The opening of Les Galeries Lafayette took place in October of 1912, to the great delight of an already aware public…as the renovation was highly advertized all over town, in the country and even abroad. The doors to the famous Parisian bazaar re-opened to showcase the incredible talent of Roman architect Georges Chedanne and his student Ferdinand Chanut. The decor is ornate, inspired by a Neo-Byzantine style, with five floors, balconies and a magnificent glass dome that rises 33 meters above the ground. The dome is decorated with 10 painted windows encased in golden metallic frames and adorned by sculpted floral motifs. At the request of? Théophile Bader, golden lights were used to create a more intimate atmosphere, designed to set the merchandise aglow.
Due to its famous location, just behind the bustling Opera House, the Galeries Lafayette quickly became the busiest shop on the boulevard, attracting men, but especially women of all social classes who came to choose from the incredible selection of goods. These lunch-hour shoppers came to be known as ‘les midinettes’, named for grabbing a light lunch and some precious shopping at ‘midi’ which is noon.
In time, the Galeries Lafayette counted 96 different departments, adding innovative offerings such as haberdashery, photography, lighting, furniture, travel items and toys. A definite sign of great things to come, the Galeries Lafayette proposed a tea room, a library and a hair salon, all on the upper floors. From the rooftop terrace you could see all of Paris, especially the new Eiffel Tower. To complete the work of art created by Georges Chedanne andFerdinand Chanut, the ingenious pair decided to decorate the storefront windows for all the world to see.
The creators of this cavernous spectacle relied largely on the constantly changing collections and diverse experiences of their treasured clientele, but they also helped stack the odds in their favor with spectacular publicity stunts. In 1919 the Galeries Lafayette offered 25,000 francs to the pilot who could land his plane on the roof of the department store. Jules Védrines was the lucky winner and received the prize, as well as a ticket for having flown over Paris.
In 1950, Edith Piaf staged an impromptu concert to cheer up the French after the war. In 1953, the first exhibition took place in the Boulevard Haussmann store, in 1958 the first 3-day sale, named the 3J, became an annual event. At this time, young designers started to launch their collections in the store, changing the direction of fashion forever. From then on out, each designer set-up his or her ‘corner’ of the shop according to their own fashion needs. In 1969 the first department store entirely dedicated to men, ‘Galeries Lafayette Homme’, opened its doors, once again changing the way the world looked at fashion.
The art of commerce and diversification has insured the continued success of Les Galeries Lafayette throughout the last one hundred years. The successive openings of the famous ‘Galeries Gourmet’, a haven to all food lovers with an enormous daily selection of fresh foods and the latest trends in international products, and then ‘Galeries Lafayette Maison’, featuring a select line of home furnishings and household objects, have made the Galeries Lafayette the largest department store in Paris.
The diversification continues to this day with last year’s opening of a ‘Luxury Space’ housed within the main department store, a ‘Champagne Bar’, an in-house line of souvenir items, a ‘Boutique Opéra’, dedicated to the world of opera and dance, housed within the Palais Garnier, an art gallery ‘Galerie des Galeries’ and last but not least, the recent opening of the world’s largest shoe department, ‘Chaussures & Souliers‘.
The late arrival of the Galeries Lafayette, forty years after Le Bon Marché and thirty years after Le Printemps, on the Parisian shopping scene has done nothing to delay their presence and importance and the hypnotic frenzy of the grand bazaar experience has yet to fade, for the crowds keep pouring through the door each day to see…
Something’s Always Going On at the Galeries Lafayette
Galeries Lafayette 40 Blvd Haussmann 75009 01 42 82 81 98 M Opéra/Havre-Caumartin