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The new Samaritaine: An ode to design and function in Paris

After six years’ worth of reconstruction and refurbishment, the LVMH Group opened the much-awaited and cherished Parisian store today. It is not only slated to be a shoppers’ delight and a visually stunning mixed-use space, but also a big tourist draw.

It’s not every day that French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attend the launch of a department store. But when it’s the reopening of a building as iconic as La Samaritaine, France pulls out all the stops. The Parisian megastore in the Pont-Neuf area of the first arrondissement has risen like the phoenix today, after the inauguration hosted by Bernard Arnault, CEO of the LVMH Group. Built in 1870, the 70,000 sq metres of space has now been completely restored, a brand-new tribute to its Art Nouveau and Art Deco and provenance that reportedly comes at a price of more than USD one billion.

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Samaritaine’s inaugural ceremony held in the presence of  French President Emmanuel Macron, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, and Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of LVMH. Image: Courtesy LVMH.

The restructuring has been carried out with painstaking care to retain its heritage features and original décor. A stunning glass roof, one of the grandest staircases in the world, 250 sq metres of frescoes, and a gorgeous peacock motif, make the building itself a feast for the senses. Aesthetics apart, the complex now consists of the La Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf department store with 600+ luxury brands, 12 restaurants, eco-friendly housing, corporate offices, and even a daycare centre. And then there’s the 72-key Cheval Blanc Paris hotel, ensconced in the beautifully restored Art Deco section that was built by renowned architect Henri Sauvage. Apart from four restaurants, the hotel will boast a sumptuous Dior spa, swimming pool and fitness centre, and a dedicated children’s area dubbed Le Carrousel. It’s slated to open come September 7, 2021, and they are already taking reservations.

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The Art Deco side of the building where the Cheval Blanc Paris will open in September. Image: LVMH/Julien Alma Société, Doug & Wolf.
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Overlooking the Seine and just a few minutes from the Louvre, Cheval Blanc Paris at La Samaritaine has the perfect location in the first arrondissement. Image: Courtesy Cheval Blanc.

At the press conference to announce the much-awaited reopening of La Samaritaine, Jean Jacques Guiony, Chairman and CEO, La Samaritaine, explained that it took 16 years to bring the store back since the authorities had shut it down citing safety reasons because after LVMH bought it in 2001, they still had to define what the project was going to be, how to do it and figure out the urban planning around it. “Once a plan was in place, getting the architectural designs created, securing the necessary building permits, dealing with any litigation, etc all took five years, which brought us to 2015. And then it took six more years to execute the design and finish the construction and interiors of this complex structure. Some of France’s finest arts and craftspeople worked on it. About 3000 people and 280 French companies collaborated to create this beautiful space,” he says. Japanese studio Sanaa created the modern architectural elements that complement the older design, while the light-filled Art Nouveau interiors were the responsibility of Canadian studio Yabu Pushelberg. Everywhere in the building is a melding of the old and new. For example, the stunning stairs still have the 270 original oak steps, while the ceramics and 16,000 gold leaves for the oak railings have been refurbished to their former glory.   

Part of the LVMH stable, travel retailer DFS will not only mind the store, but also plans to add rich experiences into the mix. Eleonore De Boysson, President, DFS Europe & Middle East, said, “Art walks, artisanal workshops, F&B tastings, are all on the cards, in a bid to engage locals as well as pull in tourists in the longer term.” With US travellers already making a beeline for the playgrounds of Europe, and the rest of the world set to follow in a few months, it won’t be long before La Samaritaine will be spilling over with visitors.

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