With the opening of La Samaritaine and boutique hotel Cheval Blanc Paris, the City of Lights is readying itself for post-pandemic luxury travellers
As Covid-19 restrictions ease around the world, cities are slowly coming back to life. Especially Paris, where nightclubs are once again pulsing with music, and the Haute Couture Week just wound up its fashion extravaganza. Adding to the hope in the air is the reopening of La Samaritaine — the grand Art Nouveau department store that current owner, the French luxury group LVMH, had closed 16 years for a complete overhaul — and Cheval Blanc Paris.
The latter, housed in a 1928 building designed by Henri Sauvage, is the brand’s first urban hotel (others in the LVMH chain have addresses in the French ski resort of Courcheval, the Maldives, and St Tropez on the French Riviera, to name a few). Scheduled to open on September 7, the boutique property features 72 rooms, five dining spaces, and stunning views of the river Seine.
On a cool evening, sitting at my desk in Mumbai, I gaze at Pont Neuf, Paris’ oldest standing bridge, bathed in the afternoon sunlight, as brand spokesperson Nastasia Morin takes us on a Zoom tour of the property. Though on video, I miss the frisson of excitement that a physical walkthrough entails — the scent of turned down sheets, questions about where particular doors lead — we do get the time to appreciate the eclectic interiors, outfitted by architect Peter Marino, showcasing a range of artworks from the 1930s to the present. The rooms are large, and feature custom iron chandeliers and a neutral palette. “A point from the Art Deco style is that we have the same shades of colours, but different materials, so it’s really rich in terms of textures,” says Morin.
Cheval Blanc Paris | Photo Credit: Alexandre Tabaste
Relax with Dior
With LVMH at the helm, it is no surprise that Cheval Blanc Paris is home to the world’s first Dior Spa, in addition to Michelin-starred dining and the kind of all-encompassing luxury that is a hallmark of its fashion and lifestyle brands. Think staff uniforms — with musketeer cuffs, embroidered pockets, and gold buttons with a signature parquet pattern — designed by fashion house Patou’s artistic director, Guillaume Henry. A 30-metre pool, with a bespoke mosaic by Michael Mayer, is another of the property’s offerings.
Among the food and beverage offerings is the dinner-only restaurant, Plénitude, where three Michelin-star chef Arnaud Donckele will preside over the tasting menu. With travel still on a slow burn, the hotel’s dining options are a way to get locals and domestic travellers to experience the brand, shares Morin.
The view from the restaurant | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
As for La Samaritaine, which reopened in June, the 20,000 sq metre emporium includes housing (both social and luxury) and office spaces. “We believed that it’s through diversity that we could really bring life back into the area,” said Jean Jacques Guiony, the chairman and CEO of La Samaritaine, at a live-streamed press conference last month. “We wanted this place to be an area where people lived, worked, came to eat, to shop — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.’’
After the 16-year renovation, it is “the smallest of the department stores in Paris, but it is the largest concept store”, says Eléonore de Boysson, a regional director for DFS Group, the luxury retail operator for the store. Among the 600 brands being sold there, visitors will find everything from global behemoths to “French niche brands”.
For those looking to make their way quickly from Cheval Blanc Paris for a spot of shopping, there is a secret elevator connecting it to the grand magasin (store). Something guests will be happy about as the hotel’s 1st Arrondissement location welcomes many new names, including the recently-opened Pinault Collection museum, and the Fondation Cartier.
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