rubbish on the street, as I was literally doing five minutes ago.
Kimberly: You were doing that five minutes ago, I should point that out to our readers. You went to see about a chest of drawers sitting in the middle of a pile of rubbish. Um, where do you think that standard came from?
Emma: I think my parents are both…were both…as I was growing up, they were both into really beautiful stuff. And well-made stuff, and thoughtfully-designed stuff. Like it could be a beautiful silk blouse from a little Chinese shop or a German-designed alarm clock. Or the best radishes that you’d eat with salted butter and a loaf of bread.
Kimberly: Always just looking for quality?
Kimberly: Let’s go back to Le Bon Marché, what are some things that you dislike about it?
Emma [Inhales deeply]: OK…so [laughing]. “They laugh.” [More laughing] So I dislike…The Bon Marché has changed a lot and it’s become a lot more fancy. What I loved about Le Bon Marché in the past is that they used to…they used to sell stuff that you’d never see anywhere else. Like, you’d see hand-knitted Japanese berets, you know? [Laughing] It’s true, it’s true!
Kimberly: I didn’t know that was a thing.
Emma: Yeah, it was a thing. And they’d have…yeah, they’d have one-of-a-kind things, which they don’t anymore. They’ve spruced the whole shop up a bit, which I understand…they’re a department store, they need to sell. But they’ve lost some of their charm.
Kimberly: They’re trying to conform to what, maybe, the other department stores in Paris…to attract more tourists maybe? But they lost that local, hidden-gem charm that they had before.
Emma: Yeah, one of my favorite sections in Le Bon Marché used to be the lingerie section, which was full of grannies buying nude tights, which I loved, you know? And they were probably not making a lot of money, not making much of a profit, but it was still an amazing place.
Kimberly: But you still keep going back.
Emma: To the lingerie section, yes, for socks. That’s….yes, I’d recommend the lingerie section for socks, they’ve got the best socks.
Kimberly: You pointed out a section to me, is it La Braderie?
Emma: Oh yeah, in the sales, they’ll have La Braderie, where everything is dirt cheap and also very odd, and I’ve never actually bought anything in the Braderie section, but still it’s good fun to look through
Kimberly: What does it mean, La Braderie, is it vintage clothing? Or is it just the end of stock?
Emma [Agreeing to it being the end of stock]: Yes.
Kimberly: What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever bought from Le Bon Marché?
Emma [Laughing]: “She grins.” [More laughing] Let me think…um…once a year, they have a special Christmas fair kind of thing where they sell the most beautiful Christmas ornaments. And they also sell objects by Astier de la Villate, dishes… And I’ve bought stuff there that was really beautiful, I bought a really beautiful bowl for my mum. Yeah…let me think, let me think, Kim.
Emma: I bought loads of APC clothes that I like a lot, I’ve bought dishes, I’ve bought lilac-colored tights that I remember fondly.
Kimberly: Here’s another question, what memory or memories stand out to you from your experiences at Le Bon Marché?
Emma: So many. One of the things I like about Le Bon Marché is looking at the other customers. And I remember seeing a young woman once, in the Grande Epicerie, and….you always see people with the best outfits, basically. Um, they’re often richer than I am, but that doesn’t matter. I get a lot of enjoyment just out of watching them. I also like, I really like talking with the shop assistants because they’re always extremely polite and knowledgable. And I like talking about clothes but I don’t know that many people who are as in to clothes as I am.
Kimberly: I don’t know anybody except for my brother.
Emma: Same here! So, I talked to a young man called Phillipo at the Margaret Howell section, and he actually studied fashion design in Italy. And we talked about…I’m able to talk about fabric design with him, and he actually has designed a line of handbags. He designs handbags, and we talked about that. And we’ll talk about the items of clothing in huge detail. So, the size of the button hole and what kind of horn was used to make the buttons.
Emma: Yeah, like Margaret Howell, a couple of summers ago, designed a jumper (note: sweater), and she collaborates with a knitwear-designer called Marianne Foale. And there was this jumper which was The. Most. Beautiful. Jumper. It was a cardigan, in fact. It was black, short-sleeved, quite a bit boxy, and there was one single button at the top of the cardigan and it was just the perfect white. [Laughing] It wasn’t just any old white.
Kimberly: It was the perfect white.
Emma: Yeah, like Milky White. It was incredible and that’s the kind of thing that I can talk about with Phillipo.
Kimberly [Getting ready to sound like a moron]: I didn’t know people used horns to make buttonholes.
Emma: Not the buttonhole, the button.
Kimberly: OK. Just shows you what I know. Well, thank you, Emma.
Emma: You’re welcome. Any other questions?
Kimberly: No, but is there anything else you’d like to say before we end this?
Emma: I would like to say that if you’re ever in the Bon Marché and there’s a weird young woman in pyjamas staring at you, it’s probably me. Come and say hi.
Kimberly [Speaking in a French accent while pushing the stop button on the dictaphone]: Stop!
Emma: How was that, Kim?
Kimberly [Still struggling with the stop button]: Good, but it hasn’t stopped yet.