The macaron will never be just another pastry, if Ladurée has anything to do with it. As the iconic bakery and tearoom founded in 1862 opens new locations across the globe, it wants to remain firmly French.
"When you walk in, you feel like you're in Paris," owner David Holder told DailyFinance outside of his first American boutique, which opened Tuesday on New York City's Upper East Side. Holder is a fourth-generation baker and pastry chef, albeit one whose elegant suit jacket is undusted by flour and whose family business now spans three continents.
Inside the store at 864 Madison Ave., mint-green walls are bedecked with paintings of pale, ruffly young ladies. "We brought these in from my grandmother's house in France," Holder says with pride.
In Paris, where the long lines at the three Ladurées rival those at many of the city's museums, stores are decked out in in Belle-époque finery. Pastels and silver spirals recall an age when France was the center of world civilization and wealthy industrialists sat in tearooms chatting about operas and colonial uprisings. Today, nouveau riche tourists from all over the world -- Japan, the U.S., Saudi Arabia -- relive the dream, eager to bring a piece of the chic home with them.
Perhaps these same tourists will now make stops in the New York location. Though the city has several macaron shops, none rival Ladurée's fame or history. The company claims to have invented the dessert as we know it around a half-century ago, when a descendant of founder Louis Ladurée began adding cream filling to meringues.
What Is a Macaron?
If you haven't heard of the macaron, it's a filled cookie about the diameter of a half dollar coin that has become veritable foodie currency in the past few years. There are several reasons for the hype: It is simple to make (egg whites, flour, almond paste and a perfume of your choice), but near impossible to get right (crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and feather light) and extremely lovely. Ladurée is one of the best at arranging the pastel colored orbs. In the New York store, pastel towers of macarons fill the windows and dozens of ribbons sit behind the counter, waiting to be popped into mint-green boxes.
When it comes to this confection, taste isn't what matters most. Though Ladurée has mastered macaron fabrication, what really makes it iconic is its image. "It's about the dream that comes with the product," Holder says. Back in 2005, when the first international Ladurée opened in London, Holder compared the macaron to a "fashion collection," telling British newspaper The Independent that "customers ... come to be part of the [French] lifestyle."
As for whether Americans will be willing to pay $2.70 a macaron for this lifestyle, the New York location is a test. "It's a risky opening, but we have big expectations," Holder says. After Madison Avenue, the plan is to scout locations for a tearoom and bar in the Meatpacking District. Eventually, the company will look at other coastal cities like Beverly Hills and San Francisco.
Cupcake and apple-pie lovers aside, will jet-setting Americans still crave Ladurée if its macarons can be found in less glamorous locations? After the Japanese, American tourists are the currently the Paris Ladurée's best customers, though this could change if the brand over-franchises.
Holder says that his company stays on top by refusing to change. In addition to modeling all boutiques on the original Parisian location, all of the pastries in New York will be imported from the macaron "laboratory" in France. Holder's sister, Elisabeth Holder, has also moved to New York to oversee the boutique.
Unlike other French luxury brands that have transformed their images and products for clients in foreign markets -- Louis Vuitton being a prime example -- Ladurée wants to remain traditional. In this sense, macarons are much different than fashion collections.
"The macaron is a grand classique of the pastry arts," Holder says. "It's not an accessory. It's an experience of pleasure."
Not to say that the company shuns fashion-world hype. On Sept. 8, it will a launch a new, New York-inspired flavor, cinnamon raisin, in honor of Fashion's Night Out. Let them line up.