Hermes @ Rive Gauche, Paris by Rena Dumas Architects

Hermes @ Rive Gauche, Paris by Rena Dumas Architects

Hermes is a symbol of but a few things, that can be defined in three words: luxury, timeless, lifestyle.  As of recent, the fashion house has added “innovative” to its list.  Hermes‘s brand new store is a statement of creativity which draws impeccably on its heritage.

After 170 years on the right bank, Hermès 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. On Nov 19th, 2010 Hermes opened its 2,155 sq mtr space Rive Gauche boutique which will sell all ranges of Hermes‘s products, from clothing to leather goods, from homeware and design to board games.

The new store has come to life in a building filled with rich history; a historical monument that was once home to the Lutetia Hotel’s swimming pool, a shining example of the Art Deco years. Denis Montel of New York based architects RDAI, was given the project to transform the vast swimming pool into Hermes first concept boutique.

“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.”

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’.”

Three huts made from woven ashwood rise 9 meters high the pool floor to its skyline which house women’s fashion, accessories and the company’s home line which debuted at the store’s opening. Lit from the inside, each hut produces a lantern feel. A fourth hut connects the staircase to the entrance leading to another surprise, a restoration of the pool with shimmering mosaics overlooked by ironwork balconies.

Speaking of the store design, the Hermes interior designer Pierre-Alexis Dumas said “I had a moment of vertigo when I first visited,” Dumas said, “but it was stimulating. I asked myself, how can we turn this into a warm and protective space?”  He also added that ”a store has a mission – it has to embellish a neighbourhood, give pleasure to residents and make discover a piece of heritage”.

lutetia hotel


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 new space still retains some of that old world charm via textile surfaces and iron worked balconies. “The Art Deco spirit was very prominent in the decoration” says Montel. It’s seen throughout “both in the mosaics and the opus incertum tiling, and in the metalwork adorned with gold leaf.” But he has done a superb job of bringing the space into the 21st century. An open sparse feeling is echoed by expansive, wide floors lit by three huge sky lights that allow sunshine to pour in. The pool has been drained and inside it sits three mega weaved huts constructed out of light ash wood that ergonomically fit into the store and help to fill the atrium like center. The mosaics in and around the pool are rendered in shades of grey, light green, white gold and silver, shades that resemble and bring to mind the former aquatic scene.

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.

The opening coincides with Hermès’ move into interiors. The store showcases the recent addition of furnishings fabrics, wallpaper, carpets, and the new Jean-Michel Frank par Hermès numbered furniture re-editions. For the first time, the Hermes home collection includes carpets which have been created by American artists Janis Provisor and Brad Davis.

Nearly half of the three-level, 700 sqm space is devoted to home, including a flower shop (Baptiste) stocked with exotica like New Zealand coral peonies and lichen branches. There’s a bookstore, too, the Chaîne d’Encre created with Actes Sud with an array of books from architecture, photography, applied arts and horse riding. Le Plongeoir is a tea bar on the balcony, serving a wide range of infussion teas.

Hermes 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!

Photographs are by Michel Denancé for Hermes

The new opening, which happenned amidst the major scandal concerning the stake of 17% in Hermes recently acquired by LVMH, demonstrates Hermes is committed to exclusivity and creativity even when it comes to its store concepts. During the scandal, one of Hermes’s arguments against the stake acquired by LVMH was that Hermes does not aim to become a corporate giant with a huge international network such as Louis Vuitton.

In reference to the recent scandal concerning the shares acquired by LVMH, Pierre Alexis Dumas said ”Thanks to God, the Earth keep revolving. More than ever, everyone in our company wishes to express their uniqueness, character and soul. The opening of the Pool (the new store) has been planned for a year and nothing could not have separated us from our wishes, from this fantasy and the Hermes authenticity. If we are so coveted, it is because we are desirable, extremely desirable”.


About Paris Rive Gauche

La Rive Gauche (French pronunciation: [la ʁiv ɡoʃ], The Left Bank) is the southern bank of the river Seine in Paris.

Here the river flows roughly westward, cutting the city in two: looking downstream, the southern bank is to the left, and the northern bank (or Rive Droite) is to the right.

It covers a 2,7 km long area along the river Seine from the “Jardin des Plantes” to the “ring road”, it represents an area of 130 hectares (325 acres).

Paris Rive Gauche is a part of the 13th district, one of the biggest district in Paris with a population of 170.000 : Paris represents an area of 100 km² with 2,3 millions inhabitants.

“Rive Gauche” or “Left Bank” generally refers to the Paris of an earlier era; the Paris of artists, writers and philosophers, including Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Henri Matisse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and dozens of other members of the great artistic community at Montparnasse. The phrase implies a sense of bohemianism and creativity. Some of its famous streets are the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Boulevard Saint-Michel and the Rue de Rennes.

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