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Do-Good Fashion for the Masses

April 2010

By Adrian Moore, Paris

It seems the Paris retail fashion world is currently ruled by two different, yet occasionally intersecting trends - the first being the eco-conscious freetrade boutiques and brands, the second offering up luxury to the masses with brands like The Kooples and H&M’s luxe line COS ("Collection of Style").

Évidemment it’s become fashionable to be good, and the Merci boutique, founded by the same people behind the legendary children’s wear chain Bonpoint have decided to give some back. Proceeds from the hot new Bastille boutique help support children’s charities in Madagascar and other parts of Africa.

Veja the hip sneaker company based in Paris, makes all of their shoes in a Brazilian co-op using only organic cottons and Amazonian rubber, and makes sure their workers’ rights are respected.

Even do-it-yourself knitting clubs have become popular among the artsy fashion crowd, with cute little places like the Sweat Shop, a self-styled "café couture" that rents out Singer sewing machines to wanna-be stylists. Created much along the lines of the internet café, this word of mouth hole-in-the-wall has become a meeting point for the Parisian knitting obsessed.

Also generating a lot of buzz is Wool and the Gang, a website dedicated to DIY knitting, with Peruvian-sourced natural yarn, patterns, and everything you need to create your own clothing. They also create knitting themed events such as at the underground Brunch Bazar.

The question remains, however, if the French are attracted to these kinder and gentler trends because of a higher awareness in do-gooding or simply because this is the latest thing.

The second dominating trend in French retail is the idea of "mass luxury", building on the success of smaller cutting-edge stores that have been getting the most attention from the young and hip. Brands like The Kooples, created by two former designers from the more sedate Comptoir des Cotonniers marque, create an androgynous punk-luxe wardrobe meant to be shared by couples (get the meaning of the name now?) They consulted a Saville Row tailor to get the look just right and in just two years, The Kooples have more than a dozen boutiques.

COS, the more trendy and upscale line from H&M has also struck a chord with hipster Parisians with their new boutique smack dab in the center of the arty Marais. Locals go crazy for their reasonably priced cashmere.

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