After a massive opening party last March during Paris Fashion Week, Elevastor has kept organising multiple events related to art, fashion and design, including a live-painting performance by New York-based artist Patrick Church or an off party for the Urban Art Fair. They’re all crowded, successful, and loads of fun. The key to its success? Many, of course. But one of them is, undoubtedly, its founder, Thomas Guedj.
After visiting Colette with his mother, the epitome of all things cool and a unique place that marked a before-and-after moment for the rest of concept stores (in Paris and worldwide), Thomas knew he wanted to have his own shop too. After studying business and specializing in fashion and luxury, he ventured with Elevastor, which started as an online platform – to prove those non-believers that he was, indeed, capable of managing his own shop and thrive with it – and is now a brick-and-mortar space located at 1 Rue Dupetit-Thouars, in Le Marais, one of the coolest ‘arrondissements’ in Paris. In it, Thomas sells garments and accessories by some of the most interesting young and emerging brands and designers today: Telfar, Palomo Spain, Sankuanz, Cottweiler, Barragán, Rombaut, Igancia Zordan, and many more. Today, we speak with Thomas about entrepreneurship, the ongoing debate between retail and e-commerce, and the best things to do in Le Marais.
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Thomas, when did you know that you wanted to work in fashion?
Ever since I can remember, my mother was taking me to her design shops, events and fairs. I believe this provided me with a certain sensibility regarding art. However, even though I was from a very early age immersed in the worlds of art and design, my mind was already oriented towards fashion. My devoted mother introduced me to houses like Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake, and I clearly remember feeling that I wanted to be a part of it. The moment I knew that I wanted to create my own concept store was when she took me to Colette for the first time.
What is your background and how do you feel this led to where you are now?
I didn’t know what to study at all when I was younger, so I turned to business. I specialized in finance for the first year of my Master's degree – I was always really good with numbers. I then specialized in entrepreneurship and management in fashion and luxury. It just seemed like the logical path towards opening your own concept store.
Elevastor started as an online shop/platform, but on March 1, you opened a brick-and-mortar space next to Carreau du Temple, in Le Marais – the coolest, most fashionable district in Paris. When and why did you decide to expand beyond the digital realm?
From the moment I launched Elevastor, I wanted to have a brick-and-mortar space. The hardest part was to gather investments, and obviously, find a good location. Doing all this while not knowing if the public and the industry were going to follow the project definitely wasn’t easy. I began by launching the online store. I wanted to prove that I was serious about seeing this through, and once I found the perfect location, things just went faster. From there, we developed the design of the store. I wanted something raw, mixing concrete and metal and bring the project into the real world. We wanted to have a place where different forms of creativity would meet and where people could come to satisfy their curiosity in a tangible way. The brick-and-mortar space is not the end of the story though. We want to expand, extend to other areas. I can’t say too much about that though. Time will tell.
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There is an ongoing debate regarding retail. Because of online e-commerce and the new ways people are buying, many physical shops have had to close. For example, especially in the United States, the once-famous malls are currently struggling to survive. Nevertheless, your case is the other way around: you started online and now you have a physical space as well. What’s your take on this phenomenon? How do you think shops should adapt to the new environment? Is creating a more personalized experience for the client a solution?
There is indeed a lot of debate surrounding retail. I acknowledge the fact that more and more people are buying things online every day, but I feel it is still important to have a physical presence. I read this study the other day saying that when an article is being checked online, it is in eight out of ten cases consequently bought in-store. Twelve per cent of online purchases occur after the article is checked in-store, and eight per cent of purchases are made in physical stores exclusively. To have an online store nowadays is vital for you need to reach a global audience and have interactive, engaging content; this is unquestionable.
I feel, though, that having a brick-and-mortar space is almost as important for what we do. I like to think of the website as the centre of the project, with the shop being an experimental capsule where we can make all these crazy events happen. Alongside the garments, we also carry design furniture and artworks, so there is also a lifestyle component that fits in there.
If we focus solely on fashion, however, it offers a shopping experience that the online store cannot: to be able to feel the garment, to truly appreciate the design, the details, to try it on and see how it interacts with your body. In that sense, the personalized customer experience is paramount. You need to offer a service tailored to the customer’s desires and needs. You need to advise them, guide them through everything: what garment to choose, how to wear it, how to style it, how to wash it, etc. For what we are doing, I think it all comes down to this. Despite the apparent decline of in-store shopping, the fact is that there have presently never been so many concept stores opening in Paris. I do believe there is a future for physical shops.
On your website, you say that innovation and excellence have been “the watchwords of this platform”. What other words/concepts do you feel define Elevastor now?
Yes, innovation and excellence are definitely watchwords at Elevastor. I would simply add elegance, which I think summarizes what we’re about, what we’re aiming for. Elegance, as in having an exhaustive range of designers, covering as much creative ground as possible while not losing sight of the importance of remaining sharp and consistent in your vision.
Palomo Spain, Dilara Findikoglu, Xander Zhou, Arthur Avellano, Hardeman, John Lawrence Sullivan, Neith Nyer, Telfar… Your bet on young, emerging designers/brands is admirable. Do you feel some sort of responsibility in helping them grow and expand?
At our current level, we cannot say that we feel responsible for their growth. We are aware that we can bring more visibility to a label by giving them a platform in Paris but, as for now, that’s as far as it goes. The way I see it is that we’re helping them and they’re helping us. It’s a two-way relationship. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to provide some brands with the means they need; and maybe, develop collections in collaboration with them. Who knows?
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Guide us through your selection process. Being a buyer and shop owner isn’t easy! How do you choose what designers do you want to work with? Do you look at their collections only, or do you pay attention to their personal stories as well?
The collections in themselves are not enough. What we look at, amongst other things, is the story the brand is telling and the way they tell it. There needs to be a thrust, a strong guiding element; otherwise, it is not sustainable. The notion of consistency is once again at the heart of everything and that’s how we assess a collection’s potential. We naturally have press and sales agents showing us new possibilities, but we’re taking inputs and insights from everyone around us, be it friends or people from the industry. They help us understand what the next thing will be. It may seem complex, but it’s sometimes just as simple as sitting down at a café and watching people pass by, check out what they’re wearing. It’s also important to not lose focus and stay grounded about these things. Image, positioning and, of course, price are key elements of the buying process in the fashion retail industry.
One of Elevastor’s goals is “to elevate fashion to the rank of Art”. One of your most recent ‘acquisitions’ totally proves so: Patrick Church. He’s actually a visual artist who, in addition to paintings and illustrations, is developing fashion and underwear collections. Do you expect to include more artists-turned-designers to your roster?
I don’t think it would be a deliberate choice to carry artists-turned-designers at Elevastor, although I do find the transdisciplinary aspect of one’s creativity to be of great interest. It’s stimulating to not think of an artist specifically as, say, a shoe designer or a painter, but rather as a creative person whose universe and interests can translate into more than one particular field. It’s the case with Patrick, whom we had over at the store in June during Paris Fashion Week.
We presented his new collection and he did a live-painting performance in the same evening. It just felt so refreshing and I think the audience got the same vibe. We had some great feedback. It was an exciting experience and I would be happy if we organised events in the same vein as this one, but it’s not like we intend to make it a trademark. We’re open to all solicitations from designers, artists and creatives who have something interesting to share. We want to keep offering compelling experiences to everyone.
Your mixture of fashion and art is also present on the walls, for example. A while back, you were exhibiting the work of Bebar. Tell us more about how did you discover his work and how do you expect to grow more relationships with artists in addition to fashion designers.
I love Bebar’s art. I found out about him through a friend who runs the Ground Effect gallery and with which we organized the Urban Art Fair off party in April. We consider the artistic input part of Elevastor’s DNA. We want to keep offering a platform for artists to express themselves, and that’s why we’re constantly developing relationships. We’re curious, always on the lookout for new talent. We contact artists, we listen to those who reach us, we try to see how we could integrate their work into the space. We also have a presence on platforms dedicated to art such as Artsy. The goal is to help the artist get recognition, to help them sell the artworks, and perhaps get commissioned by some of our customers.
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The opening party was a total success: there were many more people than the space could fit, the DJs played very upbeat and danceable techno (thanks Vallechi and Herrenscheide!), Alejandro Palomo attended it with his male army, and everyone was just dancing and having lots of fun. How do you remember that night? The culmination of so many months of hard work finally turning ‘real’. Any fun anecdotes?
We put in a lot of work to have the store ready within the desired time frame, so there was of course an element of stress, even though we were confident about the response to our opening party. A lot of people turned up, Vallechi and Herrenscheide killed it. Alejandro was so nice, we had some friends wearing his beautiful pieces during the party and they definitely caught the eyes of many. Overall, people were dancing, smiling, having fun. We also received a lot of compliments about how the store looked like, so we couldn’t have been more satisfied.
One fun anecdote is that we were advised by our liquor supplier that only one alcohol container would be enough for the party and gave us one extra ‘for back-up’. We weren’t so sure, so we actually went for three of those. I think we all underestimated how thirsty people were because, in the end, we had to bring another two containers. We even went to buy dozens of last-resort six-packs. They were of course all emptied in a flash.
You opened the space six months ago. After all the stress, I assume you’ve tried to relax a bit these past days. But knowing you, I can imagine you’re already thinking about and working on ‘the next thing’. So what will it be? What can we expect from Elevastor in the future?
Since we opened, we’ve organised six events and they all went very well. We’re of course really happy about that and want to keep doing this. We try to have at least one event a month to keep things interesting. So, more collaborations – be it a one-off or long-term thing. We already have lots of projects in the works, with new brands ready to join our adventure in the near future. To put it simply, this is just the beginning.
So let’s say we visit Elevastor at 11 am, when it opens. Could you recommend us what to do nearby to spend the rest of the morning? Nice cafés to have breakfast before visiting the shop and places we should see after visiting it (art galleries, book shops, restaurants, etc.)
Since we’re located in Le Marais, there is always fun stuff to do, enough to keep you busy for the whole day. After leaving Elevastor with your arms full of bags, you can go for an avocado toast at Season, just around the corner, have a bento at Nanashi or simply head to Le Marché des Enfants Rouges to pick the food you like among the many food stands. You will definitely want to check out the 0fr bookstore to find some rare, out-of-print photo books and other cool reads. Then, you can just get lost in the streets, from Rue des Archives to Rue Vieille du Temple, visit some of the dozen galleries you’ll come across, or sit down at La Perle or Le Progrès to grab a drink. There are also a host of interesting concept stores around which we would recommend you to visit.
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