Guide Tour of Le Bon Marché, Paris, France

Le Bon Marché is a department store in Paris. Founded in 1838 and revamped almost completely by Aristide Boucicaut in 1852, it was one of the first modern department stores. Historically, it was the founder of Le Bon Marché who first came up with the concept of a department store, a form of shopping that is widely accepted today but pioneered 170 years ago. Unlike in the past, a store only sold a few kinds of products, large department stores can allow customers to choose from more products in a larger space. It has been a member of the International Association of Department Stores from 1986 to 2011.

The first Au Bon Marché store was founded in 1838 and the current building was built in 1869. It was the subject of multiple expansions by the family of three architects, Louis-Auguste, Louis-Charles and Louis-Hippolyte Boileau who collaborated in particular with the engineers Armant Moisant and Gustave Eiffel.

Compared to its many department store rivals in Paris, Le Bon Marché is neither the largest nor the most luxuriously decorated, but its location closer to the heart of Paris brings enough advantages. The department store fills the vacancy of the large shopping malls in the Left Bank area of Paris, and to integrate the atmosphere unique to the Left Bank, it is destined that Le Bon Marché must embrace more warmly and art and culture. Zola’s novel Au Bonheur des Dames was inspired by the story of Le Bon Marche.

At the beginning of 1875, a picture gallery was opened. This wonderful facility is generously made available to painters and sculptors who wish to exhibit their works there and thus get in touch with the large clientele that flocks to Le Bon Marché. The House acts as a free and obliging intermediary between artists and amateurs.

After its acquisition by the LVMH Group in 1984, the new team, set up by Bernard Arnault in 1987, decided to reposition the store. This renovation aims to make it the most selective Parisian store in the capital. Combining tradition and modernity, in a warm and friendly setting, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche has become a very Parisian high-end department store where the values of authenticity and culture come to mingle closely with the pleasure of buying.

Le Bon Marché is much more: a way of being, an art of living, a spirit. On the border of the 6th and 7th arrondissements, caressing Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a district honored by arts and letters, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche alone reflects this Left Bank spirit. Here, there is no explosion of supply, no consumption frenzy. Day after day, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche cements its membership in a universe where creativity and modernity are the points of balance.

The first Au Bon Marché store was founded in 1838 by the brothers Paul and Justin Videau in the form of a shop with multiple counters (twelve employees and four departments) of haberdashery also selling sheets, mattresses and umbrellas and other assorted goods. It originally had four departments, twelve employees, and a floor space of three hundred square meters.

They joined forces in 1852 with Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut who embarked on the transformation of the store, then developing the new concept of department store.with a wide and deep assortment, prices set at low margins and indicated on a label, direct access, the principle of satisfaction or your money back and staging of the goods in a sales area: this type of store does not sell no longer simply goods, but the desire to buy itself.

The entrepreneur Aristide Boucicaut became a partner in 1852, and changed the marketing plan, instituting fixed prices and guarantees that allowed exchanges and refunds, advertising, and a much wider variety of merchandise. The use of fixed prices replaced the system of haggling over prices, then commonly used in dry goods stores. The annual income of the store increased from 500,000 francs in 1852 to five million in 1860.

In 1869 he built a much larger building at 24 rue de Sèvres on the Left Bank, and enlarged the store again in 1872, with help from the engineering firm of Gustave Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower. The income rose from twenty million francs in 1870 to 72 million at the time of Boucicaut’s death in 1877, at which time the management of the store continued by his wife, Marguerite Boucicaut.

The floor space had increased from three hundred square meters in 1838 to fifty thousand, and the number of employees had increased from twelve in 1838 to 1,788 in 1879. Boucicaut was famous for his marketing innovations; a reading room for husbands while their wives shopped; extensive newspaper advertising; entertainment for children; and six million catalogs sent out to customers. By 1880 half the employees were women; unmarried women employees lived in dormitories on the upper floors.

The architecture of the store was innovative for its time; the 1869 store was constructed by the architect Louis-Auguste Boileau. Alexandre Laplanche ornamented Boileau’s ironwork technology. Louis-Charles Boileau, his son, continued the store in the 1870s, consulting the firm of Gustave Eiffel for parts of its structure.

The bourgeoises can shop in the house where the society cloisters them and spend more than twelve hours in the store trying on the products, in particular clothes, which were made to measure before, and now in standardized sizes.

To attract its female clientele, Boucicaut also created the first toilets for women, a reading room for their husbands while they did their shopping, had more than 6 million fashion catalogs sent by post (accompanied by samples of fabrics cut by 150 young women solely assigned to this work) throughout the world at the beginning of the 20th century, in parallel with the development of the home delivery service and postage-free mail order.

He develops advertising (posters, calendars, advertisements, diaries announcing daily events). After the wives, he targets the mothers by distributing drinks, red balloons or series of educational images in chromolithography, called “chromos”, for their children, also organizing donkey rides.

Aristide Boucicaut hired saleswomen whom he had housed on the upper floors of the store and who represented half of the staff in the 1880s. They can benefit from internal promotion (second, counter manager then manager according to a progression no longer by seniority, but by merit). With a paternalistic management inspired by the Christian socialism of Lamennais, Aristide Boucicaut notably created for his employees a provident fund and a pension fund, a free refectory, a paid day off each week. This paternalism also aims to attach employees to the establishment: for example, the provident fund for employees is available after 20 years of seniority. A thousand-seat room is installed at the top of the building to host parties.

In 1910, in order to accommodate customers nearby, the Lutetia hotel was created, which remains the only palace on the left bank. The development of the railway and the Universal Exhibitions attracted women from the provinces to Paris and Le Bon Marché now sought to reach a working-class clientele with ever lower prices. That year, the department store took advantage of the passage of comet Halley to launch an advertising campaign, some prints of which are kept in the library of the Paris Observatory.

Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, the grandson of Louis-Auguste Boileau, worked on an extension to the store in the 1920s. In 1922, when the decorative arts were at their high point in France, the Pomone design and decorating department was established, following the trend of other Parisian department stores.

In 1923, the store called on Paul Follot to manage “Pomone, Bon Marché art workshop” created a year earlier, a reserved space that would publish and distribute Art Deco objects to customers. During the 1925 International Exhibition, the store inaugurated a pavilion, also directed by Follot with the architect L.-H. Boileau. Follot retired in 1928 and was replaced by René-Lucien Prou (1889-1948) then by Albert-Lucien Guénot (1894-1993) until 1955.

In 1932, the store acquired a home equipment section, taking advantage of the wave of household arts. The interwar period also saw the installation of a tea room, a hairdressing salon, a bank branch and a tourist office for the organization of coach excursions in the surrounding area of Paris.

The company saw its net profits reduced to a few thousand francs in 1954-1955 when it was the most profitable company on the stock market twenty years earlier. The situation deteriorated again in the 1960s, with competition from hypermarkets and the decline of the mail-order department based in Wissous.

In 1970, the company was bought by the Willot brothers, through their subsidiary Saint Frères, which already owned the À la Belle Jardinière stores: between 1972 and 1975, they reorganized all the stores and managed to regain profitability.

Financière Agache, headed by Bernard Arnault, bought the Société des Magasins du Bon Marché in 1984 from the Boussac group, to make it the luxury department store on the left bank. Since 1988, La Grande Epicerie de Paris, a subsidiary of Bon Marché Rive Gauche, has been transformed and has become the largest food store in the capital. In 1989, the French designer Andrée Putman created the central escalator located in the heart of the store.

In the first half of 2012, work began to expand the sales area. Renamed “Le Bon Marché”, it is now part of the LVMH group. At the end of 2013, after 18 months of renovation, it celebrated its rebirth. Take advantage of a new experience that is always unique, revealing the know-how of the catering professions, an ever more specialized selection of exceptional products – rare or traditional –, and finally new universes and services.

Art occupies a special place at the Bon Marché Rive Gauche. This strong commitment responds to a desire for proximity and exchange with those who invite you to explore new worlds and open up possibilities: artists and creators. These artistic statements, whether they are exhibitions or the Rive Gauche Collection, are designed to arouse emotion and astonishment in the heart of an exceptional place.

Throughout the year, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche invites artists and designers to take over its spaces. The visual arts, fashion, design and even music are exhibited during events and white cards. Faithful to its commitment to support creation, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche accompanies its guests in the production of new works imagined in situ.

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Started in 1989, the Contemporary Art Collection brings together more than sixty works. From painting to photography via drawing and sculpture, it is revealed on all floors of the store. Discover the Bon Marché Rive Gauche contemporary art collection in a different way. Through the iconic works, dating from the 1990s – 2000s, exhibited throughout the store, you will learn to identify the compositions and techniques used and you will observe the shift between figuration and abstraction that emanate from certain contemporary creations.

Exhibited throughout the store, the Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche – Contemporary Art Collection reflects our thirty-year commitment to contemporary artistic creation. The paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings that compose it are the works of French or international, recognized or emerging artists.

The Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche Collection – decorative arts furniture punctuates the different universes of the store with pieces that have marked the history of decorative arts furniture or design. Each piece is carefully selected for its original edition, its unique history, its noble materials and its remarkable form.

Through the discovery of the Bon Marché Rive Gauche collection and around twenty pieces of decorative arts furniture made between the 1950s and today, we will pay particular attention to design methods, materials and technical characteristics used by the great decorators and designers of the 20th century.

Since 2012, the Bon Marché Rive Gauche has been supporting art and culture through the acquisition of pieces that have marked the history of design. Each piece of furniture is carefully selected for its original edition, its unique history, its noble materials and its remarkable form. Exhibited in the different universes of the store, the Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche Collection of decorative arts furniture now includes around a hundred pieces dating from 1930 to 2017.

Over the years, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche has passionately pursued its commitment to contemporary artists by giving them carte blanche. “The Erogenous Amazon” by Prune Nourry in 2021, Studio Nendo by Oki Sato in 2020, “Branco Luz” by Joana Vasconcelos in 2019 and “Sous le Ciel” by Leandro Erlich in 2019… All these unique works are worn by a desire to bring contemporary art to life within the Left Bank.

The Erogenous Amazon, by Prune Nourry in 2021
In January 2021, the rising figure of the international contemporary scene, Prune Nourry took over Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche with a superb exhibition, L’Amazone Erogène. Prune Nourry’s Work questions notions such as genetics, gender selection, the condition of women and the relationship to the female body. Each work appears as a facet of his reflection which explores the fields of science and anthropology.

For L’Amazone Erogène, she was inspired by the myth of the amazons whose legend says that they mutilated their right breast to be better archers. Here, the artist played with the characteristic symbols of the female warrior and composed an installation around three major elements: the breast-shaped target, the bow and the arrows.

Studio Nendo, by Oki Sato in 2020
In January 2020, Le Bon Marché invited the Japanese designer Oki Sato to deploy his immense talent within its walls with a poetic and elegant exhibition called “ame nochi hana” (rain flowers). Founder of the Nendo studio, Oki Sato imagines creations that are both joyful and refined that invite you to take a moment of serenity in response to the turmoil of our time. Born in Canada, he draws his inspiration from his dual culture and creates works on the border between Japan and the West.

With simplicity, joy, humor and inventiveness, Oki Sato models reality like modeling clay (translation of the word “nendo”) appealing to our child’s gaze. Oki Sato orchestrates four dreamlike proposals around rainwater and flowering. Each explores the connection and interrelation between these two universal elements. The “rain flowers” that he imagines are full of life and joy, they are the common thread of the exhibition.

Branco Luz, by Joana Vasconcelos in 2019
Joana Vasconcelos has established herself in the world of contemporary art with works of impressive dimensions, with humorous baroque forms, revealing a fertile imagination, a taste for tradition as much as for provocation and transgression.

In January 2019, Le Bon Marché invites the Portuguese artist for an installation “Branco Luz”. Powerful and generous artist, Joana Vasconcelos is inspired by the craft traditions of her country while reinterpreting the codes of contemporary art to create her monumental works. In reference to the Month of White imagined in January 1872 by Aristide Boucicaut, founder of Le Bon Marché, Joana Vasconcelos designed this installation around variations of white textiles and lights, woven and assembled by hand in her workshop.

Under the sky, by Leandro Erlich in 2018
In January 2018, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche hosted the “Sous le Ciel” exhibition, which brings together new productions and pieces imagined in situ by Leandro Erlich on the theme of space, reality and plausibility.

His exhibition pays homage to the famous sky of Paris and invites the visitor to take another look at what surrounds him. With his astonishing installations, produced exclusively for Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, he succeeded in changing the perception of the spaces of the most legendary of Parisian stores. A romance that he writes in his own way, in several chapters; first in the shop windows where light, fluffy shapes floated in suspension, like real clouds. Then inside the store where the race of nimbus and cumulus clouds continued and took place at the top of the central windows and on the emblematic escalator of the Bon Marché Rive Gauche.

Christmas decoration
During Christmas, Le Bon Marché invites artists and designers to take over its spaces, which amaze visitors with exceptional Christmas window displays. The visual arts, fashion, design and even music are exhibited during events. When the Christmas party arrives, the storefronts of the Parisian department store become an attraction in their own right.

On the occasion of the Christmas holidays, Le Bon Marché are transformed into a fantastic dreamland. Talented architects, designers and engineers for the construction and event management of Bon Marché Rive Gauche,. Together, they laid the groundwork that prefigures the cultural actions carried out Christmas decoration in its architectural design, the production of cultural exhibitions and the constitution of its Rive Gauche Collection.

Every year, it will be laid out as a grand Christmas theme around a certain element, the Christmas decoration throughout the store, the Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, decorative arts furniture punctuates the different universes of the store with pieces that have marked the history of decorative arts furniture or design. The Christmas windows are made with Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche teams and workshop, depicting the story of Christmas.

Architects are reinventing spaces by modernizing them while remaining faithful to the heritage of department stores whose buildings have become iconic. Like a Paris of the 19th century where everything moves, everything changes, everything is invented, a small haberdashery. Shaking up traditions, Le Bon Marché, now part of the LVMH group, reflects this Left Bank spirit more than ever: an openness to the world, a taste for culture, a constantly revisited tradition…

Discover the Christmas decoration collections of the Bon Marché Rive Gauche, as well as its architectural history. The visit around the history of the architecture of Le Bon Marché presents the architectural developments. Discover the decorative details that still testify today to the rich history of the buildings designed by Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut: windows, facades, mosaics and moldings reveal their secrets.

Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche design unique creations through creative, colorful and lively installations. Puppeteers, engineers, illustrators, craftsmen, sculptors, sound designer, motion designer and so many other professions are involved in these achievements. From the concept to the installation of the windows, including the layout, design and manufacture, the work on the windows lasts a whole year. Each piece is carefully selected for its special meaning, its unique and noble materials and its remarkable shape.

Many materials are used to create these windows, the objective is to immerse passers-by in a marvelous universe overflowing with textures, colors and shapes carefully arranged for an exceptional rendering. Suprise waiting at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche’s magnificent Christmas decorations.

These fabulous decorations Inside and around Le Bon Marché, offer a return to this true tradition now inscribed in the Le Bon Marché store which conveys the magic of Christmas. Come and set off on a winter adventure to producing Christmas gifts, Discover exclusive Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche products.


La Grande Épicerie
Located in the adjacent building, at no.38 rue de Sèvres, this food store was founded in 1923 under the name Comptoir de l’Alimentation: it offers a wide variety of quality and from many countries around the world. It was an ultra-modern building at the time, with a new way of selling fresh produce, tins of tea and fine preserves, on a certain surface. Thematic exhibitions (Italy, England), give rise to temporary sales of special products.

In 1978, the Comptoir was renamed La Grande Épicerie, and the sales area was doubled. Work was still taking place in the 1980s, supervised by the decorator Michel Simonnot, which enabled the brand to proclaim itself the largest food store in Paris. It was completely renovated in 2012 and has since offered artisan food shops (fish, cheese, butcher, charcuterie, pastry, etc.), a wine cellar, a new configuration of the premises (installation of a double escalator, a funnel and redevelopment with black granite, oak and brushed steel) and the inauguration of a restaurant under the canopy.

La Grande Épicerie Rive Droite
The Franck & Fils department store at 80, rue de Passy, opened in 1937, owned by the LVMH group, is completely renovated and reopens under the La Grande Épicerie Rive Droite brand, inaugurated inNovember 2017. In 2019, La Petite Grande Épicerie of 25 square meters was born in the Saint-Lazare train station shopping center.

Tags: France