Théophile Bader was born to Jewish merchants Cerf Bader and Adèle Hirstel. His family were vineyard owners and sold livestock. The family name, "Bader," resulted from 1808 napoleonic decree from which required Jews to choose a fixed surname for themselves and their children. One of his ancestors, Jacques Lévy, chose Bader. It is possible that he borrowed the name from a non-Jewish friend. After the 1870 defeat and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia, the Baders, very attached to France, moved to Belfort where Théophile continued his studies. At the age of 14 years his parents sent him to Paris to work in clothing manufacturing
In 1894, Théophile Bader and his cousin Alphonse Kahn opened a 70 square meter haberdashery called Les Galeries.
On December 21, 1895, they acquired an entire building at 1 Rue La Fayette. They incorporated the Galeries Lafayette on September 1, 1899. During this period, the Galeries had their own studios where they manufactured clothing. These studios remained open until Ready-to-wear fashion entered the market in the 1960s.
In 1909, Ernest Werheimer and Émile Orosdi, future Chanel No. 5 partners, granted a loan of 800,000 francs to Galeries Lafayatte to buy a neighbouring building. In 1912, Alphonse Kahn retired from managing operations but continued to share the role of Chairman of the Board with his cousin.
Théophile Bader put in place a relief fund, a nursery, and a pension fund before the imposition of statutory funds.
From 1916 to 1926, the Galeries Lafayette expanded to locations including Nice, Lyon, Nantes, and Montpellier. During the 1920s, Théophile Bader attempted to expand into other countries but with limited success. He invested personally in multiple businesses, notably D'Orsay (in 1916) and Vionnet. He became one of the firsts to sell ready-to-wear fashions in his large store, copying the haute couture models.
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