Experience Matters: Paris Store La Manufacture Celebrates Slow Luxury

PARIS — When Robert Acouri opened his Paris design concept store La Manufacture in November 2019, he could not have predicted that the French capital’s retail sector was about to enter the toughest period in its history.

First came the violent protests marking the one-year anniversary of the anti-government Gilets Jaunes movement, then a 50-day transport strike, and finally, last March, a full lockdown designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Unfortunately, this zone is highly dependent on tourists, so we’re suffering a lot,” the businessman said. “Luckily, we have another business, which is office furniture, that is allowing is to survive for now.”

Despite its aborted takeoff, the boutique remains open and is something of a gem hidden in plain sight: tucked away on Rue Edouard VII, a pedestrian street in the heart of the business and theater district between Place de la Madeleine and the Paris Opera, it is within easy walking distance of major department stores and Place Vendôme.

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“The idea was to be able to host people as if I were hosting them at home,” Acouri said.

The store carries a signature clothing and accessories collection, alongside home wares and furniture by established designers including Oki Sato, Patrick Norguet and Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, alongside emerging talents like Emma Boomkamp. Completing the offer is a selection of upscale magazines and Byredo fragrances. 

Acouri said he wanted to reconcile French style with Italian craftsmanship under a slow luxury banner, as an antidote to the rash of marketing-heavy Scandinavian brands that have flooded the interior design market in recent years. Items are made on an industrial scale, but with high-end fabrics from the likes of Rubelli and Lesage Intérieurs, and hand-finished touches.

“I wanted to work with international designers and bring to it a sense of French sophistication that you can’t find at these other brands,” he said. La Manufacture commissioned Studio Blanco to develop its visual identity, which is subtly echoed in Nichetto Studio’s store design.

For the clothing line, Acouri tapped designer Milena Laquale, whose résumé includes stints at Karl Lagerfeld and Fendi. Now on its third collection, La Manufacture offers classics for men and women designed to stand the test of time. Men’s suits are made in Naples, as are the hand-finished Paolo Scafora men’s shoes. 

The ready-to-wear features several recurring symbols, including a superhero character who rescues a panda, an endangered species meant to symbolize craftsmanship. The Spazio 38 showroom in Milan is in charge of international distribution.

Acouri, who was born in Lebanon but has lived most of his life in Switzerland and France, began his career in fashion. In the late ’90s, he helped Monaco real estate tycoon Michel Pastor develop his Ichthys fashion line, and subsequently, Acouri worked for French fashion label Loft Design By. 

Since then, he has switched to office design and in 2012 acquired Cider, a company that has created innovative offices for companies including cosmetics giant L’Oréal, start-up incubator Station F and advertising agency Publicis. Its headquarters, located above the store, illustrate the design synergies between the two businesses.

“I want design to influence fashion, and vice versa — and that’s what we do,” Acouri explained. For instance, Byredo perfurmer Ben Gorham has designed a coffee table called Work Extruded, while details of Boomkamp’s Playtime rug collection, handwoven in Mexico, have been reprised on a capsule knitwear line.

Acouri hopes that once the COVID-19 restrictions ease, La Manufacture will become a magnet for travelers and a haven for true luxury. “For me, queuing to buy a handbag is not luxury — it’s a sign of addiction fueled by marketing, and it really bothers me,” he argued. 

“I created this place for people who are sick of buying luxury goods with huge logos on them, and who are looking for something more niche that is rooted in storytelling and a cultural approach,” he added.

“Nowadays, unless you come from Japan or China, where import taxes are very high, there is no point buying a [luxury] bag in Paris. You can just as easily buy it in New York, Amsterdam, or elsewhere. On the other hand, buying something at La Manufacture in Paris will really make sense, because you won’t be able to find it anywhere else,” Acouri said.   

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