In Paris, La Samaritaine Reopens as an All-In-One Shopping Destination
After being closed for 16 years, the storied Parisian landmark gets resurrected by LVMH as an all-in-one shopping, dining, and hospitality destination that marries original Art Nouveau flourishes with interventions by SANAA and Yabu Pushelberg.
La Samaritaine, a historic Art Deco and Art Nouveau landmark that contrasts the uniform Haussmannian buildings typical of central Paris, closed in 2005 due to safety concerns after falling into disrepair. Seeking to bring the storied retail destination out of hibernation, the French luxury conglomerate LVMH partnered with luxury retailer DFS to spearhead a painstaking $894 million refurbishment that ushers the department store into the future while nodding to old-world Parisian glamour.
After seven years of restoration, La Samaritaine has finally opened to the public with retail space, offices, restaurants, and even social housing. A five-star hotel, the 72-room Cheval Blanc Paris designed by Peter Marino, will follow in September with four restaurants and a Dior spa. “I’m both delighted and proud to see La Samaritaine, a true institution to which Parisians have always been deeply attached, restored to its magnificent beauty and iconic stature,” says LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault. “The long history of La Samaritaine has been shaped by bold vision, prosperity, and a sense of solidarity. With this new chapter, the story will continue into the future.”
LVMH enlisted a crop of world-class design talent to restore the retail destination to its former glory. Upon entering the main hall, Yabu Pushelberg’s masterful renovation of the building’s architectural grandeur comes into full view. A monumental staircase with 16,000 gold leaves and swirling “horizon blue” wrought-iron railings offers unobstructed views up through a soaring atrium, whose rectangular glass roof washes the five-level interior in natural light and emulates a stroll through the city. Other nods to Parisian boulevards, like an abstract floor pattern of cobblestones and colorful riffs on the city’s street lamps, take the alfresco ambience even further. Local architects Malherbe Paris spearheaded the basement beauty department, a 36,600-square-foot emporium billed as the largest of its kind in Europe. The Japanese firm SANAA, meanwhile, devised the structure’s undulating glass facade that faces the Seine and was once lampooned for resembling a “shower curtain.”
“La Samaritaine has always been scandalous,” the architectural historian Jean-François Cabestan, who co-authored the 2015 book La Samaritaine, Paris, told CNN. “From the very beginning, the building was flashy with its colorful enamel paneling and use of glass and iron instead of traditional stone.” He also notes that it once offered affordable goods: “It was an opera house for the poor. But this is not a shop for the lower class anymore. This will be for tourists and for people with means.”
The days of offering affordable goods have long passed, but shoppers can expect to find a mix of niche local labels interspersed with high-end brands such as Fendi and Balenciaga. But instead of having multiple concession stands each with their own brand identity like a typical department store, La Samaritaine’s shopping floor opts for a cohesive experience across its 215,000 square feet. In doing so, shoppers are more likely to discover lesser-known brands and designers. A select group of A-list shoppers, meanwhile, may even be invited to peruse a private shoppable apartment by Chloé Nègre, Karine Chahin, and Virginie de Graveron, who all met while working at India Mahdavi’s studio.
Dovetailing with the newly unveiled Bourse de Commerce and Hôtel de la Marine that are both walking distance away, La Samaritaine’s long-awaited reopening heralds an exciting new era that will surely breathe new life and enthusiasm into pandemic-battered Paris.