170 years of the "Bon Marché"
Fashion, design and art at LVMH
On the occasion of the 170th anniversary of Le Bon Marché, we made a "historic" visit of this famous department store.
A breakfast awaited us in a private lounge, "Cabinet of curiosities". Fashion, design and art meet in this lounge adorned with 200 niches in which photos and art objects rub shoulders with books.
The history of Le Bon Marché began in 1838 as a small haberdashery at the corner of rue de Sèvres and rue du Bac. Fabrics and umbrellas were sold. In 1852, the owners went into partnership with one of their employees, Aristide Boucicaut, and his wife. Eleven years later, in 1863, the Boucicaut couple find themselves alone at the helm of what became the "Cathedral of Commerce". They revolutionized the concept of small business, diversifying and expanding the range of products sold and especially staging them in a manner in which consumers "wanted" to buy. In 1869, the building was enlarged. What we now know now as the “Grande Epicerie” then housed a stable where carriages waited while customers did their shopping. A wedding section was introduced in 1870 and the first swimsuits were exhibited. The clergy which was located in the neighborhood could even find liturgical vestments! Fitting rooms and escalators were made available to improve guests’ comfort. Husbands could wait for their wives in a reading room.
The Boucicaut couple, of modest origins, showed a remarkable social openness for the time. "Maids’ rooms" on the top floor of the store were reserved for employees living far away, a canteen was created and even a gym was built for the staff. English lessons were also offered to saleswomen.
LVMH bought the store in 1984. Today the Bon Marché covers a sales area of 36000m2 and nearly 10000 people visit the store daily rising to as many as 80000 per day during the Christmas season!
In 1989, French designer Andrée Putman created the central escalator located in the heart of the store. We were shown a part of the contemporary art collection ranging from paintings to photography as well as drawings and sculptures found on all floors of the store. Our guide made us discover some of the works made by artists such as painter Claude Viallat and a metal sculpture by Anthony Caro.
The former "cathedral of commerce" has become, without a doubt, one of the Parisian temples of luxury commerce.
- Sophie Jacquier
(*) Claude Viallat, collection of decorative arts furniture presented at Le Bon Marché since 2012. © Bienvenue en France_SJ