Nov 19, 2019
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La Samaritaine Pont Neuf is finally, almost, ready

Nov 19, 2019

La Samaritaine, the greatest construction project of the world’s largest luxury construction company – encompassing an uber-chic department store, luxury hotel, hi-tech office space and even public housing –  is finally, almost, ready.

La Samaritaine's Art Nouveau façade on rue de la Monnaie, Paris - Photo: Pierre-Olivier Deschamps at Agence Vu' for La Samaritaine - Pierre-Olivier Deschamps

Or, at least, it will be in April next year. Almost two decades in the making, the €750 million project includes the relaunched Samaritaine 20,000 square-meter department store and the latest edition of haute gamme hotel Cheval Blanc, 72 rooms all overlooking the Seine with a starting price of €1,500 per night, dreamed up by architect Peter Marino. Besides over a dozen restaurants – several designed to win Michelin stars – shared between store and hotel, there are a further 96 public housing apartments, and even a large two-story crèche.
LVMH acquired La Samaritaine back in 2001, a storied department store first built in 1870 by the famed Cognacq-Jay family, who boast their own impressive private museum deep in the Marais. Three years after the acquisition, LVMH closed the whole structure, citing major asbestos and structural problems in the main building. This began a convoluted series of proposals and negotiations with City Hall in Paris, which only really culminated in 2015, when proper construction began.

“Ernest Cognacq and Louise Jaÿ, who donated the motto 'in constant progress' to their store and their foundation, set the direction. I think I can say today that we have, with tenacity, respected their wish and that the La Samaritaine of tomorrow will more beautiful than ever, re-finding its place at the center of Paris,” said LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault.

The Samaritaine's great staircase under the atrium - Photo: Pierre-Olivier Deschamps at Agence Vu' for La Samaritaine - La Samaritaine

By any standards, this is an extremely eclectic project architecturally. The Cheval Blanc is located on the south side, in a late Art Deco building; while the department store is one of the world’s greatest examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Designed by Frantz Jourdain, it features magnificently soaring cast-iron staircases; sublime frescoes of giant peacocks and leopards; exceptional mosaics; monumental iron forged iron figures; gypsy characters and a beautiful glass atrium.  
Part of the main structure is given over to swankier public apartments, while a second smaller block to the north is composed of a brand-spanking-new techy building of undulating glass on rue du Rivoli, along with a half-dozen slim 17th century buildings made with traditional brick, clay and wooden floor beams for the public apartments. One pre-requisite for winning the approval of the then-Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoé was the creation of public housing, located on the western side on rue de l’Arbre-Sec.
“The city of the future will be all about conserving space wisely and communities living in flexible, multiple use buildings. Which is what a mixed project like La Samaritaine is all about,” argued Jean Jacques Guinony, LVMH’s financial director and CEO of La Samaritaine, at a press conference to unveil the nearly completed complex. It is one of four major building projects in the eastern end of the 1st arrondissement, including the restoration of Les Halles shopping complex; the refurbishment of the adjoining park in front of the Saint-Eustace gothic cathedral and the Bourse de Commerce, Pinault Foundation, due to open in mid-June, and designed by Japanese architect great Tadao Ando.

The project's restoration work

Somewhat unexpectedly, LVMH has handed management of the store to DFS, the Duty Free Stores group it acquired in 1996, which extends into 16 airports and 18 large surface multi-brand stores. The most recent is T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a luxury department store on Venice's Grand Canal, billed as Italy's answer to Harrods and set in a beautiful Renaissance building radically reworked by Rem Koolhaas.
“Part of the soul of Paris is located in this place. So, we want to offer an atypical experience. It will be both the smallest Parisian department store and the biggest concept store,” laughed Eléonore de Boysson. She promised some 600 brands, without revealing many names; and stressed that some 40 would be exclusive. And promised that the beauty section would be the largest in Europe, at 3,000 square meters, while noting there will be no food department or kids section. Part of the store – focused on streetwear and lifestyle brands - will continue in the rue du Rivoli structure, a building designed by Sanaa, the Pritzker Prize winners of 2010, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.
There will be even a concept gift store abutting the hotel; a 300 square-meter VIP space and a fifth floor devoted to some dozen restaurants. Taking a leaf out of the BHV book, the 2nd arrondissement department store which added a highly-successful edition of Eataly last year.

The view of the Sanaa project from rue de Rivoli - Photo: Pierre-Olivier Deschamps at Agence Vu' for La Samaritaine

April’s opening will also confirm LVMH’s ambitions as a high-end innkeeper. The new Cheval Blanc joins a luxe ski hotel in Courcheval, a tony hotel in St Tropez, and an elegiac resort in the Maldives. Moreover, it also joins LVMH’s burgeoning new division, LVMH Hotellerie, whose key element is the Belmond Group, acquired this spring, which includes such stellar names as the Copacabana Palace, Rio; the Splendido in Portofino and the Sanctuary Lodge in Machu Picchu. LVMH also already owned Bulgari, with hotels in Milan, Bali, London, Beijing, Dubai and Shanghai.
“It will focus on the Art of Receiving French Style. Most the major hotel groups are either Anglo-Saxon- or Asian-owned, so this will be a major difference. A residential hotel à la française,” commented Cheval Blanc CEO Olivier Lefebvre.
Cheval Blanc, which overlooks Paris’ most visited bridge Pont Neuf and the Ile de la Cité, where Notre Dame is located, will include roof top suites and 250-square-meter pool with views north to Montmartre; and a custom-made spa created with Dior Beauté. By Paris standards the rooms will be substantial – starting at 45 square meters. The Cheval Blanc chain already boasts two three-star restaurants, and its top eatery here will clearly be aiming to join that elect.
All told, the complex will create some 2,300 jobs, with 380 of them in the hotel, meaning a roughly four-to-one ratio of staff-to-guest – talk about pampering. Some 800 will work in the retail space, where 60 former staffers, laid off in the previous decade have applied for positions.

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