“The Arcades are the first complete manifestation of the move towards luxury shopping on the avenue”: Léonard Rosenthal thus hailed the enterprise he undertook in 1925, launching the building of a covered arcade on the Champs-Élysées intended to be the most sumptuous expression of Parisian luxury.
Devambez was the natural choice to tell the story of this scintillating place, whose gargantuan proportions were the result of a prophetic intuition, on pages with large illustrations and Art Deco watercolours by Lauro, Orazi and Serres.
A pearl merchant with a highly eventful life and a tireless traveller with a talent for international commerce, Rosenthal founded the Société des grands immeubles in 1920 in order to renovate and develop residential and commercial buildings on the Champs-Élysées, where, since the beginning of the century, glittering stores such as Guerlain and Louis Vuitton had made their appearance. In 1924 he bought the “sumptuous and ridiculous” town house belonging to Georges Dufayel, founder of the Dufayel department store.
The following year, he commissioned the architect Charles Lefebvre to design “the luxurious oasis […] necessary for elegant trade to initiate the commercial boom on the Champs-Elysées that is inscribed in its destiny”. The multi-talented Rosenthal devoted books to his passion for pearls and commercial architecture, and surrounded himself with educated men. His grand-niece tells us that at the peak of his success “he mixed in the highest Parisian circles, was on first name terms with the scientist Jean Perrin, had Paul Painlevé as a house guest, and engaged in some heated conversations with Anatole France”.
The arcade that was Rosenthal’s brainchild opened the following year: it was a riot of neo-classical decoration, lighting and flower arrangements. Large red marble columns with gilded capitals supported a high glazed ceiling, and Lalique glass fountains “gurgled among Arabian-style flowerbeds tracing swirling arabesques across the floor”. In the centre of the arcade, which housed several hundred apartments and shops, there was a café with its own bandstand.
Three years later, the Lido, installed in the basement, offered visitors a heated swimming pool, a dance hall, a beauty parlour, a haridressing salon, a bar, 125 changing rooms, and a hammam. The Lido became the outstanding setting for memorable Venetian-style parties attracting the cream of Parisian gilded youth.
Léonard Rosenthal, Alfred Détrez, Une merveille du Paris moderne : Les Arcades des Champs-Élysées, Paris, Devambez, 1927