Discovering the true French Art de vivre

For DFS Chairman & CEO Benjamin Vuchot, the inauguration of Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf by DFS on 21 June – an event graced by French President Emmanuel Macron and LVMH Chairman and Chief Executive Bernard Arnault – was a thrilling affirmation of how he sees the luxury travel retailer’s future. He spoke to Martin Moodie.

“I think La Samaritaine will be one of the most celebrated retail spaces in the world,” Benjamin Vuchot tells The Moodie Davitt Report during an interview at DFS headquarters in Hong Kong.

“It’s incredibly exciting. It really exemplifies this idea of bringing a sense of destination to travellers who already have the emotional excitement of being in the city of Paris. They are also given access to a world of luxury, with a very strong sense of destination featuring an even more Parisian lifestyle element.”

The DFS Chairman & CEO highlights the “exceptional” array of curated collections from Parisian, French and international brands and artisans, complemented by restaurants, bars and cafes to enrich the consumer experience. “It’s really been a culmination of so many ideas,” he comments. “There has been so much passion in the making of this project, of making it unique, and of celebrating all the legacy knowledge of being a retailer.

“There is, of course, an incredible amount of attention, because a lot of our brand partners are headquartered in Paris, which also means that they put forward their best game in creating that experience. Our store was a long time in the making and it’s one of the most exciting projects for any retailer to be taking part in. First of all, there’s the location, Paris, one of the most-visited places in the world. In all the recent surveys that we’ve read, Paris remains the top place that people have an intention to travel to [after the pandemic].

“So, there is an incredible momentum, going forward, when borders from all over the world actually fully reopen. And we have this landmark in the heart of Paris – just walking distance from the Louvre and attached to the Pont-Neuf. How much more iconic of a destination can you dream of, to exemplify, the Art de vivre, the world of luxury, and the whole wider experience that we have?”

“How much more iconic of a destination can you dream of, to exemplify, the Art de vivre, the world of luxury, and the whole wider experience that we have?”

Benjamin Vuchot, DFS Chairman & CEO

Photo credit here

“So, there is an incredible momentum, going forward, when borders from all over the world actually fully reopen. And we have this landmark in the heart of Paris – just walking distance from the Louvre and attached to the Pont-Neuf. How much more iconic of a destination can you dream of, to exemplify, the Art de vivre, the world of luxury, and the whole wider experience that we have?”

In extolling the virtues of the overall Samaritaine development, Vuchot believes that DFS has embraced the heritage and majesty of the site as well as bringing its own distinctive elegance to the party. “As you know, we have two buildings that are linked together. We have the art nouveau five-storey building which is beautiful architecturally, featuring this wonderful courtyard and ceiling structure and with an amazing staircase. And then, you have the more contemporary SANAA building with its designed glass façade on the rue du Rivoli, that has a much more contemporary and curated shopping offering.

“What’s also exciting about the property is that we have 12 concepts of food & beverage, so we are bringing a lot of dwelling spaces to discover gastronomy, to discover what’s a café in Paris, to taste little moments, if you like. For example, we have this beautiful restaurant, Voyage, Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf, on the fifth floor [see ‘The Taste of Samaritaine, page 12] which is an experiential concept that transports diners through culinary experiments into new places.

“We have brought the best brands and the best of F&B to offer a range of experiences, from a snack to a very, very sophisticated culinary experiment. We’ve also taken the DFS lounge concept to a different level by creating what is really like a Parisian apartment, where our loyalty customers can have access to all the products and all the great experiences that we have in the store, and at their choice of time and place.

Photo credit here

“So, it’s really a culmination of so many ideas. There’s been so much passion in the making of this project – of making it unique; of celebrating all the legacy and great knowledge of being a retailer; of focusing on the traveller in the luxury scene with DFS, but also bringing a sense of relevance to the destination, to Paris.

Vuchot believes the reopening will provide a tremendous boost to tourism, to Paris and to Parisians, coming as it did after such a prolonged period of COVID-driven restrictions. “To open a store in a building that has always been a temple of retail for the Parisians, one that been closed for 16 years, represents this reopening of the centre of Paris, which is very important. We have opened our arms and our doors to the curiosity of the customers who live in or are visiting Paris.

“We hope that this will also be a good way to engage with a different customer than we’ve been used to in the past. And from a travel retail industry perspective, it is definitely a good opportunity to make such a statement just as we come out of this pandemic… one based on identified codes of service, excellence, luxury and experience that really define what DFS is. So, we’re very, very excited about that.

“This is an incredible turning point, also, for DFS to showcase our savoir faire of being this companion for the luxury traveller, and of, as I say, creating a destination within a destination.

“That’s unique and differentiating. You can see that by the number of concepts we’re bringing inside the store, such as our shoe and sneaker concepts.

“Because of the size and the scale of the property, we’re also able to expand a lot of the categories and to make them even more relevant to the customer today. A lot of our operations have been digitalised, so there is a lot of technology associated with that relevance.

“As you know, we have our own concept store, Loulou, which is a unique place where you can have a taste of L’Art de vivre à la française and lots of exciting, curated objects, souvenirs, and moments of Samaritaine that will only be available in that store.

“So, it’s about creating a sense of exclusivity, of ‘Only at Samaritaine’. I think that both the experience and assortment are very exciting to our customers.”

The Assouline book space blends in harmoniously with the wider shopping offer and the majesty of the surroundings {Photo: Stéphane Aboudaram/We are Contents}

Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf by DFS, like T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi by DFS in Venice, represents a seminal moment in the company’s development, Vuchot says, an emphatic underscoring of how DFS plans to shape its future.

“Creating a destination within a destination comes at times, with architecture, at times with a unique location. In Brisbane, for example, we are taking over the historic Printery Building [for T Galleria by DFS, Brisbane, located at Queen’s Wharf Brisbane -Ed] and we are also participating there in this state of the art new project with hotels and a casino, and being the exclusive retailer for the whole Queen’s Wharf redevelopment.

“So that’s us saying, ‘Let’s make this landmark alive again but with the modernity that is relevant to today.”

Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf by DFS also reflects a new buoyancy for the LVMH/Robert Miller-owned company, says Vuchot. Due to the nature of its retail footprint and its predominant client base, DFS felt the chill of the pandemic earlier than most of its global rivals.

But today, boosted by a buoyant Macau, the likelihood of an opening of Hong Kong’s borders with the Mainland in the relative near term and an exciting project in Haikou, Hainan island, the company finds itself in good shape despite the faltering nature of recovery elsewhere in the world.

“Following the success of the Fondaco in Venice, to be strengthening our presence in Europe with such a statement in Paris is a big vote of confidence that we see this travel retail market recovering in the short-term,” Vuchot concludes.

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SPOTLIGHT SERIES - NOVEMBER 2021

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