Galeries Lafayette Behind the Scenes
July 21, 2014
Sales have been driving Parisian women crazy for 3 weeks now, so it’s about time we start talking about the king of kings when it comes to Parisian department stores: Les Galeries Lafayettes.
We could talk about how unbelievably crowded the “Galeries” can be on a Saturday sales day (a true Parisian experience). We could also talk about the wide variety of shopping outlets you’ll find, but again, the best is to go to the Galeries Lafayette as you will surely find what you are looking for. As for fashion, well you can always read our blog on how to add some coolist to your tourist to live the ultimate Parisian fashion experience.
No, let’s concentrate on how the Galeries Lafayette became THE Galeries Lafayette shall we?
It started off in 1893 when 2 French cousins - Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn - decided to open a 70m² store at the corner of Rue Lafayette (Lafayette street) and Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, a strategic area next to the luxurious Opera Garnier , Rue de la Paix and the Saint Lazare train station. Here’s an insider’s tip on how to make it big: just use the name of the street to name your store! And here’s the proof: today, the Galeries Lafayette welcomes more than 100 000 shoppers per day on a surface 1,000 times bigger than in 1893. With over 1 billion Euros in turnover, the Galeries Lafayette is one of the busiest department stores in the world.
Now let’s take a closer behind-the-scenes look at what the Galeries Lafayette is all about…
By 1908, the Galeries Lafayette move to their current location at the corner of Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin and Boulevard Haussmann (the first store is now an H&M) and by 1912, the famous dome is built inside the store. Here, the concept of shopping was taken to a whole new level: the more you spend time in the store, the more you buy. Everything was, and still is to this day, done to keep the shoppers (mostly women) inside the store. A tea house for women and a cigar lounge for men, a library and a hair salon could be found inside the store in the middle of the 20th century. The counters were placed next to the big windows for better lighting. Another huge commercial breakthrough at that time: the prices were tagged and fixed and sales started to appear to sell off stocks…
One cannot leave the Galeries Lafayette without looking up at the 43m (141ft) high dome, which is the most impressive highlight of the shopping center. It was built in only 4 months by architect Louis Majorelle. The atrium in the center has 10 pillars with the coat of arms of the former 10 biggest textile supplying cities in France and Art Nouveau floral motifs on the small balconies (motifs that used to be on the outside walls of the Galeries Lafayette before it was renovated and changed as it was out of fashion). The other highlight was the Grand Escalier (“grand staircase”), designed by Majorelle as well and inspired by the Grand Staircase of the Opera Garnier. It was dismantled in 1974 as it was out of fashion and because the shopping mall needed more sales space. But that is not all: if you think that Paris is always on strike, here’s a fun fact: The Grand Escalier was dismantled also because it was used as a stage for strike leaders.
Another visible highlight today is the rooftop terrace, offering a beautiful panoramic view on Paris and its iconic monuments: the Eiffel Tower, the Pantheon, the Sacré Coeur and a unique close up view on the back of the Opera Garnier. Was it the post New Year’s Eve sales that pushed Jules Védrine to land his airplane on the terrace on January 19th 1919? No, it was just a challenge launched by the Galeries Lafayette to attract attention. Jules Védrine won the 25 000 Francs prize (approx. 3500 Euros) but got fined 16 Francs for performing his stunt!
Parisianist Morbid Moment: The aviator died just after that stunt. A stone was erected in 1921 in his memory, still visible today on the terrace.
And here are some interesting facts on the Galeries Lafayette:
- It has its own museum called the Galerie des Galeries, with temporary exhibitions
- It is still a family run business, but owns a lot of other shopping centers, including the BHV / Marais
- The metal parts of the dismantled staircase were found during renovations and are now stored in a warehouse outside Paris. Part of the staircase is exposed on the 1st floor
- The Christmas tree ways 1 ton and preparations are worked on 6 months before Christmas.
So there we are, back to the present, and back to the Sales! Just to let you know, there are 63 brands in the Galeries Lafayette, 10 of them being affiliated brands. And just for your information, Galeries Lafayette opened in Berlin, Casablanca, Dubai, Jakarta and recently in Beijing since 2013. So rest assured, if you have not had the time to buy a nice skirt or shirt at half price this year, you will get plenty of other occasions in France or abroad.