In conversation with Alexandre Thumerelle of 0FR — or Zero FR — the bookshop in Paris’ Marais district selling over 200 different publications, original or not, old or new, founded in 1996
In the heart of the historic Marais district in Paris (also home to Tom Greyhound, Dover Street Parfums Market, and Le Comptoir de l’Image), in a street opposite the capital’s famous art and fashion college ‘Duperré, is a bookshop. As one of the most famous bookshops in Paris, it sees collectors and tourists from around the world traveling to it yearly. This is 0FR, or Zero FR, the bookshop selling over 200 different publications, original or not, old or new, founded in 1996 by Alexandre Thumerelle and his sister, Marie.
When they first began, the two had been working within the Parisian underground scene of the 90s. Before opening the store, Alexandre organized events and concerts in Paris for his friends and artists he had met along the way to supplement his passion for making big screen 35 mm films. Amongst them were Daft Punk, the Parisian anonymous electronic group who opened their first album in 1993 at one of his events. Three years later the 0FR was born.
Originally, they began with a free newspaper called Pretext in 1996 featuring ‘0FR’ in large letters on the front cover. At the time this referred to zero francs but today the zero is pronounced as the letter “o” and the acronym remains. “For 15 years after we opened” — explained Alexandre Thumerelle — “people would ask us what the name meant, until recently when I found the sense to the three letters. We are Open Free Ready”. With this, Thumerelle delved into the role of the librarian and the many hats they wear on a daily basis.
In France, a bookshop is called a librairie, a place where one would borrow books or simply sit and turn its’ pages in the silence of a high-ceiling library. For the French, the term refers in fact to the bookshop but can entail many different professions. If one is a librarian, in this case, like Alexandre and his sister, his daily life consists of editing, publishing, sourcing, reviewing, correcting, hosting, finding, communicating, traveling and every day, opening the doors to the Parisian bookshop.
“There were about one hundred openings per year at the 0FR in Paris last year. There are concerts, book signings, magazine launches, exhibitions, paintings, sculptures, photography”, he explains. As well as this gallery and boutique, the 0FR has expanded worldwide opening its’ doors to Seoul, to Tokyo, to New York or California. As an independent book store and organization, as well as the Paris hub, Seoul forest was also home to one of their shops until recently when they opened in the center of the city on the 14th of February this year. Before this they had worked in pop-up stores, launches, temporary boutiques, at once living in Tokyo for two years while their store began to launch.
“Last year we did a pop-up for a month in New York and then one for a month in Los Angeles”, he explained. “We also tried to open up a second boutique in Paris called the 104’ in an art center in the 19th arrondissement in the outskirts of the city”. This project didn’t take off so the team closed up and looked for somewhere else to open up. Instead, they channeled their energy into performers, live events, artists, and exhibitions and promoting young talent across Paris.
Three years ago, Taras Serada, a chiseled Parisian artist walked into the 0FR and asked the owners to show them his paintings. Having had a last-minute cancellation in the gallery due to an altercation with one of their artists, Taras was welcomed with open arms and was given a few days to set up and mount his work for an imminent launch party. “I saw he was courageous and I helped him and bought some frames and through this we saw it worked really well so we prolonged the exhibition”.
From there, they opened up a temporary space in a large gallery in Paris where Taras came along and was part of a catalog that they created. A year later, 0FR produced another catalog before sending 13 drawings off to their Seoul team who would frame and launch the work within 10 days of an exhibition over there. The exchange is constant and this process will continue throughout the story of the 0FR.
Initially, the two started a distribution network where they supplied over 300 bookshops around the world selling publications they edited or imported from elsewhere. “This was extremely tiring and we did it for ten years”, he said — “We were constantly receiving palettes of magazines from around the world. It was very exciting as some were magazines that had very little visibility so we were installing a new editorial graphic scene”.
Whilst doing this they found their love for promoting emerging publications and building relationships with fellow editors but all in their own way. They organized, launched, and put them forward displaying them meticulously in their own location and position. They trialed placing all the magazines in stack across a room rather than on bookshelves hidden by the latest issues. This enabled them to sell over 1000 copies for one publication he explained, “when you can sell 1000 copies of one title or publication, well then that publication is autonomous. It requires no one and no advertising which is very rare”, he assured.
The store is set up with towering piles of books in an initial room forming a maze-like path through stacks of architecture, culture, fashion, photography, food, and various zines exploring the vast realms of print publications. A clothes rack reveals 0FR merchandise including hats, t-shirts, jumpers, and tote bags. Turning off to the right, a few stairs lead up to a gallery space open every day for any passer-by to view whilst buying the latest issue of a magazine. “The important thing” — said Alexandre — “is for the books to be intelligent and interesting to look at. We don’t care wether a book is thirty years old or was produced last week. And we don’t have a problem where we singularly stop at older books. When the book is good, we know how to place it so that when our clients come looking for a fashion magazine they say, ‘oh but this book on ancient history is quite cool’, and that is our craft”, he continued.
“My sister and I are always in the store” — he said — “this means that anyone can come by and tell us what they’re doing and show us their work. It’s a privilege seeing people’s work”. Like many book store owners in Paris, they chose to work outside the digital world, with no phone let alone a website. “We don’t open emails because we want to meet the people we work with. It won’t be just one exhibition. We’ll do ten exhibitions, a small book. We might start something in Paris that might be completely in tune with a pop up opening in New York so we tend to work with people that are easy to work with and understand our mission”.
As gallerists, many of their artists who exhibited with them initially went on to work with some of the city’s bigwig galleries and although they don’t work with contracts he explained, “we don’t hold people against their will. With us, it’s human contact so we have to respect that”. Still he said, “we aren’t hidden, everyone can walk in front of the shop which is important for us. The door is always open, even when it’s minus 2 degrees outside, we leave the door open”.
Today Alexandre and his sister have opened up an artist residency in the Lot region of south-western France, near Bergerac. The four-level village house sits in the beautiful country-side next to a river where they have all been staying during the confinement. Since its’ opening a few years ago, over one hundred artists have come to work, for inspiration, to relax or to simply do nothing at all and get a break from the city life. “We wouldn’t be able to do as much if we didn’t have this vital break in comparison to our over-booked life in Paris”, said Alexandre.
20 Rue Dupetit-Thouars