Sunday, 3 February 2013

We had "The House of Elliot" before ... now, "Mr. Selfridge" and "The Paradise" take us to the magical world of The Grands Magasins ... A series of "posts" around this theme . Yours Jeeves .

Along with the dizzying number of museums and monuments in Paris, a tour of the Grands Magasins (literally, big stores or department stores) merits a place in the list of things to do and see in the city. You may wonder why these huge, block-long department stores are such a big deal – they are, after all, just stores, and Paris has millions of them, you may say. But beneath their grandeur and breathtaking architecture lies a history that revolutionized the art of retail.

Shopping was difficult in the 19th century.   Specialized shops meant that one had to go door to door to find specific products, and when these items were found, customers would have to haggle for a price, as the wares remained without fixed prices.
Aristide Baucicaut, an ambitious sales clerk working at a small shop called Petit St. Thomas, teamed up with entrepreneur Paul Videau, owner of Au Bon Marché at the corner of rue de Bac and rue de Sevres in the Left Bank. Baucicaut turned the business around by ordering small batches of stock items at a time and selling them at a low price, which made the turnover fast and efficient.
As their benefits went from 450,000 francs to 7 million francs, Videau sold his part to Boucicaut in 1863, making the latter the sole proprietor of what we know now as Le Bon Marché. Terrain was bought and the store expanded. Louis-Charles Boileau and Gustave Eiffel contributed to the architecture of steel and glass that it is today.

Le Bon Marché was ahead of its time. Stocked with every imaginable product one could ever want or need, it set the standards for the other grands magasins that were to appear years later. Baucicaut introduced many new concepts: seasonal collections, free deliveries, product catalogues, reimbursable items. It opened its doors to the middle class, its target clientele. Workers enjoyed benefits such as commissions on items they sold, retirement pay, health insurance, and store discounts. It was so successful that Emile Zola patterned the fictional shopping center in his novel “Au Bonheur des Dames” after Le Bon Marché.
Artistide Baucicaut died in 1877. In 25 years he had transformed a small 12-person business into a shopping emporium of 1,788 employees. In 1910, his widow built the art deco-inspired Hotel Lutetia along boulevard Raspail to accommodate clients traveling to Paris to shop at Le Bon Marché, and which later became a popular hangout for the Left Bank intellectual circle.
Le Bon Marché was bought by the LVMH group in 1984. You can visit Le Bon Marché’s La Grande Epicerie, which boasts culinary products from all over the world.

By Kala Court in

Au Bon Marché

24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris
Metro: Sèvres-Babylone

 La Samaritaine

1 rue du Pont Neuf, 75001
Metro: Pont Neuf

“We find everything at The Samaritaine” (“On trove tout à  la Samaritaine“) : the 1960s slogan of La Samaritaine is still remembered by Parisians who hold fond memories of this grand magasin fronting the Seine, a stone’s throw away from Pont Neuf. Looking at the building’s monumental Art Deco facade, it is hard to imagine that this grand magasin with 48,000m2 of floor area had very humble beginnings, but that’s just how it started.

Having started his career selling ties under an umbrella on the Pont Neuf, Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay (a former head saleswoman at Le Bon Marché) set up their small boutique on rented space at the corner of rue du Pont Neuf and rue de la Monnaie in 1869. He named it La Samaritaine, after the ancient water pump station on Pont Neuf demolished in 1813, which had a statue of a samaritan woman pouring water for Christ.
He drew inspiration from Aristide Baucicaut and applied the same principles to his shop: marked prices, entrance for all customers, lower prices. Small business owners sold their wares in his shop. The Cognacqs were hard workers. “A coin is a coin,” they would say, and each coin was invested into La Samaritaine. Four years later its success had expanded to the neighboring buildings. From 1883 to 1933 La Samaritaine went through progressive structural transformations. Its Art Nouveau aesthetic was contributed by the architect Frantz Jourdain in 1903 to 1907 (which received lukewarm reactions from the Parisians, who had had enough of Art Nouveau at the time). By 1933, after a lot of changes to the initial design, the buildings had been influenced by Art Déco by architect Henri Sauvage. Its huge glass windows, the Art Nouveau staircase, its vast ceiling and the strong use of bright blues, greens and oranges in its decor and mosaiques earned La Samaritaine’s title of a historical monument in Paris.

What grew with their success was their philanthropic passion: the Cognacq-Jay Foundation was born, reaching out to orphans, children, the sick, the retired and the homeless. They were also avid art collectors, and you can see their incredible collection at the Musée Cognacq-Jay.
Today, La Samaritaine is currently owned by LVMH, and was closed in 2005 for not meeting safety codes. It is, however, being given a new life. Plans for the restoration in 2013, under the Japanese architecture firm SANAA, are grand: glass facades, a clean-up of the walls to bring back their original vivacity and colour, and the overall fusion of new and old. In the span of its three buildings a commercial center, a deluxe hotel, a nursery, offices and social lodgings are to be built. All this, in the heart of the first arrondissement, a modern testament fulfilling Cognacq’s desire for innovation and change.

By Kala Court in

Au Printemps

64, blvd Haussmann, 75009 Paris
Metro:  Havre Caumartin
RER A: Auber, RER E:  Haussmann St-Lazare

The new standards for retail shopping had been set, and it was inevitable that competition would soon show up. In 1865, Printemps was created by Jules Jaluzot, a former employee of Le Bon Marché. He chose to establish his grand magasin in the then-developing quarter of Saint-Lazare, not far from where he lived. The building, at the corner of rue du Havre and Boulevard Haussman, was built by architects Jules and Paul Sédille. It expanded into four more buildings by 1874.
 The store introduced ‘les soldes’, selling items from past collections at lower prices. They displayed the latest fashion with mannequins on their storefront windows, and even offered bouquets of violets to clients on the first day of spring.
Although the second of the grands magasins in Paris, Printemps had a lot of firsts to offer: it was the first to using electric lighting in 1888, and the first store to be directly connected to the metro.
Printemps in the early 20th century was known for its Art Nouveau facade, its grand 42-meter high domed hall, a huge spiral staircase, and floral-inspired mosaic tiles. It has, however, undergone major reconstructions twice after the fires that broke out in 1881 and 1921.
Today, the Art Nouveau staircase is long gone, but with its dominating cupola and impressive facade that earned Printemps a place in the list of Historic Monuments, it still stays at the height of its glory.

By By Kala Court in

 Galeries Lafayette

40, blvd Haussmann, 75009 PARIS
Metro: Chaussée d’Antin, Opéra, Trinité
RER A: Auber, RER E:  Haussmann St-Lazare

The Opéra area had become a busy shopping district in 1894, and it made perfect sense for cousins Alphonse Kahn and Théophile Bader to build their own store in a 70m2 space at the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. Baptised Galeries Lafayette, it became an instant hit and as expected, they expanded their territory, buying the entire building of 1 rue La Fayette at first and then buildings 38,40 and 42 along boulevard Haussmann.
Architects Georges Chedanne and Ferdinand Chanut created the vision Théophile Bader had for his grand magasin: a shopping destination for high fashion and luxury items. In 1912, its sprawling staircases, Art Nouveau balconies, and glittering dome were revealed to the public – a 5-storey mecca for the latest modes and fashion. It wasn’t only the clothes for sale that were on display. The architects of the grands magasins purposefully built them so shoppers could see and be seen.

Bader made sure to stay on top of the fashion scene by producing and selling clothes exclusively under the mark Galeries Lafayette. He would walk along Opéra with a designer, where they would scope out and sketch the latest street fashion, which they would later tweak and adapt for their own branding. It was a huge success, yet they would later branch out and offer other products such as home decor and men’s collections.
Unlike its predecessors, Galeries Lafayette has managed to keep the business in the family for the last five generations. They were able to ride through the storms of war, economic crises and ever-changing demands of the clients, proving that fashion, indeed, knows no limits.

By By By Kala Court in

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