In conversation with: Nicolas Israël of Centre Commercial

6 Feb 2018

Meet Nicolas Israël, the man behind the carefully curated brands at Centre Commercial: the socially responsible concept store started by the founders of Veja.

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It’s a concept store and creative space that welcomes a range of menswear and womenswear from international brands who all adopt transparent production methods – from classic labels Church's and Saint James to eco-friendly brands Veja and Roseanna.

Since 2010, the success of their first store on rue de Marseille has led to two more stores: one on rue Yves Toudic (dedicated to childrenswear), and the other on rue Madame in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Here, Nicolas Israël shares his buying tips and what sets Centre Commercial apart.

Hi Nicolas, how did you get into this role?

I knew Sébastien Kopp (co-founder of Veja and Centre Commercial) around the time of the launch of Veja’s first collection. I lived near their offices, so I often had lunch with the team. At the time, I knew one thing that others didn’t: bamboo fabric – used to replace cotton – is highly polluting. This piece of information impressed Sébastien, and he hired me to join the sales team at Veja in 2010, before moving on to Centre Commercial as a buyer. From a buyer, I then made it as the director for Centre Commercial.

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How do you discover new talents to work with?

We don’t go to fashion shows, we spot trends in showrooms and trade shows like Premiere Classe and Man / Woman, who showcase brands that are exactly in line with ours. We’ll sometimes go to Man / Woman in New York and Pitti Uomo in Florence, but everything a French buyer needs is right here in Paris.

I follow a lot of designers and brands on Instagram, including Steven Alan, Need Supply, Unionmade, Le Bureau Fashion and Opumo. As we follow each other, other brands start approaching us, too. Our purchasing decisions are also motivated by what our commercial teams and consumers need: a particular color, a type of jacket...

What do you look for in a brand?

It’s a combination of things but most importantly, manufacturing has to be done in their home country or in a country where the best ethical practices are adopted. Norse Project is a Danish brand that manufactures in Portugal, which is known for its respectful working conditions. Church's continues to manufacture their line of shoes in England. Patagonia is our only brand that does their production in Asia, but there is real traceability and regular audits.

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How do you measure a brand’s performance?

We often wait two seasons before forming an opinion. If the products are expensive, we’ll often only sell 40-50% of the stock, but we give our customers time to get used to it. It’s more difficult for new high-end designers to emerge in France, compared to the UK and the US markets. The French tend to prefer brands that are known.

You’ve reintroduced iconic brands like Paraboot and brought them back into the limelight. How do you pick these brands?

We try to choose the brands that are pioneers in a category of items. To stock Harrington jackets, we would, for example, choose Baracuta.

Do you buy differently for online and each store?

Everything in our stores can be bought online. On rue de Marseille, we had a lot of customers coming from the left bank to see us in Canal Saint-Martin, so we knew very early on that the typical customer for our second store on rue Madame would be similar. They’re a bit more traditional on rue Madame, so we also wanted to stand out.

Who is Centre Commercial’s typical customer?

20-30% of them come for the ethics and quality aspect, some even know our brands better than us. Another 30% come because they like the atmosphere or they just want to stay well dressed. The rest are here by chance or word of mouth.

Our customers are mostly local but we’ve garnered a lot of attention from the press and other well-respected brands, including Louis Vuitton, so we also get tourists shopping with us. Americans, Belgians, Spaniards, Italians and Australians buy online because we stock brands that can’t be found elsewhere.

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Which trends have worked well in the past and what are the ones to watch this year?

We sell a lot of round necks, the classic shirt collar is becoming obsolete. After 10 years of navy being a hit, we’re going back to grey, khaki, black and red. The shapes are becoming larger, and technical materials such as nylon and gore-tex are back. People are now wearing performance trainers when they’re not running and jackets that weather sub degree temperatures when it’s rarely that cold. Patagonia will still be all the rage.

How will you continue to set yourselves apart as ethical practises in fashion become more commonplace?

By regularly finding new brands. And we already know that people don’t come here just for the ethics, but because it’s a cool place to shop for products that are both affordable and wearable. We don’t sell jeans at €500 or anything that’s too out-there. We like to present trends as they are, without all the extras.

Will Centre Commercial come out with its own collection?
Why not...

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