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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 14:32 GMT
Adieu to sandwiches and sensible pants
A Marks & Spencer store
Shops like these will close in Europe from Saturday
By Hugh Schofield in Paris

So adieu then, Marks & Spencer.

For 26 years you supplied the French with sensible underwear and imitation Barbours, egg sandwiches and marmite.


Where am I going to buy my Red Leicester?

Coralie Moreau
Housewife

Now a beacon of British taste among the peoples of continental Europe is being cruelly snuffed out.

In Paris, many are the bereft.

The scene on Friday at the store's flagship branch on Boulevard Haussmann is reminiscent of a wake.

Crowds swarm among the cardboard boxes and naked mannequins for a last taste of the experience defined in the 1975 publicity launch as "Le Shopping".

"I do not know what I am going to do," wails housewife Coralie Moreau at the cheese counter. "Where am I going to buy my Red Leicester?"

"I have been coming here for 15 years," bemoans legal secretary Nadeje Quignon. "Of course I feel a little sad."

The company's 18 stores in France - and 20 in the rest of Europe - shut definitively on Saturday, and as the day approaches successive parts of the Haussmann shop have been put off limits.

A Marks & Spencer bag
Shoppers in Europe will miss M&S knickers, marmite and imitation Barbours

First the children's section in the basement disappeared; then the gentlemen's department was removed from the second storey to the ground floor.

Gradually trading is being restricted into the area immediately inside the front doors. Soon it will be squeezed out altogether.

The articles are heavily discounted and most have already disappeared. The clothes lie in dishevelled piles.

In the food section, vast amounts of particular items give a clue to French dislikes.

Le shopping

A whole wall-full of mango chutney is clearly going no-where, and the same can be said - perhaps more understandably - of M&S's black bean and garlic stir-fry.

Interestingly, in the ladies' section, the roll-on deodorant has not been much of a seller.

Beset by financial problems, Marks & Spencer announced in March that it was pulling down the shutters in Europe, provoking a national outcry in France where the closure was seen as an act of callous Anglo-Saxon piratry.

In the end, honour - and jobs - have been saved all round, because the French operation has been sold to rival department store Galeries Lafayette. But as all the shoppers tell you - it's not the same thing at all.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris
Parisians used to look sniffily at the idea of lunching on a sandwich when M&S first opened

The shutdown does indeed mark the end of an era.

When the stores first opened most Parisians looked sniffily at the idea of lunching on a sandwich.

Today sandwich bars abound, and M&S can legitimately boast of having had a profound effect on French eating habits.

Many are the middle-aged French wives who have dressed themselves in plaid skirts and their husbands in spangled lambs wool knits, in the touching belief that they are capturing British style.

Surrogate British embassy

Conversely, company lore has it that it was in response to the French public's horror at not having anywhere private to try clothes on that, against all tradition, the store's first dressing-rooms were introduced in Paris, and then exported back to Britain.

According to Guy Bodescot, manager of the Boulevard Haussmann branch, his store came to have the status of surrogate British embassy.

Brits came for directions, advice or help. The French came for the feel.

Now a quarter of a century on, the flag is coming down.

See also:

03 Apr 01 | Business
Christmas comes late at Paris M&S
01 Apr 01 | Business
M&S may face French legal action
20 Dec 01 | Business
France pushes through redundancy law
16 Oct 01 | Business
M&S sells French stores
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