Paris, the inside story
The magnificent dome and balconies of Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. (Izzet Keribar/LPI)
Come with us to discover the most beautiful interiors in the City of Light, and the stories that shaped them.
Galeries Lafayette: La Grande Dame of Paris stores
Galeries Lafayette is one of Paris’s grandest department stores. At its heart there lies an architectural masterwork: la coupole – the dome – soars 33 metres above a sea of French boutiques, from Dior and Chanel to Lacoste and Lancôme.
The schematic drawing of the dome in the store directory makes it look as if a ballistic missile is lodged vertically, ready to launch. Conceived in 1912 by architect Ferdinand Chanut, the stained-glass structure rises dizzily in 10 sections, the peacock array of panels a cross between the rich blues of Chartres Cathedral’s stained-glass windows and the riotous reds and oranges of a ’50s jukebox. Three tiers of arched balconies overlook the generous expanse below, their railings worked in elaborate wrought iron tracery.
A century ago, business at Galeries Lafayette depended almost entirely on French textiles. That has all changed today, but a French commitment to le patrimoine national – the national heritage – lives on in la coupole. ‘The 10 coats of arms around the base of the dome represent the 10 French cities that were most important in the textile industry,’ explains Marion Lacoume of the store’s archives department. ‘Lyon for silk, Amiens for velvet, and so on.’
This extravagance was all part of a plan to outdo a nearby archrival, Printemps, whose own glass-and-ironwork-covered atrium rose six stories, and the feel of a Byzantine bazaar was intended to urge clients into a buying frenzy within a dreamlike environment. The so-called ‘midinettes’ – girls working in the area who would hurry their lunch to allow more time for shopping – responded with fervour, and the store’s fortunes flourished.
Increasingly, the site became a landmark. At the height of her career in 1950, Edith Piaf sang at Galeries Lafayette to boost post-war spirits. The street outside was closed to traffic and an enormous crowd gathered before an outdoor stage to listen to her sing La Vie en Rose. Paris Come with us to discover the most beautiful interiors in the City of Light, and the stories that shaped them
- Metro: Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette
Deyrolle: The old curiosity shop
Housed in a 17th-century house on the busy rue du Bac, the venerable Deyrolle is one of Paris’s oldest continually operating shops. The ground floor is given over to lovely gardening equipment, from calfskin gardening gloves to stainless-steel bulb planters, but the real show is upstairs – a cabinet de curiosités like no other.
Pale green walls with delicate gold stencilling grace a formal salon filled with stuffed animals. Zebras, lions, bears, birds, and antelope are arranged as if at a cocktail party – the animals’ lifelike air is both disconcerting and droll, as though they had finally prevailed and displaced humans. Woody Allen got the joke and imagined a surrealist wedding party in these rooms for his latest film, Midnight in Paris.
The original founder, Jean-Baptiste Deyrolle, a noted taxidermist and entomologist, started the business in 1831 on the rue de la Monnaie. Fifty years later, his grandson Emile moved Deyrolle to its present address, and today rooms are still filled with collections of insects, shells, geodes (crystal rock formations) and butterflies – all for sale – in wooden display cabinets that recall those of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle across town.
Deyrolle also prides itself on an enduring tradition of protecting nature for future generations. ‘Every animal and insect under this roof was acquired in accordance with the Washington Convention on Endangered Species,’ says Francine Campa, the shop’s deputy manager. ‘We have arrangements with zoos, animal parks and circuses to take animals that have died.’