In Conversation with Sylvain Lance Pierre
Parisian-born retail expert and owner of Cape Town-based boutique Bastille, Sylvain Lance Pierre knows a thing or two about the ultimate shopping experience. We chat to him about the importance of selecting the right brands, what’s to come in the world of retail and of course, his love for FIELDS
FIELDS: Tell us about your store Bastille, when it was established and what your vision for the store as a unique retail experience is?
Sylvain: Maison Mara (womenswear) opened in 2015 and Bastille (menswear) opened in 2016. After three years apart we decided to create one unique space together in May 2019. The whole concept was to open a place where international and local fashion could be introduced and exhibited to the South African market on our own terms, without the aesthetic of a shopping mall. The store should be a warm place where it’s enjoyable to spend time and to look in every corner: to buy, give or just appreciate the right product. We’ve worked hard to create a curated selection in order to guide the viewer into our universe.
FIELDS: Tell us about your background in the retail industry?
Sylvain: Kelly (his wife, and owner of Maison Mara) studied fashion design and I studied management. I’ve grown up in retail and in the fashion industry - my mother has owned a fashion store in Bastille (a district of Paris) for thirty years.
What is important to you when selecting brands to house in your store?
Sylvain: I like to know where and how the products are made. The background of a brand needs to fit with my ideas of how I wish to conduct consumerism. But of course it all starts with first sight, with style, beauty and taste. A brand for me must be a reflection of its time and its clientele.
What was it that made you buy into FIELDS? What is your favourite piece?
Sylvain: Where and how the garments are made… I also find it brave to start a brand nowadays and South Africans must believe in their capacity to create and produce locally.
FIELDS for me, ticks all the boxes. My favourite piece is the One Pocket Shirt, thanks for asking! I’m still waiting for a present from Mikael…
What part does the specialised boutique with a niche customer base play in the retail landscape?
Sylvain: Boutiques have just become too rare, and I’m not only referring to Cape Town or South Africa as a whole. Unfortunately the boutique industry is losing to the web and GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple). People should take back their neighbourhoods and enjoy local consumption. Tomorrow, even a brick-and-mortar (a physical store) sportswear shop will be considered niche. As a business owner you should understand the city where you are and listen to what people are missing because web-based companies are already doing this and profiting from it.
What do boutiques offer that larger, multi-brand department stores cannot?
Sylvain: It’s easier to love and care for a small place and group of staff than for a big one. Again, understanding your position in an environment is essential. The needs and tastes of people in Cape Town is different to the needs and tastes of people in Paris, Windhoek or Santiago.
When it comes to global trends, a nod to craft, handmade, customisation and specialised garments is currently happening, do you agree? Is this something that small boutiques can uphold better than big retailers?
Sylvain: I don’t think it’s the boutiques or big retailers that are responsible for the influx of this trend, it’s consumers. People are beginning to realise the severe negative impact that the fashion industry has been making on levels of pollution and the consequences that mass consumption is having on the environment. Therefore, brands need to adapt and retailers both big and small can play their part in making this happen. Big retailers however, demand mass production which goes against the ethos behind handcrafted trends.
Do you see this shift happening here in SA?
Sylvain: Yes, but not fast enough in the fashion industry. In my opinion, other industries in South Africa are proving to be better examples of craftsmanship and local concept, (art, food, drinks…).
How can the South African retail experience further improve? How can we support the smaller boutiques when culturally, it’s the norm to frequent the big department store?
Sylvain: Just give it a chance. I’m always happy and interested to know the guy who is baking my bread even if it’s a mission to park etc…
In your opinion, what is the future of retail?
Sylvain: Web of course. However, I still have a lot of hope for local businesses due to my belief that human contact is essential for mental health. Even though I write these responses in lockdown of COVID-19 and have been very careful of interacting with my family and the people around me, it is primordial to exchange human contact and to maintain physical interactions.
Considering all your travels, what has been your favourite in-store experience?
- FASHION: Colette in Paris, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to reach that level of coolness… there is only one Coca-Cola.
- FOOD: A restaurant in Paris where my cousin works as a chef (Jaïs), it can’t be fair when family is involved.
- ART: Cape Town has shocked me with its accessibility to art, it stands as a good example to the world. So as far as Cape Town galleries go… Smack, Smith Studios etc.
- DRINKS: Experimental Beach in Ibiza, my brother and I laughed so much there!
As a Parisian living in Cape Town, tell us, where do you enjoy your best:
- CROISSANT: Giovannis in Greenpoint
- COFFEE: An espresso is an espresso but Deluxe Coffeeworks on Buitenkant Street knows how to make one
- STEAK: Frankie Fenner in Woodstock, NO DOUBT!
- WINE: At home, a bottle of Momento Grenache
- BEER: Jack black Lager at Love Thy Neighbour on Bree Street