Ernest Cognacq (born 2 October 1839, Saint-Martin-de-Ré, died 21 February 1928, Paris), lost his father at the age of twelve. He worked in shops in the west of France before heading for Paris in 1855. There he was taken on in one of the early department stores. At a store called À la Nouvelle Héloïse, he met Marie-Louise Jay (born 1 July 1838 at Samoëns in the French Alps, died 27 December 1925, Paris). They married in 1872, two years after opening a little store which they called La Samaritaine. Their partnership flourished and the enterprising couple, who were both hard workers and unrivalled negotiators, were among the wealthiest people in France by the 1900s. 'Père Laborem' was Cognacq's nickname among the employees at La Samaritaine, a reference to the department store's motto, Per Laborem.