La Samaritaine: Reopening of Paris' Iconic Department Store

One of the most anticipated openings of the summer season of 2021 in Paris was the reopening of the department store La Samaritaine. At one time the store was the pinnacle of the Parisian shopping experience, but it was suddenly shuttered in 2005, due to fire and safety reasons. A cloud of mystery as to when it would reopen—or if it was closed for good—followed it for years and all that remained from the original store, which was housed in two side-by-side buildings near the Louvre, were the bold La Samaritaine signs. 

The husband-and-wife team of Ernest Cognacq and Mary Louise Jay opened La Samaritaine in 1870 as a place where customers could conveniently shop for dry goods under one roof. It was the first shop where price tags were attached to every item and shoppers were allowed to browse freely, without being followed by salespeople. The winning formula led to a rapid expansion and in 1910 a stunning, Art Nouveau store was built on the rue de Monnaie next to rue de Rivoli, by architect and Art Nouveau specialist Frantz Jourdain. Trying to keep up with the unprecedented success, another store was opened in 1928, but designed in the new, more pared down, Art Deco style and the two stores together yielded 90 departments where you could find almost anything. 

Make up

La Samaritaine was bought by the LVMH Group in 2001 and after many delays it finally reopened in June 2021. A new, imposing all-glass building with dramatic curves was designed by Japanese architectural company SANAA, which bridges the new with the old. We entered through the glass building, which looked much like any other modern department store in the world, but when we entered the refurbished 1910 building, we were impressed. We stared in wonder at the original ornate iron work on the balconies of the atrium, which were meticulously restored and were gleaming in all their glory. 

We then went to the lower level to check out the skin care, cosmetics and perfume department—now the largest in Europe—and found a wide selection of luxury French brands such as Frederic Malle, Christian Louboutin (he produces a line of lipsticks and nail polishes), Caudalie, Biotherm, Guerlain and Benefit, plus international labels Jo Malone, Makeup Forever, Fresh, Shiseido and Marc Jacobs

Touring the main and upper floors we discovered in-store men’s and women’s boutiques, including Gucci, Dior, Prada, Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten, Givenchy and Isabel Marant. The women’s shoe department, taking up most of the fourth floor, has an eclectic and formidable selection of up-to-the-minute styles, enough to satisfy even the most jaded shoe fanatic. 

La Sam

On the main floor is the fun and whimsical Lou Lou Boutique, a collection of chic accessories, clothing, jewelry, home products, and objets, curated by fashion icon and muse Lou Lou de Falaise

Food is a significant part of the store and there are many options, including a patisserie bar by Dalloyau, with exclusive pastries made only for La Samaritaine, a street caviar bar from Prunier, with French caviar delights (including a baguette topped with the delicate fish eggs), an outpost of Eric Kayser with the freshest sandwiches, bread, quiches and baked goods, the Zinc, a coffee bar from roasters Brulerie des Gobelins, and Joie, a juice bar and organic, vegetarian café. Voyage, the premiere restaurant of the store, located on the fifth floor, has a cocktail and mocktail bar helmed by mixologist Matthias Giroud, and the food menu updates French classics with a contemporary twist. Several tables have rooftop views of Paris. 

Happy shopping!

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