Inside La Samaritaine: Paris’ Iconic Department Store Reopens After 16 Years
After a 16-year wait, Parisians will finally see the city’s 19th-century landmark Samaritaine department store reopen its doors today. A much-anticipated event, the closed building left a nostalgia-stricken gap in the city skyline between the Seine and on the busy Rivoli high street.
Owned by French luxury conglomerate LVMH, which partnered with luxury retailer DFS, the Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf‘s renovation is rumored to cost as much as $750 million. The original Art Nouveau building was painstakingly restoration and new contemporary wing built from scratch, took more than five years to complete. Today, the sunflower-yellow mosaics slotted on top of the glass and wrought iron building has been dusted off and gleams in the sunlight, once again part of the Paris skyline.
A Historic Icon
Although originally inaugurated in 1910, the beginnings of the store date back to 1870, when its founders Ernest and Marie-Louise Cognacq-Jaÿ set up a stall on the corner of the rue de la Monnaie (where the Samaritaine stands today), which they eventually grew into the department store. However, when Les Halles, Paris’s former food market opened in the same catchment area, the store struggled to retained its customers and eventually fell into disrepair, forced to close in 2005 for safety reasons.
Bringing The Paris Streets Inside
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A beacon for French fashion, there are seven floors and two interlinked buildings, however, every space is light and airy. Thanks to the natural light pouring through the main building’s glass ceiling and wrap-around windows letting in staggering views of the rooftops and buildings that had previously gone unnoticed like the magnificent Church of Saint-Germain-L’Auxerrois, on every floor, strolling through the clothes stands feels very much like being outdoors. And accentuating that feeling are nods to the Paris streets, like an abstract pattern of cobblestones and a playful take on the city’s iconic street lamps which bend like bouquets of flowers, so the experience feels like a continuation of a walk through Paris.
A Glimpse of Each Floor
On the ground floor, shoppers are met by swirling wrought iron staircases that roll up to each floor, the Eiffel structure’s iron details – previously dark green – now a luminous light gray, part of the Samaritaine‘s new signature palette.
The basement is scattered with beauty brands, from your Parisian staples to more offbeat, hard-to-find ranges by the likes of the Korean SK-II as well as natural beauty products. There’s also a Cinq Mondes spa, and various services including a hair salon. On the ground floor is the Loulou concept store where shoppers can pick up gifts for a range of budgets, as well as handbags and accessories. Upstairs is women’s fashion, watches and jewlry, men’s fashion, women’s shoes packed with high-end brands, as well as more niche labels, the aim being for shoppers to discover lesser-known designers.
Where the store breaks the mold is in its tightly curated brands, meaning that instead of having multiple concessions each with its own identity, there’s a refreshing unity that creates a soothing feeling, rather than one of utter panic as you dash from space to space trying to take it all in.
Ushering In Contemporary Tastes
While some Parisians were in uproar about the Samaritaine’s new building, its waves of glass sending shocks through the city’s skyline on the Rivoli side, it’s come to replace a dilapidated more modern building without real historical interest. It was torn down and rebuilt entirely by Japanese outfit Sanaa. This wing is a playground for the latest streetwear brands, with designers customizing corners and pop-ups, and a venue for various events to come.
The VIP Apartment
It’s a bit hush-hush, but if you’re in the Samaritaine personal shoppers’ little black book, then you’ll be invited to shop from the private apartment scattered with brightly colored rugs and bespoke furniture by designers Chloé Nègre (behind several hotels in Paris and beyond), Karine Chahin, and Virginie de Graveron, who met during their time at India Mahdavi’s studio.
The Food Scene
Tucked just under the great big slab of sky apparent through the glass roof and the enormous signature mosaic of bright blue peacocks and orange trees, are the core of the Samaritaine’s dining spots Ernest and Voyage.
For shoppers who don’t want a sit-down affair, there are 10 other more casual options, from tea salons to a coffee shop which roasts its own coffee beans, and a bakery, where an army of bakers make fresh bread daily, supplying the entire building’s outlets.
Le Cheval Blanc Hotel
Separate to the department store, is the much-awaited five-star Cheval Blanc Paris hotel, which will have four restaurant and a Dior spa. It’s slated to open on September 7 with 72 rooms and suites offering Seine River views and a starting rate of just over $1,700 (1,500 euros).
While the Samaritaine waits for the steady flow of tourists to return to the city and flood its floors, it’s certainly a luxury for Parisians – be it to shop or seek out inspiration on their lunch break – to have the spanking new building all to themselves, at least for now.