The Story Behind Ladurée and Its Famous Macarons

The iconic brand is celebrating its 160th birthday in 2022.

Ladurée macarons

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Victoria Granof / Prop Styling by Karin Olsen

Say the word “macaron” and chances are your mind will go instantly to Ladurée, the French maison that sells sandwich cookies in every color of the rainbow. Although macarons can be found everywhere from high-end bakeries to local grocery stores, Ladurée’s version has become a food icon. The brand has become synonymous with contemporary high fashion, in part because of the appearance of their macarons in television shows like Gossip Girl and movies like Marie Antoinette. (In fact, in a 2006 Entertainment Weekly story, Kirsten Dunst said, “Sofia [Coppola] and I kick ourselves; we should have invested in Ladurée after Marie Antoinette…We made macarons hot again.”) But the company itself wasn’t born in the contemporary world; it’s been around for 160 years. 

There’s a reason why, whether in London or Los Angeles, when you walk into one of Ladurée’s old-style French tea rooms–with their mint green accents and black and white checkerboard floors–you feel transported to 19th century Paris. Ladurée got its start in 1862, when Louis Ernest Ladurée, a French miller, opened a bakery in Paris that eventually turned into a pastry shop, then a café for high society, then one of the first tea rooms in the city. In 1930, Pierre Desfontaines, Ladurée’s second cousin, expanded the tea room and introduced the macaron we know today, in which two crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside meringue-and-almond-flour shells are held together with ganache or jam. While the macaron shell has roots elsewhere in France (and perhaps Italy by way of Arabia, where many almond-based pastries originated), Ladurée is credited with popularizing the sandwich version of the cookie.

Ladurée macarons

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Victoria Granof / Prop Styling by Karin Olsen

In the mid-1990s, the French pastry chef Pierre Hermé was running the kitchen at Ladurée, and created spin-offs of the traditional almond macaron with flavors like pistachio, rose, and salted caramel. Hermé now has his own macaron empire, which has become a rival to Ladurée itself, yet Ladurée is still known for its elevated sandwich cookies.

“We are the brand of the macaron,” says Elisabeth Holder, CEO of Ladurée US. When Holder’s family’s company, the Holder Group, bought Ladurée in 1993, they set out to globalize the brand, opening the first US outpost in New York City in 2011. Since then, the company has expanded to 104 locations around the world (including 14 in the US), everywhere from Cannes to Kuwait.

With the launch of a vegan macaron in 2020, Ladurée has also expanded their clientele. They’ve transformed the macaron into ice cream, cocktails, and wedding cakes, and created more than 200 fun flavors, from trusted classics like chocolate to quirky innovations like bubble gum. These pretty pops of color make for the perfect holiday gift, too, and since Ladurée ships nationwide, you can easily gift a box of the storied sweets to loved ones.

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