Entering the Galeries Lafayette store by the Porte Joubert entrance is like taking a step back in time to 1975. Around this time, my brother, sister and I were often taken to the local Heelas department store in Reading by our Mum, and to me it was like a giant adventure playground. In those days, most High Street shops were fairly austere affairs, staffed by elderly men in suits or women with bouffant hairdos, and woebetide any child who stepped out of line! Heelas was different though as it was larger than almost any other building I'd ever been in. It had polished wooden staircases, a restaurant, a hair salon, and a seemingly never ending series of departments running into each other. In one there would be banks of televisions and radios, in another piles of brightly coloured carpets and rugs, whilst yet another had glistening shelves of china dishes and plates where my Mum would close her eyes and pray whilst we ran around in excitement. In fact, it was the avowed dream of the three of us to be forgotten by our Mum and shut inside the shop FOR A WHOLE NIGHT!
Each time I enter the Galeries Lafayette through this door, a little tingle of that excitement comes back. It is surprising that in the largest shop in Paris, and one which prides itself on being at the forefront of fashion, such a forgotten corner exists. The store still proudly displays much of its Art Nouveau heritage, but this is no deliberate display of splendour. Instead, it is perhaps the only part of the store which has not merited an upgrade since the 1970s.
The trip back to 1975 begins with gently sweeping staircase, which leads up to a clock and watch repair unit (charmingly called ‘La Marche du Temps’), a bank of plastic chairs and a row of public telephones. Another 20 metres through the toileteries and wig showroom takes you into the main shop and disappointly back to 2008. As you become absorbed into the flow of tourists through the Chanel, Cartier and Luis Vuiton units, the magic slips away and you become the adult consumer again, not the wonderstruck child.
The Heelas store in Reading still exists, although today it has taken on the uniform rebranding of the John Lewis group. It is twice as big as the store I knew, but only seems to be half the size of the shop in my memory. Little of that place remains, perhaps only the wooden staircases, but I'd still love to spend a night there!