Today, the Parisian department stores are a stopping point on all touristic itineraries in Paris. 1 out of every 2 visitors to Galeries Lafayette is a foreign tourist. These stores have grown to such a scale that they have expanded to outside the capital by opening up branches all across France and even internationally. If they are considered economic giants today, they were leaders in the world of retail before. Inventors of “leisure shopping”, they revolutionized the commercial world of sales.
A bit of history first
Their ascension marked the end of small shops that could be found in the dark passageways of Paris. Now they find their place along the large well-lit and less dangerous boulevards and will benefit from neighborhoods that are less visited but have become mythic like Chaussée-d’Antin.
In the 19th century, it was a time of big changes in Paris: serious change in social connections, morals, mind states, but also architecture, aspiring to be renewed and women wanted to work and manage their own money.
But all this became possible thanks to the birth of the department stores. With an Art Nouveau architectural style, the glass, iron, and cement were honored in lavish decorations that attract as many customers as museums or palaces attract daily visitors.
With the creation of Aristide Boucicaut’s store “Au Bon Marché” in 1852, the notion of shopping arrived in France.
Later, boutiques grew larger to give birth to the Samaritaine, the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette, among others.
With their large lanes divided into aisles crowded with all sorts of items, the department stores created a majorly female clientele that now wanted to shop for pleasure.
As you stroll through, you are free to access products as you want, to touch the items and even try them out, like perfume. And all of this is available without the slightest obligation to buy. Surely it would be great to go there every day!
Fixed and rather low price in order to attract a larger client base
While the small merchants sold expensive, custom made, and unique items, the department stores offered labeled items, sold at a fixed and rather low price in order to attract a larger client base, especially from the lower class. So, a middle class woman could get a magnificent dress worthy of a big fashion designer at a price challenging all competition.
The selection was large, items were restocked well, and often cycled out. The distributed catalogs helped to promote the stores and their products. Also, their sales strategy made you want to buy and come back for more.,
Towards a luxurious client base
During the 20th century, the department stores reached such a scale that their target market was directed mainly towards a more well off client base and, and by the end of the century, a luxurious one.
The emergence of these large shops was supported by the development of transportation and urbanization in the city of Paris. In that way, visitors flocked to Paris from all over France to admire the decorated display windows and the wax mannequins.
Fashion shows were organized in the store aisles for the more well off customers that enjoyed a cup of tea while choosing their clothing. There were displays and exhibitions in honor of artists. The creators worked all throughout the year to promote and make the larger public knowledgeable about their new products, as in the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville’s “Home Appliance Exhibit” that brought in crowds of people.
Although certain department stores have closed their doors, the big names still hold on and wait to be revived like la Samaritaine – who stopped activity in 2005, but should be reopening soon.
Today the famous Le Bon Marché, BHV, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are known throughout the world and make Paris famous. Similar to luxury stores, they represent the capital’s prestige and host millions of curious tourists to let them discover their architectural beauty each year.
1) Le Bon Marché
It all began in 1838, when Louis-Philippe I reigned as the King of France. Two brothers, Paul and Justin Videau, founded a store together selling household linens, umbrellas, and other household items. This was the birth of the boutique, Au Bon Marché, situated on rue de Sèvres in the 7th arrondissement.
In 1845, the Videau brothers hired Aristide Boucicaut. In 1853, the three started an association together. Boucicaut gave them the idea: create a department store focusing on female customers. Also, the idea of shopping for fun was born here.
In 1863, Aristide and his wife, Marguerite, bought the Videau brothers’ shares of the store and decided to remodel and expand it. With the help of the architect, Louis-Charles Boileau, and the engineer, Moisant (for the building’s structure), the couple was thinking big.
The 1850’s: a department store is born…
The concept of the “modern and elegant Parisian” reached its full potential with the ideas of Boucicaut. He proposed fixed prices with labeled items, maintaining a large selection, and a good presentation to make customers want to make purchases and come back later. The idea, “satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back”, was created. The ability to exchange items and putting things on sale soon followed and catalogs promoted the store’s items that could be bought through the mail thanks to the development of railways.
The construction covered 52,800m2 (from 300m2 at the beginning) and went from 500,000 francs in business numbers to 72 million francs and 1,788 employees in 1877 (compared to 12 in 1852). Gustave Eiffel later helped with some renovations throughout the year in 1879.
Au Bon Marché marks a turning point in history with the appearance of a new social class: the employees. These workers, thanks to their employer Aristide Boucicaut, benefitted from a pension and retirement fund, small rooms in part of the store for young employees, promotions by merit, a free dining hall, and a day off every week.
Another innovative feature, Boucicaut offered a waiting room for men so that they could wait for their wives as they casually shopped. The mail-order catalogs had fabric samples, a more attractive idea so that customers would buy their products even from a distance, and they also developed publicity with advertising posters.
A revolution in the world of fashion, clothes could be tried on at the location without having to buy them, and clothing sizes were standardized, which marked the decline in tailored clothing. Items for women were cheaper, but were, nevertheless, in style and the store reached out to a larger client base.
The success of Au Bon Marché and the development of new transportation, especially the first lines of Paris’ metro, attracted more and more people. The prices were so interesting that they even brought in people from the countryside and the working class. In 1910, Mrs. Boucicaut built an inn to help lodge important customers near her shop, the Lutécia.
If it was attractive to customers, it also seemed enticing to artists like Zola. He admired the concept so much that it greatly inspired his novel Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) that clearly depicted the idea that Boucicaut had to create a temple dedicated to women. In 2012, Le Bon Marché (notice that the “Au” changed to “Le” during the 20th century) was purchased by the company LVMH, the first French fortune held by Bernard Arnault, who would make it into a renowned luxury store.
Today, Le Bon Marché is a reference in the world of department stores. As a precursor, it is an emblem of French luxury and shaped the image of the famous, stylistic, and independent Parisian that continues to fascinate the whole world.
Address: 24 rue de Sèvres 75007 Paris
Métro: Sèvres-Babylone (lines 10 and 12)
Web site: www.lebonmarche.com
2) The Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV)
It was in 1852 that Xavier Ruel, a businessman from Lyon, arrived in Paris to test his luck. With multiple other boutiques in the capital, he realized that the very popular one on rue de Rivoli attracted the most customers.
A seller of hosiery (meshed items like socks, stockings, and lingerie), it was a rapid success that earned a profit. In 1855, Ruel decided to enlarge the boutique. Why? A rather unusual event that gave him the financial means to do so! One day, the Empress Eugénie, wife to Napoleon III, passed by Xavier Ruel’s boutique. Her horses reared and panic arose, but Ruel, a cool-headed man, managed to calm them. To thank him, the empress offered him the money than the man quickly used for construction to expand his store, which he then named: Bazar Napoleon.
This was the beginning of a huge success. In 1866, his store extended to 3 floors at 54, rue de Rivoli and business was booming. But in 1900, the businessman passed away and left behind a business of 800 employees, worth 12 million francs. Nevertheless, his grandson, Henri Voguié, took his place as the head of the company to manage the so-called “Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville”.
Like Au Bon Marché, the Bazar was up to date by selling stylish items at the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, it’s these first decades that would make Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville a department store renowned throughout the capital and metropolitan area. In fact, in 1912, the store took the style that we know today. With its rotunda, the architect, Auguste Roy, envisioned an Art Nouveau style, which was in at the time (especially noticeable with the Petit and Grand Palais).
The department stores featured a multitude of activities like expositions and exhibits. And in 1923, the Bazar organized for its customers the “Home Appliance Exhibit” that brought in many curious customers, thirsty for something new. They could attend demonstrations and try out the appliances that were supposed to help make daily lives easier for housekeepers. Three years later, “BHV” affirms itself as a department store specialized in household items and home décor, which would shape the brand’s image up to today.
Like at Au Bon Marché, the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville was an example of good involvement in the life of its employees. The BHV created a system for familial aid to help overcome the damages of the 1929 crisis. This system also takes into account the new laws of 1930 by recognizing workers’ rights (put in place by a piece of legislature focusing on work and work related accidents). With the rise to power of the Front Populaire in 1936, the new social class of employees is given paid vacation and a decrease in work hours, moving towards a 40-hour workweek. This was obviously a boon for BHV who would then attract more customers, but also mothers and their children, who would become a new client base to work with.
During the 50’s, always being innovative, the Bazar bought its first escalator, which enticed even more customers. Following that, they were one of the first to introduce a telephone with a switchboard. In the 60’s, they were the first department store to be equipped with air conditioning to better please its customers.
The end of the 90’s and the beginning of the 21st century breathed new life into the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville. It gets remodeled, and its front is renovated with an exterior window display that has become quite the sensation during the Christmas season. A home improvement aisle is worked out in the basement and labeled “the largest tool box in Paris”.
The BHV has attracted crowds for a long time, thanks to its professionalism and its high quality. It was able to keep a loyal client base since the beginning and never stops winning over consumers, charmed by the store’s history.
Address: 36, rue de la Verrerie 75004 Paris
Metro: Hôtel de Ville (lines 1 and 11)
Web site: www.bhv.fr
3) Printemps Haussmann
The history of Printemps began in 1865, when the Second Empire was in power for 13 years already, and Napoleon III was the French emperor.
Opening its doors on November 3rd, 1865 in a luxurious building on Boulevard Haussmann, Printemps was born from the association of two entrepreneurs, Jules Jaluzot and Jean-Alfred Duclos. The two men chose to establish their store in a less urbanized neighborhood, but the nevertheless promising Chaussé-d’Antin. Close to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station, they hoped to bring in customers from all over France.
The building was constructed by the architects Jules and Paul Sédille, who were father and son. Luxurious and covering three floors, their success is linked to the sale of high-quality material that would later make the store very famous throughout the country. The commercialization of its exceptional black silk marked the beginning of a high level of recognition, which they still have today.
One year later, the infatuation with the store was growing and then there were the sales where they cut prices on their unsold items. The idea was to have Printemps attract a new client base, less well-off, which was increasingly important while the crisis prevailed and Duclot left the business. To support its fame, Printemps’ main goal was to sell innovative and quality items, all at a low price.
To keep a loyal client base, Printemps offered the emblem of the store, a bouquet of flowers, to customers on the 21st of March, the first day of spring.
In 1874, Printemps grew some more. They built a second building on another street that would later be connected to the first by an iron bridge. A large renovation, two elevators were put in the store, which was completely unrivaled and was attractive to many customers, especially kids who saw it as an attraction not to miss out on.
A fourth storefront was built in 1881 to welcome an even larger number of customers. But on March 9th of the same year, a fire ravaged the rest of the store, leaving only the new store intact. So reconstruction started on the following year by Paul Sédille who had the other storefronts torn down to make them all match. Architecture was entering into a new era; the style was iron and glass, which could both be found in the structure and its décor. Today these techniques are acknowledged by art and architectural historians.
Paul Sédille created a central nave and a large staircase that would become trademarks of the store. A central point inside the building was established to help reach the different levels of the store.
In 1888, Printemps was already recognized for its technical prowess, and the installation of an electrical lighting system, making it the first to use one.
“Printemp’s stores are the most elegant in Paris.”
The store has had an Art Nouveau style since 1900 thanks to the architect, Charles Risler, and it has a purple theme for its interior décor. After a century of innovation and change, the architect René Binet takes charge of constructing a new building in 1907: Printemps for Men, and in 1910, Printemps Style was opened.
The emblematic dome at Printemps, made in an Art Nouveau style, has been very fashionable since the 20th century and hangs over the building 44 meters above the ground. Finished in 1910, it corresponds to a luxurious style that attracts many more customers. On the same day, the ninth floor’s patio was also opened, on which you can relax and have a drink, or admire the spectacular view.
Interior reconstruction projects took place in the center of the department store. Jaluzot’s resignation in 1905 allowed Gustave Laguioni to take lead of the store. He decided to modernize Printemps and to make the space bigger so that people could have a better view of the items.
At the time of World War I, Printemps was a place for distraction, which was rare. Women wandered down the aisles, and during the holidays, the window displays, which weren’t yet animatronic, were decorated with little lead solders.
The first mannequins were also in the display windows. In their original style, they were the first ones designed for Printemps.
In 1921, a second fire did some damage to the store, but it was surely more devastating than the first. The architect Georges Wybo was put in charge of fixing it. The new construction work was subject to new security measures and building techniques.
Thanks to the new metro line at the Havre-Caumartin station in 1923 that provides direct service to the store, its popularity grew beyond just Paris. Numerous visitors came to the expositions and to see the animatronic Christmas window displays that Printemps offered.
That year, the stained glass dome at the Boulevard Haussmann location was erected.
Always innovating, in 1930, the department store purchased escalators to go between floors. To bring in even more customers, they practiced the “flat price” technique for commonly used items.
In 1939, while bombardments raged in France and threatened its architectural heritage, the Brière dome was taken apart and stored in Clichy.
In 1951, Printemps consisted of four buildings, two escalators, twenty-two elevators, one patio, a hair salon, a tea salon, a theater and travel office, a photography studio, and a library. At a time where malls didn’t exist yet, the department stores revolutionized shopping and the idea of leisure. The sales floor had changed, you could find anything there.
In 1975, the storefront at the Boulevard Haussmann location and its dome were put on the list of historical monuments.
Five years later, the store opened locations outside of Paris, while keeping Printemps Haussmann as a reference.
In 2001, a whole floor was dedicated to luxury items, which the store is generally associated with. Two years later, Printemps opens up the largest beauty section in the world, an in 2006, 3,000m2 was also given just to shoes.
Today, Printemps Haussmann as we know it is divided into three stores:
- Printemps Style (9 floors)
- Printemps Home and Beauty (11 floors)
- Printemps for Men (7 floors)
Printemps in numbers
During the Christmas season, the front windows are decorated by famous decorators and animated characters, created by the big names in the world of style and design, and they attract close to 8 million curious people within 6 weeks. The store at Boulevard Haussmann welcomes around 7.5 million visitors annually (1.5 million more than the Eiffel Tower) or 40,000 per day in a 43,500m2 space shared between 3 buildings and 27 floors.
Address: 64 Boulevard Haussmann 75009 Paris
Metro: Chaussée-d’Antin La Fayette (lines 7 and 9) or Havre-Caumartin (lines 3, 9 or RER A)
Web site: www.printemps.com
4) Galeries Lafayette
In 1894, the Alsatian cousins, Alphonse Kahn and Théophile Boder set up a retail store with different specializations on 1 rue Lafayette. This was the official creation of the Lafayette Group.
Situated just a few steps from Printemps, the Garnier Opera, and the Gare Saint-Lazare, customers were already in the gradually more active neighborhood, which pressured the two to expand their store in 1907 by purchasing other buildings on Boulevard Haussmann.
The architecture was designed by Georges Chedanne in an Art Nouveau style, matching the time period.
Five years later, the store’s growing reputation required another expansion, this time led by Ferdinand Chanut. He designed an Art Nouveau metal-framed dome that would become emblematic for the store. Situated 43 meters above the floor, it gives a luxurious and prestigious look to Galeries Lafayette that Boder wished to give to clients, astonished by such grandeur. In a neo-byzantine style, the stained glass in the dome was designed by the master glassworker Jacques Gruber.
The store’s originality holds true for its non-commercial spaces that favor other customers: the men and children. With its tea salon, hair salon, library, and rooftop patio, women can enjoy their day shopping while their families occupy themselves differently. Also, everything is within reach if they get hungry or need a quick blow-dry.
At a time when stores were mostly small, despite the well-noted entrance of certain larger stores like Printemps or the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, just like them, Galeries soon offered 96 aisles of various items on 5 floors.
The interior decor was enough to make the competition grow pale when the woodworker, Louis Majorelle, started to build the banisters and handrails of the central stairway with some stylish materials like forged iron and embossed iron, all with a floral theme in 1908.
“Galeries Lafayette, the best deals in all of Paris.”
The director of Galeries understood quickly that women’s style, tastes, and desires changed quickly. To reach out to a larger client base, he decided to advertise low-price style by offering items of their own brand that the Lafayette Group created themselves under their name. The attire they were selling was as beautiful as those from haute couture designers, because they were directly inspired by the elegant items in the posh streets of the capital.
Sold at accessible prices with higher availability, it was an immediate success and attracted thousands of women from all social classes.
Although the focus of the department store is on women’s fashion, Galeries also proposed in the 1920’s to diversify its market by engaging in the market for children and men, while also offering home furnishing items and tableware.
During the 1930’s…
The Art Nouveau style gave way to Art Deco in 1932 in regards to interior decoration. Designed by the architect Pierre Patout, he improved the stores image and evoked a leisurely feel. The walls were decorated with René Lalique’s bow window that offered some natural lighting.
Since the 1950’s
On Christmas, 1951, the largest mechanical stairway in Europe was opened and it attracted crowds to Galeries Lafayette. The same year, the singer, Edith Piaf, gave a performance in front of the store.
In 1959, two floors were added to the building to give it more space and to dedicate one section of the store just to fashion.
A new store was opened on the other side of rue Mogador, Club 20 opened its doors in 1969 and offered stylish items and music for teenagers.
From 1980 to 1999 the Festival of Style was organized every year and rewarded the best designer models selected for Galeries Lafayette.
Two years later, the graphic artist and photographer, Jean-Paul Goude, designed some posters for the store that would become a trademark for his career as well as Galeries Lafayette.
Today, the brand is recognized worldwide and is even the second most visited monument, after the Eiffel Tower. With such an influence on the city’s tourism, Galeries Lafayette offers free 45-minute guided tours for groups of 10 to 20 people.
With its 5 stores around the world and the 63 in France, the group has a total of 12,022 employees, 16,217 million euros in business numbers, and receives close to 1 million visitors per day.
Address: 40 Boulevard Haussmann 75009 Paris
Metro: Chaussée-d’Antin La Fayette (lignes 7 et 9)
Web site: www.galerieslafayette.com
Our recommended hotels in the area
Mandarin Oriental Paris : near the Printemps Haussmann and the Galeries Lafayette, located in Paris city center, the hotel offers high-quality services with elegantly furnished rooms and suites.
Hôtel Pont Royal : near Le Bon Marché, with modernity and elegance, the hotel staff strive to ensure your expectations are fulfilled.
Le Burgundy Paris : near the Printemps Haussmann and the Galeries Lafayette, the hotel offers modern luxury to its visitors and the Michelin-starred restaurant “Le Baudelaire” is an enchanting experience.
Idol Hotel by Elegancia : near the Printemps Haussmann, particularly original, comfy and stylish rooms. Located 4 minutes walk from Saint-Lazare Train Station.
Hôtel de La Tamise : near the Printemps Haussmann and the Galeries Lafayette, in the heart of Paris, eight minutes walk from the Louvre, could give you a room with a beautiful view on the city.
Hôtel Odéon Saint Germain : near Le Bon Marché, intimate and very Parisian, rooms feature the same warm and enveloping atmosphere and décor as the public areas.
Hôtel Le Relais des Halles : near the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), the atmosphere of the hôtel will seduce you, and the location is ideal for visiting the various monuments of Paris.
Hôtel Augustin Astotel : near the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), idealy located near the Gare Saint-Lazare, the hotel offers modern and well-equipped rooms.
Hôtel du Continent : near the Printemps Haussmann and the Galeries Lafayette, each floor has a unique design, which will make you experience a once-in-a-lifetime world-round journey.
1 & 2 stars:
Hôtel Nicolo : near the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), a real concentration of comfort and tranquillity just a stone’s throw from numerous monuments, restaurants, and boutiques
Hôtel France Albion : near the Printemps Haussmann and the Galeries Lafayette, ideally located, this beautiful blue frontage Parisian hotel will warmly welcome you.
I aim to share my tips and recommendations for the beautiful country of France. My goal is to help you plan your next adventure, whether it’s a weekend getaway or a once-in-a-lifetime trip. From finding the best hotels and restaurants, to discovering unique activities and sights, I’ve got you covered!