There has never been a more important space for luxury brands, than that of their retail stores. From the lighting to the materials, from the music to the bespoke furniture, luxury boutiques offer an unrivalled environment in which brands can express their values and visions, and encapsulate the prestige of their houses.
After one hundred and seventy years on the right bank, Hermès has decided to cross the Seine and embrace the future with a new exclusive 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.
Built in a 1935 old swimming pool of 2,500 square meters, decorated by Denis Montel out of amazing disposable wood structures. In 2005 the pool was given landmark status and has since been considered a historical monument in Paris. Within the 2,155 sq-meter space, 1,470 sq-meters are now used for Hermès retail. Other spaces include a small café, a florist, a library, contract space, offices, and storage.
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. Visitors enter the building on the ground floor, and are immediately attracted by a scene below them: the majority of the Hermès retail space is located in four unique wooden “huts,” each following a distinct organic form designed by a complex computer geometry script. Interweaving laths of ash form the huts, which rise up to meet the skylights above. One of the huts is horizontally inclined, and houses the staircase connecting the entrance to the rest of the store.
Lighting is crucial in such a large and intricate volume. Everything in the main portion of the interior is bathed in natural light from three large skylights in the ceiling, with metal screens to gently soften the light. At night, the skylights are lit. To avoid putting the spaces overlooking the “pool” area in the dark, all vertical panels are also lightly illuminated.
Throughout the renovation, as much of the beautiful and unique antique architecture of the pool was preserved as possible. Originally, the Lutétia swimming was covered in mosaics, broken tiles and granito: these elements have been restored and preserved. At the entrance to the store, a mosaic carpet with a Greek motif matches the original mosaics throughout the building, and pays homage to another Hermès location at 24 Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
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. he 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.
Rena Dumas discovered architecture as an adolescent, observing her brother studying architecture at the polytechnic in Athens. Graduating in Paris, she continued her education in Greece and the United States before being appointed director of Robert Anxionnat’s Paris practice. She went on to open her office, Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure (RDAI), and began her collaboration with Hermès in 1976, of whom her business is still the principal design architect.Photo credits | Michel Denancé