Roller skate dancers twirled gracefully past the main gates of the Samaritaine, while smiling hosts greeted visitors. To enter, the mask is always compulsory, as well as the hydro-alcoholic gel for the hands.
“It’s a gift after so many months of confinement,” exclaims Marie, a retired teacher, amazed by the giant steel staircase that spans five floors. But she also notes that luxury is omnipresent, with brands like Chanel, Saint-Laurent, Dior, Tiffany’s and many others everywhere. “In my day, the Samaritan woman was still ‘where everything is’,” he observes, recalling an old slogan.
The new search for sophistication is directly linked to the objectives of the LVMH group, a French holding company specializing in luxury goods, which bought 55% of Samaritaine in 2001. In 2005, faced with the risk of collapse, the city imposed the store.
The sudden and unexpected closure has become a scar in the heart of Paris. There has been a lot of talk about what to do with the building: a mix of businesses, offices and residences? Then in 2010 LVMH bought all of La Samaritaine and decided to give a new direction to the building, founded in 1870 by Ernest Cognacq.
Gentrification in the center of Paris
The same gentrification can be observed in a previous project of the group, owned by Bernard Arnault, which transformed another popular address, the Bon Marché, on the other side of the Seine, into a temple of luxury consumption.
But the charm of the Art Nouveau architecture and Art Deco structure has been preserved, but with modern touches. The renovation of the four blocks that make up the complex was entrusted to the Japanese architectural firm Sanaa. The interior design was signed by the international studio Yabu Pushelberg. The renovation costs have been estimated at 750 million euros (4.4 billion reais).
“This event marks the end of a tragic period of this crisis that has hit the whole world and our country. Only a family group could launch such an investment with no return for 15 years, “said billionaire Bernard Arnaud, captain of LVMH, during the VIP opening on Monday (21). Among the exclusive guests was President Emmanuel Macron.
Visitors to the opening to the public stroll along the original 270 wooden steps or escalators, many with cameras and cellphones in hand to capture the moment. The bone structure in green painted metal dates from 1907. The glass panels change color depending on the light.
The “new” Samaritaine was also thought of as a tour of Paris, with its airy structure. Giant windows show scenes from the city. Tired consumers can rest in a dimly lit place where a screen projects the Seine from the top of the Samaritaine on a bright sunny day. As if it was a window. The concept is reminiscent of a shopping center, where people can spend a whole day shopping while walking.
duel of fortune
In an interview with the newspaper Liberation, the architect, professor and critic Françoise Fromont recalls that “the right bank of the Seine was, from the Middle Ages to the 1960s, the address of popular Parisian commerce”. Little by little, this identity was lost, with the closure of symbols such as the Halles market – where the Beaubourg Center is today – and the exodus of the modest population.
Fromont also notes that the center of Paris has also become a space of “battle between two barons of luxury”, in reference to the contemporary art center Bourse de Commerce, recently opened to house the collection of another powerful French billionaire, François Pinault. The ancient Bolsa do Comércio is a few meters from Samaritaine.
Another visitor on the opening day, the librarian Jean-François, 52, remembers having always been in Samaritaine since his childhood. “I always bought my clothes here, but now I think I’m not in the target audience anymore,” he says.