In the mood for the blues? The Parisian concept store Merci hopes so. If you happen to be in Paris this month, head on over to Boulevard Beaumarchais in the Marias district and be swept by a sea of blue at Merci.
In early March, the store—thanks to the theatrical flair of fashion trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort and her long-standing relationship with the retailer—was turned into a dramatic venue that exalts the virtue of everything blue, retailing many of the beautifully handcrafted goods from Edelkoort’s Paris-based organization Heartwear.
The passion for the magical blue dye began in 1993 when Edelkoort journeyed to Benin with textile colleagues and designers to study and discover the various handicrafts made by artisans. During that trip, the group encountered amazing crafts, but realized quickly that much of the talent and beauty they saw in the villages, market stalls and even the better funded and supplied ateliers would eventually erode and disappear with the flooding of Western style clothing and cheap machine prints. Among those who were losing their market share were the makers of natural indigo dyes and handmade fabrics.
The group realized that they could help these artisans, and while still on the road Heartwear came to life as a non-profit whose purpose and mission was devoted to find, develop, nurture, sustain and promote the work of artisans around the world within the interior design and fashion industries. As a result of the group's endeavor, one of the team members stayed behind to work with dyers, weavers and tailors, and build a collection of indigo products that were later sold at the organization’s first sales exhibition in Paris.
What is indigo’s allure? Historically, indigo is associated with knowledge, dignity and intuition. The word implies richness and exoticism, but also passion, power and strength; devotion, wisdom and justice along with fairness and impartiality. In a number of cultures, indigo was credited with rich symbolism. In China, indigo clothing was considered a symbol of wealth and power. In Africa, indigo was worn to protect from the sun, but also other dangerous outside factors. Indigo is considered the color of intuition and perception. Color therapists say that it promotes deep concentration during times of introspection and meditation, helping achieve deeper levels of consciousness. It is a color that relies on intuition rather than instincts. But where there’s a yin there’s also a yang; indigo can also relate to fanaticism and addiction. Its addiction encompasses everything from a need for recognized qualifications to a need for illegal drugs, from the workaholic to the religious fanatic. Indigo can be narrow-minded, intolerant and prejudiced.
In West Africa, indigo is derived from the local source of indigofera or lonchocarpus cyanescans plants. The process to create the dye from the raw materials is complex that requires expertise. Primary ingredients to make the dye include dried balls of crushed leaves from either of the plants, ash and dried residue from old vats. To achieve the desired shade of blue, cloth is dipped repeatedly in the fermented dye, exposed briefly to the air then immersed again. The number of cloth dippings along with the strength and freshness of the dye determines the color’s intensity. After the dyed cloth has dried, it’s typical to beat the fabric repeatedly with wooden beaters that irons out the fabric and gives it a shiny glaze.
At Merci shoppers have the opportunity to see the various shades of indigo in their various incarnations. Step inside and they’ll be greeted by a whimsical flock of flying cloth geese that sport tones of cerulean, sapphire, blue-black, and navy. On metal shelves, canvas dummies perch flirtatiously dressed in the latest contemporary ready-to-wear fashion, but all in that color of the month: Blue.
The store is a profusion of inkiness. Everywhere one looks from clothing racks to display tables it’s all luxurious, rich shades and tones of azure, lazuline, turquoise. Items include sheets and pillows, a new tableware collection signed by Paola Navone for Richard Ginori, notebooks with graphics conceptualized by the new and hot Brazilian designer Daniella Busarello, suitcases and an abundant amount of handicrafts created by the artisans that Heartwear closely works with in Benin, Morocco and India. Shoppers’ responses—both local and international—have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
Jean Luc Colonna d’Istria, home and marketing director of Merci, explains the purpose of showcasing the color blue was to focus on a trend that lasts longer than one season’s fleeting fashion statement. “Blue is always a very strong color into the spring/summer collection, but this year it is particularly present.”
And even more so, thanks to Edelkoort’s and Merci’s love of the blues.
Merci is located in the Marais district at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris