Within minutes of my meeting Guillaume Houzé, whose family owns the giant French department store Galeries Lafayette, he is talking about his great-great-grandfather, Théophile Bader.

In 1894, Bader started a small shop selling novelties. Such was its success that, just 15 years later, Bader had bought the surrounding buildings and asked the architect Georges Chedanne to design a vast new store, with the soaring glass dome and Art Nouveau staircases we see today in the boulevard Haussmann. Today, Galeries Lafayettes is Europe’s biggest department store chain.

Huge glass dome with mostly white glass and stripes of coloured
Art nouveau stained-glass dome by Jacques Gruber . . . 
Exterior view of large department store
 . . . in Galeries Lafayette © Edouard Jacquinet (2)

“Culture and creation have always been at the heart of our business: Louis Majorelle designing the ironwork, René Lalique the bow windows — the Galeries have held exhibitions of Giacometti and De Staël over the years,” says Houzé, a businessman, investor, philanthropist and collector.

I am talking to him in his seventh-floor office, atop the buzzing hive of the galleries, which offer everything from brand-name fashion to gourmet chocolate. Houzé himself is tall, fit (he is a marathon runner), fast-talking but welcoming. He is director of communications and brand image in the group, which comprises other stores and entirely belongs to his family, And he wears a number of hats — notably as president of the Andam (National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts) and board member of Christie’s France and the Municipal Museum of Modern Art.

Black and white photo of men in suits looking at paintings
In 1946, visitors to the Salon de Mai at Galeries Lafayette saw Nicolas de Staël and Giacometti © Courtesy Galeries Lafayette

Running stores is in the family’s DNA, enormously discussed at home, and Houzé admits that at weekends his parents tended to take him to shops rather than museums. A huge influence was, however, his grandmother, Ginette Moulin, today the majority shareholder in the company. “She and my grandfather loved art, and collected the art of their time: André Lanskoy or Serge Poliakoff, Hans Hartung, Jean-Michel Atlan,” he says.

But Houzé set off on a different route. He had starting collecting in his mid-teens with a work by Erró, and continued with the French sculptor Tatiana Trouvé (“she’s become a great friend”), Wade Guyton (“also a friend”), Xinyi Cheng and Petrit Halilaj. “It’s a very eclectic collection, but I do have a penchant for works about the body, as well as conceptual art,” he says. “I live surrounded by art — so much that some of it is in storage. And I certainly have been helped by dealers such as Michel Rein, Frank Elbaz or Esther Schipper.”

Oil painting of a woman with blond hair in a dark fur coat smoking
‘The Smoker’ (2021) by Xinyi Cheng © Courtesy the artist/Guillaume Houzé. Photo: Aurelien Mole
A long mirrored stainless steel letter U sculpture
‘U Sculpture (v9)’ (2011) by Wade Guyton © Wade Guyton. Courtesy the artist/Galerie Chantal Crousel

But his most significant engagement with art was the creation of Lafayette Anticipations, the company’s private museum in the heart of the Marais. While it does have its own 380-strong collection through a separate foundation, it mainly functions as a place where artists can create new works. Quite unlike any other museum, the 19th-century building was transformed from a former prep school to a cultural centre by Rem Koolhaas. Its central courtyard boasts a steel-and-glass exhibition tower with moveable platforms, so it can be configured in manifold ways.

“My ambition was to push the potential of the building, to give a sort of ‘toolbox’ to artists, where they could create, produce and eventually exhibit,” says Houzé, explaining that he wanted to do something different from the classic museum. “Paris has tons of them already!”

A large sculpture of a man slaying a dragon is hung in an atrium
‘Humpty \ Dumpty’ (2022) by Cyprien Gaillard and . . . © Timo Ohler
A lime-green sculpture like a bowling in stands in a gallery
 . . . and Pol Taburet’s exhibition ‘Opera III: Zoo’ were both at Lafayette Anticipations © Pierre Antoine

He immediately acknowledges the debt he owes to Koolhaas for creating the space: “He very much guided me. I first proposed the idea in 2011, I was just 30, but he immediately understood what sort of project I wanted.” Anticipations opened in 2018 and has an annual budget of €6.5mn. In the past it has shown Simon Fujiwara, Cyprien Gaillard and Pol Taburet, as well as holding concerts, workshops and music festivals. The next show, of the British painter Issy Wood, opens on October 18.

“My grandparents always felt that department stores must develop along with culture; art and artists have been at the heart of our business since the beginning,” says Houzé. “With Anticipations, we are continuing that tradition, and going further with our philanthropy.”


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