The new Cheval Blanc Paris is a luxury hotel created specifically for the lifestyle of the 21st century. The 72-room property opened last September and is owned by the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, LVMH. (Cheval Blanc also has resorts in Courchevel in the French Alps, St. Tropez, St. Barths and the Maldives.) The Paris hotel occupies an art deco structure, designed in 1926 by pioneering architect Henri Sauvage, which is the most distinctive of four Seine-side buildings that formerly contained La Samaritaine department store, once the Macy’s of Paris.
When Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s chairman and chief executive (and now the world’s third-richest person) originally acquired a 55 percent stake in the store in 2001, he doubtless did so for the same reason that Ernest Cognacq, La Samaritaine’s founder, chose the location in the 1860s — it is truly at the heart of Paris, in the 1st arrondissement, next to the Louvre and directly across from the Pont Neuf and the western tip of the Île de la Cité. Arnault bought the rest of the property in 2010, but then had to contend with a tangle of zoning and labor-law issues before he could finally begin the huge project of creating a hotel, renovating the other buildings and reopening the legendary store.
The complex, which took 16 years and nearly 900 million euros to complete, has become the ultimate showcase for the entire starry universe of LVMH brand names. These go far beyond the namesake leather-goods manufacturer Louis Vuitton and Cognac producer Moët Hennessy, and include Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, Loro Piana, Celine and several dozen other fashion labels; Ruinart, Moët & Chandon and Dom Pérignon, among a raft of winemakers and spirits producers; Guerlain and other perfume and cosmetics makers; and Belmond hotels.