A glass of champagne or two while you browse? A changing room big enough for you and ten friends to chill out in? A beautiful, trilingual personal shopper, effortlessly juggling your favourite designers’ shoes, outfits and sunglasses? Forget giant shopping malls, queues and bun fights during the sales: Monaco knows how to shop.
From superyacht to supershop
The talk of the town, Monaco Marine’s Merci La Mer is a brand new luxury clothing and lifestyle store on the quayside in Port Hercules. One can now step off one’s superyacht, take a few elegant steps along the pontoon and breeze into the (according to Vogue) ‘ultimate fashion address of Monaco’. An initiative of the Monaco Marine yacht company (otherwise known for maintenance and refurbishment of the Principality’s boating stock), Merci La Mer is all about high-end fashion on a sea theme (or, as they put it, ‘sharing the true spirit of the Mediterranean’).
Looking for a cutting-edge crocheted bikini, and an exclusive-designer-label floaty robe to throw on over it? Or a straw panama hat, stylishly simple in appearance, yet whose price tag reassures you no-one else will be wearing exactly the same one on the beach? Your chauffeur may be parked nearby, but if the lines of a gorgeous vintage bicycle inspire you, or you’re thirsting to read about your next get-away-from-the-daily-Monaco-grind, then this is the store for you.
French Riviera chic on London radar
Personally, I am no great shopper and so it was no surprise that the store’s existence hadn’t come to my attention (besides, it is certainly not the kind of place that I, nor any photographers I know, could afford to shop in). However, London-based Monocle magazine, thermometer of cool to a certain discerning, well-heeled audience, had not only heard of Monaco Marine’s Merci la Mer but had conducted interviews and prepared a Fashion Briefing feature about the boutique before it had even opened. The magazine often commissions me when they need a photographer in the South of France, whether for a portrait, food photography at a new restaurant or to capture latest trends in global real estate. After a quick chat with the photo editor and the green light from the store, I set off towards Monte Carlo to capture the vibe of this new bastion of Riviera chic.
Not quite as expected
My first thought on arrival though, down by the shipyard, was that I’d got the address wrong. Not only were there no obvious signs of a fashion store on the quay, but I had a case of déjà vu, finding myself at the entrance to Stelios’s office. Puzzled, I wondered if my GPS had confused the address with the location of a recent portrait shoot of the Easyjet founder.
However, there was no mistake. The boutique was indeed there, right next door to Easyjet’s Monaco HQ – it just didn’t look like one. There was no exterior shop signage (it hadn’t been yet delivered), certain lights, curtains and other display fixtures had not yet been installed and many of the clothes were still in the mountains of boxes that almost filled the shop.
“Yes, we’re running a little behind schedule I’m afraid. If you could just find an angle where it looks best, we’ll move everything around for you” said the project manager. I didn’t know how to break the news that it wasn’t just one picture this photographer needed; I’d been briefed to capture various angles to show the interior design features, ‘vibe’ and range of products throughout the store.
Needs must though, and once we were all on the same page, we had no choice: shop team and photographer rolled up sleeves and did what was necessary to make the photoshoot happen. I chose my views very carefully, as each interior photograph needed significant preparation – from hefting furniture and boxes around to steam-ironing and hanging clothes. Fortunately for all concerned, the coffee machine was on the list of already-delivered items.
The rest is history
The day was somewhat longer than expected, as was my evening (in order to caption , optimise and deliver the files to the magazine to meet print deadlines). Nonetheless, the photo editor back in London, who couldn’t have imagined how the store looked before our work, was happy (“Thank you Rebecca! These are great“). The Merci La Mer team, too, were evidently pleased with the double-page spread devoted to a store that actually looked like they hoped it would, soon. Indeed, a couple of weeks later, I got a call: “The shop is finished now, really! We wondered if you’d come back to take some photographs for our own marketing?”
By the time I returned, the store, now fully open for business, was as I had originally expected. Commercial photographer now, rather than editorial photographer, I was free to focus on the details of the finished shop design, the clothing sets by the store’s exclusive group of designers, and the activity of happy shoppers.
Champagne and nibbly things
My connection with Merci La Mer did not end there, even if the management sadly couldn’t commission me for their official opening party. Albert II, Prince of Monaco was the all-important guest, and his PR team had laid down the law: either you hire our own event photographer or He doesn’t come (the principality has its own way of doing business, especially with regards to photographers in Monaco).
However, soon afterwards, the shop put on a little bash to launch the new collection of Italian label Sease, and so I found myself back at the store, this time as event photographer. The great and good of Monaco flocked around the guest designer, champagne was quaffed, nibbly things, served by immaculate waiting staff, were nibbled, and a DJ ensured an upbeat ambiance. As I moved around, photographing the designer, the guests and the shopping joy, I found myself for the first time absent-mindedly looking closer at a jacket here, a top there, wondering which colour might suit me. Yes, I thought, Monégasques do know how to shop.