A year and a half ago, Lenny Guerrier co-founded Coïncidence, a Parisian concept store that stands out from the typical standards. With established brands such as Dark Shadow Rick Owens or Silent Damir Doma, a wide selection of talented underground designers, and a sharp objects magazine and perfumes selection, this store has got everything to please its demanding and well informed clients. Lenny agreed to tell us about his experiences in fashion and his projects for this special place. He received us with a fantastic kindness and curiosity, probably because he considers that every success comes from an unexpected encounter, a chance: a coincidence.
How did you make your first step into fashion?
I studied marketing and communication, and I started my journey through fashion in a press office, as a PR assistant. So I first discovered fashion behind the scenes. I was very attracted to this whole universe. To communicate on a brand, highlight concepts, special spirits… I really enjoyed all it. After this first job, I encountered a designer called Riad. We started to collect vintage archive clothes together. With him, I began to see the fashion world from a different point of view, a designer's point of view. He helped me get the fashion education I needed, told me all about designers, shapes, trends… he gave me a sharper vision. This encounter made me want to go further. And for me, going further was creating a special space where I could present the labels and designers I loved, without having any reporting to do to anyone. All those years since I first met my friend Riad, my goal was my store: Coïncidence.
Why did you choose this name?
I chose it because of my own story. All the encounters I made were coincidences, and all of them lead me to this big adventure of opening a concept store. Every person, every discussion, was a step towards this experience. Before my first PR job, I didn't know a thing about fashion! ‘Shopping’ was a word I used for "going to the grocery store", not for something stylists would do while picking up looks for a photo shoot. But I learned as I worked, understanding things step by step. I was really keen on learning stuff about this world. I worked at Pierre Hardy, and later for the Parisian concept store L'Eclaireur… I'm also a fashion consultant for many different brands. I really have to thank all the people I met for all the experiences I had with them. People made me grow up to Coïncidence… and that’s for now!
What makes a great concept store?
First, a great concept store is a place that gathers many different things and many universes. The editorial line, as much as the display, must be surprising. A concept store should be a place for unexpected things and products. Colette, L'Eclaireur, Dover Street Market… they all did it this way. When creating something, we're always inspired by something else; I had the will to employ those codes, and to adapt them to my own universe and taste, which are the universe and taste of my generation actually. Because generation is another important point for concept stores. It is very important to know what has been done before, to get inspired from it, but it is even more important to read those codes again, through the prism of our new world, to build another vocabulary from it.
The space must be very important too...
The place we found for the store is an atypical place from the end of the 16th Century, with a cellar. So, we created two different universes between the main floor and the basement. The underground floor is a hidden place, where we present very rare designers who are hard to find in France. There are so many great stores in Paris to sell great and well-known brands that I thought I had to offer something else to people, something somewhat different. I like the idea of having rare labels here. Some of the brands we sell can even be hard to understand, in terms of marketing and shapes… But that’s our vocabulary!
And so, you are now launching Coincidence's own label?
Yes, this was a logical development for us. My two co-founders agreed to my store idea for a start, but they made me understand that we would have to go a bit further. Now is the right time; after having created a sort of 'Coïncidence concept', it is important to materialize it. That's the reason why we decided to launch a label. But I'm not a designer. I have good ideas at times, and I can work as an art director, then, making clothes is another profession and I decided to work with someone else. I asked one of our sales girls, Niuku, to do it with me, and she drew the whole Coïncidence line.
What is the concept of this label?
Our starting point was: black, simple. Starting simple is a good start, I guess. But simplicity can be quite hard to get… I said it already; I'm inspired by the simplicity of some great designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Yamamoto, Helmut Lang. I wanted Coïncidence’s clothes to be as simple as possible, in order to let their owners give them a sort of special meaning. Clothes are made to be worn; to me, their beauty rises only when they are on a body. And black helps to focus on the person wearing the clothes. The main line offers timeless basics only, all made in Paris, except for the shoes that are manufactured in Italy. The whole thing composes an entire wardrobe, as we wanted to create more than just clothes: a special style. This main collection is called Coïncidence and includes another line called Niuku Coïncidence, with stronger pieces that will evolve every season. I like the idea of a strong identity that doesn't' fear to show its collaborators; Comme des Garçons does it. Operating this way will force us to do better every time.
You seem to be very curious and always making new projects, mixing disciplines… What about design?
Design is very important to us, and we are working on a new project… From late March, we will collaborate with the Stockholm-based great Karlsson & Wickman Gallery. Their selection is very interesting because it mixes Scandinavian design with Art Deco and African art. Scandinavian design is now starting to be a bit overseen today, but amongst other styles, it finds a better and even more refined status. The Gallery will settle in the main floor of the store, with a whole design and lifestyle selection. With this collaboration we go back to what a concept store is about : mixing different universes and surprising people in many ways. The interesting point is that our clientele will become plural, and it will be a real pleasure to make people discover some furniture designers while they might have come just for a T-shirt, or to introduce a new foreign label to someone who would come to the store to see our African pieces... I love making people discover new things. I think that another important rule for a concept store is to be happy about all those people coming through its doors. It is essential to be happy and grateful when trying to give people new things to discover. That’s what we try to do here at Coïncidence.
How would you describe Coïncidence's clientele?
The store just opened one year and a half ago. People who have discovered us so far are mainly foreigners. Our clients always come with a purpose; they are here to discover things. They are very curious, and well informed. They make a real effort to be aware of our shop and to come and visit us. That's why I insist on giving them a good experience in the store. I want our clients to feel free to look at everything, to take their time when they are here.
Fashion, design… Are we forgetting art?
Certainly not! We had this Lisa Smith exhibition recentely. I loved her work, especially her illustrations. So we suggested she made a little exhibit in our store, and we declined some of her works on hoodies and T-shirts. Our Coincidence label will also have this role to facilitate such collaborations, in a near future.
Coincidence, in a way, looks more like a gallery than a real store.
Exactly. Many Parisian areas evolved with the growth of their galleries, and we are settled in such an upcoming area right now! Our quarter, Le Marais, is one of the most frequented commercial areas in Paris. But we are on its hidden side, its cultural and confidential side. At first, we chose this place because it was very charming, but most of all because we could afford it: it was cheaper than the rest of the neighborhood. But from confines come the best ideas, right? Finally, being hidden and confidential is a good point for us, because our clients have to be open minded to get to us, and we love that. Besides, this fits our unique way of doing things. Neither the welcome nor the display is aggressive at Coïncidence, and we want to be welcoming to people without being pushy. Sometimes, it is hard for people to understand this behavior, but that's how we are. This comes from my experience with L'Eclaireur; those stores have this subversive spirit, which brings a different sort of relationship with the clients. When people understand what we do and our way of doing it, a strong exchange can come up, and this is really interesting and rewarding for both of us.
You are very professional and aware of your market, but you seem to also keep a strong human sense of relationships, is that another manifestation of your special way of doing things?
Probably. A friend told me that some designers she knew were very surprised to get an answer to the emails they had sent to us! I mean, behaving this way is a normal thing to the whole Coïncidence team, but sometimes people find it pretty unusual! This probably comes from our education. I was raised by my mother, with five brothers and sisters: I am from the real world. Times were hard then, but the situation made me understand that I had to listen to people. When new designers come to me, I always try to do so. I always think that this is a chance for me also: I'm lucky and happy to meet and listen and work with people. And I try to keep a sense of empathy. I had the chance to meet my two associates who offered me the opportunity to create Coïncidence. I'm so grateful for that. Having ideas, projects, was not a problem for me, but without any financial support, realizing them would not have been so easy. So I always keep in mind the difficulties people can have while building something. That's why I want to stay accessible and simple.
On the other hand, when I started to be interested in fashion and vintage, I understood that inspiration was a transgenerational phenomena. Everything has a starting point, some previous icons. Staying humble allows you to keep on being inspired. It is all about respect and discretion. Being a consultant also helps to stay modest: nobody knows you are behind cool things. So I try not to become arrogant… Arrogant; what for?! To show that we know everything better than everyone…?! Come on! We never know everything, we learn stuff everyday, it is a shame to stop being open to the whole creative, crazy, lively world.