Sitting across from me at restaurant Oursin, inside the new Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées, director-general Nadia Dhouib is pensive, her high cheekbones recalling the sharp angles of Bianca Jagger. She looks through the large windows of the art deco building, where below, the avenue’s sidewalks are thick with people – Parisians, but also tourists who have come to the “world’s most beautiful avenue” to stroll, sightsee, and sometimes shop. I was here a week prior, arriving at the same time as models Tina Kunakey and Younes Bendjima, who went unnoticed, blending in with the stylish young shoppers buzzing around the store.
Over grilled octopus, Dhouib shares her vision for enticing digital consumers to return to department store shopping. “Retail isn’t dead – it’s boring,” she starts. “Here, we are looking to create an experience for our customers.” The new Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées looks like your favorite concept store, magnified. It is like a magazine come to life; and in this social media era, it feels like stepping into one of fashion’s most curated Instagram pages. Here, floor sellers, who come to work dressed as they please, are “stylists,” trained at the Institut Français de la Mode to help a shopper discover any brand, across beauty, culture, clothing, jewelry, and accessories.
They speak English and sometimes Arabic or Mandarin; all are smiling and their friendliness is genuine. A transformation is afoot.
Later, as we weave through the racks – featuring on-the-pulse-of-now brands like Fenty, The Row, Prada, Gucci, and Attico, Dhouib describes how Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group transformed the space – 6 500sqm across four floors to create a human scale, and made immersive, functional, and modular furniture to benefit any of the number of in-store activations (November 7th, Moncler House of Genius Paris will take effect). The sunglasses stand is a wooden, free-form swooping shape that echoes Ingels’ Serpentine Gallery 2016 installation. The store aims to intersect fashion, design, and culture. Books and skateboards by art for social impact brand The Skateroom rub shoulders with sneakers and high jewelry from Spinelli Kilcollin and Repossi.
With her soft yet hawk-like eyes constantly skimming the floor, ensuring everyone and everything is offering the apex of excellence, Dhouib – the former head buyer of Galeries Lafayette Haussman, waves to the substantial and enticing mid-range edit – Ganni, ByFar, Mira Mikati – before we step onto the beauty floor. Here lies an Ali Baba’s cave of product. Moroccan Oil, Aesop, Kypris Beauty, Odacité, and The Ordinary, are among the brands that line the lit shelves, with Dhouib emphasizing the inclusion of sustainable products.
Dhouib – who hails from Carthage and today calls Paris’s Left Bank home, where she lives with her husband and two daughters – leads an army of 400 tastemakers who have breathed life into a new destination, that offers a view of French art de vivre. Right before leaving, she insists with Mediterranean warmth that I stop at the Jacquemus-designed restaurant Citron for a bite of a lemon pastry designed exclusively by celebrity chef Cédric Golet. As my taste buds anticipate a bitter zest, there, in one bite, her vision takes a delectable spin – rounded, surprising, unintimidating, fun, and calling to be tasted again and again.
Originally published in the November 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia