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Destinations · Europe · france · Paris · Where to shop · Best Department Store

Le Bon Marché

Author: Anothertravelguide.com0 COMMENTS

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché is the oldest, most exclusive and most French of Paris' fashion department stores. Last year, the store celebrated its 160th birthday. The birthday cake - decorated in the form of a shop window - was supplied by famous French actress Catherine Deneuve, one of Le Bon Marché's most prominent customers. The story of Le Bon Marché began in 1852, when an ambitious young merchant named Aristide Boucicaut, who worked in a small shop on Paris' Left Bank, convinced neighbouring shopkeeper Paul Videau to join forces with him. Videau owned a store named Au Bon Marché, which the two men used for buying goods in small batches from warehouses at low prices, and then retailing them at a slight markup. Shoppers appreciated the opportunity to buy these affordable products, and it didn't take long for the pair's profits to rise from 450,000 to 7 million francs. Videau later decided to sell his shares and Boucicaut became the sole owner, changing the store's name to Le Bon Marché.

The edifice in which the store now stands was designed by architect Louis-Charles Boileau and built from 1869-1887. A young engineer named Gustave Eiffel also helped out in the design of the imposing building's metal and glass roof construction. When the store opened to the public in its new form, it was immediately recognized as an architectural gem, appearing on the city landscape at the same time as the Paris opera house and another monumental structure, the Eiffel Tower.

Le Bon Marché created a veritable shopping revolution in Paris. Until then, the city's inhabitants had made their purchases at small, specialized shops with no fixed prices. Now this store was offering practically everything under the sun at fixed prices, paving the way for the later establishment of other grands magasins (large department stores), such as Printemps and the Galeries Lafayette. Boucicaut presented a whole array of unprecedented new shopping concepts, including seasonal collections, product catalogues, the opportunity to buy on credit and pay for one's purchase incrementally, free product delivery and seasonal discount sales. Under the enormous glass cupola of the store's main hall, the owner held fashion shows and organized various cultural events, including concerts and art exhibitions, turning Le Bon Marché into a veritable magnet that drew thousands of people to its premises.

Boucicaut targeted the middle class, making sure that a trip to Le Bon Marché was an event in itself, especially on weekends. The staff also enjoyed a number of privileges. For example, salespeople received a commission for the items that they sold, as well as health insurance and special discounts for purchases that they made in the store. In addition, Le Bon Marché was one of the first large establishments in Paris to hire women. The store's success later provided inspiration for Émile Zola's novel The Ladies' Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames).

Within the span of 25 years, Aristide Boucicaut managed to transform a small enterprise of 12 people into a sales empire with nearly 1800 employees. Years after his death in 1877, Le Bon Marché commissioned the construction of the Hôtel Lutetia on the nearby Boulevard Raspail. The Art Deco masterpiece was originally meant to serve as a place of accommodation for the store's clients, some of whom travelled across the Atlantic Ocean on shopping trips to Paris. Later, the hotel became a hangout for famous artists and intellectuals, including Pablo Picasso and James Joyce.

In 1984, Le Bon Marché was purchased by the French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and was renamed Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche. The new owners maintained the store's established traditions and transformed it into the embodiment of distinguished French chic. Here you will find the most refined clothing items of the fashion season, while the store's delicatessen, La Grande Epicerie (located in a different building) is one of the most impressive in the city. It offers every treat that one could wish for, or that one couldn't have imagined one would wish for. A good way to end a day of shopping is at the Delicabar; if you lack the will to stick to your diet, then you might as well break it here.

During Paris' fashion weeks, Le Bon Marché regularly hosts thematic art and photo exhibitions, sometimes entrusting the design of its shop windows to one celebrity or another. This autumn, that role was assumed by film director Sofia Coppola. When speaking of Le Bon Marché, the Parisians themselves say: "C'est chic mais cher!" (It's chic but expensive!). Nevertheless, shopping at this store is a true pleasure, particularly during the morning hours, when the store is relatively quiet and a stroll within its historical interior is like a trip back in time.

24 rue de Sèvres (corner of rue de Bac)
www.lebonmarche.com

02/2014

 

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