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VM inspiration: the staircase at Galeries Lafayette

One of the huge, brand-building VM advantages that classic department stores have over other retailers is their rich architectural heritage. Galeries Lafayette in Paris is a perfect example, with a section of Louis Majorelle’s 1912 grand, sweeping staircase, originally located under the wonderful Art Nouveau glass dome, now installed in a quiet spot beside the elevators on an upper floor.

French furniture designer and decorator Majorelle (1859 - 1926) was known for his Art Nouveau work, employing the then-fashionable writhing, plant-based motifs of the period. Made from bronze, forged iron, printed iron plate, paint and gold, the majestic staircase provided a magnificent entrance for customers ascending to the first floor and descending to the ground.

The original staircase split in to three sections part way up, creating a ‘tableaux vivant’ - a living picture - comprised of customers, and was in some respects reminiscent of many of today’s pop-up retail features in that it was interactive, and allowed customers an opportunity to be seen, and to observe other customers.

This image from 1912, presumably taken during installation as the adjacent counters are covered and building debris surrounds the foot of the staircase, reveals the disadvantage of the staircase: it occupied a vast amount of potential retailing space. Replaced with escalators, which increase footfall to upper levels of any store, it was dismantled in 1974. It was later restored and presented to the city of Nancy for an exhibition of Majorelle’s work in 2009.

Galeries Lafayette recently finished restoration of the dome and the balconies below it, with a wonderful result. Today, there cannot be a single tourist who does not take the time to take an image of the balconies and the dome.