Art Deco : Majestic but functional department stores

True cathedrals of commerce, Parisian department stores switched from Art Nouveau to Art Deco in the 1920s. Products were better showcased and the functionality of the store also taken into account.

Created in the mid-19th century, Parisian department stores offered a wealthy clientele a large variety of products. Architects and engineers (including Gustave Eiffel) used glass and iron domes and skylights to bring light into the lobbies, used as large retail spaces. Art Nouveau, its decorative luxury, its curved lines, its reference to plants and femininity appeared as the best way to decorate these large new retailing spaces, such as the department stores of the Louvre district, La Samaritaine, Printemps or the Galeries Lafayette. In the 1920s, these vast stores asked architects to renovate their retailing spaces. The goal was to redesign the store to better showcase the new products. The economic environment was very favourable and goods were produced on a much larger scale. With its straight lines and its taste for symmetry, Art Deco then became the latest trend, as it was both attractive and functional.

Captivated by the new designs presented at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925, some department stores decided to create Art Deco buildings: Le Bon Marché (by Louis-Charles Boileau), the Galeries Lafayette (by Jean Hiriat, Georges Tribout and George Beau) or La Samaritaine (Henri Sauvage). Having since become a commercial centre, the Trois Quartiers (Madeleine) created in 1829, were rebuilt in 1932 in the style of the time by architect Paul-Louis Faure-Dujarric. The lobby was enlarged and the stairs and elevators made more accessible. The straight columns and large windows of the facade became the traditional features of this new architectural style. These large glass roofs and these facades with the structure showing can also be found at La Samaritaine, near the Pont Neuf. Fifty years after its opening, Henri Sauvage was entrusted with the renovation of this glass roofed building. The structure was covered with light coloured stone, with no mosaics and frescoes on the front, creating a square and massive building characteristic of Art Deco.

The restoration of the buildings used the technical progress of the time: better lighting, better electric ventilation and escalators. Le Bon Marché, in the 7th district, is particularly impressive. The facade of the store, slightly curved, with its sleek design based on geometric shapes, is particularly representative of Art Deco. The light flows in through the majestic white and gold windows that illuminate the large central lobby. As for the Galeries Lafayette, in the 9th district, they were renovated by Pierre Patout. Opting for an original approach, he chose to create windowless facades (no longer visible today), so that customers’ attention was entirely focused on the products on sale. The only openings are long vertical bow windows created by the Lalique workshops. With its tall chimneys adorning the roof, the innovative style of its facade was inspired by cruise ships.