01.03.2022 #fashion

Estelle Chemouny

Paradise Garage Store

“We always meet with the designers we take in, we know their story, they have become friends”

Estelle Chemouny embodies the expression “you are never better served than by yourself”. Her Paradise Garage Store, opened in June 2020 in a difficult context, is a result of an alarming observation: designer menswear is underrepresented in Paris. From the inability to find an original (and colorful!) outfit for Elie, her husband and partner, for their wedding, the couple decided to reverse the balance and create THE store where they’d stock the most promising young designers. Their sharp selection is often not found elsewhere in Europe, which makes one of the strengths of Paradise Garage Store, as well as the online influence of its co-founder.

How did you get the idea to open Paradise Garage Store?

When Elie and I got married. We were looking for an outfit other than a suit for the wedding, we wanted something colorful and different. We looked all around Paris to find outfits and we ended up coming back empty-handed. We had spotted a lot of designers we liked on Instagram and after a while we realized that they were not stocked at all neither in France nor in Europe. And that made us click. In Paris, we felt that there was no space for different and colorful designs in menswear.

Color is truly essential in your store.

Even in my everyday life, I only wear black when I’m not feeling that well. If I wear black, it has to be leather or a really cool piece. It’s true that in Paris, people dress a lot in black, grey, or beige. It’s beautiful, but it’s a style I don’t recognize myself in.

It’s quite the opposite of ‘La Parisienne’!

Exactly. I kind of created a new Parisienne, the Parisienne from the South!

So you’re from the South?

From Sète! I grew up in the 90s around women with very colorful outfits – very Versace! Nobody was wearing black.

You mention the influence of women, still your store focuses on menswear.

We thought it was already easy for women to go and get dressed today. Women know where to go look and aren’t afraid to search for what they want, whether in vintage clothing or elsewhere. In the end, they have a choice! For men, there is no such thing. When we opened the store, we presented it as a multi-brand store for men, still our clientele is very feminine! I don’t know if it is because of my following on Instagram – I have a lot of women who follow me and come to buy what I wear – but it’s true that we sell mostly to women.

And today, fashion is going genederless!

For me there has never been a divide between womenswear and menswear. When I was little, I used to go to my father’s wardrobe more than my mother’s. I preferred masculine pieces. I would turn his jackets and shirts into dresses, I thought it was cooler!

What’s the story behind the store’s name, Paradise Garage Store?

It was Elie’s idea. It’s a reference to Vivienne Westwood’s first boutique on King’s Road in London in the 1970s. She had opened this boutique with her boyfriend at the time, Malcolm McLaren. It was a punk store, very colorful, with a lot of prints… Later it became a nightclub in New York where people sported crazy outfits. It worked very well with our idea of fashion.

Your designer selection is very sharp. How do you select them?

It can all start with a color or an image that jumps at me. In a second time, I look for how the collection are manufactured, where it all comes from. We often see great designs and we realize the conditions in which they are produced, and we don’t want to work like that. We always meet with the designers we take in, we know their story, they have become friends. We don’t just sell clothes, we also sell a story. Most of these brands are not well known, and they don’t have the means to advertise, so we also act to promote them. It a love-at-first-sight kind of thing. It also happens that I like collections but there’s no chemistry on a personal level with the designer. In this case it cannot work.

So there’s a real relationship between you and your designers.

It’s very important. They’re all working very hard and they know the struggle. A lot of pieces are made by hand. We also have a lot of African designers who produce everything in Africa, and that should be showcased. In the end, we sell their vision.

Who are the new designers you recently added to your selection?

The most recent is Bluemarble, which I love and discovered a while ago. We didn’t buy the first season, but I definitely wanted to get the second. I really like his character: the guy is a surfer, he’s into luxury clothing but still super cool. You can wear it with everything, and in a casual way. I really like his vision. We also have a great Japanese designer who uses old stocks of kimonos and reworks them in Paris. There is also Colrs Baby, a twenty-year-old designer who creates his collections from vintage scarves. They are always creative people with an idea, often never seen before.

What was your professional background before opening your store?

I started as a saleswoman in London in a multi-brand store. I was very bad at it but I had good ideas. I also liked to discover new brands, so management started sending me to fairs like Premiere Vision and Who’s Next to find new designers. After a few years, I wanted to work on my own and I became a personal stylist. I did that for five years and then I moved to Paris.

What motivated you to open your store in Paris and not London, where menwsear if far more exciting?

Because there is already everything in London! When I arrived in Paris, I was a little bored. In London, I would go to Selfridges just to find inspiration. Here on Avenue Montaigne or Rue Saint-Honoré, it’s all big brands – and it’s repetitive! Not many stores have an exciting selection of menwsear in Paris, whereas in London, new designers are put in the spotlight. In France, people with money want you to see their expensive clothes, and that often means big logos…

The store is located on Rue de la Sourdière, at the corner of Rue Saint-Honoré. Why this address?

The spiral staircase was the deciding factor! When we first walked in, it was a lady’s workshop who made leather bags and accessories to order. It was very brown, with carpeting… But when we saw the staircase, we loved it. We also really liked the sequence of rooms, a bit like little caves.

You have a big following on social media. Why was it still important to open a physical store at a time when fashion is experienced digitally for the most part?

When I buy online, it’s because I already the quality of the brand. The problem with the brands we stock is that they are not known to the general public. Online, one would have no idea of the feel, the fall of the clothes. I really wanted to showcase these young designers, and also justify the price. These are very small productions, made in a quasi artisanal way, in the best workshops in Italy. A customer who sees this online at this price will never buy. The brands that sell online are those that already have a reputation.

Any new designers you look forward to buying?

We’re about to stock a young African designer, Lukhanyo Mdingi, who won the Karl Lagerfeld Award at the 2021 LVMH Prize. He’s designing beautiful, 70s-inspired knitwear. It’s almost like haute couture.

You also recently started designing your own mirrors. How did you start?

We moved during the second lockdown. We didn’t have any furniture left, so I started making my own. I started doing a table because we only had a camping table… And then because I’m an ‘influencer’ and a narcissist (laughs), I thought, ‘I need mirrors!’ It’s silly, but a lot of my Instagram posts are pictures of me in my mirror. Now I wanted the mirror to be cool, too. I started out with small formats with foam, resin and pigments. It was a bit of a disaster at first, I even burned myself… And then I made one, then two, then three… When I started sharing them on Instagram, many people asked me where they could buy them. At first I didn’t even consider it, and then I started doing some drops. And it worked out pretty well! Next step: making my resin table!

Interview: Maxime Der Nahabédian

Photos: Jean Picon

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