Yet the experience doesn’t seem fusty or pretentious, perhaps because the store came together suddenly a year ago, when decades-long friendships collided with a last-minute real estate opportunity.
Upon learning that a ready-to-wear brand had vacated its space (next to H&M), Reinold Geiger, L’Occitane’s chairman and chief executive, called Charles Znaty, Mr. Hermé’s business partner. With only 24 hours to make a decision, they signed the lease.
“Often, when something’s a good idea, Pierre will just say, ‘Let’s do it,’” Mr. Znaty said. “That’s exactly what happened. We’ve all been friends for a long time, and we decided that we were just going to mix it all together.”
This is not the first time Mr. Hermé has dabbled in the lifestyle arena. In 2015, Christian Dior called on the chef to curate the menu for the tea salon in its flagship in Seoul, South Korea. A second Café Dior opened in Tokyo last April. And he now is working on a project for the Morpheus Hotel, scheduled to open in the spring in Macau.
This time around, the store’s size created opportunities that Mr. Hermé had been mulling for a long time. Working with a barista has been a dream, so he reached out to Hippolyte Courty, his friend and collaborator who is the founder of L’Arbre à Café, a purveyor of high quality sustainably farmed coffees.
“I wanted to bring together the notion of pastry shop pastries and the pastry-making process you find in a restaurant,” Mr. Hermé said. “For me, 86 Champs was a chance to create an unexpected dialogue that draws on shared values and techniques, but also sharing a moment of life.”
After selecting three varieties of coffee, Mr. Hermé came up with a menu of 16 ways to drink it, in addition to developing restaurant menus for breakfast, lunch, tea, children and dinner, all of which, breakfast excepted, lead with a dessert list (savory main courses are shown under the heading “to accompany desserts”). Mr. Hermé also composed the wine list, choosing many bottles that he has in his own cellar.
And for his macaron bar, he added to his lineup reinterpretations of the highly successful trio of scents he composed for L’Occitane in 2015: Miel, Immortelle & Mandarine (honey made by bees feeding on Corsican shrub land called maquis, a Mediterranean bloom called immortelle and mandarin orange); Jasmin, Néroli & Immortelle (néroli is an essential oil distilled from the flowers of the Seville orange) and Pamplemousse & Rhubarbe (grapefruit and rhubarb). Twenty-two macaron flavors are offered at any one time.
Prices range from very reasonable to slightly rich: The restaurant has a prix fixe menu at €38 and a dessert menu, featuring a choice of main course and a medley of desserts, for €72. A dessert creation, ice cream sundae or “dessert to drink” is €15 to €20.
“No one mixes flavors like Pierre Hermé,” Adrien Geiger, L’Occitane’s chief growth officer, said. But while perfumery and pastry-making may have some obvious affinities, coaxing retail to cohabit with a restaurant can prove a trickier proposition.
To make it work, Laura Gonzalez, a buzzed-about interior architect on the Paris design scene who has revamped such local venues as Régine’s, the Relais Christine hotel and the restaurants Thiou and Alcazar, said she focused on how the brands transformed natural ingredients into things precious but ephemeral. She persuaded L’Occitaine to put a Provençal fountain at the front of the store. She also devised a kind of shopping circuit, using display islands that have some of L’Occitane’s primary ingredients as their themes: vervain, rose, almond, cherry blossom and immortelle. In addition to buying, shoppers can sample textures, learn about distillation and infusion, and get information about L’Occitane’s sustainable cultivation initiatives in Provence, Corsica and Burkina Faso.
“People are going to call it a lot of different things, but everything we’re doing is interrelated,” Mr. Hermé said. “For each of us, inspiration starts with the ingredients and sourcing. When I walked in the other day and smelled the coffee, I thought, ‘That’s it, we got it.’ ”
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