PARIS — Spruced-up and ready to welcome a flood of visitors, Galeries Lafayette has restored its crown jewel, the soaring, stained glass cupola of its historic Boulevard Haussmann flagship.
Over two years, the Paris department store peeled off layers of pipes and wires, and added a new, clear glass cover to cap the century-old monument of Art Nouveau architecture, allowing natural light to stream in through the hand-restored stained glass panels. Workers added a new pulley system to affix the annual, stories-high Christmas tree and strips of LED lights that can be programmed in different colors.
The project comes as retailers rethink their spaces as places of leisure in the digital era, explained Eric Costa, president of Galeries Lafayette Group’s real estate arm Citynove.
“You have to offer an experience that goes beyond the practical, you have to de-stress clients who are in a hurry — because if they’re stressed and in a hurry, they may as well buy something through the internet,” said Costa, speaking to a small group of journalists gathered on the store’s sky bridge, which juts out into a vast empty space, four floors up.
Retailers have to give people a good reason to go out, he said, citing spectacular architecture as a good draw.
“The cupola is a good symbol because of its history, patrimony, and the vast empty space — it’s a luxury,” he said, gesturing toward the rows of ornate balconies that ring the inside of the building.
“The role of empty space is a subject in itself, in architecture — and even more in a commercial space,” he said, recalling the pre-internet era when retailers lowered ceilings and packed merchandise into every corner.
The cupola has contributed to the store’s position as a symbol of French art de vivre, known the world over, noted Costa, before taking his visitors through a web of ironwork to reach its summit — offering a peek at the old Christmas tree hook and sweeping views of Paris.
Built in 1912, the structure was designed by Ferdinand Chanut, featuring glasswork by Jacques Grüber and curved ironwork by Louis Majorelle. In recent years, the store has counted around 37 million visitors annually.