Often described as “the most beautiful avenue in the world,” the Champs-Élysées is finally undergoing a long-overdue makeover, with luxury watch brands that dot the boulevard helping to lead the way.
Though it’s been a popular destination for strolling since its renovation by Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the mid-19th-century, the Champs enjoyed an especially glamorous heyday during the golden era of cinema, in the ’60s and early ’70s, when the boulevard cameoed in “À Bout de Souffle” (“Breathless”) and “Charade,” among others.
Recent decades have painted another story. Since its previous overhaul, in 1992, the avenue’s retail scene has become more synonymous with fast fashion and sports brands like Foot Locker, Adidas and Nike than it has with luxury brands. A rare exception is Guerlain, which has occupied 68, avenue des Champs-Élysées, since 1914. Though Apple, Louis Vuitton, Pierre Hermé and Galeries Lafayette have opened outposts along the avenue, luxury’s overall presence has remained scattershot.
Some results of the new makeover are already apparent today — and more will be visible once the Olympic Games begin in July — although the final result is likely still years off.
Several brands owned by the Swiss luxury group Richemont have stores making changes along the avenue. In November, for example, Panerai unveiled its newest Casa, as it calls its flagships. The mid-19th-century building at No. 120, on the sunnier north side of the street, is a two-level, 200-square-meter (about 2,155-square-foot) space that blends traditional Parisian detailing such as parquet flooring and molded ceilings with airy displays and nautical décor. Upstairs, an Italian-style espresso bar marks the edge of the V.I.P. area. On the other side of the bar, a “museum” space overlooking the avenue displays vintage pieces from the house’s archives in Florence, Italy.
To celebrate the opening, the brand presented an exclusive special edition watch, with a forest green dial and a platinum alloy case, from the Radiomir Annual Calendar collection. The timepiece, priced at 59,000 euros ($64,552), sold out by Christmas.
In mid-May, the Richemont-owned IWC Schaffhausen plans to open a new 250-square-meter flagship at No. 73, just weeks after the planned opening of a new store on Madison Avenue in New York. Both locations will benefit from updated design and dedicated spaces for hosting events such as watchmaking classes.
These openings follow the renovation of Montblanc at No. 152, which was redone in 2022, then reopened as Suite 4810, a “lifestyle” space inspired by luxury hotels. The store displays writing instruments, watches and leather goods on the ground floor while, upstairs, a private salon is reserved for rare editions, previews of unique pieces and “immersive” client experiences, such as workshops on calligraphy and personalization of leather goods, and one-on-ones with brand ambassadors or with the house’s artistic director Marco Tomasetta. Cartier, a fellow Richemont brand, sits just across Rue Arsène Houssaye.
“Luxury is making a comeback, but more than that, it’s the end of a cycle,” said Marc-Antoine Jamet, president of the Comité Champs-Élysées. “There’s a lot of modernization, reconstruction, a low vacancy rate, plus a cultural program that is very complementary to luxury.”
Founded in 1916, the Comité Champs-Élysées has 180 member businesses and is responsible for overseeing the development and promotion of the avenue and the neighborhood around it, regularly producing or hosting events such as the Bastille Day parade, the final leg of the Tour de France and the annual holiday illumination. This year, the group will also supervise the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, which will be held on Aug. 28 at the Place de la Concorde.
Mr. Jamet has led the Comité Champs-Élysées since 2021; he is also the general secretary and real estate director at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury group.
Mr. Jamet attributed the avenue’s comeback, at least in part, to a decision by the mairie of the Eighth Arrondissement, the district’s city hall, to spend €30 million on cosmetic improvements on the Champs and in its immediate neighborhood before the Games. Those initiatives include harmonizing restaurants’ outdoor dining areas with modular furniture by the Belgian designer Ramy Fischler, repairing sidewalks, curtailing traffic and sprucing up the parks at the lower end of the avenue.
But hard luxury, the industry category that includes watches and jewelry, is hardly alone on the avenue, which stretches 1.88 kilometers (1.17 miles) from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.
On Dec. 9, the Kering-owned brand Saint Laurent opened a new, four-level flagship, the largest in the world, at No. 123.
That same week, LVMH announced it had acquired the building that spans Nos. 144-150, a full city block that is expected to house all things Dior, with stores on the street level and offices upstairs. That followed the group’s acquisition of the Art Deco building at No. 101 (currently home of the Louis Vuitton flagship) last summer. LVMH is also completing the renovation of No. 103 into the first Louis Vuitton hotel and the brand’s largest store in the world, scheduled to open in 2026.
Thinking longer term, in 2021 the Comité Champs-Élysées commissioned a privately funded, €5 million study, that is now nearly completed. The aim behind the study, called “Re-enchanter les Champs-Élysées” (“Re-Enchanting the Champs-Élysées”) was to determine the “ecological, digital, geopolitical, and technological transitions” that could enhance the avenue’s appeal. If all the works proposed in the study are completed, Mr. Jamet estimated that the global value of the Champs-Élysées — currently €18 billion, according to an analysis reported by the Comité last year — could increase significantly.
The avenue already tends to draw a more diverse clientele than do the French capital’s other major shopping streets such as Rue St.-Honoré, Place Vendôme, St.-Germain-des-Prés or Avenue Montaigne, where Dior, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Chanel all have large stores. “Shoppers go to those streets because they intend to buy something,” Mr. Jamet said.
“Here,” he said of the Champs-Élysées, “you have a wonderfully complementary activity driven by passers-by who decide to purchase in the moment.” Most are younger and less affluent than customers of the upscale areas, and many are tourists from Brazil, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China and other parts of East Asia. But there are lots of them: the city’s office of tourism reports that nearly 300,000 people visit the avenue each day.
“For luxury, youth plus diversity and passers-by is a winning formula,” Mr. Jamet said.
Yet the Comité is also determined to lure Parisians themselves back to the avenue through cultural programming, street entertainment, more green spaces, affordable restaurants and an increased sense of security.
“The Champs-Élysées is a supplementary segment that French luxury brands have only just rediscovered,” he said. “But it’s also not just about luxury. It’s about creating a renaissance and finding the right mix so that people come back for pleasure’s sake.”