The spectacular renovation of the 150-year-old department store La Samaritaine is also accompanied by a new concept: not just a shopping temple, but a meeting point.
On the day of the opening, long queues formed all day long in front of the many entrances of La Samaritaine–and not only because of Covid restrictions. The reopening of the emblematic department stores was long awaited by the city's population. The new construction and renovation of the four buildings took a whole 16 years. This was due to construction stops, monument protection requirements, missing permits and redesign of the project. In the end, the pandemic caused the last delay until the doors opened again to one of the Parisians’ favorite shopping addresses in the city.
La Samaritaine was founded in 1870 as a small boutique by Ernest Cognacq. Together with his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ, he gradually bought more boutiques and opened a large department store in the Art Nouveau style in 1910. This was very popular, not only thanks to its central location between the Seine and the former market halls. The slogan "You can find everything at La Samaritaine" also circumscribed an eclectic assortment that ranged from the latest summer clothes to kitchen equipment and attracted people of every social layer. When the luxury group LVMH took over the complex in 2000, this concept had become obsolete. In 2005, the building had to be closed for security reasons.
Escalator at the beauty space
In 2021, the splendor is back. The new owner has brilliantly rescued even forgotten frescoes and ornaments, saved the Eiffel structure and given the house back its elegance, as well as combining it with contemporary architecture. In particular, the new building on Rue de Rivoli with an undulating glass façade, designed by the Japanese architecture firm and Pritzker Prize winner Sanaa, proves the modern thrust. Eléonore de Boysson, president of the operating company DFS Europe, describes the new orientation as follows: "La Samaritaine is to become a place of life and discovery. A concentrated ‘Art de Vivre’ in the heart of the city and in a neighborhood undergoing a renaissance."
Photo: Pierre-Olivier Deschamps/Agence Vu pour la Samaritaine
Facade created by Sanaa, view from Rue de Rivoli
The claim is to become the largest concept store in the world. In terms of both brand selection and geography, La Samaritaine is intended to create a link between the small shops of the Marais and the luxury avenues of Avenue Montaigne and Faubourg St. Honoré. The general conditions for this are: 20,000 square meters of sales space, in the basement there is supposedly the largest beauty department in Europe, 600 different brands on offer, 400 of which are exclusive to Paris. A 200-square-meter area is called “Boutique de Loulou,” in honor of the founder Marie-Louise Jaÿ, and sells chic souvenirs and merchandising articles that have what it takes to become a popular treasure trove for gifts. The range of products in the "Designers Lab,” a younger department, is also impressive: With its own corner is the hard-to-find line Comme des Garçons Black. Other collections include The Frankie Shop, EgonLab, Sunnei, Qasimi, Pushbutton or the sustainable sneakers by Shinzo Paris, which are represented in a department store for the first time. There’s also a sales area of the famous art gallery Perrotin so the assortment is definitely special.
Loulou store at La Samaritaine
But what is most striking about the new La Samaritaine is the culinary offer. A full 12 restaurants are spread throughout the space. Customers literally eat next to the fashion and accessories. A patio with a garden, an open room structure and huge window fronts allow views and insights while having lunch or coffee. The visitors sit in the middle of the action and are part of seeing and being seen.
Source bar at La Samaritaine
The many restaurants and also the five beauty spas in the basement really make the department store a place to live in Paris. Customers decide for themselves whether shopping is the main or secondary concern. The pure concentration on fashion and culinary delights also distinguishes La Samaritaine from the other larger Parisian department stores, whose range is much more extensive. The fact that the main building also houses offices and the luxury hotel Le Cheval Blanc Paris, as well as a crèche and flats, means that the department store is frequented by local residents, tourists and office workers.
"The old slogan ‘On trouve tout à la Samaritaine is now ‘On trouve toute le monde à la Samaritaine,’” philosophizes de Boysson. You no longer find everything, but you meet everyone at La Samaritaine. The new department store has a good chance of becoming this new meeting point of Parisian life.