Marks & Spencer is in talks to open a store on the Champs-Elysées as part of its latest European strategy put in place by its new chief executive.
Marc Bolland has hand-picked a Paris store to test the idea of expanding into wealthy European city-centres. It will sell only fashion, and will be smaller than previous attempts at European sites.
His team has travelled to Paris to look at the store, and is now in talks with Esprit, the German retailer which occupies 100 avenue des Champs-Elysées, to take on the 1,000 sq metre (10,000-sq-ft), three-storey shop.
The Paris store, if secured, will sell top-end fashion such as the Autograph and Limited collections, but not food – a departure from previous European stores and something that could shock analysts. Mr Bolland is understood to want to get the Paris store right before he starts the search for sites in other major countries, with Spain likely to be next.
The retailer's history of expanding into overseas markets is at best mixed, and mostly disastrous. It originally had a successful Paris store on Boulevard Haussmann which was profitable, but it closed its entire continental network of 38 shops across France, Spain and Germany in 2001 despite internal resistance. It also sold its US interests such as the Brooks Brothers menswear business.
Marks & Spencer has 339 international shops in more than 30 countries which are either run in partnership or through franchises, but the Paris store would be company owned. It also has big plans to expand into China and India.
Mr Bolland said his new strategy would include big expansion overseas, pointing out that M&S is not present in 10 of the 15 biggest fashion markets in the world, one of which was France. "What we do in the selection of markets is we take a good look at which markets are logical to us," he said. "We do not exclude France at all but we are going to have a selective look at when we want to go and where we want to go."
An M&S spokesman would not comment on the Paris plans.
Mr Bolland took charge of the retailer in January from Sir Stuart Rose, who stayed on as chairman until the end of this year. Robert Swannell, the new chairman, starts on 5 January. Sir Stuart attended his last board meeting on Tuesday in what was described by insiders as an "emotional day" for everyone.
In another move, the Kooples, a French fashion brand, is gearing up to conquer Britain, with plans to launch 20 stores within the next year. It has already opened three London stores and a Selfridges concession and is in talks for three more. It was founded by brothers Alexandre, Laurent and Raphael Elicha – children of the creators of Comptoir des Cotonniers, a successful French retail chain.
The family sold Comptoir des Cotonniers to Fast Retailing, a Japanese group, in 2006. Comptoir's unique selling point was clothes for mothers and daughters while the Kooples markets to couples with "his and hers" outfits.
It has more than 73 outlets in France and plans to have at least 150 worldwide within five years. The roll out will spark interest from private equity players looking for new retailers with promising growth plans.