In The Spirit Of Shalimar
A renovation by Andrée Putman and Maxime d'Angeac brings the Paris home of Guerlain back to its golden years
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
"It was extraordinarily complicated. Almost every screw had to be checked for authenticity and quality."
Andrée Putman is talking about Guerlain's landmark Paris boutique and spa, which her namesake firm just renovated with that of architect Maxime d'Angeac. The zeal of the local heritage authorities, Putman explains, arose from the fact that the whole interior of the Champs-Elysées building is listed. Carrara marble lines the ground-level boutique, which opened in 1914. Above that, a mezzanine had held an office suite for almost 50 years. And the second level's "beauty institute"—often cited as the first modern spa—was designed in the 1930's by Jean-Michel Frank and Adolphe Chanaux. Among other things, it features original sconces by Diego Giacometti and a mural by Christian Bérard.
In his role as interior architect for the 6,500-square-foot project, D'Angeac was handed the challenge of connecting the boutique and the spa, which previously had separate entrances. He did so via a central section of the old mezzanine—now the Guerlain Golden Gallery, where walls, floor, and ceiling shimmer with an incredible 353,212 gold glass mosaic tiles. The curvaceous forms of the space were inspired by both the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain and the female body everywhere. "Something very free," D'Angeac says. It's as if molten bullion has flowed all over the place.
To construct the gallery, workmen first hammered nails into the floor and ceiling in serpentine lines, then wound meandering threads between them. This provided a framework for the plasterers to erect the wavy walls. Once they were in place, a paper template could be made—and tiles applied to it by hand in a workshop off-site. Later, it took three weeks to install the paper-backed golden ribbon.
To prevent so much gold from appearing too flashy, D'Angeac set the space softly aglow with LED fixtures set in reveals at the top and bottom of the undulating walls. "Without that integral light source," he says, "it would have looked like a bathroom in a Middle Eastern palace."
To make the mezzanine an extension of the boutique, D'Angeac added retail space on either side of the gallery. Two rooms overlooking the Champs-Elysées are devoted to Guerlain's perfumes. A third room, in back, is for skin-care and beauty products.
To draw people up from the ground level, D'Angeac deployed a number of architectural tricks. Most important, he realigned the bottom of the staircase, which was perpendicular to the main entry. "It was more an obstacle than an invitation to go up," he says. Permission for the modification was granted only after he discovered archival documents revealing that his "new" plans actually corresponded to the 1914 layout of the boutique.
D'Angeac paid further homage to the past in renovating two of the spa's Frank-designed treatment rooms, with their gold sinks and blue tiles. Regulations also required the preservation of Frank's marble-floored corridor and oak-paneled salon. As for the rest, D'Angeac completely overhauled the 1939 mechanicals, knocked down practically all the walls, and narrowed a side corridor to make space for eight new treatment rooms.
Once the architectural modifications were in place, Putman made her mark. Glass beads, resembling perfume drops, are strung to form curtains as well as the mezzanine's 10-foot-tall chandelier, shaped like an old-fashioned atomizer bulb. Next door, Putman devised an elaborate wall dispenser at which customers can refill bottles with Guerlain's scents: Shalimar, Mitsouko, Jicky, and more. The contraption's 150 feet of clear glass tubes wouldn't look out of place in a science laboratory.
Her interventions elsewhere were more discreet. As she wasn't allowed to touch the marble on the ground level, she chose instead to conceal some of it, cladding sales counters in oak and lining walls with light boxes for promotional images. These are mounted on jackscrews to avoid damaging the marble.
In the second-floor spa, she aimed for a Felliniesque atmosphere. The pedicure area's filmy white sheers hang in front of large, luxurious armchairs upholstered in white faux leather. Treatment rooms are also virtually all-white—except for a gold-mosaic sunburst on one wall.
"Guerlain has a spirit all its own, one of true elegance but unusual modernity," Putman says. "Back in the '30's, it was quite daring to employ Jean-Michel Frank." With Putman and D'Angeac, Guerlain still appears to be breaking the rules.