Aiming to Please
December 5, 2007
By Jane Ayer
The tiny shop on rue Bonaparte in Paris’ Left Bank is a perfect match for the fashion boutiques surrounding it.
The tiny shop on rue Bonaparte in Paris’ Left Bank is a perfect match for the fashion boutiques surrounding it. The front window features four chocolate-coloured boxes facing outwards, spotlights showcasing their contents. Words printed on the window beneath the boxes let onlookers know exactly what they’re looking at: Collection Printemps-Été 2005 – Spring-Summer 2005 Collection. But instead of shimmering gold jewelry or filmy silk scarves or boxy, bright-coloured purses, the items on display have a slightly shorter shelf life. They include tarts brimming with shiny fruit, colourful round almond meringues with sweet, fruit fillings (known as macarons – macaroons in English – these sweets are found in every respectable pastry shop and tea house in Paris), dainty petits-fours and gleaming pralines. A line-up curls out from the tiny boutique owned by French pastry chef Pierre Hermé (the business also carries his name) onto the cobblestone street, but customers are happy to stand and contemplate exactly what they are about to encounter. Twice a year, customers and invited guests are treated to a pastry “fashion” show. The “models” (waiters) parade down the runway holding trays topped with some of the newest seasonal offerings.
“This is a bit more theatrical, but at the same time it’s more explicit,” Hermé once explained to a Reuters reporter.
Looked at through North American eyes (mine, in particular – I was in Paris for Europain 2005), the event may seem more than a bit theatrical: some might say it’s a bit over the top. But the only thing over the top about the situation is the success Pierre Hermé has found by creating such drama for his sweet creations. Of course the drama isn’t just empty promises: Hermé’s concoctions are flavourful and as near perfect as handmade sweets can get.
“The point of creating a cake is to give pleasure, so I always look at it from the perspective of the person eating it,” said Hermé in the Reuters article. “My aim is not to surprise or create original things in order to dazzle, it really is just to please.”
Here in Canada, some in the industry have caught on to the idea of incorporating visuals into marketing their products (though perhaps not to the same extent as Hermé’s fashion shows). The Cupcake Shoppe on Yonge Street in Toronto changes its front window display regularly, with customers stopping by to see the new display – and walking into the shop to try some of the new cupcake flavours featured. Another bakery in Toronto makes gingerbread cookies in the image of celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael Jackson and Don Cherry. And Chris Heath, the manager of Stone Crock Bakery (read the story on page 22) in St. Jacob’s, Ontario, is very aware that the sight of horses and buggies driving by in front of Stone Crock, along with the bakery’s Mennonite roots, are a big draw for its customers. But it’s not just about the presentation, though aesthetics are obviously part of the appeal for any product. The climax, the ultimate moment of truth always comes when the customer puts a piece of cake or tart or cookie into their mouth. That’s when they need to be bowled over by the flavour of the sweet. That’s when they need to encounter perfection.
Standing outside Pierre Hermé on rue Bonaparte, I was wowed by the sleekness of the boutique, and intrigued by the line of people willing to stand and wait for a cookie or two. But when I finally bit into a grapefruit macaroon, that’s when I was dazzled. And, as a customer, I was very, very pleased.
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