An archival
photo of one of the buildings of the department store in 1870.
An archival photo of one of the buildings of the department store in 1870.
Image : Special Arrangement

France never goes out of style. It has taken the world’s largest luxury conglomerate, the Paris-based LVMH group, to cement its place in the post-pandemic world, with a new landmark—the Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf by DFS—that promises to be a beacon of French fashion and culture. With its Art Nouveau façade overlooking the river Seine, this shopping mall once bustled with the brouhaha of the Parisian gentry. Now, a century and a half later, it’s all set to occupy centre stage once again as the heart of luxury retail, hospitality, fine dining, art, and relaxation in France’s glamorous capital. The 70,000 sq. m. area that comprises the seven-level Samaritaine (comprising 20,000 sq. m. of retail space and 15,000 sq. m. of offices) is spread over multiple buildings with the luxurious Cheval Blanc hotel (scheduled to open on September 7) occupying the top floors as a series of suites. It threw open its glass doors on June 23, with an inaugural ceremony attended by the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron, the Mayor of Paris, and Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of the LVMH group.

A view of the Samaritaine’s staircase
and the restored glass roof from
1907.
A view of the Samaritaine’s staircase and the restored glass roof from 1907.
Image : Special Arrangement

In the early 1870s, a gentleman named Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ saw the advantage of opening a series of shops—La Samaritaine—between the Rue de la Monnaie and the Rue du Pont-Neuf, that would straddle the worlds of the high society right bank and the bourgeois left bank of the Seine. In 1910, the Art Nouveau building by Frantz Jourdain was built, and in 1928, French architect Henri Sauvage’s Art Deco edifice was brought to life. As one of the first retail emporiums in Paris, the city’s denizens flocked to La Samaritaine. Acquired in 2001 by the LVMH group (the majority shareholder of the DFS Group, the world’s largest private retailer that redesigned and operates the Samaritaine), it was closed in 2005 (much to the dismay of shoppers) for 16 years, undergoing a six-year renovation that is believed to have cost nearly $1 billion—with the Pritzker prize-winning Japanese architecture studio SANAA at the helm—that was extraordinary and scrupulously faithful to the history of the iconic property, including its Art Deco and Art Nouveau details. The restoration involved 800 skilled craftspeople—from painters, sculptors, gilders, ironworkers, and more—who worked on the site to recreate the lost aura of this much-loved destination.

A section of the Samaritaine’s staircase.
A section of the Samaritaine’s staircase.
Image : Special Arrangement

Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf has a vision: to blend authenticity with modernity. And the DFS Group, entrusted by LVMH with the design and operations of the Samaritaine, has got more than 600 labels—from the most iconic brands to designers exclusive to the Samaritaine, including smaller French labels, who find their home here. The Loulou boutique, on the left side of the Samaritaine facing the river, houses all that is cosmopolitan and Parisian—from fashion to stationery and souvenirs (posters, jewellery, and bags), while the Rivoli building (on the Rue de Rivoli) on the right encompasses urban fashion, streetwear, and activewear (from JW Anderson and Ambush to Korean and Japanese labels). And in the middle, you have the iconic Pont-Neuf building, with seven floors of retail and gastronomy (there are 12 restaurants, and you can find the perfect pain au chocolat or caviar), women’s fashion (from Loewe to Alexander McQueen), women’s shoes, men’s fashion, watchmaking and jewellery, shoes, and accessories. It also houses a large beauty space—at 3,400 sq. m.—of brands (look forward to the reintroduction of the iconic Helena Rubinstein, among brands like Dolce & Gabbana Beauty, and Fragonard) along with spa/makeup services.

The peacock mural at the Pont-Neuf building
The peacock mural at the Pont-Neuf building
Image : Special Arrangement

Nestled between the Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame cathedral, Samaritaine is instantly identifiable by the new undulating glass façade of the Rivoli building with its 343 screen-printed glass panels, and the striking Art Nouveau façade of the adjacent Pont-Neuf building (675 sq. m. were renovated, and 42 sq. m. were reconstructed from scratch thanks to extensive archival documents and included volvic lava decorations). The Pont-Neuf building also features a spectacular 37 m. x 20 m. glass roof from 1907, supported by an Eiffel Tower-like metal structure that has been fully restored, with the addition of photochromatic glass that adapts according to lighting conditions. Wrapping itself on the interior, right under the roof is the pièce de resistance—the 3.5 m.-high and 115 m.-long peacock mural, that’s signed by Francis Jourdain, son of architect Frantz Jourdain, and restored to its original bright sunflower yellow hues. Opposite the fresco, lies the 1,000 sq. m. space, Voyage, where fine cuisine (with a roster of starred chefs), mixology, the arts, poetry, and music intersect.

And the grand staircase that winds its way upwards towards the glass ceiling is the central part of the PontNeuf building, and the emblem of its history, with care given to 16,000 gold leaves on its railing, Art Deco ceramic under the landing, and 270 oak stairs.

The building’s ground
floor houses luxury accessories
The building’s ground floor houses luxury accessories
Image : Special Arrangement

Once the inspiration for an Émile Zola novel, the Samaritaine is an example of a ‘mixed use’ urban project. The LVMH group has ensured that it will impact the local economy positively, with the creation of 3,000 jobs. Besides the department store by DFS, there’s a nursery for 80 children, and 96 public housing units by Paris Habitat. Samaritaine is also highly sustainable, since it’s certified with French and international labels like HQE, BREEAM, LEED, and Qualitel, and uses renewable energy, thermal insulation, and is surrounded by trees on the Rivoli side that only need to be watered by the rain.

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