The Time of the boutiques
From booth to eBay
Véronique Moerman + Christine de Schaetzen, April 6, 2009
Window Shopping at I. Miller-Circa, 1930_Irving Browning_The New York Historical Society
Window Shopping at I. Miller-Circa, 1930_Irving Browning_The New York Historical Society
Among the hundreds of designers the visitor will come across in the exphibition will be the Belgians Bontridder, Bourgeois, Braem, De Koninck, Hamesse, Hankar, Van Nueten; the French Guimard, Gorska and Montaut, Jourdain, Laprade, Mallet-Stevens; the Americans Neutra, Wright, etc. Equal time and space will be given to the discussion of the shop window in painting and photography (Edward Hopper, Eugène Atget, Man Ray), literature (André Breton), popular music, popular film, and including a section on vitrines de l’étrange (such as the inimitable Parisian vitrine aux rats).

The contemporary period is represented notably by the creations of big name designers, such as Christian Biecher, Moatti & Rivière, Andrée Putman, Ron Arad, Thomas Heatherwick, Olivier Lempereur, Lhoas & Lhoas and Christophe Coppens, and other famous conceptors who worked for Fauchon, the Pierre Hermé chocolates, Longchamp, Givenchy, Eataly, etc. The exhibition ends on a poetic note of the virtual shop window : eBay.

Rodeo Drive_store window-Ed Large
Rodeo Drive_store window-Ed Large
From the First Empire to Art Nouveau (1800-1900)

Before the vitrine, there was only the stall open to the elements. The modern shop window took off with the transformations of the European capitals at the beginning of the 19th century. In Paris, the Revolution deprived architects of the patronage of the state as well as much of their former rich clientele, and so they focused their interest on boutiques, which became the arbiters of taste for the time. Windows were highly stylized and their aesthetic borrowed from classical Italy, ancient Greece, the Egypt of the Pharaohs, while traditional signs in wrought iron began to disappear. Throughout Europe, Haussmann’s great urban works, the creation of the avenues and the grands boulevards, impacted new legislation for the use and occupation of sidewalks, leading to a boom for vitrines, to the point that by 1842, the architect César Daly was looking into ways to transform any ground floor into a store by installing metal beams and cast iron columns.

Robert Simpson_Limited_Store_Window_Montreal_1936.
Robert Simpson_Limited_Store_Window_Montreal_1936.
With covered passageways reserved for flâneurs, the shop window became an important factor in the cohesion of a city’s identity in terms of style and décor. Walter Benjamin and André Breton dedicated page upon page to the topic, writing still celebrated to this day. The department stores which supplanted these arcades and passageways exploited the developments in mass production of iron and glass, allowing the maximum glazing possible on a façade so that shoppers could judge for themselves all the merchandise by the light of day. Following this, Art Nouveau, whether coup de fouet or geometric, endowed the shop window with an important architectural stake, and the greatest artists applied themselves to such designs, creating masterpieces such as the stores of van de Velde (Havana tobacco merchant; the hairdresser Haby in Berlin), or the prolific works of Paul Hankar, whose most famous work sits on the rue Royale in Brussels (the vitrine of which is now landmarked), and the works of other well known architects: Guimard, Mackintosh, Sauvage, Loos… These called for wood, for beveled glass, panes engraved, enamelled or printed, and stylized wrought iron. At this time, boutique windows became more closely identified with brand names. For example, les Bouillons Chartier in Paris or in Belgium the stores for Delhaize le Lion were developed by the Charleroi architect Marcel Depelsenaire.

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