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Why Jewish actress Hedy Lamarr might be the next big name in luxury shopping

The Lamarr department store honoring the Hollywood legend will open in Vienna in 2025

A luxury department store under construction in Vienna will be named for the Austrian-born Jewish actress and Hollywood goddess Hedy Lamarr.

The Lamarr, a luxury department store named for Jewish actress Hedy Lamarr, is under construction in Vienna. Photo by Daniel Kennedy

Lamarr made 30 films, including  Samson and Delilah. Her career began in Europe with a scandal when she appeared nude and simulated an orgasm in a film called Ecstasy. She went on to become a glamour queen and Hollywood femme fatale promoted by movie mogul Louis B. Mayer as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Later in life, Lamarr was also recognized for inventing a technology that paved the way for Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.

The Lamarr department store will include an interactive museum in a cafe dedicated to Lamarr’s life story and legacy, along with a sculpture of her in a public rooftop park. The museum will host film screenings, performances and workshops in addition to exhibitions about Lamarr’s life and work.

The store is scheduled to open in the spring of 2025.

Her Jewish heritage

Lamarr had a complicated relationship with her Jewish heritage. She was born Hedwig Kiesler to Jewish parents in Vienna, an only child in a bourgeois assimilated family. She converted to Christianity when she married the first of her six husbands in the 1930s; he was a half-Jewish weapons manufacturer. Once she got to Hollywood, like many Jewish stars, she hid her Jewish origins.

At Lamarr’s behest, her mother converted in 1938, the same year the Nazis annexed Austria. That conversion didn’t stop the Nazis from seizing her family’s assets. After the war, Lamarr privately fought for restitution. Yet Lamarr wistfully proclaimed her love for Vienna throughout her life, saying “that is where my heart is.” 

The former director of Vienna’s Jewish Museum, Danielle Spera, is curating the museum component of the store. In a blog post on her website, Spera wrote that the department store is being designed in “the best tradition of the Jewish department stores of the late 19th century such as Rothberger or Zwieback.” Those stores were fixtures among upscale shoppers in Vienna, comparable to Saks or Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

Jewish-owned stores in Austria were seized during the Nazi era, while their owners were arrested or deported, or went into hiding or fled. The Rothbergers, for example, were forced to give their business to a non-Jewish proprietor in 1938, and their eldest son, Johann, was deported to Dachau (though he eventually managed to emigrate to England and then Canada).

Mariahilfer shopping district 

The Lamarr building is located on Mariahilfer Street, a well-known shopping boulevard that runs a mile through Vienna, including a car-free stretch. Typically packed with shoppers and tourists, the street is lined with hundreds of retailers including flagships for major brands, upscale boutiques, cafes and other attractions. 

Lamarr is the fifth luxury department store from the KaDeWe Group; the other four are in Germany, including one in Berlin that’s a popular destination with locals and tourists alike. KaDeWe is a subsidiary of Central Group, an international department store conglomerate

The eight-story building will include a spa, art exhibitions and 200,000 square feet of retail space for brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada. Images of Lamarr and her quotes will be projected onto walls and in elevators. At street level, the construction site exterior features a poster of her in a gown, reclining on a crescent moon, with the quote: “Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. The unknown was always so attractive to me and still is.”

“The Lamarr belongs to Vienna’s residents, and it is set to be the pride of the city. Hedy Lamarr is simply an icon to us,” said Andre Maeder, CEO of KaDeWe Group. 

Lamarr, the inventor

Hedy Lamarr, 1940. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Lamarr ended up a recluse in a shabby Manhattan apartment, famously mocked in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, beset by money troubles and lawsuits. But near the end of her life, she was also honored for having invented a frequency-hopping system to help the U.S. military keep remote-controlled torpedoes from being jammed during World War II. 

The concept was foundational in developing spread spectrum, a technology used in GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Today Lamarr is recognized as both a legendary actress and a groundbreaking scientist, with her birthday marked as a “day of invention” in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Vienna offers a Hedy Lamarr Prize for women in tech, and she was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a U.S. nonprofit that recognizes engineers and inventors who hold significant tech patents.

Ellen van Loon, who’s heading the project for the O.M.A. architecture firm, said the store will express the “different facets of Hedy Lamarr’s life as well as her personality: Hollywood, Vienna, and her technical inventiveness. Her impact to this day is to act as a link between these three worlds.” 

Editor’s note: The opening date for the store has been corrected to spring 2025 and the spelling of the KaDeWe CEO’s last name has been corrected to Maeder.

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