Friday, 25 March 2011

In the Heart of Paris: The Hermés Boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Now a part of the the Saint-Germain-des-Prés scene is one of the most upscale, chic stores - the Hermés Boutique. It is not just another Hermés store, it is the Hermés boutique with the Saint-Germain-des-Pres grand style - artistic and interactive! 
This location, on rue de Sevres, is housed in the old swimming pool of Hotel Lutetia. As soon as the door opened, we were immediately transported into a world of refined goods.
The plants and blooms at the flower shop were a welcoming, beautiful sight. The colorful tulips and orchids brought life to this space, and the scent of hyacinth and roses filled the air.
Across was a  display of lead crystal decanters and matching glasses...
the Hermés scarves in different designs, colors and sizes...
the Hermés perfumerie. 
There are three floors  intended for displaying the luxury goods. The horse on the first floor, also featured in the display window, is resting on the metal railing which was an original detail of the pool area.
On the opposite side, on the same floor, is the café.
This is the view from the 1st floor of the book store.
From this vantage point, the over-all design for this space can be seen. A large part of the boutique occupies the bottom part of the once art-deco, 1930 swimming-pool, serving as the ground floor. This innovative and creative, organic design was conceived by Rena Dumas Architecture. The design is made up of overlapping ash wood in criss-cross pattern, first, on the banister on the grand staircase. With the use of fluid lines, there is some movement leading the eye down to the display floor. 

On the main space are giant shapes of the same material, looking like bud-shaped huts, that rise to a height of about nine meters. The set-up, somehow, reminds me of some type of encampment... in this case, of Hermés goods. This interior architectural style, certainly,  is the differentiating touch that sets it apart from the other Hermés stores.
Once inside, the wood-work design continues to lead the eye to different parts of the space. More so, the height gives the illusion of almost having no-ceiling, as in the sky's the ideas and product design.  Each hut is ingeniusly used to display a collection of products...
done in such a way as to be closely seen and touched, engaging the senses to make that decision to own it or not. 
The original bottom part of the pool, the mosaic tiles, were kept as the flooring material. It is that 'something old' in 'something new,' and it works very well. The color palet is quite neutral and goes well with many color combinations.
Aside from the fashion items, the flower shop, and the book store, the boutique is showcasing - for the very first time -  home furnishings and Jean-Michel Frank par Hermés furniture. 
At the very edge-side of the old pool, more products are on display. Here is a line of towels . The crazy-cut style mosaic floor...
is the inspiration for this metal-grill design, standing from the floor as an interior boundary wall, at the same time doubling as a camouflage for things beyond the display space.
This is all of 1320 square meters of merchandising space. What a great way to use this historical setting. The designer, Rene Dumas, respected the great features of the place and took it to another level of usage with her design concepts.

Rena Dumas was the Hermés architect and interieur designer for their various locations since 1976. She was married to former Hermés CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. She lost her battle to cancer in 2009, at the age of 71. She is accredited with giving the company it's modern look.

In a sense, a visit to the Hermés boutique is like looking at an art installation at a museum -  here the onlooker is able to participate going into it and around it. In the next stage, the visitor starts to have an imaginative interaction with the objects on display - with thoughts of desiring to have something, picturing a piece to become a part of a bigger setting or be by itself, then making the final decision to have it or not. 

Then again, one can just come here for art's sake - by looking at every detail, at the work of  creative minds, as you experience the space and what are in it - the feelings they evoke, the memories they may bring, and the lasting impressions they make.

17, rue de Sevres Paris 6e
Tel. 01 42 22 80 83

Perhaps, a visit to Hotel Lutetia and learning about it's history will draw, for us, a bigger picture of this place.  It is a few meters from the boutique on rue de Sevres to the corner on boulevard Raspail.

Built in the classic styles of the  Belle Epoque and Art Deco of the 1930s, Hotel Lutetia was restored back to what it is today, a four-star luxury hotel, after the second world war.
Located in the heart of Paris in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres, it is within walking distance from other parisian landmarks - the Seine river, Musée d'Orsay, Notre Dame Cathedral, La Chapelle de la Medaille Miraculeuse, and the many fashionable boutique shops, specialty stores, and art studios on the left bank. For the businessmen and the tourists who travel in style, this hotel has all the modern amenities. 
Enjoy the ambiance of the Art Deco interiors - with the chandeliers and period furniture pieces plus jazz music playing - at the Lutetia Bar. 
The designing architects Louis-Charles Boileau and Henri Tauzin took on this project in 1910. It was founded by Le Bon Marché - the prototype of what became to be known as a department store. In the last world war, it was occupied by the Germans.

By the beginning of the war in 1939, in France, people from conflict areas fled to Paris. A good number of artists and musicians were accommodated by the hotel.  By 1940, Paris  was evacuated when the German occupation began. Some of the guests/residents managed to escape while the others were caught. The counter-espionage unit of the German army  - the Abwehr - took over the use of the hotel to house, feed and entertain the commanding officers. 

After five years, in 1944, Paris was liberated and the French and American forces took over the hotel after the Nazis fled, and used it as a welcome center for the returning prisoners of war, displaced persons, and  concentration-camp survivors.

Hotel Lutetia was restored to being the luxury hotel that it was, as soon as times returned to normal, again.  In 1955, there was a new owner - the Taittinger family ( of champagne fame). Sonia Rykiel - who made the sweater look fashionable and opened her boutique after she was catapulted to fame when her design was featured on Elle - embarked on redesigning the hotel back into it's Art Deco style of the earlier, glorious years in the late eighties.

For the 50th anniversary celebration, in 1994, of D-Day in the Battle of Normandy - the liberation of Europe - it played host as the official hotel for the event.

The hotel is managed by the Concorde Hotels and Resorts Group. In 2010, it was reported that this iconic hotel was acquired by an Israeli group - Alrov Properties. 

Their history includes a few famous people in their list of who had stayed there, like Pablo Picasso - the Spanish painter who lived in France for most of his life and co-founded the cubist movement; Charles de Gaulle - the French General who led the French troops in World War II and founded the Fifth French Republic, and served as it's first president 1959-1969; André Gide - a 1947 Nobel Prize winner in literature, known for his fiction and autobiographical writings on 'disambiguation' - how to be fully oneself; and Peggy Guggenheim - an American art collector whose father, Benjamin, perished in the Titanic.

The Hermés history - with it's first shop opening in 1837, and remains family owned and now on it's sixth generation -  is just as interesting as  that of Hotel Lutetia. It was a business that was built on quality, handstitched craftsmanship, with a clientele that included the royalty and the members of the Parisian high-society. Today, their leather products are manufactured in the same handcrafted manner. The addition of other product lines - from equestrian to fashionable and now home furnishings - are made according to the strict quality standards of Hermés where only the perfectly made product is put out with it's signature brand.

If you happen to be in Saint Germain-des-Prés, take the time to drop in at the Hermés Boutique and the Hotel Lutetia. See for yourself how the two paths of these two iconic French institutions intersected. 

45, boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris France
Tel: +33 (0) 1 49 54 46 46
Fax: +33 (0) 1 49 54 46 00

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Celebrating "Jour de Macaron" au Paris (Macaron Day in Paris)

How do you celebrate Jour du Macaron in Paris? First, think of macaron heaven and figure out how to get there. Following the lead of my macaron connoisseur, my daughter, we decided to go to Pierre Hermé's upscale, macaron specialty boutiques - her favorite. There are 8 locations, but we planned to get to 5 of them.

Pierre Hermé, a pastry chef, left Fauchon in 1996 to start his own macaron line. Fauchon is a specialty store for French fancy foods, located in Place de la Madeleine. This is my first venture into the Pierre Hermé shops and I will find out soon how comparable his products are to the original macaron fabricant, Ladurée.

In 2005, Pierre Hermé organized the first Jour de Macaron. This was a day dedicated to giving the public a chance to taste macaron from participating shops, for free. As a marketing gimmick, this is a good way to get product exposure by getting into the news, to introduce the product to a bigger clientele whose interests may have been peaked with the thought of trying something new.

For today, March 20th, Jour du Macaron - on its 6th year - was organised to benefit a charitable organization, Autours des Williams.
Days before, we planned how to prepare for this celebration. After our heathy breakfast servings of fresh fruit and vegetable juice and a bowl of oatmeal with mashed sweet yam, we were out the door by 10:00 a.m. 
We figured out a walking itinerary from Place de la Concorde. With comfortable walking shoes, a light jacket and a hat, we headed to our first stop: 4 rue Cambon Paris 1er (off of rue de Rivoli).
There was a short line when we got there. While waiting to be served, a representative of Autours des Williams  - "the French association of the Williams and Beuren syndrome: a genetic disorder that affects more than 300 000 children today" - came to us to talk about their organization. We received some information, a guide to the macaron flavors, and a raffle entry form to fill up for a chance to win the grand prize: brunch for two at Royale de Monceau. For a small donation, we each were entitled to choose 3 pieces of macaron to sample, for free.
These were the macaron flavors that were being offered and more. By the time we finished visiting 5 shops, we each had 15 pieces each. We sampled some as we were walking away to head to the next stop and some pieces we saved to take home, to be savored later.
Passing through Place Vendome, we were on our way to 32 Avenue de l'Opera Paris 2e. Place Vendome is a shopping mecca for chichi brands. A good number of the jewelry boutiques are located here.
This was a much longer line and it took almost twenty minutes before we were served. I, in the meantime, was choosing flavors from my list that sounded exotic and different. My first three flavors were coing et rose, chocolat et foie gras, créme brulée. And this time, I was eyeing to sample right away Metissé - carrotte, orange, canelle (cinnamon), Chuao - chocolat pure origine chuao, cassis et baies du cassis, huile d'olive et vanille. 
Passing l'Opera de Paris, we were going to Galleries Lafayette on 40 boulevard Haussmann Paris 9e.
The Pierre Hermé shop is inside the Galeries Lafayette, on the -1 floor. There was a big spring-shoe sale going on, but we could not be distracted from what we were accomplishing to do. My samples from here were truffe blanche et noisette, infiniment caramel, Arabella - chocolat au lait, banane, fruit de la passion et gingembre (ginger) confit.
It was a bit of a long walk from Galeries Lafayette towards the Arc de Triomphe - from boulevard Haussmann to rue de Boetie - this was a long stretch, and then we turned right on l'avenue des Champs Élysées. On an empty bench, we sat down to take a 5 minute break.
Pierre Hermé has a small shop inside the Publicist Building, on 133 l'avenue des Champs Élysées Paris 8e. This building is known more as the Publicist Drugstore, which is open up to midnight. The ground floor houses high-end brands from cigars to you name it, in open stalls that are open during regular business hours from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

This was another long line and it gave my daughter time to window shop. From here, I walked away with asperge verte (asparagus) et huile de noisette (hazelnut oil), Indulgence - menthe fraiche et petits pois (green peas), mandarine et huile d'olive. We took another 5 minute break, gearing up for the last shop to visit. From the Place de l'Arc de Triomphe, we walked down on l'avenue Kleber.
By the time we were at the Place du Trocadero, we realized that we had passed several major tourist destinations. We continued on to avenue Paul Doumer.
We got to 58 avenue Paul Doumer Paris 16e and were happy that it was a very short line. My last 3 choices consisted of figue, églantine et foie gras; Mogador - chocolat au lait et fruit de la passion, infinitement rose.

With all those flavor descriptions, I learned some new French words! By the time we got home, we had been walking, standing in line, and eating some of our macarons for five hours. We could have shortened our walking time by taking the metro. But, we figured, walking would help burn the unusual high-calorie intake we were having today.
I made it home with four petits sachets, with three macaron pieces in each, intact. Through the afternoon and evening, I was slowly eating them, one by one, and discerning the flavor profiles from what seemed to be unusual combinations, in some. It's almost going through the same process of figuring whether I like the wine or not. For the most part, I liked them all. 

Pierre Hermé takes his creativity from the "path of nature" - from the fruits in season, their taste, their fragrance, their texture, the climate, and throw in his cravings at the moment. From there comes his flavorful combinations - delightfully different from anything else in the macaron market.

Thank you Pierre Hermé for making our day! We also thank you for your community and civic mindedness.

I am looking forward to next year's Jour du Macaron, and this time it will be to discover the flavors from the atelier of another pastry chef. 


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