Kering and Balenciaga move into new headquarters in Paris

Kering Group and Balenciaga moved this week into their new headquarters – the old Laennec hospital, a beautifully restored complex of 17th-century stone buildings arranged in cross formations.

From 1634, 40, rue de Sèvres was dedicated to caring for the poor of Paris. Known as the hospital ‘for Incurables’, it was renamed Laennec Hospital in 1878 – a name it retained until the year 2000. The building’s architecture, while in keeping with the style of many of the great Parisian hospitals such as the Invalides and the Salpêtrière, stands out for its austerity.

The renovation project, directed by Benjamin Mouton, chief architect for historic monuments, involved rediscovering and highlighting the buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, while fully respecting the integrity of its classified and listed spaces, such as the Chapel built under Louis XIII.

Visitors now alight on a luminous reception area with a birdcage-capped stairwell, a glass cube sheltering a full-size hornbeam tree and walls of verdant plants, signaling the group’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

In an interview, Kering chairman and chief executive Francois-Henri Pinault characterized the latter showcase as a preview of a forthcoming private art museum in Paris.

His father, François Pinault, is to showcase part of his vast art collection at the Bourse de Commerce de Paris, a listed 18th-century building in the center or Paris. Works are to start in early 2017 and the museum’s opening is slated for end of 2018.

According to Pinault, the move to Laennec caps his transformation of the family firm, previously known as PPR and known primarily for its furniture, electronics and department store chains, into a global player in luxury and sports lifestyle. Its new name, introduced three years ago with an owl as the logo, also symbolizes a commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Resembling a quaint French village or an abbey, the Laennec complex spans about 185,000 square feet of space, including the new headquarters of Balenciaga. Previously, functions were spread across multiple addresses on the Left Bank of Paris.

Kering is participating in European Heritage Days this weekend, when an array of landmarks and historically significant buildings open their doors for visits. Members of the public can gawk at the soaring workspaces along with Christ-themed sculptures by Abdel Abdessemed and Maurizio Catalan.

“It was a bold enough gamble, and I think that today we are lucky to have a place that is a source of inspiration for the teams, enabling them to work better together,” Pinault said, describing an “incredible opportunity to have a workplace that reflects who we are as a luxury group and our values.”

Pinault drew a parallel between the choice of the headquarters and some of its daring design appointments: hidden talent Alessandro Michele for Gucci; streetwear hero Gvasalia for Balenciaga; and women’s wear buyer Justin O’Shea, who has no design experience, for Brioni.

“Laennec represents for me the image of a different luxury,” he said. “I think it’s a beautiful mission for a luxury group like ours to preserve, embellish and pass on a heritage like this and it has to be shared with everybody.” That includes very high environment standards in the renovation of the historic buildings.

Pinault described Kering’s former home on Avenue Hoche as purely functional: “It was an office for work, that was it.” By contrast, Laennec is a “place that gives you inspiration, too. You look out the window, and you see greenery in the middle of Paris. Creativity in a luxury group, and in luxury as we want it at Kering, should be everywhere, including at the head office.”

With the occasion of the opening, an exhibition including a selection of haute couture dresses by Cristóbal Balenciaga will be presented in the new Balenciaga areas.  Twenty-seven original designs by the master from the House archives and representative of his two creative periods (the Spanish period from 1930 to 1937, and the Parisian period from 1937 to 1968), will be on display in the Croix Est

Kering has a long-term lease for Laennec, and Pinault noted Yves Saint Laurent, now under the creative leadership of Anthony Vaccarello, would move to Rue de Bellechasse on the Left Bank in 2018. “It’s also a place that speaks for the house,” he said.