BY CHRISTINA OHLY EVANS
The aesthetic of a popular online retailer’s first brick-and-mortar post takes cues from its fashionable totes.
“I wanted to build a store in a special, authentically Parisian place,” explains Jeanne Signoles, co-founder of the elegant, utilitarian handbag line L/Uniform. Her choice of the Quai Malaquai, a tree-lined street fronting the Seine in stylish Saint-Germain-des-Prés, was a natural one that mirrors her classic but contemporary collections. “There are no big brands here, and locals really do come to shop,” she says of the area that has long been home to artists, architects, and the fashion-forward.
Signoles, along with her husband, Alex, are not new to accessory design—his family owns Goyard—and they worked in the business before launching L/Uniform. Inspired by simple worker, messenger, and tool bags, their versions are handcrafted by artisans in the fortified French town Carcassonne using treated cotton or linen canvas, Spanish calfskin edging, and sculptural gold hardware. And while the business has been largely focused on the web, Signoles wanted this Paris retail environment to be a “cabinet of curiosities,” she says. “Not a museum or precious boutique, but a practical place with a great energy.”
Masamichi Katayama of Japan’s Wonderwall was enlisted to create a sleek, neutral white space that highlights the vibrant colors and forms of the bags to dazzling effect. The architect, whose harmonic and clean-lined style can be found in outlets such as Colette and Uniqlo, “brought a clear vision to the project,” says Signoles. “He looks at everything—space, light, layout—from the consumer’s point of view.”
The result is a 300-square foot jewel box-like setting full of natural finishes and brilliantly lit cubbies that line the walls from floor to ceiling. In keeping with the minimalist vibe, each bag is numbered, not named, and is showcased in backlit cubes that are further highlighted by the designer’s LED glass pendants. “Design is a form of communication. L/Uniform’s products should be the material of this place,” Katayama says. “The flooring is derived from their graphic pattern; the brand’s attention to detail is expressed in here.”
Large school bags—a take on the traditional messenger carryall—backpacks, petite pochettes, not to mention simple computer sleeves and phone charger cases, are all crafted from lightweight, stain-proof fabrics available in-store. They can be further customized by special order in any combination of canvas hues, leathers and cloth edgings. A parquet-lined workshop in the back of the space showcases color-blocked designs as well as silkscreened samples that further personalize the L/Uniform range, one that is already developing a cult-like following on both sides of the Atlantic. “I wanted this space to be full of inspirations, in order to create personalized bags,” Katyama says. “The bags have different stories, and I wish customers to enjoy the journey of the process. I wanted it to be a place where you can imagine your life with a new bag.”
Much like the bags, the shop “has the spirit of Saint Germain, but made modern,” says Signoles. “My favorite waiter at Le Voltaire down the street worries about what he calls the ‘massification’ of the area. He loves the store and when he gave us the nod of approval, I knew we had created something wonderful.”