Wednesday 24 January 2018

Penneys is heaven as French crave our couture

Shoppers queue to buy goods in the first Primark store in Marseille, France, yesterday.
Shoppers queue to buy goods in the first Primark store in Marseille, France, yesterday.

Bairbre Power Marseille

IT'S the home of haute couture but hundreds of French people queued for hours to get a sample of our own haute couture -- from Penneys.

"Vive l'Irlande," the Mayor of Marseille declared yesterday as he helped cut the ribbon on Primark's first ever Gallic venture.

On paper it sounds cheeky, selling fashion to the French, the race who consider their country to be the home of haute couture.

But the executive 'suits' who gathered around company CEO Paul Marchant didn't have to wait for long to see if their expansion into their ninth European country was a faux pas.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Curious shoppers queued from early morning at the Grand Littoral shopping centre to witness the style invasion into France's second city.

Local businesses were bracing themselves for what is known in retail circles as the 'Primark Factor'.

The Grand Littoral Centre has 13 million shoppers annually but the owners expect footfall to increase 15pc because of the arrival of the Irish-run company, whose distinctive brand of fast fashion started out in Dublin's Mary Street in 1969.

The arrival of Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin triggered the countdown to an excited frenzy and a rush to the rails and 60 cash tills.

Within an hour, the local shoppers were queueing to get into the store, queuing for changing rooms and queuing to pay.


Shoppers snaked back through the crowded first-floor ladies' fashion department and, from his vantage point at the top of the escalators, George Weston, chief executive of Associated British Foods, which owns Primark, was left in no doubt that the assault on France was being well received.

But what about those onesies? Primark and Penneys have enjoyed spectacular retail success selling millions of one-piece onesies -- and while there was a dancing and singing troupe of onesie-wearing staff members forming a guard of honour for the visiting VIPs, the initial wave of customers didn't quite get the onesie allure.

Instead, shoppers reached for faux-fur gilets, short puffa coats, party dresses, metallic trousers and lacy bras.

Unlike neighbouring countries where Zara and H&M are fashion market leaders, French shoppers do things differently. French hypermarkets like Carrefour have delivered low-cost clothes, and French fashion brands like Pimkie, Cache Cache, Tati, Kiabi, Etam and Jennyfer will be watching the Primark model as it moves next to Dijon, then Paris.

However, the Primark team are far from smug, as board member Breege O'Donoghue said yesterday after welcoming the crowd.

"We are expecting the French to teach us to do it their way," she added.

Irish Independent

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