After 15 years and €750m investment, Paris’s iconic La Samaritaine set to reopen

Main Photo: La Samaritaine set to re-open April 2020 as a complex of stores, hotels and offices.

Date: November  2019

Location: Overlooking La Seine, Paris, France

Name: Cheval Blanc La Samaritaine

No. of Keys: 72 rooms and suites

Seller: Fifteen years after closure, Paris’s iconic department store La Samaritaine is set to come back to life next April following a €750m makeover by owner LVMH. The store closed in 2005 for safety reasons related to its obsolescence

Buyer: During a press tour of the refurbished store on the right bank of the Seine river Tuesday, CEO Jean-Jacques Guiony described to Agence France Presse the twists and turns of the path needed to breathe life back into the edifice that first opened its doors to shoppers 130 years ago. “It will be a magnet, but it is also a mixed project and a living program because people will live here, not to mention the crèche,” Guiony said.

The road has been difficult for Bernard Arnault’s group as a whole. LVMH – it’s majority shareholder since 2001 – faced a 10-year wait to have it’s building and renovation permit definitively validated.

Works were suspended between 2012 and 2015 by a series of appeals from heritage protection associations, challenging in particular the construction of a contemporary all-glass facade on the rue de Rivoli.

“It took five years to convince the Paris City Hall, five years to get the permit, and five years of colossal work. We didn’t think it would last 15 years, but it was worth it,” said Guiony, who is also CFO of the luxury goods group that Arnault has painstakingly assembled over the last 40 years.

For its 150th anniversary, La Samaritaine will reopen with a luxury hotel Cheval Blanc – a brand owned by LVMH – with 72 rooms and suites overlooking the Seine, offices covering 15,000 sqm, an 80-bed neighbourhood crèche, and 97 social housing units managed by France Habitat.

This “heritage and commercial rehabilitation, in the centre of Paris, of a private building of this size and in one piece, had never been carried out before”, says LVMH in the official description of the project.

Jewels of art nouveau and art deco, the four buildings – one of which is listed as a historic monument – have undergone a major restructuring that also had to respect and enhance the elements of the times: mosaics, enamels, glass roofs and wrought iron railings.

The “smallest of the Parisian department stores”, La Samaritaine will now occupy only 20,000 sqm – compared with some 30,000 sqm at the time of closure – and will open under the DFS selective distribution brand, also owned by Arnault’s group, with a selection of 600 luxury brands combining “fashion, lifestyle and gastronomy”.

Under the main glass roof that dominates the future store area, a huge golden yellow fresco, adorned with multicoloured peacocks, illuminates the monumental staircase with exposed metal beams.

“We worked a lot on natural light – many windows had been hidden – and now we have a view of the church of Saint-Germain-L’Auxerrois. The idea is to have a place of life beyond a place of commerce, with 12 gastronomic areas in the store that target foreign tourists as well as Parisian visitors, says Eléonore de Boysson, DFS head of Europe and Middle East.

The 4-Star Cheval Blanc hotel will set an entrance price of €1,150 for a 45 sqm room, but does not communicate its rates for the 1,000 sqm suite with private swimming pool on the eighth floor. It will also offer four restaurants, including a gourmet restaurant run by starred chef Arnaud Donckele, named Chef of the Year by the Gault et Millau in its 2020 edition

“We already have a lot of requests for the hotel, and reservations are not yet even open,” says Olivier Lefebvre, LVMH director of hotel activities. The establishment comprises the fifth Cheval Blanc.

On Tuesday, at a press briefing, LVMH said it will create more than 1,500 jobs with the reopening, including 800 for the department store. Including the office space, over 2,400 direct jobs will be maintained on site.

Initially in 2005, work on La Samaritaine was expected to last six years – at the closure it employed 734 people, almost all of whom were reclassified or benefited from measures provided for in the Employment Protection Plan (PSE).

As these former employees benefit from a priority of employment in the new Samaritan Woman, “about 60 of them have expressed their interest in returning,” Guiony pointed out.

THPT Comment: Surprised they are opening only as a four-star hotel, although the FT from London thinks it will be five-star.

First Seen: Sortir a Paris

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