Once Upon a Century of Parisian Christmas
Celebrating the centenary of the Dome at Les Galeries Lafayette
By Florence Brachet Champsaur, Curator of Galeries Lafayette Archives and Corporate Legacy, with excerpts from Éditions La Martinière
Once upon a time, in 1893, two cousins from Alsace, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn, formed a partnership in Paris to take over the lease of a modest dry goods store and opened, in 1894, the first novelty shop “Aux Galeries Lafayette,” at 1 rue Lafayette. The rapid success of the store was to allow the founders to greatly enlarge the initial retail space of 70 square meters. In 1902, Galeries Lafayette purchased the buildings at 38, 40 and 42, boulevard Haussmann. The block of buildings delimited by Haussmann boulevard, Chausée d’Antin, Mogador and Provence streets was redesigned for oriental bazaars, where the hodgepodge of merchandise and departments was intended to drive customers into a buying frenzy.
Galeries Lafayette attracted with equal appeal the ladies of the high society and working women, those shop and office employees, seamstresses and other area workers who made time during their lunch breaks to go shopping. They were literally known as “midinettes,” literally known as light lunchers. The excellent location in the heart of an active shopping quarter brought a large clientele each day, to the point where expansion became unavoidable.
Constructing the Monumental Stained Glass Dome
It was during the expansion carried out between 1909 and 1912 that the Dome was erected. It became the emblem of Galeries Lafayette – indeed the signature of the store in the eyes of the customer, and a very powerful tourist attraction for the French capital.
Famed architect Ferdinand Chanut was hired to design the ambitious project, which introduced a new circular conception of space. The central hall with its balconies, the monumental staircase and the Dome formed a tiered theater-like ensemble at the center of the store. Chanut commissioned major artists from the Art Nouveau movement, including Jacques Gruber, a master glassmaker of the Ecole de Nancy, who created the colorful neo-Byzantine stained-glass windows adorning the Dome; and Lois Majorelle, who produced the ironwork of the balconies and the commanding staircase of the main hall.
The inauguration of the Galeries Lafayette Dome on 8 October 1912 marks the highpoint of the “built-in-stone” building strategy that defined the conquest of the Haussmann area of Paris. This pioneering use allowed the architect to give expression to the curves and sinusoidal shapes of modernism of the early years of the century. Ironwork bundles, shaped into floral motifs and attributed to Edouard Schenck, spring from the concrete to frame the Dome’s 10 glass panels. Gruber’s stained-glass windows alternate blue and orange hues to cast a warm light, much loved by Théophile Bader, who had instructed the architect to create a “luxury bazaar.” Forty-three meters high, the Dome was capped with a lantern made of metal; inside, a pulley served to hoist the department store’s famous Christmas tree, and many other objects over the years, including an airplane in 1949!
Before the war, Galeries Lafayette promised 25,000 Francs to the aviator who could successfully land a plane on the terrace of the store. On January 19th, 1919, Jules Védrines took off from Issy-Les-Moulineaux at 12:40 aboard his Gaudron G3 aeroplane and landed it a few minutes later at the store. He was awarded the grand prize, but was given a 16-Franc ticket for having flown over Paris and landing in a forbidden area. After the dark years of the 1929 crisis and the war, it wasn’t until the ’50s when business started to pick up again. To celebrate the economic recovery, André Labarthe took off from England on July 4th, 1948, with his aeroplane full of packages. He landed on the store’s terrace to be greeted by a curious crowd and eager journalists.
The store grew to 96 departments, adding to the traditional offerings such innovations as haberdashery, photography, lighting, furniture, travel goods, toys and tableware. On its higher floors, the store offered a tearoom, a library and a hairdressing salon for its cherished clients to unwind or just to escape from the pressures of the city. The store was constantly diversifying their offers: In the more traditional departments, menswear, furniture, toys and dinnerware were then also added to the repertoire.
From the rooftop terrace, one could see all of Paris, with an unobstructed sight of the new Eiffel Tower. To add to Chedanne and Chanut’s masterpiece, were the magnificent storeshop windows, creating desire by passersby, something that continues still today… Galeries Lafayette is a private and independent family group, heir to nearly 120 years of history built on distribution and the retail trade, with a vocation to make all that is beautiful and good within the reach of as many people as possible.
Once Upon a Christmas
This year’s Christmas spectacle Once Upon A Christmas, before the clock strikes 12 – a magical number – leads to the most fanciful dreams: A fairy-tale romance where time and imagination run wild, setting the scene for a wonderful Christmas for young and old. Visitors can take time out to visit the enchanted forest and its clockwork pieces, see Lili, Martin and their menagerie of legendary creatures in the window displays, and marvel at the dazzling Christmas tree, which is illuminated every hour by Swatch, the Christmas present village and the exceptional guest film Beauty and the Beast.
Said Philippe Houzé, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Galeries Lafayette Group, “Prepare to be amazed!”
The Goude Touch
A Ten-Year Campaign for Galeries Lafayette by Patrick Mauriès
Ever since the poster and advertising assumed a major part in our culture in the 20th century, great creative artists have made a huge visual impact on the feeling of every era that they have filtered and formulated. The most outstanding graphic artists give life and expression to their epoch, making an indelible mark on our memories.
Jean-Paul Goude is one of the world’s most brilliant and unorthodox imagemakers. The Goude Touch: A Ten-Year Campaign for Galeries Lafayette assembles a collection of advertising artwork he created over a 10-year period for Galeries Lafayette – Paris’s most celebrated department store.
In an inspired moment, Galeries Lafayette gave Goude a rare degree of creative freedom, and Goude responded with some of the best work he has ever made.
His campaign for Galeries Lafayette is a celebration of Goude’s creative zest and perfectionism, and his unique affinity for making fresh and engaging commercial artworks.
Goude has worked at the forefront of commercial art, advertising and illustration for over three decades. From his work at Esquire magazine in New York in the 1970s, with Grace Jones in the 1980s, and organizing France’s Bicentennial Parade in 1989, to notable advertising campaigns for Chanel and many other brands before his triumphant partnership with Galeries Lafayette, he has captured or created some of the most memorable visual legends of our time.
Jean-Paul’s books, The Goude Touch, So Far So Goude, and Jean-Paul Goude, A Retrospective, are available at amazon.com.