Le Comptoir Général - Paris

by Violetta Sturiale

photography Aryanà Francesca Urbani

coordination Mariaelena Morelli

2 June 2014

The team behind Le Comptoir Général told us more about its history and mission.

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How would you define Le Comptoir Général?  

It is a foundation housed in a museum in the center of Paris which facilitates social projects. Le Comptoir Général is entirely dedicated to exotic ventures, out-of-the-box creativity, hidden secrets, lost causes, and ghetto exploration. 

How did it start, and who supports it today?

It was born out of the imagination of two inseparable friends who are obsessed with black culture, religion, and theme parks. They had been lucky enough to be given an 800 square meter building to make their dream happen.

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Who are the key individuals behind Le Comptoir Général?

Every member of our 35-person team is a key player, and we also rely on the 5,000 people that visit us every week. They all make a donation when entering the building. 

Aurélien Laffon and Etienne Tron are the founders. Etienne is also the head of Secousse—the music department of Le Comptoir Général—while Amah Ayivi is the master of the premises and head of Le Marché Noir—the fashion department. Hadrien Courtier and Corto Vaclav are heads of Les Forces de L'Invisible, the spiritual and religious matters department, Sylvie Da Silva is head of The Little Shop of Horrors—the botanic department—and Michel Ballot is a French explorer and crypto-zoologist, who has been looking for the Mokele-Mbembe for ten years. 

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Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives?

We are nurturing a dozen projects at the moment. Our big one this year, as well as last year, is still the “Looking For The Mokele Mbembe” adventure. The Mokele Mbembe is a dinosaur. A book is coming out in May, and we are hoping to start selling a tourist package around the same time. 

We recently opened a bar in the building inspired by the Tiki culture. We also have a little dance floor/music studio/record shop and have opened a neighboring shop that sells furniture and clothes. We are open 7 days a week, from morning until night.

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You mentioned various departments at Le Comptoir Général. In the space, they present themselves as thematic corners. How did they come to be and what is their function?

We like to think of our projects as adventures, and we want our venue to be the perfect display for them. 

We always follow the same rules: first of all we build a physical attraction in our museum­–a small area, such as a film set–that tells the story of our adventure. After that, we launch a company with the heroes of our adventure to try and earn revenue by selling content, products, or services related to it. Then, we program various public events, conferences, movie projections, and performances based on the adventure. Lastly, we make the project known internationally as much as we can, and we look for sponsors, investors, and patrons to keep it going.

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Le Comptoir Général succeeds at being both an engaging cultural center and a popular place to eat, drink, and socialize. How do you bridge the two under one roof?

Everything we do is related in some way that makes perfect sense for us, even if sometimes it can confuse our guests. It is hard to separate one element from another. We are equally proud of the interior design, the style department, and the botanic work of our gardener–and her collection of carnivorous plants, as well as the diversity of our visitors. 

We are lucky to have lots of people approaching us with event proposals, and we host a lot of interesting ones every week. For instance, we recently had a conference about the “twerk” craze with choreographers and anthropologists from La Sorbonne university.

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Le Comptoir Général is located at 80, Quai de Jemmapes, Paris.

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