Galeries Lafayette’s new Champs-Elysées branch in Paris showcases the department store of the future
“Working with a family which has been thriving in the retail business for over 100 years gives you the daring to look 100 years in the future,” declared Danish architect Bjarke Ingels at the press presentation of the new Paris shopping mecca, Galeries Lafayette on the Champs-Elysées, one day before its official opening on March 27.
For his first retail project, Ingels took on a remarkable challenge: interpreting the vision of the department store of the future for a century-old retail group.
The result sits proudly at 60 Champs-Elysées, Paris. And it is clearly a case of mission accomplished. The four-floor department store, on premises formerly occupied by a Virgin Megastore, has nothing in common with any other department store, in Paris or elsewhere. It is an innovative concept, set to open on Thursday at noon, one which seems to have the right elements to reconcile the group's substantial heritage with its ambition and long-term vision.
“Our ambitions are rooted in our past. Today, we are realising the dream of the group's founder, Théophile Bader, who since the 1920s had envisioned the potential of the Champs-Elysées,” said Philippe Houzé, president of the Galeries Lafayette group’s executive committee.
“He bought the Massa townhouse, which he had disassembled and then rebuilt on rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, in [Paris’s] 14th arrondissement. Unfortunately, it was overrun by the economic crisis of 1929, and Bader decided to focus his efforts on boulevard Haussmann. Nearly 90 years later, we are so proud, with his grand-daughter and his great-grandchildren, to see the building restored and revamped by Bjarke Ingels, contributing to Paris’s appeal and reputation in the competition among the great capitals of the world."
Thanks to the Champs-Elysées location, the superb architectural make-over and the innovative retail concept, the new 6,500-square-metre store is set to become a major plus for the French capital. And especially an extra asset for Galeries Lafayette, in the worldwide competition between department store groups.
Indeed, the retail concept on which Nadia Dhouib Boussabah, the project's leader, has laboured for over three years, and which required two years of renovation work, features a unique approach to the display of products, designed to attract both a French and an international clientèle. “We expect half [of the clientèle] to be international, with a consumer profile radically different from that of the Haussmann [branch]. There is no room here for tourist buses. It will mostly be individual customers,” said Nicolas Houzé, general manager of Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais.
While the ‘Forum’ section and the four large glass showcases, occupied by Chanel, allow for one or more guest labels to be highlighted, the notion of concessions seems to have become history. “We want labels to suggest installations that can fit within our concept,” said Dhouib Boussabah, adding that “for the opening, Comme des Garçons, Rimowa, and the New Guards Group’s labels Off-White, Palm Angels and Heron Preston have discreetly incorporated their own designs. As for the seasonal range, all brands benefit from virtually the same type of display options. It is then down to our team of 300 assistants, whom we call ‘personal stylists’, to guide customers. To do so, Galeries Lafayette is relying on technology, and has developed an app.”
“This of course allows us to test tools which we will then be able to deploy at the Haussmann [branch] and across our other stores,” said Olivier Bron, the group's director of operations. “On average, it takes three years for a store to reach its full commercial potential, but on some elements, we will have feed-back within the next few months. In terms of digital tools, our ‘personal stylists’ are all equipped with a smartphone to accompany customers as they explore the store. We shall see how that works in practice, especially when the store is very busy. But smartphone-based tools are being tested across our network and should be deployed within twelve months. Connected smart hangers will also enable the staff to be focused on their in-store role with customers.”
Indeed, taking control of product selection and sales is a major element which is being deployed at the Champs-Elysées branch, and could be extended across France and internationally.
On Tuesday, as Philippe Houzé showed Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of the Economy, around the premises, he said that the concept may well be replicated.
Nicolas Houzé didn’t hesitate to label the new branch a “retail lab.” One that will also be an argument for attracting current and future international partners.
“It enables us to reassert our ability to innovate and introduce a new approach,” said Nicolas Houzé to FashionNetwork.com. All of this on one of the world’s most coveted commercial thoroughfares, and in the aftermath of the inauguration of the Galeries Lafayette's second Chinese store, a 25,000-square-metre, five-storey branch located inside Shanghai’s L+Mall.
“We intend to accelerate on this market with our partner I.T. Limited, and to open about ten stores by 2025,” said Houzé, adding that the group will also open branches in Qatar and Luxembourg. Currently, 10% of the group's business comes from its foreign branches (from Beijing to Berlin and Istanbul) and, spearheaded perhaps by the new Champs-Elysées store concept, the plan is to increase the share to 25%.
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