Art nouveau design is one of the principal markers of the identity of the French city of Nancy, which became internationally renowned as one of the most important centres for the development of this artistic style around 1900. Like other strands of the style, especially in Spain, Germany and parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire, art nouveau in eastern France has been linked to long-standing regionalist sentiments that resisted centralised Parisian control over local affairs typical in nineteenth-century France. This article examines the evolving bank architecture in central Nancy, a major facet of the introduction of art nouveau in its urban environment, to show that the construction of the city's modern character was a negotiated process that involved careful planning among financial institutions, architects and decorative artists. The design and erection of modern banks in Nancy in the first decade of the twentieth century balanced generalised architectural principles emanating from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris with the employment of highly symbolic regional naturalist motifs and architectural elements. This strategy fulfilled a variety of communicative functions to appeal to a civic populace whose identity was multivalent and shifting with the era's political climate, particularly with regard to the nearby ‘lost provinces’ of Alsace-Lorraine in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war.