August 2021

See / Revisit

Opened in 1870, Samaritaine has embodied the French art of living for the past 150 years. Born from the genius of Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ, this French department store stood out as much by its architecture as by its offerings that brought together the best craftsmen and products of the time. Reopening on June 19th, 2021, the now legendary store will host a pop-up shop in collaboration with Orient Express starring the “Steam Dream” collection of travel objects. Starting on July 9th, the event is staged by designer Hugo Toro. In anticipation of the inauguration, High-Life invites you to travel back in time. Here is the story of Samaritaine in photos.

1. Splendors of Art Nouveau

The history of Samaritaine is the story of Ernest Cognacq, a well-known tie merchant in the Pont-Neuf district of Paris, and his wife, Marie-Louise Jaÿ, the first saleswoman at the Bon Marché department store. From their small business on rue de la Monnaie, the couple prospered before creating the Grands Magasins de la Samaritaine – aka Samaritaine – at the beginning of the 20th century. The emblematic “Magasin Jourdain” or “magasin n°2”, located on the rue de la Monnaie, is the work of architect Frantz Jourdain, who designed a metallic façade covered with golden mosaics, floral motifs, and enameled flowers against an orange background, characteristic of Art Nouveau style.


Photo above: Samaritaine, Frantz Jourdain’s completed Magasin 2, view from rue de la Monnaie side, Paris, circa 1910.

2. A cathedral of commerce

Originally built on four floors, the main building of the Samaritaine has an immense rectangular 1000m2 glass roof that earned it the name “Verrière Jourdain”. This colossal steel and glass structure held up over the years, before being restored to its original framework for the reopening in 2021. It took five years of work to complete this monument, which will filter natural light into every corner of the store.


Photo above: Samaritaine, interior view under glass roof, Paris, circa 1910.

3. A question of style

In the early years of its opening, the Samaritaine showcased a décor created by Francis Jourdain, the son of Frantz, the architect behind the project. The façade has a flamboyant look complete with a large overhanging topped by an aerial awning with golden ornamentation and a sign painted by the artist Eugène Grasset. Its gold initials, “E.C.” can be seen on the pillars on either side of the entrance as a tribute to the founder Ernest Cognacq. On the exterior, a window shade with red and white stripes adds an extra touch of chic to the building. On each floor, colored plates in polished and enameled ceramic feature decorations of roses, passionflowers and greenery typical of Art Nouveau style.


Photo above: Samaritaine, main entrance rue de la Monnaie, Autochrome by Léon Gimpel, 1910.

4. The showstopper

Designed to see and be seen, to walk up and down and to deeply contemplate, the Art Nouveau grand staircase and its railings decorated with 600 chestnut tree leaves, has been one of the emblems of the department store ever since its opening. This piece of architecture designed by architect Frantz Jourdain to serve its 4 floors (note: the 5th floor was created in the early 1930s) has been illuminating the store for 150 years with its brass decorations and ceramic flowers. Now entirely restored, Samaritaine’s Art Nouveau-style staircase has 270 steps, all made of oak wood, just like it did at its origin. It is a monument in itself.


Photo above: Samaritaine, animation in the great hall, the concert of automatons, around 1910.

5. Henri Sauvage and Art Deco

The architecture of Samaritaine began a new chapter in 1925, when the architect and decorator Henri Sauvage – to whom we owe the Villa Majorelle in Nancy – was called in to extend the main store. With less exuberance, he created a facade with tiers and steps – a principle he had already adapted to apartment buildings – facing directly onto the Seine, eliminating frescoes and mosaics, and covering the entire building with large bay windows, clear stone, and bronze paint on the woodwork, balconies, and canopies. An emblem of Art Deco was born.


Photo above: Samaritaine, view of the Pont Neuf, around 1930.

6. “You can find everything at Samaritaine.”

With its 48,000 square meters of floor space, Samaritaine was considered the largest of the Parisian department stores in 1910, just ahead of Printemps and the Galeries Lafayette. Organized in departments, each one with its one designated manager, all experts in their fields, the store offered unique products with prices clearly displayed, dressing rooms to try on clothes and even customer credits. Samaritaine applied principles that revolutionized traditional distribution models. The “white season” or “white month” was a must for customers, and thousands of women flocked to the store in search of household linens. It was a commercial event whose origins date back to the end of the 19th century, that we owe to Aristide Boucicault, the owner of Le Bon Marché.


Photo above: Samaritaine, bridal department, around 1910.

7. Samaritaine 2021

16 years after its closure, Samaritaine reopened its doors on June 23rd, 2021. The completely restored department store spanning 20,000 m2 was revamped by the Sanaa firm, designers Hubert de Malherbe and Yabu Pushelberg and the Cigüe architectural studio. Bringing together around 600 luxury brands from fashion to gastronomy and lifestyle, the new generation of Samaritaine is once again showcasing its iconic features from its grand Art Nouveau staircase ascending its 5 floors to its extraordinary rectangular glass roof, mosaics, enamels and wrought iron railings. On July 7th marked the opening of Orient Express will make its mark on the history of Samaritaine with a new pop-up shop to present its first collection of travel objects entitled Steam Dream.


Photo above: Samaritaine, June 2021.

Photo credits : ©Grands magasins de la Samaritaine Maison Ernest Cognacq and @Wearecontents DFS Samaritaine

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