Retired French developer Jean-Louis Solal, considered the father of the European shopping mall, died on Christmas Day at 86. The cause of death was not available at press time.
This story first appeared in the December 29, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Solal was a longtime trustee of the International Council of Shopping Centers and helped expand the association’s global reach.
Solal, who was educated in the U.S. and trained by early American mall developers, returned to France in 1969 where he developed the first North American-style mall in Europe, Parly 2, in Paris’ western suburbs. During his career, he developed more than 12 retail projects throughout France as well as shopping centers in Spain and Belgium.
The success of his early projects had much to do with how he capitalized on the same post-World War II trends that led to the rise of shopping centers in the U.S., such as the increase in car ownership, the baby boom and the creation of housing in the suburbs.
Solal called the shopping center “the child of love,” born of man’s obsession with his car.
“Jean-Louis Solal was a fine gentleman and an excellent developer,” said Alfred Taubman, the developer of early malls in the U.S., who built Taubman Centers into a luxury powerhouse. “He had a great mind and was a friend of mine for over 40 years. It was always a pleasure to be with him and I looked forward each year to receiving his warm Christmas cards, which featured his twin daughters as they grew into adulthood. I am saddened to learn of his passing and my thoughts are with his family. The international shopping center industry lost one of its best.”
Solal tried to give each of his centers a distinct point of view, carefully choosing tenants and introducing innovative design elements; there were no cookie-cutter malls for him. He was an early proponent of marketing, before malls began running advertising campaigns. Food, either restaurants or hypermarkets, often figured into the retail mix of his centers. And in an effort to connect his centers to their communities, he named the developments after the cities they were located in, such as Rosny and Elysée, adding the number ‘2’ at the end.
Solal in 1983 cofounded the French national shopping council, the Conseil National des Centres Commerciaux of France, for the purpose of bringing competitors together to discuss common issues, an idea that didn’t exist at the time. His last major project was Diagonal Mar Centre, a 936,460-square-foot retail and entertainment center in Barcelona, which he codeveloped with Houston-based Hines.
“Jean Luis Solal was not only the acknowledged leading pioneer of the European shopping center industry, he was very much a founding father of the global industry — a teacher, a tireless mentor, and a true friend in every way,” said Michael P. Kercheval, ICSC’s president and chief executive officer. “Our hearts go out to his family and to everyone whose lives he touched.”