Sixteen years after being shuttered due to fire safety concerns, legendary Parisian department store Samaritaine made a spectacular relaunch in June—the kind of bold statement that could spark a retail revival. Helmed by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH and its retail subsidiary DFS Group, the massive €750 million renovation project included a full revamp of the space into a mixed-used development.
The original Samaritaine opened in 1870 and spanned an entire block, making it the largest department store in Paris in its heyday. The venue eventually succumbed to more cutting-edge competition and fell into disrepair. But there was no denying its stellar location along the Seine, with cultural masterpieces (and tourist magnets) like the Louvre Museum, Pont Neuf and the Notre Dame cathedral nearby. To reinvent the 19th century landmark, LVMH recruited global firms, including Canadian design studio Yabu Pushelberg, local creative agency Malherbe Paris and Japanese architecture studio SANAA, along with Vinci Construction France.
Samarataine’s much-anticipated reincarnation was expected to debut in 2013. But construction was halted by protesters who objected to SANAA’s design of the complex’s Rue de Rivoli facade—a rippling glass wall that some critics likened to a shower curtain. The team ultimately moved forward with the design element—a counter to the structure’s ornate art nouveau style—while adding a pair of glass-roofed courtyards and a glass mosaic floor as a nod to the original glass floors that covered the entire store.
Finding that balance was a continuing clarion call—ensuring the project wasn’t just a paean to past Parisian glamour but would also pull in modern shoppers. To achieve that perfect mélange, the team brought some of the store’s signature elements back to their former glory: cast-iron signs, the magnificent glass roof, peacock painting and its show-stopper staircase. But it also looked to the future: using design elements like classical statues to define the space, while building in an agility that allows the retailer to flex to whatever’s in vogue.
LVMH also restructured Samaritaine as a mixed-used concept rather than a dedicated retail space. Along with 20,000 square meters (215,280 square feet) of carefully curated shopping spread across three levels, the complex features a lounge, a bar, a formal restaurant, a space for child day care, 96 social housing units designed to meet the energy targets of Paris’ Climate Action Plan and 15,000 square meters (161,458 square feet) of office space. The 72-room Cheval Blanc Paris hotel, with interiors designed by Peter Marino, is also slated to open in September.
The project has not been without controversy, however: Attac, a social justice organization, staged a protest against the store and what it called the city’s growing economic inequality heightened by COVID-19 lockdowns.
Yet the massive project is being marketed as an economic engine intended to woo back tourists and create jobs, including the 1,800 workers employed during the peak of the construction phase alone.
“The renaissance of the Samaritaine is a collective success that has mobilized some 3,000 people,” said Jean-Jacques Guiony, chairman and CEO of the Samaritaine. “We also feel great pride in restoring access to a historical monument that has always been at the forefront of its times and holds a special place in the hearts of Parisians.”
The Samaritaine team anticipates close to 5 million visitors each year, which could provide a great boost to the city. Inaugurating the space, French President Emmanuel Macron signaled the project’s role in helping kick-start the French economy, saluting LVMH for its “16 years of hard work” to restore the “formidable French heritage treasure.”