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December 22, 2012

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Printemps at Christmas

by soundlandscapes

FOLLOWING ON THE HEELS of Aristide Boucicault’s hugely successful Au Bon Marché, which opened in 1852, Jules Jaluzot and Jean-Alfred Duclos, opened their department store, Printemps, at the corner of Rue du Havre and Boulevard Haussmann in 1865. The store was designed by Jules and Paul Sédille.

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The building was expanded in 1874, and elevators (then a great novelty) from the 1867 Universal Exposition were installed. Rebuilt after a fire in 1881, the store became the first to use electric lighting and it was one of the first department stores with direct access to the Métro to which it was connected in 1904.

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Like all the big departments stores in Paris, Printemps decorates its windows at Christmas and large crowds gather to try to get a glimpse of the displays. This year, the fashion house, Dior, has taken over the Printemps windows.

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Seventy-four hand-made poupettes dressed in Dior haute couture crafted in the Dior atelier in the Avenue Montaigne are to be seen  – if you can get close enough!

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The cacophony of sound outside the Printemps windows:

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By 1900, Printemps was in trouble. Gustave Laguionie replaced Jules Jaluzot as owner  after the business came close to collapse. In the early 20th century, the building was extended along the Boulevard Haussmann by architect René Binet in an art nouveau style.

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In 2010, the Canadian architectural firm, Yabu Pushelberg, completed a redesign of the interior of Printemps.  The award-winning designers, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg say that, “The Printemps’ retail space is conceived as a series of ‘rooms’, like a large mansion, each with its own unique and identifiable character, to create an exclusive residential ambience in order to avoid commercial stereotypes and promote a relaxing atmosphere.”

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Yabu and Pushelberg have done a good job. Their design is trés chic as befits a flagship store – but sound design is clearly not their strong point! I can’t help wondering why they went to so much trouble to perfect the interior design and then infested the entire ambience with mind numbing ‘musac’, not quite loud enough to be annoying but certainly loud enough to be irritating. It seems to add nothing except to raise the ambient sound level for no obvious reason.

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Sounds inside Printemps:

Across the street from Printemps I found the Armée du Salut, the Salvation Army, in festive mood.

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Armée du Salut:

Not perhaps the best Salvation Army band I’ve heard, but full marks for effort and enthusiasm on a cold winter’s day.

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Looking back at Printemps from across the street I was reminded that on 16th December 2008, the store was evacuated following a bomb threat from the FRA (Afghan Revolutionary Front). The bomb disposal services found five sticks of dynamite in a toilet in the store. The FRA claimed responsibility and demanded the withdrawal of 3,000 French soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.

I remember this incident very well and perhaps it’s a reminder that there are more important things in the world than glitz, glamour and bad sound design!

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