Thread your way back in time – the Mercerie – Silk Thread
Ultramod – The Mercerie And Hat Shop
A quest for silk embroidery thread leads me to a haberdashery on a narrow Paris street. The only name visible at this address behind the green façade is “Mercerie“.
The mercerie on the rue de Choiseul sits a few doors north of the Passage Choiseul entrance along rue Saint-Augustin.
Unlike the first chapter setting in Emile Zola’s novel, Thérèse Raquin, this display window lacks the dust and dinginess. The interior is lit with brilliant colors of the past and present. The roses are freshened weekly.
Ultramod lacks the depressing spirit of Zola’s main character. If you visit between two and three in the afternoon, you will encounter a conviviality doubtfully found in any other mercerie shop in Paris.
One day while waiting for the owner, Mr. Jean-François Morin, the sounds of laughter and chatter and the clinking of the cutlery against the porcelain and the scent of a warm lunch mingled with the sight of colored jewels of buttons, boxes, ribbons and threads.
Ultramod is a haberdashery shop — a mercerie. Entering the mercerie, you face hundred of buttons, to the left of the dolls and old sewing machines on top of the cabinets. The lights in the window will catch your eyes; embroidery skeins drape the edges. If you are looking for a button, you have hundreds or “thousands” from which to choose.
Two Sides Of The Street
The mercerie has two shops across the narrow street from each other. The mercerie on the one side of rue de Choiseul sells vintage silk ribbons that feel as if you are burying your fingers in goose down.
Across the street, is the vintage hat shop with its vintage patterned straw and other materials, furniture braids, coarse-grains (gros-grains), and supplies (fourniture) for hat making. Givenchy once bought here, Lanvin does and Jean Paul Gaultier visits personally to select his materials. If no one is in the shop, someone in the mercerie will open the door for you.
Ultramod sells silk threads from Au Ver à Soie or the complete color range of DMC, traditional braids, ribbons of all types, embroidery and tapestry threads.
Consider the vintage materials in the two shops as unique — once they are gone they are gone forever!
Experiencing the moment
This mercerie spells ambiance with a capital “A”. The little shells above the entry door tingle continuously as the customers move steadily in and out looking for that special color….
A French couple comes in looking for thread. Her button has come off the bottom of her pants.
The color has to match her shoes, her stockings and the color of the button. With help, they find the taupe color necessary to pull the look together.
The Japanese girl in the raincoat wants to replace the black buttons on her coat and sets about to patiently look for and to find the replacements in one of the button boxes.
The French woman holds two rolls of printed ribbon and needs a specific measure.
Another woman tries to imagine how the olive felt ribbon will look tied; Marc demonstrates how to lap the pieces to achieve the effect she wants.
A green, hand-crank cash register and hand written receipts monitor all sales.
Often tourists come in browsing and still end up leaving with something, Mr. Morin says.
We speak Japanese
Guidebooks and fashion magazines in Japan mention Ultramod often. Momoko found her job with Ultramod after reading about the mercerie in the Japanese Elle magazine. She wanted to work here and followed the channels.
She is here on an exchange visa so she can work and learn French and the business simultaneously. This mercerie is a favorite destination for Japanese tourists, and she acts as the translator.
The oral history of Ultramod dates to between the 1860s and 1880s. The last of the family sold out in the 1990s.
Mr. Morin formerly had a career in finance, until about 1991. In 1996 he was smitten as soon as he walked into the mercerie store run by Madame Léone Santais. Mr. Morin then had the opportunity to buy the store across the street, the original with all of its vintage stock. The last of the original family was selling (the name of the family was not exactly clear — Mr. Morin is not even sure of the name any longer).
The original families’ factory and storage facilities in the north of France was bombed in the 1940s. They brought the salvageable stock to Paris and rue de Choiseul. The collection of the vintage treasures for sale is amazingly large. When the stock is depleted, that’s it!
Au ver à Soie – “the world leader in silk thread”
The wholesale business of Au Ver à Soie (founded in 1820) is located on rue Réaumur.
From behind a massive, solid wood, old-fashioned counter, topped by a gigantic gold cash register, the atelier (studio) windows behind her, the woman was very secretive about the Au Ver à Soie factory.
She stood among the wood bookshelves that reached to the top of the high ceiling room filled with thin boxes and tightly wrapped grey packages. Other women were at work over to the side behind other partitions and walls.
Samples hung on the wall and on the display hooks to the right of the two entry doors made of wood and old glass imprinted with the complete name of Au Ver à Soie written on an angle.
I left Au Ver à Soie with the name and address of Ultramod and an introduction to silk thread.
A reader wanted to visit Au Ver à Soie thinking that the factory was located in Paris. Contact Au Ver à Soie during the September Journées du Patrimoineabout visiting the factory located in Bracieux (Loir-et-Cher, Centre).
l’Aiguille en fête (Needlework Fair in Paris)
Au Ver à Soie organizes the “Expression de Soie” (Silk Expressions) for the l’Aiguille en fête (Use Google Translate) held in February since 2004. Examples of silk interpretations from the 2011 show. For that competition, 54 works of art arrived at Au Ver à Soie to be presented to the jury. In their works, the entrants must demonstrate the delicacy of the art, talent, a spirit of creativity and virtuosity.
A haberdasher is a person who sells small, commonly used items in clothing via retail. This can include ribbons and buttons, or completed accessories, such as hats or gloves. A haberdasher’s shop or the items sold therein are called haberdashery — Wikipedia
Open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
3 and 4 rue de Choiseul 75002
Tel: 01 42 96 98 30 Fax 01 42 60 45 57
Metro: Quatre Septembre (near the Opera)
Au Ver à Soie The Web site is available in English. Choose the British flag at the bottom of the page. ( Use Google Translate)
Inside the glass-cased mini museum of hat pins and lace
Inside the Hat Maker’s Shop (Including Queen Elizabeth II’s hat form)
Inside the Ribbon and Button Shop