Friday, 7 p.m., at 30 Avenue Montaigne: It’s French client night in the newly renovated house that Christian Dior built. Ever since the company took down the scaffolding that has concealed the neoclassical façade for two and a half years and given the windows a good washing, it has hosted tours and cocktails for journalists and VIP clients from various countries. I stopped by on Tuesday, at the start of Paris Fashion Week, stayed two hours, and now, was back for more. Even the French, who are used to big changes, even if they don’t necessarily like them, seemed dazzled.
I had come to see Pietro Beccari, who, as Dior’s chairman and chief executive, had initiated the only complete makeover in the brand’s 76-year-old history. Many people probably know 30 Avenue Montaigne as the flagship boutique of Dior, but it actually encompasses all the design studios, the haute couture salons, the workrooms where ready-to-wear samples, hats, and custom clothes are made, and the executive offices, eight floors in total sprawling over six buildings that appear as one monolith. There have been several major nips and tucks — in 1997, 2007 — but nothing remotely on this scale.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Dior has given its competitors in the luxury-goods trade a nasty headache.
In addition to remastering the boutique — with more natural light, more open space, and a winter garden on the ground floor designed by the project’s principal architect, Peter Marino, and the Belgian landscape designer Peter Wirtz — 30 Avenue Montaigne now includes three places to dine, a museum, and an overnight guest suite. Not only can you shop at Dior, but you can stay the night. The price per night, depending on the season, will be between €30,000 and €35,000, or $32,900 to $38,500.
“You will essentially have the keys to Dior,” Beccari told me when we met in Christian Dior’s private sitting room in the couture wing of the building. Suite guests — there’s accommodation for two, plus, perhaps, a child — will be looked after by a staff of six to eight. Beccari elaborated: “You can walk into the museum in your bathrobe. You can go down to the boutique and buy a diamond at two o’clock in the morning — if you are particularly happy about the situation.” The executive gave a light laugh. “If you like shopping, it’s unbelievable. You will be able to go to the haute couture ateliers in the middle of the night to see where everything is produced if you want. You can have an olfactory experience with our expert of perfumes. You can book a cooking lesson with our chef, Jean Imbert. You can throw a dinner party there” — he indicated the adjacent private dining room — “or you can have lunch in the secret garden.” Near the couture salons, and formerly planted with air-conditioning units, it’s one of three gardens in the building.
“You can do whatever you want,” Beccari said. “Dior belongs to you for one night.”
The suite, which has a fireplace and exotic stone in the bathroom, will be offered first to VIP clients and then opened to the public for reservations. It will be managed by Cheval Blanc, the newish hotel that, like Dior, is controlled by LVMH. As Marino said, “Dior doesn’t have people to make beds.”
I had run into Marino during my first tour of the building. He was in the couture salon, chatting with colleagues, and as we stood there, a woman in her 20s was modeling a gown for her jeans-clad husband, who lounged on a sofa. She was evidently thinking of ordering the beige-pink gown, by Maria Grazia Chiuri, which was semitransparent. Everyone was watching her.
Later, when I spoke to Marino by phone — he was back in New York by then — I remarked that the woman was “the future.”
Marino hooted. “She’s the present.”
He’s right. If the scope of the Dior renovation reflects anything, it’s the enormous range of customers from all parts of the world and what they have come to expect in the past decade or so from luxury brands. And what they expect in the way of services and atmosphere is very different from earlier generations of rich socialites and princesses.
“It started with the growth of 300 million Chinese who suddenly had money in their pockets,” Marino said. “The rise of big wealth in China created a very different demand.” They are certainly one factor. I’ve spent 30 years coming in and out of Dior’s couture salons — first when Gianfranco Ferre was the couturier, then John Galliano and later Raf Simons — and the décor hardly changed. To be honest, it was fuddy-duddy. But the same was true at Saint Laurent and, to a lesser extent, Chanel. Couture customers came to those houses for the privilege of being dressed in the best-made clothes in the world. It was a kind of club. And the members didn’t care, at least the clients I knew, that the dressing rooms were a notch above those at Bloomingdale’s even though they were dropping tens of thousands of dollars (and often more) on a single garment.
Well, the new customers want, as Marino recognized, light and air. And considering that virtually all the luxury companies fly in top clients for shows or dispatch their fitters and jewelers to them, Dior’s radical redo makes sense.
It’s worthy for another reason. For years, everyone has complained about the dismal state of brick-and-mortar retailing, the fact that the internet has sucked the air — and fun — out of stores. So-called “concept stores,” like Colette in Paris, were thought to be an answer, but most have come and gone. What they lacked was not just capital, though capital obviously matters when the competitors breathing down your neck are LVMH and Kering, the owner of Gucci and Balenciaga. Just as important is imagination. Call it a big-picture understanding of what moves and excites the wealthy and the aspirants. That’s been missing, too.
As both Marino and Beccari told me, Dior would not have been able to undertake such an ambitious plan — which involved closing down its top-performing store for three years — had it not been tremendously successful over the past decade. As inviting as the new public spaces are, particularly the boutique’s art-filled rotunda entrance and the glassed-in garden that joins the pastry café and the restaurant, the most impressive feature of the whole project, in my opinion, is the Galerie, as the 21,500-square-foot museum wing is called.
Couture houses have long integrated their archives into their present-day storytelling, either indirectly through collections or off-site exhibitions. But until now, no one has attempted to forge a stronger link between the archive — arguably a house’s greatest asset — and the pleasures of the boutique and salon. Even for shoppers who are versed in the history of Christian Dior, the 13 themed rooms of the Galerie — designed with wit and sensitivity by Nathalie Criniere and with space for 130 garments on a rotating basis from the archive, as well documents and films — the experience is extraordinary, immersive. One of the hidden corners of 30 Montaigne that Criniere and archive specialists reclaimed is the original cabine — the room where models dressed (and did their own makeup) for shows when they were still held in the house. It’s tiny, but it tells you how much the world of fashion has changed. Indeed, the world.
“I believe the museum will have a huge effect of discovery,” Beccari said, noting that he asked Marino to create a “secret passage” between the couture salon and the Galerie “to show special clients something that not everybody else can see.” That kind of privilege no doubt matters to some big spenders, but for €13, anyone can buy a ticket to the Galerie and then pop around to the boutique.
“So it really becomes a new situation,” Beccari said. “And you can profit from this storytelling by being physically in the presence of this museum. I think that’s new.”