Simplicity of materials can draw attention to garments, artwork, literature and music on display: thinking can matter more than buying, according to the trio Joste, Lafarge and Steinmetz
The Broken Arm opened in February 2013, so-called in homage of the Marcel Duchamp artwork depicting a snow shovel hanging from a ceiling with the words ‘in advance of the broken arm’ – illustrating the blurred line between art and life. Set across 200 square meters of a sandstone Haussmann city block, this Parisian destination sits opposite the Square de Temple in the upper Le Marais – the medieval district that is home to Paris’ most ancient buildings and the 13th Century Pletzel, or Jewish quarter. Its founders, Romain Joste, Anaïs Lafarge and Guillaume Steinmetz were previously collaborators at the online magazine Des Jeunes Gens Modernes before switching allegiances to a brick and mortar experience. The trio, Lafarge having been a consultant, Steinmetz the assistant of luxury goods magnate Jean-Jacques Picart and Joste cutting his teeth at an art gallery, immediately shared a common love for an aesthetic that sees clothing as a thread connecting music, art and cuisine.
The Broken Arm’s minimalist Scandinavian approach makes for an unpretentious experience – stark-white walls and pillars divide the space, with channels of light projected from overhead windows refracting off the watermarked concrete and sandblasted wooden floors. Shadows of garments in a multitude of hues, their matte black rails, and stained wood and wicker chairs further dissect the building, transforming the environment into a selection of greys, greens, creams and browns. Spread over two levels, the interior spaces were designed in collaboration with local architecture practice SCMDGL who used wood and concrete to create a flexible and malleable exhibition space; utilising the simplicity of the materials in order to draw attention to the garments, artwork, literature and music on display. In an attempt to describe the interior space to their online clients, these three buyers have gone to the effort of developing their own eau de toilette. Developed from the individual scents of the materials used to construct the store, it is reminiscent of the interior of a pine wood cabin.
Fed up with showcasing products without knowing the piece or the production details online, the founders wanted a public space where they could welcome people; presenting their products in a way that clients want to touch them and try them on. Rounding up this curated and personalised ‘experience’ is The Broken Arm Café (a staple ingredient of almost all concept spaces), which has now carved out its own niche customer base of creatives from the area. Serving up a multitude of foodstuffs to Parisians and visitors alike, homemade cakes, the millennial appropriate classic of avocado on toast, oeuf mouillettes et Comté (egg and soldiers), Galician sardines and toasted figs are regulars on the menu of the day, prepared by the Le Bristol trained chef. In contrast to a recent spate of Australian owned coffee shops in Paris, they source their beans from the opposite hemisphere – Solberg & Hansen, a Norwegian coffee roaster. Moroccan tiles in shades of grey and bleached wood make up this area of contemplation and sustenance, where American glossies are interspersed (between terracotta-potted plants) with copies of Le Figaro and L’Equipe.
Unlike London’s Machine-A, who follow a vocation of supporting young talent, they have a wardrobe approach. They don’t support a label if they don’t bring an entire wardrobe. They would never buy a brand if they only do coats. They want a balance on each rack. The boutique stocks only around 40 labels at a time, including the likes of Raf Simons, Comme Des Garçons and Marine Serre (who they spotted at their LaChambre graduation show in Brussels, offering her a full window during Paris Fashion Week), as well as labels such as Jacquemus and Prada, creating a rounded experience of international luxury.
In an interview with 1 Granary in August 2017, Guillame Steinmetz described the trio’s buying rational as “an extension of themselves… this isn’t a business for us. Obviously we’re realistic, and we need to make money to survive, so we’ll maximise the sales and we want to grow – but before all else, it’s not the growth that makes us happy. What makes us happy, is to have a project that makes us proud.” This translates to the physical space as well as online with daily updates and highlights that focus on everything from the restaurant’s menu to the newest collection offering. This attitude comes as no surprise when you stumble upon the array of periodicals and books on offer here, from Dust, Hero, System and Document Journal to Terry Richardson’s Eat Me Alive and Paul Hameline’s Rave New World – each sit on individual jet-black tables.
What lies in store for the future is dependent on the changing mood of the three founders. Steinmetz has stated that they“have become a bit more relaxed. Before, when we brought a new brand on board, we felt like it had to be a match made in heaven, a union for the following twenty years. Now, we’ve agreed that it’s okay to change your mind, as a young designer does so as well. We won’t miss the first seasons anymore, waiting to be a 100% sure. Now, we buy from the beginning, without waiting for the confirmation. Thomas Tait for example, we supported from the beginning. If we would have waited, we would have missed it. And I don’t regret having him in the shop for one second, even if he quit. We also want to be guided by the message of the designer, and this is often stronger in the beginning, but also more fragile. But that’s what makes it interesting, when everything isn’t 100% in order. It’s more exciting than something perfectly constructed that responds to specific requests, where all the groups are completed.”
Text Daniel Love
12 Rue Perrée