Surface to Air store in Paris.

A must-see location whenever we visit Paris is the street/contemporary store Surface to Air at 68 rue Charlot. Sometimes confused with the famous concept store colette, Surface to Air isn’t really a concept store as much as it is the tip of the iceberg for a series of cool designer apparel (including the Surface to Air label), accessories, and footwear that can also be found in a larger scale at their four fashion trade shows, Rendez-Vous which take place during Paris Fashion Weeks, and now also, their virtual fashion trade show LeNewBlack.

To start, Surface to Air is one of those examples of a concept that doesn’t fit into the neat-boutique of what is retail. Sure they have a cool store in Paris (headquarters), and Sao Paulo, and will be adding one soon in Los Angeles, but Surface to Air encompasses an entire design team including a group of art directors that have worked on campaigns ranging from Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, EMI, Loveless, and Chromeo, among others. In their film arm (yes, Surface also includes video and film production), cousins Jeremie Rozan (head Surface to Air guy) and Martial Schmeltz have won acclaim for such music videos and commercials including a very cool Diesel campaign, Scenario Rock, and the Midnight Juggernauts. The collective also includes a NYC team headed by Gordon Hull, plus art directors Alberto Cabrera and Charlotte DeLarue, and really only a handful of others.

Ironically, Surface to Air -the agency portion -is responsible for that very interesting concept that took place last August of hosting Uniqlo from Japan, as a pop-up shop inside colette before the major launch of Uniqlo, the flagship store, in Paris. While that sounds somewhat like they’re working with the enemy (or enemies) if you consider colette and even Uniqlo competition to their own retail scene, perhaps the fact that Surface to Air doesn’t think this way and ends up landing such interactive gigs is a lesson in looking at one’s competitors as a potential market opportunity beyond the simple concept of brand/store collaborations.

For those who’ve never attended a Rendez-Vous event, these too are interesting concepts in a fashion trade show. And while its up for debate whether BPMW (another cool collective out of NYC) copped a similar idea with their shows (capsule) and Compass, the fact that someone is onto their gig is a reason to call Surface to Air, for lack of a better word, “trendy.”

Their latest big movement that’s notable however, is the creation of LeNewBlack, one of the first virtual fashion trade shows where buyers can register online and order from an edited group of brands. For example, the network for LeNewBlack currently includes 500 registered buyers (usually boutiques but some department stores ranging from Saks to Selfridges, Urban Outfitters, OogaBooga, and even colette), 30 registered brands, and at last count, 199 orders. That may not seem huge by MAGIC standards, but online trade shows are catching on for many reasons -mainly the lack of funds for travel and booth set-up among brands. Created by Surface to Air director Vidya Narine in March, 2009, LeNewBlack allows brands to showcase their showrooms within specific categories from which buyers come in and buy-up product.

Which brings us back around to the actual store. Yes, you can find some of the selected brands from LeNewBlack featured in the Surface to Air store, which makes going in and checking it all out worth the trip. Not to mention the fact that the store layout and design is quite attractive. They also feature a variety of collaborations including the current limited-edition collection with photographer Solve Sundsbo, available at only 20 retailers worldwide, and some accessory collab items with the band Kings of Leon.

While the world of fashion continues to feel the pain of the economy, it’s inspiring to watch a collective that’s branched beyond the normal borders and created a multi-dimensional world that incorporates a business around the lifestyle of creativity.