April 1, 2005
Matali Crasset refashions a French department store as a youth hangout.
Picture the basement level of a mall department store in a working-class suburb by an airport. The last thing you’d probably imagine in this dreary-sounding scenario is a blazing chartreuse interior outfitted with punchy octagonal fixtures. Yet that’s what French designer Matali Crasset has created with L’Annexe du BHV, an experimental new youth-oriented floor for French retailer Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV).
Located in the 1970s Belle Épine shopping mall, in the Paris suburb of Thiais, Crasset’s project is an effort to revive a flagging outpost of a troubled yet storied merchant. BHV is a 150-year-old retail institution that, like many department stores, has seen better days—and its Belle Épine branch is no exception. “It’s in an area where there aren’t many homes,” CEO Alexandre Meyer explains, pointing out the problem this poses for a retailer best known for do-it-yourself home products. “But many young people visit the mall,” he continues, “so we proposed something new to target them.”
The result doesn’t emphasize big brands, nor is the store-within-a-store arranged by traditional product categories. Crasset is used to thinking outside of convention, and her 27,000-square-foot design playfully pushes the idea of the lifestyle store in an engaging direction.
Color-coded walls divide the sea of chartreuse that covers the floor, distinguishing four sections themed around the habits of the younger set. Fashion (purple) incorporates a nail salon and cosmetics area; Movement (blue) features sneakers, cell phones, and musical instruments; Escape (fuchsia) offers distractions like video games and CDs. Above these three, color-coded beams radiate like tree branches from Activity (lime green), a multifunctional area devoted to emerging product lines—for example, those using sustainable materials—small exhibitions, installations by local associations, and with a nearby DJ booth, in-store recreation. “Young people don’t create their identity just by changing clothes,” Crasset says. “They’re curious about many things, and we wanted to welcome that.”
The designer also devised a modular system of large octagonal frames to configure the DJ booth as well as a pasta bar called Café Yelo and a food pavilion that looks like a cartoon version of a lunch truck. Of course these octagons also display merchandise. “You can view the products from in front and behind,” Crasset notes, referring to the fixtures’ freestanding setup in a space where she wanted to keep perimeter walls free of goods. “But because the shelves are open, you can also see other customers through them. There’s more of a relationship between people.”