The great lady of Paris reopens its emporiums
Parisians will once again be able to stroll through the golden aisles of the Samaritaine department store, after 16 years of meticulous work to restore the Art Deco and Art Nouveau building to its former glory.
Luxury conglomerate LVMH closed the 151-year-old emporium overlooking the Seine in 2005, when safety inspectors discovered widespread risks, including outdated wiring.
Formerly a commercial anchor point in the historic heart of the capital between the Louvre and Notre-Dame, it was then losing money and customers were no longer interested in its sales pitch: âYou can find everything at La Samaritaine.
“It was dying,” store manager Jean-Jacques Guiony told reporters during President Emmanuel Macron’s visit for the inauguration of the restored site on June 21.
Macron, on tour alongside Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH and one of the richest people in the world, called him “a magnificent French cultural treasure”.
For the overhaul, LVMH reduced the surface area of ââthe flagship building, a listed monument, by a third, and resolutely increased its offer by applying the Bon MarchÃ© formula, LVMH’s other luxury temple in Paris.
No more hunting equipment, household items, tools and toys, despite the historical signs still on the facade.
Think instead of fashion brands, an entire floor dedicated to chic watches, two concept stores and a large beauty and cosmetics department in the basement.
Restaurants, bars and food offerings like Street Caviar by Prunier are scattered throughout, while a Cheval Blanc hotel will open in September with views of the Seine and a restaurant with Michelin-starred Arnaud Donckele at the helm.
Rooms start at 1,150 euros (nearly $ 1,400) a night, and the two-story rooftop penthouse will have its own pool, spa, cinema, and a private elevator directly across the street. Price on request.
“You won’t find everything at La Samaritaine any more, but you will find all of Paris at La Samaritaine,” said Eleonore de Boysson, European director of the DFS division of LVMH.
Opened in 1870 by Ernest Cognac, a traveling salesman, and extended with his wife Louise Jay, the four Samaritaine stores have become a staple in Paris culminating in a golden age of the 1930s.
He named her La Samaritaine after a pump on the nearby Pont Neuf that represented the Gospel story of the woman of Samaria offering water to Jesus.
It’s the bridge that Matt Damon’s character spies on from the Samaritan woman’s roof in the 2002 thriller “The Bourne Identity”, though the massive lettered panel he stands on isn’t replaced.
The work was initially scheduled to take three to six years, but delays emerged as LVMH sought out hundreds of craftsmen across France who could restore mosaics and other works of art.
They also discovered that an elegant golden-hued peacock fresco, an Art Nouveau masterpiece extending along the walls under the glass roof of the atrium, had been covered in white paint in the 1990s.
A court battle with angry residential and heritage groups over a new sectional corrugated glass facade, designed by Pritzker-winning Japanese company Sanaa, also unfolded in France’s highest court before LVMH was authorized to proceed.
Press reports say the budget has climbed to 750 million euros, an amount that officials have not officially confirmed but quietly concede is in the stadium.
âRenovating is a lot more complicated to do than just rebuilding,â Guiony said.
As part of the project negotiated with the town hall, a large part of the store has been converted into offices as well as 97 social housing units and a day care center.
A building will be leased to Japanese fast fashion specialist Uniqlo and other stores.
LVMH also built an esplanade with fountains where cars passed, making it easier to marvel at the ornate facades and, hopefully, attract more Parisians and tourists.
The store and hotel alone will create 2,100 jobs, further revitalizing a neighborhood that has seen a slew of recent projects, including the new Bourse de Commerce art museum of Arnault’s luxury rival, FranÃ§ois Pinault.
But only a handful of the nearly 750 employees brutally dismissed 16 years ago have been rehired, dozens have been questioned, but LVMH requires salespeople to speak at least three languages.
“It’s a rebirth,” said Mourad Khati, 53, an executive back there. âI started at 21, having just arrived from Kabylieâ in Algeria.
âAt that time, it was more of the working class,â he said. “Today, it’s very high end.”