Marie Hennechart

Surprise! Europe’s classic department stores are reinventing themselves for a new generation of cool.

March 16, 2010

There’s a youthquake afoot at these four shopping landmarks.

Paris

You could forgive Printemps if it had lost some of its fabled luster after 145 years. But thanks to a $100 million top-to-toe renovation, the famous stained-glass Art Nouveau cupola of the grande dame of les grands magasins is gleaming again, while inside, on the fifth floor, you’ll now find France’s largest selection of shoes. Best of all: avant-garde tastemaker Maria Luisa Poumaillou has been named Printemps’ first-ever fashion editor, and introduced a dedicated space for up-and-coming talents such as Scottish designer Christopher Kane. Not to be outpaced, Printemps’ 116-year-old neighbor and rival, Galeries Lafayette, is showcasing female designers—Vanessa Bruno and Isabel Marant among them—as well as sustainable labels, and also hosting contemporary art exhibitions.

London

While its name is forever associated with old-fashioned floral prints, Victorian-era stalwart Liberty is raising its own design profile with an infusion of emerging talent. This season, Milanese fashion brand 10 Corso Como commissioned artist Kris Ruhs to tap into Liberty’s textile archives for an edgy capsule collection of beachwear and accessories.

Milan

The century-old La Rinascente has unveiled a futuristic Design Supermarket with a whimsical collection of stylish tech toys, tableware, and more by the likes of Zaha Hadid and Ettore Sottsass—all displayed in a sleek underground space designed by Armani store architects Claudio Silvestrin and Guiliana Salmaso. Now that’s fashion-forward.

Liberty

A London institution since 1875, Liberty’s a mainstay that’s as overwhelming as it is essential. Despite its historic appearance (Tudor timber-framed exterior, wood-paneled rooms, grand staircases, beamed ceilings), this shop is a consummate trendsetter. Modern and fashion-forward clothes, fabrics, furniture, stationery, beauty products, and toiletries cram the stunning interiors. Pause for some refreshment in the super-cool on-site tearoom that serves 10 loose-leaf brews, finger sandwiches, and Cornish cream scones among ironically chintzy floral cups and saucers and Designers Guild-upholstered chairs and tablecloths.

Galeries Lafayette

The biggest luxury department store in Europe, Galeries Lafayette opened in 1893 and is now home to hundreds of designer shops as well as the world’s largest perfumery. The store comprises three separate structures, including the 10-story Haussman building topped by an enormous stained-glass cupola. At the welcome desk, multilingual employees guide shoppers to upscale boutiques from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, and Cartier, in addition to jewelry, cosmetics, and home furnishings stores. There’s also a free art gallery and Lafayette Gourmet, a collection of restaurants, tasting bars, and high-end food shops selling items like herbed goat cheese and Iranian caviar.

La Rinascente

The century-old shop has unveiled a futuristic Design Supermarket with a whimsical collection of stylish tech toys, tableware, and more by the likes of Zaha Hadid and Ettore Sottsass—all displayed in a sleek underground space designed by Armani store architects Claudio Silvestrin and Guiliana Salmaso. Now that’s fashion-forward.

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