Galeries Lafayette Haussmann

Galeries Lafayette is considered to be the last created department store of Paris. It opened in 1912 and began providing consumers of all social statuses the ability to indulge in fashionable attire at various prices. It continues to exist as one of the main tourist attractions of the city, alluring consumers with its multitude of amenities.

Haussmannization greatly influenced the Parisian lifestyle of the 19th and 20th centuries, changing the appearance of Paris forever. As the undertaking of Haussmannization increased within the city, the people of Paris looked for places to escape from the overwhelming dirt and dust of the construction (Thompson). Through Haussmann’s renovation, the streets of Paris widened, opening up the area for pedestrians, like the flâneur, or the wanderer, who strolled around the streets, remaining utterly unattached from the social scene of Paris, while remaining amazingly connected to the city, itself (Facos 306; Ferguson). But because of the refuse and debris resulting from the reconstruction of the city, the flâneur was pushed indoors, specifically into department stores, like the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, where what was once the iconic flâneur faded into one of the many conspicuous consumers of the time (Ferguson 34). But, although, the creation of department stores became responsible for the demise of flâneurs due to the temptations of consumption, the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann marked the commencement of bringing “haute couture” to individuals outside of the upper class, evolving the existence of fashion altogether.

During Haussmannization, the process of flânerie faced extinction. One of the largest threats that endangered the original specimen of the flâneur and his precise craft was the act of shopping. “Shopping poses such a threat because it severely undermines the posture of independence that affords the flâneur his occupation and his raison d’être”(Ferguson 27). If a flâneur engaged in the consumption of shopping, he lost his sense of distance from the objects of the city, jeopardizing his objectivity to Paris and its people. Those who proved unable to resist the temptations of the city were simply not cutout for flânerie (27). Unfortunately, when Haussmannization began during mid 19th century, the potential corruption of shopping became a serious reality for the flâneur. During the process of Haussmannization, the streets of Paris were extremely muddy and lacked any form of sidewalks, which proved very unappealing to the “well-dressed and elegant flâneur” (Thompson). Thus, in order to dodge the dirt of the city, the flâneur turned to covered, clean areas, like the arcades, or les passages, and eventually, to the site where the corruption of flanêrie commenced: the department store (Ferguson 34).

The process of Haussmannization marked the decline of flânerie due to the fact that the wide streets and open areas, resulting from the urban renewal, “destroyed some of the flâneur’s favorite haunts” and “divested [the city] of much of its mystery” (Thompson). As a result, the flâneur was forced indoors, becoming more immobile than ever thought possible. While moving through the passages, commodification loomed over the flâneur’s head, and once the department store was created, commodification became real (Ferguson 24). When the flâneur was in the arcades, he was able to maintain his distant relationship with the city. But, when he entered the department store as it was first created, the new space “abolishes the lines of demarcation distinguishing observer from observed,” as well as “his distinctive status” (35). In the department store, marked as “‘the last territory of the flâneur,” flânerie changed drastically, as the flâneur was surrounded by thousands of consumers and the temptations of indulging in the multitude of surrounding commodities became too strong to overcome (35). Consequently, the flâneur gave into the pressures and began to indulge in the city of Paris through shopping, completely betraying every definition of flânerie created at the beginning of the 19th century. Once he indulged, he was never able to retreat and what Paris once knew as the wandering, distant, artistic flâneur had since evolved into one of millions of consumers of the capitalist era (35). Although Haussmannization proved to be advantageous in many aspects of urbanizing Paris, it brought about the demise of the original, iconic definition of flânerie.

One of the main department stores of Paris that brought about the downfall of the flâneur was Galeries Lafayette, which began in 1893, when two cousins, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn, opened what began as a store “on the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chausée d’Antin” (“The Tales of Galeries Lafayette”). The store was in a central location, being in the proximity of the Opera and the Grands Boulevards, which were some of the most fashionable areas during and after Haussmannization, and thus attracted large groups of people (Facos 306). In 1896, Galeries Lafayette expanded further down rue La Fayette, and in 1903, the company had extended its space onto Boulevard Haussmann. Major construction continued until October of 1912, when the overwhelming extravagance of the majestically renovated department store was revealed to the public. Architects designed Galeries Lafayette to fall under a domed roof where beautiful light radiated onto the merchandise. The regal staircase, as well as the stained-glass windows only added to the surreal atmosphere of the location and helped to create a truly magical experience for consumers (“The Tales of Galeries Lafayette”). In addition to the 96 departments of Galeries Lafayette, shoppers could enjoy “a tea room, reading room and smoking room,” providing them with alternative amenities besides shopping (“The Tales of Galeries Lafayette”). Ultimately, the creation of Galeries Lafayette, “the last major department store founded in Paris,” had become a location of central attraction (Champsaur).

Through his creation of Galeries Lafayette, the co-founder Théophile Bader desired to increase the accessibility of high fashion throughout Paris. “During the inter-war years, Galeries Lafayette . . . [was] operating in a western fashion system dominated by Paris as the capital of style and culture and haute couture as the only legitimate creative centre” (Champsaur). The couture industry was only accessible for wealthy individuals due to the fact that “couture garments were made to order for each client,” including “hand-made garments, made-to-measure items, and unique pieces” and, thus, were very expensive (Champsaur). These couture items were specifically created in couture houses, which exclusively sold its items. Consequently, because French department stores did not have access to these exclusive items, their retailers would hire other designers to produce copies of the couture pieces so that they could then be sold to the greater public under the department stores’ labels (Champsaur). Théophile Bader “was the most ambitious at tightening the link with couture, and in 1922 he began to partner with specific couture houses to stock his department stores with accessible “haute couture” styled pieces (Champsaur). “Fashion for the masses had arrived,” and everyone “from the wealthy bourgeoisie to the working class seamstresses” were rushing to Galeries Lafayettes to buy their desired articles of clothing (“The Tales of Galeries Lafayette”). Fashion had been changed forever, and although the department store proved guilty in the demise of flânerie due to its reinforcement of consumption, it proved successful in bringing the art of fashion to the multitudes.

Through the elongated process of Haussmannization, the department stores, like Galeries Lafayette, were created, changing the world of shopping in its entirety. Department stores made consumption all the more tempting and eventually led to the destruction of the flâneur, the one who was to unwaveringly resist indulging in the goods of Paris. Although department stores led to the demise of this wandering persona, they modernized the fashion industry. Galeries Lafayette brought haute couture to the masses, providing all members of the social hierarchy with the opportunity to indulge in stylish pieces at various prices, which further morphed Paris into one of the largest fashion hubs that the world has ever witnessed.



40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France