A few seasons back, when the likes of Balmain made 80s rock chic one of the hottest looks, every high street brand released distressed, torn, studded and leather items - but there was one label that did it better than most. In fact, they even did it better than the luxury brands. When I started sighting cool French girls clad in slouchy leather jackets, checked shirts and studded ankle boots, I soon realized that American Retro was behind this - and they managed to pull off the whole rock thing without making it look costumey or fake.
Of course the brand, which is now widely available throughout the world, wasn't always associated with an edgy rock style. Back in 2002, when it was founded by the Pariente brothers (who's parents are responsible for the famous Naf Naf label), the idea was to create clothing that would emulate the style of bohemian pieces so often found in second-hand stores in the States. Having visited the U.S. the Parientes fell in love with the denim items they found, in particular Joe's Jeans which they ended up exclusively distributing in France. Initially more popular in the U.S. market, where the hippie vintage looks were first snapped up by Fred Segal, a revised lower pricing soon made American Retro a mainstay in France, with a first boutique opening in Paris a year later. These days, American Retro is sold worldwide, has several boutiques in the French capital and has also added two additional lines to the collection: ZoeTee's and My Lovely Jean. Though some of the clothing may still have a bit of that boho retro vibe, especially the SS11 pieces, the bulk of the collection now consists of casual chic clothes with a glam edge.
...while the rest of the store features partially exposed brick walls and wooden beams (left). More tees and antique trunks (right).
While there are plenty of Parisian American Retro stores to choose from - I believe there are seven in total - I usually prefer browsing the Marais boutique which is one of the oldest. It spans two floors, with exposed brick walls and wooden beams on the ceilings and throughout the space reminding you of the fact that you are in an old building. Most of the furniture has an antique feel as well, including scruffy wooden tables, copper coat hangers and worn trunks. In contrast, the walls of the ground floor are plastered with graffiti or collages. And then there are the clothes themselves, studded, sequined, illustrated and fur-lined - always on-trend but still wearable enough to last beyond just a season. When I went, the FW10 looks were still around, but judging from the new Spring collection, some of the vintage inspired 60s pieces might actually fit the antique decor.
While the majority of the trendier looks are on the ground floor, along with a large ZoeTee's section right next to the entrance, jeans and more timeless pieces, such as knits, wool jackets and blazers can be found one floor up. Passing the first flight of stairs, I was greeted by a lot of khaki green army looks, but once I arrived on the top floor, the rustic ambiance of the wooden beams almost made me feel like I'd entered another store. Looking out, I could see a little terrace belonging to the boutique, but of course the main distraction were the numerous items, especially the bags and shoes, which American Retro does so well. In the past, I've seen Ann Demeulemeester inspired lace sandals or heavily studded boots. For more unique accessories, the store now also offers candles, cushions, books and other items by various brands which can be found towards the back.
While I have always associated American Retro as being more rock than girly (their leather dresses, shorts and skirts are phenomenal), there are looks for everyone and as mentioned, the current season caters to the more romantic bohemian woman. If you're ever in France, this label should be on your shopping list, but even if you're not, the brand is easily found around the world and has it's own e-shop as well. The good news? Sales are still on, so click away if you want to snap up a bargain...
A quick look at the terrace (left), and an even nicer view of some leopard shoes, knits and studded tees (right).Address: 40 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75004 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:30-19:30