After one hundred and seventy years on the right bank, Hermès has decided to cross the Seine and embrace the future with a new store at 17 Rue de Sèvres in the ritzy Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of Paris. The new store has come to life in a building filled with rich history; a historical monument that was once home to the Lutetia swimming pool, a shining example of the Art Deco years.
In an almost serendipitous connection, Hermès as a brand identified with the restoration of a rich treasure; to bring in the new with maintaining respect and reverence to what has come before. And so is the case with the luxury brand that has become eponymous with Parisian culture… Hermès is just as relevant today as it was in the heyday of the Lutetia.
In the 1930’s the pool served as home base for one of Paris’ oldest swimming clubs. It was a place to see and be seen. After the pool closed in 1970, the Lutetia was reincarnated as a showroom for the famous ready-to-wear designers Élie and Jacqueline Jacobson (known as their brand Dorothée Bis). The pool not only served as offices for the fashion duo, but they also held glamorous fashion shows and soirees in the space… “The place was joyous, bright and luminous. Every morning for twenty years, up to 1998, instead of saying ‘We’re going to the office’, we said, ‘We’re going to the pool’.”
In 2005 the pool was given landmark status and has since been considered a historical monument in Paris. Given the importance of the building, Hermès had guidelines to adhere to in their renovation of the pool. The task at hand was given to Denis Montel and the RDAI agency, the architect firm that creates and designs all Hermès stores across the globe. “The idea was to develop a harmonious dialogue between the origins and the present. The aim was to restore a place that was naturally timeworn but also massively transformed in the mid- 1970s, to make it suitable for public use. We wanted to bring out the qualities of the existing architecture and recapture the spirit of the 1935 swimming pool, while offering a very modern expression of the Hermès spirit at this Left Bank location.”
What may be an architect’s dream, the interior of 17 Rue de Sevres laid a precious foundation for the new concept to unfold. They even refer to it as an “additive” project, a project built upon what was already there, “The old pool is lined with a mosaic of stoneware and glass paste in a dozen shades of grey, white, light green, white gold, silver, etc. The idea is to use these colours to recreate the sensation of a pool with a shimmering, sparkling surface. The presence of the water is also evoked on the ceilings by projections that are made by the lighting system.”
Upon walking into the store, you notice the clean lines and minimal vibe but you are immediately attracted to back of the space. Perhaps it is the natural light flooding in from the skylight above, or the tops of what you soon realize to be gigantic wooden huts. As you enter the pool area, you are transported to a different world. The wood huts (about nine meters in height) all seem to be thriving, like flowers buds, up into the direction of the skylight. The room achieves a great fluidity through a modern artistic interpretation of water in a pool. Curves, waves, roundness, these are all elements of the space that pay homage to the Lutetia pool.
The main staircase evokes pure fantasy. Continuing on with the water and wave aesthetic, the wood has been gorgeously shaped and meticulously curved on either side of the steps. These sculptures present the lower level (what was once the pool) like a personal gift to whoever is walking down the staircase. The wood that is used is the same natural color throughout the store, making the entire design seem effortless –as if these wondrous, larger than life sculptures are supposed to be there.
Hermès Rive Gauche on the Rue de Sèvres has certainly staked her claim on the Left side of the Seine. May it bring delicious luxury, as its sister boutique has, for another one hundred and seventy years!