From trains to theaters, how fashion settled in the Haussmann district
If the Haussmann district only needed a few years to become a focal point of fashion in Paris, it had nothing to do with chance or coincidence.
In the small part of the 9th arrondissement that borders the Haussmann Boulevard, fashion is everywhere. On the backs of people walking around, in the packed bags carried by shoppers or on the advertisement posters. Absolutely natural for a neighborhood once turned upside down by the Grands Magasins department stores, and where people now come from all around the world to have a taste of “French chic”.
From Saint-Germain-en-laye to the Grands Magasins, via Saint Lazare
The year is 1865 and the Haussmann Boulevard isn’t totally finished when Jules Jaluzot opens his first store on the intersection with the Rue du Havre : Au Printemps, the first department store entirely lit by electricity thanks to steam engines in the basement. But why there, in a neighborhood that was still brand-new at the time? Michel Güet, Heritage Guide for the 9th arrondissement city hall, has an idea about it: “because the lots were free, to begin with, but more importantly because they were close to the Saint-Lazare train station: promoters thought that upper class people living in the western suburbs would use the train to come to Paris”. Güet points to the fact that ever since Haussmann’s transformation of Paris in the second half of the 19th century, France’s capital is more posh to the West, more working-class to the East.
Fashion as a way to show off one’s upward mobility
In 1894, cousins Alphone Kahn and Théophile Bader open up the Galeries Lafayette on the intersection of rue de la Fayette and rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. People come to Paris from the West suburbs to shop or catch a play in one of the many theaters around. “Thanks to fashion, notes Michel Güet, the bourgeoisie could show off its upward mobility. You didn’t only go to the theater to watch a play, but for people to look at you!” It’s only natural that the Grands Magasins had their clients shop the latest chic before showing off a brand-new hat, fitted coat or corset at a theater balcony.
The Parisian chic capital was born
“There was competition abroad, continues Güet, such as Liberty in London, but Paris was seen as the capital of frivolity or joie de vivre at the time, and the Grands Magasins were a crucial part of that image”. Of course, Paris has changed a lot since the Grands Magasins opened on the Haussmann Boulevard. But the image or memory of that French way of life survived the construction work and the years gone by, and people now come from all around the globe to shop in the Haussmann district. The French idea of chic never goes out of style, and people still show it off on Instagram or in one of the theaters still opened in the neighborhood.
A number of famous shops have settled near the “historical” department stores and now benefit from their reach and existing customer traffic. Citadium, H&M, Uniqlo, Zara or C&A now define and share their own take on Parisian chic.