October 19, 2021

La Samaritaine, Paris’ Over-the-Prime New Division Retailer, Is Pissing a Lot of Folks Off

12 min read


PARIS–“La Samaritaine has at all times precipitated a scandal.”

The quip is attributed to artist and critic Emmanuel de Thubert, who was not referring to a provocative novel or an avante garde theatrical efficiency, however to a Paris division retailer.

De Thurbert made the comment in 1931—virtually a century earlier than a part of the constructing’s façade was derisively likened to “a bathe curtain” and a band of offended protesters doused its home windows with black paint. However extra on that later.

The legendary grand magasin (division retailer), one in all 4 within the metropolis, has been within the French media in current weeks largely because of its grand reopening following a 16-year closure and a multi-million euro overhaul.

Established in 1870 as a small Proper Financial institution boutique on the finish of Pont Neuf, La Samaritaine advanced over the a long time, notably through the early twentieth century when homeowners Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ tapped Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain for growth and transforming initiatives. Jourdain added Artwork Nouveau options to the constructing and designed a second retail constructing often called “Magasin 2” that included twin domes composed of vividly coloured glass.

This Artwork Nouveau masterpiece now not exists. By the point La Samaritaine was accomplished in 1910 it was, in line with historian Meredith L. Clausen, “gentle and clear, wholly of metal and glass…brilliantly coloured with shiny orange ceramic panels embellished with naturalistic flowering vines.” It was additionally, she writes in a book she authored on the subject, “probably the most controversial buildings in Paris” and “too brazen and shrill for Parisian tastes.” Certainly, one critic mentioned it regarded like a “heating system.”

Jourdain’s authentic Artwork Nouveau construction underwent an intensive rework within the late Twenties, throughout which period its vivid coloration was eliminated, and its glass domes have been torn down. Across the identical time, architect Henri Sauvage added one other constructing to the Samaritaine advanced within the Artwork Deco type that was seen as refreshingly fashionable and extra palatable than Jourdain’s authentic creation.

Not like its stylish cousins Le Bon Marché and Galeries Lafayette, La Samaritaine catered to a much less well-do-to shopper base and served as a one-stop store for working-class metropolis dwellers. Its well-known slogan—“On trouve tout à la Samaritaine,” (Yow will discover the whole lot at La Samaritaine)—referred to its sheer number of merchandise, which comprised the whole lot from girls’ attire to lawnmowers.

In June of 2005, the shop abruptly closed over the constructing’s reported failure to fulfill security codes, and the next day the French media have been stuffed with stories of despondent workers and heartbroken customers who had seen La Samaritaine as a second dwelling. One worker even likened the closure to destroying the Eiffel Tower.

“The final day I noticed individuals leaving in tears and even the purchasers needed to stick with us within the retailer,” recalled Rosine Sanglard, who had labored for the corporate for over 20 years. The 72-year-old instructed Libération that on the final day, the shop stayed open two hours after its scheduled closing time in order that staff and prospects might say a ultimate goodbye.

“The solidarity of the purchasers was unbelievable,” she mentioned. “The present retailer is under no circumstances what we knew,” she mentioned.

Certainly, following its €750 million ($891.6 million) facelift, La Samaritaine bears scant resemblance to its former extra modest incarnation. LVMH (who additionally owns Le Bon Marché) acquired the shop in 2001, and with the luxurious items behemoth on the helm, the onetime unpretentious “La Samar”—because it was recognized amongst locals—has morphed into an unique mixed-use vacation spot area that seems made for monied international vacationers slightly than the on a regular basis Parisian.

Along with stocking high-end world manufacturers like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, the brand new Samaritaine homes a 36,000-square-foot magnificence and cosmetics division—the biggest in Europe. It additionally features a spa, duty-free purchasing, an idea retailer, a daycare middle, and quite a few cafes and eateries. In September, a five-star “palace” resort, Le Cheval Blanc, will open within the advanced, full with Seine and Eiffel Tower views and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Nightly charges begin at €1300 ($1530).

Two days earlier than its official reopening on June 23, French President Emmanuel Macron joined LVMH head Bernard Arnault (the world’s richest individual), Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, and members of the press for the shop’s official inauguration. Macron hailed the brand new Samaritaine as “a beautiful French historic treasure,” and Arnault described it as selling “a singular Parisian artwork de vivre world wide” and “an awesome supply of satisfaction.”

Though vacationers within the French capital have been scarce due to COVID, crowds nonetheless descended on the brand new Samaritaine within the weeks following the reopening. Twice I walked previous the principle entrance and observed lengthy strains snaking down the block, which evoked markdown-hungry People at a Black Friday sale. And whereas the extreme wait instances might have been partially resulting from pandemic-era capability restrictions, they have been additionally because of the media hype surrounding the store’s long-awaited revival and what one radio station hailed as a “spectacular restoration.

Not everybody agrees that Samaritaine’s second life is value celebrating, nonetheless.

Greater than a century after one critic remarked that Jourdain’s authentic Artwork Nouveau construction regarded like a heating system, La Samaritaine’s structure, notably its new up to date addition on the Rue de Rivoli is stirring up recent controversy. The undulating glass façade designed by the Pritzker-prize successful Japanese structure studio SANAA, has been disparaged by its detractors as “an eyesore,” a “dung pile,” and, my favourite, a “bathe curtain.”

For some, it’s not the structure, however the retailer’s newfound opulence (plus the truth that it’s owned by Arnault) that’s scandalous.

Lower than two weeks after the grand opening, an anti-capitalist group sprayed black paint on the storefront and hung an enormous banner that included a picture of Arnault alongside different French billionaires. The banner denounced the group as a “gang of profiteers.”

The aim of the vandalism, the group mentioned, was to “protest the shameless enrichment of billionaires through the well being crises.”

The social divide additionally angered Swiss journalist and structure critic Christophe Catsaros, who known as the brand new retailer “the headquarters for the struggle towards the center class.”

Running a blog in Le Temps, Catsaros identified that the luxurious institution shared area with 96 social housing models for low-income households, arguing that catering to 2 extremes of the wealth spectrum represented town’s rising erasure of middle-income Parisians.

“Between the very wealthy for whom the brand new Samaritaine is meant, and the very poor for whom the social housing is meant is a majority who can legitimately really feel wronged. The appreciable center class at whom Paris is partaking a cruel struggle.”

For others, the revamped division retailer not solely marks the top of an period, but additionally embodies the whole lot that’s improper with the present day French capital.

Journalist and columnist John Litchfield writes in The Local that “the transformation is cruelly emblematic of what has occurred to central Paris within the final two or three a long time.”

The reinvention of La Samaritaine, Litchfield argues, is an instance of the “Disneyfication” of central Paris whereby town’s internal arrondissements have morphed right into a theme park for rich international vacationers. In doing so, central Paris has misplaced a lot of its “quirkiness and eccentricity.” In different phrases, its soul.

“The destruction of the outdated Samaritaine,” Litchfield writes, “was romantically, traditionally and socially a calamity.”

It was additionally, he acknowledges, “inevitable.”

He’s proper on each counts. The town has modified dramatically because the outdated Samaritaine’s heyday, and components of the middle sadly resemble the set of an Instagram-ready fragrance industrial by day and a ghost city by night time since fewer and fewer Parisians can afford to reside there.

Furthermore, the French division retailer itself, which took middle stage in Émile Zola’s 1883 novel Au Bonheur des Dames (believed to have been primarily based on Le Bon Marché) has since fallen out of vogue and appeared destined to go the best way of international information bureaus, smoky cafes, and low cost flats.

Like different grand magasins, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, La Samaritaine opened within the latter half of the Nineteenth century through the waning days of the Industrial Revolution—a time interval that noticed the rise of mass-produced items with accessible costs and a newly burgeoning center class with the disposable revenue to buy them.

The shops rapidly turned in style leisure locations to a principally female clientele. As Monica Burckhardt writes in Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, these retailers largely catered to bourgeois parisiennes for whom the shops represented “a haven of freedom and pleasure.” Procuring was enjoyable, after all, however the alternative to spend a day enjoyable and socializing away from their husbands was equally fulfilling and, for Nineteenth-cenury mesdames, was a big a part of a division retailer’s attract.

Grands magasins have been additionally vital fixtures of the Belle Époque or, stunning age. The roughly four-decade interval that ran from the top of the Franco-Prussian Struggle in 1871 to the onset of World Struggle I in 1914 is known for its financial and creative prosperity, in addition to hedonistic pursuits among the many monied courses. Assume brothels, absinthe fountains, and the newly opened Moulin Rouge with its parades of frilly petticoats and clouds of opium smoke.

La Samaritaine might have served the working courses, however in Belle Époque Paris—from creative and literary actions to spare time activities—decadence was de rigueur. With their opulent interiors and panoply of aspirational luxurious, malls flourished through the period.

Within the twentieth century, French malls expanded from their Paris flagships to cities each inside and out of doors of France. Nevertheless, the final a number of a long time have seen a seismic shift in shopper shopping for habits, together with the rise of on-line purchasing. Like their American counterparts, France’s malls have suffered plummeting gross sales and branch closures. And whereas the COVID disaster has contributed to among the angst, retail insiders say that it simply accelerated already current issues.

“At Le Bon Marché, within the Nineties, they have been already questioning about the way forward for the channel,” Christophe Anjolras, the president and founding father of the Volcan Design company, which supplies consultancy companies to retailers, told FashionNetwork.com earlier this year.

“However globally, like each different distribution channel, [department stores] should bear an in-depth transformation.”

Mainly, even when the outdated Samaritaine hadn’t been shuttered in 2005, it’s protected to say that its days as an area purchasing mainstay have been numbered.

I used to be fascinated by this, in addition to all of the brouhaha surrounding the shop in current weeks once I stepped inside for the primary time. The very first thing I observed was the sunshine. It was an overcast day, however the daylight poured in via the restored glass-roofed atrium overhead.

The structure is putting, and I spent an excellent 45 minutes taking all of it in: Jourdain’s metal beams, the restored Artwork Nouveau peacock fresco, and the magnificent double staircases resulting in the atrium, which evokes an beautiful layer cake. Even the a lot reviled “bathe curtain” façade has been effectively executed, and the glass ripples each add a singular up to date contact to the realm and replicate the encompassing historic buildings.

Philippe Petit/Paris Match by way of Getty Pictures

Alas, a fast go to to the retail ranges yielded findings that have been much less authentic. Purple Louis Vuitton slip-ons, as an illustration, retailing for €700 ($824) that resembled the results of a one-night stand between a reduction home slipper and an inflatable pool raft. These have been as well as the pair of fluorescent-yellow males’s sneakers that conjured visions of a circa-1986 Orange County mallrat who had unwittingly stumbled via a transnational time warp and had turn out to be separated from his footwear. These sorts of high-ticket objects for vogue victims are staples of any high-end division retailer, and there are already a number of standalone Vuitton boutiques within the metropolis.

Heading over to the jewellery part, I spied a Reine de Naples (named for Napoléon’s sister) watch by the famed French model Breguet with tiny diamonds encircling its face. Bling isn’t usually my factor, however the timepiece provided a whiff of fairly daintiness that helped blot out the montage of ‘80s-era dayglo headbands and permed hair that had been operating via my head since my run-in with the boys’s shoe division. That’s, till I observed the value: €60,200 ($71,190). By no means thoughts. In addition to, there may be additionally a Breguet store within the Place Vendôme. I fled upstairs to the bar.

Perched on the shop’s higher stage beneath the glass roof, the bar/restaurant in query may very well be motive sufficient to return if and when the crowds skinny. The menu at Voyage isn’t extraordinary—beef tartare, salads and a burger—and I’m routinely cautious of any spot serving a facet of fries for €7 ($8.30). However in case you can snag an excellent desk (the restaurant doesn’t settle for reservations) you’ll be able to actually take within the Artwork Nouveau frescoes and ironwork. Plus, there’s ample alternative for individuals watching.

I wrapped up the day with a visit to the sweetness division, which does certainly inventory a large collection of lotions, potions, and perfumes, in addition to candles in elegant, lapis-blue jars with scents like grapefruit and Indian jasmine. It’s on the bottom stage, so the inside is extra normal luxurious cosmetics counter than fin de siècle grandeur, however the choice is sweet so I’ll seemingly pop in subsequent time I would like a fragrance refill. That’s, if I don’t hit the close by Sephora first.

Open simply over a month, it’s too early to know if the brand new Samaritaine will reinvent the idea of the French division retailer, or simply construct on the already-existing mannequin as a vacationer fixture. One factor that stood out throughout my afternoon within the retailer was how little purchasing appeared to be happening. Positive, the inside was busy, however the swarm of individuals inside appeared extra intent on snapping footage or having a snack than making any purchases. What is going to occur, I puzzled, when the novelty wears off?

Curious, I headed north to peek inside Galeries Lafayette. Not like at La Samaritaine, there have been no strains outdoors and the pre-COVID busloads of international vacationers have been absent. Though the colourful, Neo-byzantine dome was as breathtaking as ever, the inside was heavy with the dim silence of a wake. A jumbo coronary heart emblem dangled listlessly from the middle of the dome like a forgotten get together streamer.

For a Paris resident accustomed to hordes of worldwide guests crowding the balconies and escalators it was a bit surreal. It was additionally a reminder of how out of date town’s grands magasins have turn out to be and the way dependent they’re on vacationer {dollars} for his or her ongoing survival.

Certainly, throughout an interview with BFMTV, Benjamin Vuchot, the chairman and CEO of DFS (LVMH’s luxurious travel-retail enterprise), mentioned that fifty p.c of La Samaritaine clientele can be international vacationers and that French and European prospects would make up the opposite half. He mentioned that the shop’s huge magnificence area can be a primary draw for locals, and I agree with him to a degree. What he didn’t point out, is the Sephora on Rue de Rivoli that already does a brisk enterprise and can seemingly have much less vacationer crowds than Samaritaine. Furthermore, a bottle of fragrance will usher in far fewer euros than say, a Dior bag, and it’s the vacationers who will probably be snapping up the pricier merchandise.

Vuchot acknowledged that it is going to be some time—six to 12 months, he mentioned—till vacationers from the Center East, the U.S., and China start to return to Paris.

Within the meantime, I plan to come back again for soy candle splurge and tea on the highest ground the place I’ll take one other have a look at the fin de siècle peacock frescoes. I’ve a ardour for Artwork Nouveau structure, though what stays is however a weak echo of Jourdain’s authentic chef d’oeuvre. Certainly, the brand new Samaritaine might not resemble the unique, but it surely does resurrect a sure scrumptious, Belle Époque-era decadence that may be engaging, particularly throughout unsure instances.

Nevertheless, not like prior to now, you’ll be able to now not “discover the whole lot at Samaritaine.” If something, the mass-produced luxurious manufacturers and the throngs of vacationers that may buy them are a reminder that the standard French division retailer, like most of the metropolis’s stunning relics, vanished with the final century.

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