Galeries Lafayette Carré Sénart store

PARIS Galeries Lafayette Wednesday opened its first new store in France in 10 years, offering its latest response to the sector’s search for revival with a forest theme.

“What we wanted to do was to create a store that would be anchored in the forest, in a universe characterized by a lot of vegetation,” said Olivier Bron, Galeries Lafayette, BHV Marais and international director, referring to the shopping center’s rural location with forests nearby. The cluster of 30-foot-tall tree trunks came from a neighboring forest, explained Bron, who said several trees were planted as replacements.

He explained that while many of the new ideas deployed in the store would be implemented in other units around the country, which now number 57, each location would also seek to be anchored locally by offering specific products unavailable elsewhere, for example.

Reducing the number of items on display, the store introduced uniform racks for the men’s and women’s clothing, with areas for different brands distinguished only by discrete and uniform signs, and a few individual touches, like rugs of various designs. The store will sell around 400 brands.

The 65,000 square feet of space spans two floors, in the new wing of the Carré Sénart shopping center south of Paris, an airy space with white-marbled floors with patches of natural light.

Pale, unvarnished wood furniture is scattered throughout the store, used to build a modern space for men’s shoes, meant to evoke a cabin, where square stools are stacked against wooden cubes displaying shoes. Jewelry displays are built of geometric blocks of wood, punctuated by colorful, iridescent plastic panels here and there. A wall in pale pink scales designates space for women, the same in a pale olive green for men.

Dressing rooms are transformed into wide spaces tucked behind walls for added intimacy, with benches inside and outside the space, equipped with outlets to charge phones.

The showroom for luggage merges the digital and physical worlds. A broad wooden table sits in the center, not too high, in order to plop a suitcase onto the felt patch on the surface — that is what it was designed for.

Next to the felt surface is an interactive screen, where the saleswoman can pull up images of other models, broadening the selection of luggage on display, which is limited to two surrounding walls. Another feature on the screen is a list of airlines and their luggage size requirements. The idea is to select an item for home delivery in the coming days.

The store will cater mostly to local clients, in a region with a number of aerospace and engineering companies.

“People have lots of choice, what we want is for people, when they walk out of the door on Saturday afternoon, to say, ‘I’m going start by checking out what’s going on at Galeries Lafayette, after I’ll see, I don’t know if I’ll buy anything, but I want to have a nice time,’” Bron explained. He said he hopes a combination of architecture, low-key events, a regular selection of different brands and animating the store without being aggressive will draw clients.

French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco injected 240 million euros in the shopping center’s expansion, adding more than 300,000 square feet of shopping space in a two-year project.

The center was built in 2002, on fields where beets were grown. The developers originally expected eight million annual visitors, and were surprised by seeing 11 million in the first year. The latest annual figure was 15 million, before the recent works, and the target is for 18 million.

“We said there was good potential here….It’s a place for people in the region to go shopping without having to travel all the way to Paris,” explained Anne-Sophie Sancerre, who heads Unibail-Rodamco’s shopping center activity in France.

“The architecture is very transparent, with clear light that you can see but can’t tell where it’s coming from,” explained the architect, Jean-Paul Viguier, looking up at the tall, cathedral-like ceilings, 39 feet high. He explained that the skylights were built at an angle to diffuse the light, casting it evenly so as not to throw sunlight directly into a shop window.

The white marble flooring, while expensive at the outset, holds up well and brings a chic aura that clients might not necessarily be able to afford for their own homes, explained Sancerre.

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