The remarkable history of Galeries Lafayette The remarkable history of Galeries Lafayette

The remarkable history of Galeries Lafayette

The iconic Galeries Lafayette dates from the late nineteenth century, and has become a genuine symbol of the “City of Light”, visited by over twenty-five million people each year. Its magnificently domed central hall – which covers 70,000 square metres (over three quarters of a million square feet) of retail space – fills an entire block of Boulevard Haussmann, one of several Parisian boulevards built by Napoleon. It’s in the 9th arrondissement, and the celebrated novelist Marcel Proust lived just down the road for many years.
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A vision for a department store

In 1893, cousins Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn, who were newly arrived from Alsace, opened a small store (just 70 square metres) at the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chaussée d'Antin. Its original name was “Aux Galeries Lafayette” – literally, “at the Galeries Lafayette”, as the store was Number One on the street of the same name – an ideal location, near to the Opéra Garnier and Grands Boulevards with plenty of passers-by to become customers. They created the famous double-t logo, a stylised Eiffel Tower drawing attention to the store’s Parisian origins.

Three years later, the cousins bought the whole building at 1 rue La Fayette as well as numbers 38, 40 and 42 Boulevard Haussmann, and 15 rue de la Chaussée d'Antin. The Haussmann buildings in particular had a design which was ideal for the creation of the kind of retail space they had in mind. Throughout the first ten years of the shop’s existence, the company continued to acquire space in neighbouring buildings.

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A Luxury Bazaar is born

It was in 1912 – nicknamed the “flagship year” – that this small family business truly became a major store, acquiring the distinctive architectural features evident today. The cousins wanted to build a “luxury bazaar” dominated by a vast, decked area. The main staircase, built in the form of a ramp, draws its inspiration from the Paris Opera, while the 43-metre high dome of the main hall has become the emblem of Galeries Lafayette. A particular feature is the warmth of light given to the great hall by neo-Byzantine windows.

However, the cousins’ ambition didn’t stop there. No fewer than ninety-six “departments” were added, together with a smoking room, a tea room and a beautiful reading room. A terrace on top of the Galeries Lafayette offers a stunning panorama of Paris. Thus a small store on Hausmann was transformed into an extensive area for shopping and for leisure. It quickly became a must-see for all wealthy foreigners visiting Paris.

The democratisation of fashion

The primary purpose of Galeries Lafayette has always been the combination of fashion and innovation. In order to be as visible as possible and outshine all its competitors, Théophile Bader decides that the most sought-after haute couture pieces he displays would be accessible to everyone. To achieve this, he acquires production units to create his own clothing brand. He then has cutting-edge couture pieces made to sell at much more affordable prices than his posh competitors.

With this technique, he accomplishes two goals: democratizing access to fashion and making his store the go-to destination not only for the bourgeois women of Paris but also for couture workers. The whole of Paris flocks to Galeries Lafayette, and the success is immense. The store maintains its loyal clientele by constantly diversifying its offerings. In addition to the classic sections dedicated to women's clothing, they add "men's clothing," "interior decoration," "toys," and "tableware" sections. And for maximum customer loyalty, annual events are established, like the famous "3J sales" created in 1958, which allow customers to purchase current and high-quality items at exceptionally low prices for three days.

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The spirit and values of Lafayette

In 1969, a new store targeted at young customers and affiliated with Galeries Lafayette opened its doors across the street from Mogador. "Club 20 years" showcases various product styles, such as clothing, music, and even drugstore products. Men's fashion later took over the shelves, followed by Lafayette Gourmet. In 1984, the main hall underwent a complete reorganization to open luxury boutiques.

The year 2001 marked a significant step in the advertising communication surrounding Galeries Lafayette. The brand gained recognition and launched an immense first advertising campaign, now known to all Parisians and tourists as "The Adventures of Laëtitia Casta in the Land of Galeries Lafayette." This innovative, modern, and offbeat photo series perfectly embodies the store's values and "spirit"; it was a resounding success and marked the beginning of a long collaboration between the model and Galeries Lafayette.

Subsequently, the department store hosted prestigious events by presenting major contemporary creators and artists. To strengthen its connection with fashion and all forms of creativity, the store opened the "Galerie des Galeries," a space located on the first floor and accessible to everyone. This gallery highlights the intrinsic links between fashion, art, and design.

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