After A 16-Year Wait, Will LVMH’s La Samaritaine Redefine Luxury Shopping In Paris?
The makeover of one of the most iconic retail buildings in Paris is complete. Closed since 2005, La Samaritaine—overlooking the Seine river—has, after 16 long years, finally been transformed into a cosmopolitan 215,000 square foot retail space that will sit at the pinnacle of global travel shopping venues.
Luxury goods group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, led by billionaire Bernard Arnault – who earlier this year had been vying with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for the title of world’s richest person – has owned the listed building since 2001. Safety issues led to the store’s closure in 2005 and a complex development process then began to regenerate a landmark in the French capital.
On Monday, president of France Emmanuel Macron and Arnault inaugurated La Samaritaine ready for a 21st century retail adventure that repositions the once-failing department store as a concept-driven retail emporium.
Luxury lies at the heart of the multi-building, seven-level store. But, just like Harrods in London, extra efforts have been made to include prices and products to suit all pockets. After all, LVMH may chiefly want to attract the discerning and high-spending rich—particularly the Chinese whenever they eventually start traveling to Europe again—but it is also counting on La Samaritaine becoming a stop on the broader tourist trail.
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A spokesperson for DFS Group, the travel-retail arm of LVMH, which is running all the retail, told Forbes.com: “In one section of the store called House of Perfume, prices range from €3,000 to €300,000, but in Boutique Loulou, for instance, we will sell a range of items including some with very low pricing.”
Loulou, at street level, is stocked up with last-minute gifts and souvenirs, from fashion products and Elise Tsikis lacquered jewelry in Samaritaine colors, to food like Confture Parisienne in raspberry, rose and lychee flavors. The store logo and the building’s beautiful Art Nouveau patterns are emblazoned on notebooks, mugs and even silk organza tote bags. The idea is to take a piece of Parisian heritage with you when you leave.
Exclusivity and accessibility together
But at the heart of Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf by DFS, to give it its full name, are categories like cosmetics within the largest beauty hall in Europe, fashion, watchmaking and jewelry, that are very much about exclusivity.
Eléonore de Boysson, region president Europe and Middle East at DFS Group said in a press conference today: “This is not just a place for people to shop but witness the avant-garde of creation; taste the cuisine of a contemporary chef; meet young artists; and treat themselves to a piece of luxury. It will become a must-see sight in the one of the most upcoming districts in the city.”
She added: “This is one of the greatest concept stores in the world. We have more than 600 brands with 50 that will be exclusive to Samaritaine, and more than 400 products that will only be found here.”
As well as expected luxury and designer names like Alexander McQueen, Chloé, Dior, or Louis Vuitton, DFS has sourced many more niche and/or accessible labels like Maje, Ganni, Nanushka, and In The Mood For Love; with an incubator space to highlight young fashion talent such as Awake, Petar Petrov, Gauchere or Khaite.
The trend for streetwear is also catered for, with labels like Billionaire and Carne Bollente present; the ethical Shinzo Green sneaker space; and Parisian brands APC, Maison Kitsuné, Etudes and Atelier de Nîmes. In parallel with the physical store launch, a dedicated website will enable customers to shop some exclusive and made-for-Samaritaine products.
Diverse architectural styles
Architecturally the building cluster is eye-catching, standing out for its different design themes from existing Art Nouveau and Art Deco features and light-filled atriums, to Japanese architect firm Sanaa’s wavy-glass facade on the busy Rue de Rivoli.
Samaritaine has a relatively small retail footprint compared to existing city department store competitors like Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. The space has been carved out of a much bigger 650,000 square feet area because large parts were hived off to private housing and luxury accommodation.
The Cheval Blanc boutique hotel is part of the building complex, attesting further to the exclusivity of the new Samaritaine. It opened for bookings from today for stays starting in September. The limited number of rooms at 72, all of them overlooking the river, is not surprising. The smallest is a very big 480 square feet, with a starting price tag of €1,150 per night, and the largest is enormous at over 10,800 square feet. Prices for that one are on application. Add to that a range of star chefs supporting 12 restaurants and you can see how LVMH is positioning La Samaritaine.
DFS, more at home in Asia-Pacific, has had a trial-run in opening up a renovated luxury space in Europe. In 2016, the retailer established T Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, Italy which became a magnet for cruise and other tourists, and a financial success according to de Boysson. Like many of the retailer’s locations, it is housed in a historical building that was artfully restored.
DFS needs a speedy recovery
For visitors to Samaritaine, DFS Group chairman and CEO Benjamin Vuchot said the revived store would “transcend their highest expectations” a promise that the company will be need to live up to once the pandemic begins to recede.
A strong recovery is vital for DFS, and Samaritaine could play its part. More than other businesses within LVMH, DFS has suffered from the lack of tourists and footfall. Unlike Sephora, its sister retailer in LVMH’s Selective Retailing division, DFS has not been able to pivot as easily, for example by ramping up online sales volumes, and has become a financial thorn in the side of its parent.
In 2020, Selective Retailing was the only division (of five) to record a loss from recurring operations, having turned a profit of €1.4 billion in 2019. A revenue slide at DFS also continued into Q1 this year due to the pandemic’s impact on travel.
In view of the lack of Chinese tourists, a key to luxury sales in Paris, Vuchot was pragmatic about where customers may come from. “We are encouraged by signs of a return to normality in Europe, and we are optimistic that borders may start to open again to allow travelers to return to France,” he said.