In Paris, Retail Space Becomes Cultural Touchstone

Louis Vuitton’s new home on the Place Vendôme is closer to a national monument than a monument to capitalism.

In Paris, Retail Space Becomes Cultural Touchstone

Courtesy of Louis Vuitton / Stéphane Muratet

There’s a building in Paris, located at 2 Place Vendôme, that stands a stone’s throw from the 145-foot-tall Vendôme Column with its statue of Napoléon Bonaparte dressed in a toga. If the building calls to mind the Palace of Versailles, that’s because it owes its fancy facades, which stretch along the Place Vendôme and around the corner to the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, to Versailles architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The structure rose in 1714 as a pair of private mansions, or hôtels particuliers—the Hôtel Baudet de Morlet and Hôtel Heuzé de Vologer—and later housed all manner of rich and royal, including the future emperor of France, Napoléon III.

In its three centuries, the building has endured a steady roll of misbegotten renovations, including a notorious gutting in the 1980s. But last month it stepped into the spotlight again, gleaming and gorgeous, after a meticulous restoration/transformation guided by Peter Marino, an American architect famed for his spectacular retail spaces, including stores for Hublot, Chanel, and Dior. Marino has enjoyed a long and loving relationship with Louis Vuitton, too, and 2 Place Vendôme happens to be the site of the brand’s new flagship store. With its dazzling golden sunburst, the Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme is an edifice that seems closer to a French national monument than a monument to French capitalism.


Courtesy of Louis Vuitton / Stéphane Muratet

The late baroque pomp of the exterior belies the ultramodern glam of the interior, where visitors meet a sweeping carved-stone staircase with glass balustrades suspended by stainless steel cables. The rooms are sleekly styled and filled with natural light, and what had been a courtyard between the two mansions is now a soaring, enclosed space brightened by a skylight.

“I thought I would juxtapose a modern aesthetic to everything within the walls and restore as beautifully and faithfully as possible the exterior,” Marino told Wallpaper* magazine writer Laura Hawkins. “The balance between modern and old, is for me, what Paris is all about.”


Courtesy of Louis Vuitton / Stéphane Muratet

Naturally, the Maison is packed with all manner of Vuitton treasures: luggage, leather goods, fragrances, jewelry, timepieces, accessories, and prêt-à-porter, along with a pair of working studios for really big spenders — the Atelier Haute Joaillerie and the Atelier Rare & Exceptionnel — and a private viewing gallery called The Appartement.

But the House of Vuitton is more than a mere retail centerpiece. It’s a Parisian landmark and an architectural wonder on one of the city’s most famous squares—the neighborhood, in fact, where in 1854 young M. Vuitton opened his first trunk shop. And behind that unmissable polished metal sunburst, an installation commissioned by Vuitton’s visual image director Faye Mcleod, the store has the aura of a modern-art museum. Indeed, the store features some three dozen contemporary artworks by a global array of artists, including Paul Nabulumo Namarinjmak, Yan Pei Ming, and Laurent Grasso. The charismatic and cultured Marino, whose signature look recalls the Leather Man from the Village People, curated the collection himself.

“On entering one should feel excited and expectant,” he told Wallpaper*, “and on leaving, happy and uplifted.” (And, if possible, with arms full of goodies.)


This is hardly the first time a boutique retailer has hung its shingle on a building of historic interest (consider Hermès’s amazing “swimming pool” store on the Left Bank), but the Maison is one of a few in recent memory, in Paris or elsewhere, that does more than merely occupy its space. With the company’s provenance in this famous square, its reverence for classical grandeur, and its enthusiasm for thoughtful modernity, Louis Vuitton and Co. have done something few Parisian retailers can claim: They’ve classed up the place.

The Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme is located in the 1st Arrondissement at 2 Place Vendôme. Looking, you may be pleased to note, is free.

>>Next: The Hütte Hut Is a Tiny Glamper Built for Two
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