“Is it just a big mall?” asks seemingly everyone who isn’t Parisian.
Mais non, it is not just a big mall. Far from it. Rather, Samaritaine, which finally reopened its doors on June 23 after 16 long years of closure, renovations, and minor controversy is the ultimate grand magasin—a 215,000-square-foot department-meets-concept store, and then some.
And no, there isn’t a “food court” either.
There are, however, 12 drinking and dining venues, as well as the largest beauty department in all of Europe (36,000 square feet, to be exact) representing more than 600 brands ranging from high-end and renowned to indie designers. In September, there will also be a 72-room hotel with a Dior Cheval Blanc Spa said to have the biggest pool in all of Paris at nearly 98-feet long as well as a “smaller” pool (40 feet) in a private apartment overlooking the Seine. Because bien sûr.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Founded in 1870 by Ernest Cognacq and Louise Jaÿ in the heart of Paris across from Pont Neuf, and in between the Louvre and Notre Dame, the building blends Haussmanian architecture with art nouveau and deco design as originally imagined by Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain. Jourdain is responsible for the building’s iconic steel beams, glass atrium, intricate tilework, and colorful frescoes—the majority of which have been painstakingly restored to their former glory.
However, following his own various additions during his tenure (and those of French architect Henri Sauvage who came onboard in 1926), the building fell out of style and into disrepair; it was eventually closed for safety reasons in 2005—just four years after being purchased by luxury powerhouse LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton with the intent of breathing new life into it. From there, restoration attempts were continuously blocked by local authorities for failing to meet planning requirements and for, in not so many words, failing to make the new building look as visually consistent with the rest of Paris. (See also: the new Forum des Halles, which opened in 2016 to many a turned-up nose as well.)
Given the history, the drama, and the long closure, this reopening is a big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that French President Emmanuel Macron on June 21 inaugurated the reinvisioned space with a plaque alongside LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault. The reborn buildings span an entire city block with nine entrances and higher floors for offices and apartments.
A quick guide to shopping at Samaritaine
After getting a first look at the reopened space, the “wow factor” is definitely the entrance at 9 rue de la Monnaie for a bang-on view of the recreated grand staircase. Then, head left to pass through beautifully displayed luxe accessories from Chanel, Burberry, the Row, and Alaia to arrive at the Boutique de Loulou—the ultimate classy souvenir shop for all things French, such as embroidered pins from Macon et Lesquoy and wax fabric “Amour” pillows from CSAO. In this highly Instagrammable yellow-hued space, guests are encouraged to pose in the window of the store, which will refresh its display seasonally, and to post it, of course: #samaritaineparis.
Back toward rue de Rivoli is the new building that is now part of the Samaritaine complex. Designed by Japanese firm Sanaa, it has a completely different aesthetic than the original—the exterior glass edifice is fluid, almost wave-like, while inside is very industrial with cement floors and simple wooden racks as opposed to the terrazzo mosaics underfoot in the original building. The products offered here are all considered genderless and represent the best of street fashion and loungewear with more under-the-radar brands, such as Y Project and the Frankie Shop, that will rotate in and out frequently. The store also has various pop-up spaces, including one where gallerist Emmanuel Perottin has set up exclusive posters, books, and more from pop artists, such as Takashi Murakami.
Exclusive items created solely for Samaritaine are featured throughout this shopping and dining emporium—from ecofriendly sneaker collaborations curated by Shinzo Paris and €1,200 (US$1,430) Lalique perfume bottles to seasonal berry tarts and chocolate bars from chocolate maker Dalloyau.
Where to eat at Samaritaine
Speaking of food, smaller, otherwise unknown maisons such as Bogato, a creative patisserie in the Marais, and Brûlerie des Gobelins, a small roastery in the Fifth arrondissement, have been given prominent, permanent placement to hawk their pastries and coffee, respectively, in the Rivoli building. Each has created speciality items just for Samaritaine—Sweet Corner by Bogato offers playful delicacies in the shape of foods like hot dogs and burgers, while Zinc by Brûlerie des Gobelins has created an exclusive Peruvian-Honduran blend, which can be brewed a number of ways (try the cold brew extraction).
There are a variety of additional grab-and-go eateries for fueling up while taking a brief shopping break, including Dinette, where the tables have built-in USB plugs (very useful), and La Parisienne from queen of epicerie Delphine Plisson. If you’re looking for something more sophisticated and a bit more removed from the retail experience, there’s that, too—Ernest is an all-day, two-floor boulangerie and brasserie in the Rivoli building, while Voyage is a more elegant, multi-section event space and dining room serving gastronomic fare under the light-filled atrium and surrounded by the peacock-heavy mural that dates back to the original building’s debut.
Ernest’s on-site, ground-floor Eric Kayser bakery opens at 7 a.m. with €1 (US$1.20) croissants and the Paris pastry du jour, babka, while chef Naoëlle d’Hainaut serves a mix of items such as eggplant baked in a bread crust, fish and chips with tzatziki sauce, and a whole roasted chicken with veggies “family meal” (€42 euros, or US$50) for four people in the casual upstairs space.
Up on the fifth floor at Voyage, two-Michelin starred Mathieu Viannay will host a rotating collective of chefs, while famed mixologist Mathias Giraud is responsible for the clever drink selections. Voyage menu items include mini croque monsieur sandwich bites made with wagyu beef, filet of sole in a champagne butter sauce, and, for dessert, matcha panna cotta with amaretto-infused cherries. As for where you choose to sit, may we suggest the round table under a mirrored ceiling along the rue de l’Abre Sec overlooking the Gothic Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois?
If you’re feeling really fancy, book the table inside Studio Krug, a private champagne tasting room where grand cuvée bubbly is paired with music and a multi-course menu in a soundproof space by speaker king Devialet. (Price available upon request.)
Until the hotel Cheval Blanc officially opens on September 7 and reveals its exclusive haven of 26 rooms and 46 suites—including one 7,000-square-foot duplex with the aforementioned pool, private screening room, and panoramic views overlooking the Seine—visitors will have to spend their nights elsewhere. (In the nearby Second arrondissement, the Hotel du Sentier is a lovely choice for a sunlit, contemporary styled stay behind an old Egyptian facade.)
Whether you’re staying overnight or not, there’s plenty to see and do during opening hours. Samaritaine is a journey not a destination, a real traveler’s retreat where you can explore a storied past, examine iconic architecture and design (old and new), indulge in tasty treats, and feel a true sense of place. It’s as if you’re in a Paris grand magasin like no other because, well, you are. Just don’t call it a mall.
Samaritaine will be open 364 days a year—May 1, Labor Day, is the only day it will close—and the store itself is open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., with the exception of Ernest, which is open until midnight, and Voyage, which is open until 2 a.m.