Monday, 17 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "B.J.? Anyone?"

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
1st Arrondissement: Quirk 8 ~ "B.J. Anyone?"

A 'BJ' high up on a grand central Parisian building just off the Rue de Rivoli - what can it mean?

Well, unless you have a mind like mine, or, alternatively, you're a real Paris connoisseur, you won't have a clue. As I didn't. Until I did a little research.

In fact it stands for the 'Beautiful Gardner(ess)', or La Belle Jardinière in the original text...

La Belle Jardinière was a clothing department store just as frivolous and fancy as La Samaritaine (its illustrious neighbour) or Le Bon Marché in its day. It goes back to the 19th century and shut up shop back in the 70s. Now it houses the Habitat fancy furniture store and round the back the less-than-fancy Conforama furniture store.

The invention of the sewing machine had a lot to do with the ascention of the brand, going from a simple one-price clothing manufacturer to one of the biggest 'grands magazines' of the capital.

All sorts of stuff was available for purchase, as evidenced by the wonderful period ads of the time: suits and shirts; top hats for the gents and bonnets for the ladies; gloves and walking canes; hand muffs and shoes, of course.
There were even special sections for uniforms, sports clothing and even one for the church - leaving no cassock unturned, as it were.

Franchises opened around the country, from Lyon and Marseille to Nantes and Anger, all from the little store of 1824 selling fixed price garments. It was one of the first stores to use the franchising model and by 1840 there were 190 outlets, by the 1860s 322.
Unfortunately, the group suffered terribly from the textile industry crises, never having diversified, and as mentioned before disappeared back in the 70s.

Now all we have to remember the Beautiful Gardner by are two letters high up on a Parisian facade. And long may they remain as a reminder of an other time.

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* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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