Monthly Archives: August 2011

My Gay Paris : Abercrombie & Fitch Opening Draws Crowds to Champs-Élysées

American brand Abercrombie & Fitch may be a household name in much of the English-speaking world, but for a long time it was relatively unknown to French consumers. The clothing retailer’s sexy reputation is built around the gorgeous models it pays to man the inside of its stores and the pumping music and mood lighting which leave many visitors wondering whether they haven’t accidentally strayed into a nightclub. The new flagship store, which opened in Paris back in May, certainly didn’t disappoint.

Sporting Goods

The first incarnation of what is now Abercrombie & Fitch started life selling shotguns, tents and sporting goods, before eventually morphing into the brand we know and love today in the late 90s when a series of provocative ad campaigns attracted a new generation of fans—and also controversy over the sexual content of its ads. The company describes its products as ‘casual luxury’, and its relaxed style has won it a cult following, despite eyewatering prices.

Teething Troubles

For its first French store, where else but the Champs-Élysées, the number one destination for shopping in Paris? And who else to bring in the crowds but some of the store’s famous topless salesmen? In a blatant publicity stunt, a hundred of the ‘models’, as they’re officially known, paraded outside the new address in the week before opening, meeting passers-by and taking photos with lucky tourists.

The fun came to an abrupt end when local police, worried about the public nudity, asked them to put their shirts back on. Then again, perhaps their national pride was a little hurt by the fact that none of them were invited to join in: Abercrombie’s hot hundred were all invited from the company’s other stores in the US, the UK and Italy, without any strapping Frenchmen to welcome crowds through the door on the first day.

Launch Day

On the big day itself, details of the opening were shrouded in secrecy. In contrast to most of its neighbours on the Champs-Élysées, Abercrombie doesn’t have an immaculate window display, instead relying on a discrete exterior—and the famous boys—to pique the curiosity of passers-by. Some of the first visitors included teenage girls from Parisian suburbs who’d bunked off school for the day, while others had travelled from further afield. We’re sure one or two guys were eagerly waiting to get up close and personal with some of the staff as well!

23, avenue des Champs-Élysées

The new flagship has a prime location at 23, avenue des Champs-Élysées, with the nearest metro station Franklin D. Roosevelt on lines 1 and 9. As we mentioned, it doesn’t look like a typical store from the outside but once you walk through the gates and across the garden four floors of retail therapy await! Be warned, though: if you’re used to paying US prices, then you might be in for a nasty surprise.

My Gay Paris : Back to School in France – La Rentrée

Children around the world may dread the end of the summer holidays and going back to school at the start of September, but the whole thing takes on a whole new dimension in France.

Here, la rentrée doesn’t just mean the start of a whole new school year (that’s actually called la rentrée des classes) but also the start of a whole new season in cultural, political and social life in France.

School’s Out

To understand how it works, we need to go back a few weeks to the middle of July. Schools officially break up around the start of the month—the official date is set by decree by the Minister of Education—and life continues as normal for a week or two.

But after that, the holiday season begins in earnest, and most families make a break for the countryside. Special train services are laid on and extra bulletins report on the state of the traffic jams as families frantically scramble to leave Paris and other major cities. Meanwhile, back in the capital, the city authorities install a temporary beach along the banks of the Seine for those who can’t afford to make it to the coast.

Five Weeks

Most workers enjoy five weeks of paid holiday a year, so leaving for the entire month of August is not uncommon. Many French politicians lead by example, and a Minister returning early is often a sign of an imminent crisis. Small businesses usually follow suit, with the majority of local shops closing for at least a week or two in August, and less frequent service from bus and métro lines. The whole thing can be a little haphazard, with the only notice that the owners have headed south a quick note pinned to the shutters.

La Rentrée

Holiday fever reaches a high point—or its lowest ebb, depending on how you look at it—on August 15, a public holiday, and by the end of the month, more and more people gradually return to the capital. Things really pick up at the start of September when school starts and the other rentrées all start:

  • la rentrée littéraire: much hyped by French publishers, a whole swathe of new novels are normally published in the first few weeks of September
  • la rentrée culturelle: theatres, the opera and other venues all announce details of their upcoming season before the holidays but this is when the first premières occur
  • la rentrée politique: with their batteries recharged, French politicians begin a round of talk shows, trying to put their point across in the hope that the public will pay some attention now that the holidays are over.

Visiting Paris

It’s often said that Paris is at its best in the springtime, but la rentrée is a very exciting time of year to be in the city. Not only are most people still basking in a healthy glow from all those weeks spent on the beach, a whole range of new exhibitions, shows and cultural events will be breathing new life into the city after the quiet summer months.

Flash Cocotte

What: Club night
When: First Saturday of the month, til late
Where: La Java, 105, rue du Faubourg du Temple + other venues
Why: It’s cheeky, fun, and although it’s only a twenty-minute walk from the Marais, it feels like another world

Flash Cocotte (don’t ask what the name means, it doesn’t really make sense in French either), is an alternative gay night that happens once in a month at La Java, a club on the other side of the canal in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, with occasional sorties to other venus. It’s potentially set to move to a new home at some point this year, so keep your eyes on the site for more info.

Hetero friendly queer party

In its own words, Flash Cocotte is a ‘hetero friendly queer party’, and that sort of non-conformist attitude is exactly what you’ll find when you walk through the door. Or even beforehand, in fact, as the (long) queue snakes from the door through a charming 19th century covered market with a wrought-iron canopy protecting revellers from the rain. The contrast between the slightly dilapidated shops with their shutters down and the fabulous outfits from the partygoers couldn’t be more striking. Don’t be surprised if you end up lighting a cigarette for a drag queen or holding on to a bottle of wine while an immaculately-dressed young man tweaks his hair in a shop window.

Each month usually has a theme—often as simple as a colour—but many of the regulars decide that only their very best outfit will do. You can expect to see some very exotic creatures, and although the crowd is dominated by men, the gender lines are often left deliberately blurry. Once inside, the music is very eclectic, with nu-rave, electronica usually featuring heavily. The long, narrow dancefloor is always jam-packed, while darker corners are left for chatting and drinking.

Getting home

The dancing goes on until 5 am, at which point you can stagger outside safe in the knowledge that the first metro will be along in a mere fifteen minutes. Failing that, you can always hope a friendly local will do the gentlemanly thing and show you the way home …