The Time of the boutiques
From booth to eBay
Véronique Moerman + Christine de Schaetzen, April 6, 2009
Dessin design_Vitrine à Lyon.
Dessin design_Vitrine à Lyon.
Between the wars, the vitrine as vehicle of modernism

The interwar period was one of radical renewal for shop windows, which began to be treated as graphic compositions in and of themselves, relying on polished steel or chrome or aluminium highlights and giving special attention to lettering. New stores benefited from lighting innovations (neon lighting succeeded the standard bulbs and the indirect light favored by stagecraft). Projects were now designed with both day and night in mind. The window display began to appeal more and more to specialists and artists. Important architects and artists were put in charge of making a name for brands on display, such as Rob Mallet Stevens for Bally, Pierre Patout for les Vins Nicolas… Beautiful albums of coloured illustrations showing the best and most innovative vitrines were regularly published. Between 1920 and 1940, window displays became aligned with the architectural movements of the era: Art Deco, modernism, then the period known as the return to order which saw a reappearance of classical forms.

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks (Oiseaux de nuit ), 1942_The Art of institute of Chicago
Edward Hopper, Nighthawks (Oiseaux de nuit ), 1942_The Art of institute of Chicago
The Fifties to today

The postwar years saw a renewal of interest in window displays, and designers attacked the issue of la vue totale and struggled against problems with reflection by positioning glass panes obliquely or by working with artificial lighting, they introduced pastel colours, thread-like metal balustrades, synthetic materials… References to particular styles were now abandoned in favor of functional effectiveness. Soon showroom windows, a concept imported from the United States, came to occupy the entire available surface of a façade, dissolving the psychological barrier between exterior and interior. Here again, progress in the manufacture and the installation of glass allowed the elimination of the frame from window panes and doorways.

Finger in the nose store
Finger in the nose store
Thus, the progressive evolution of commerce, the competition between brands, the development of chains and franchise retailers, globalization even, makes the store window essential to all economic and advertising endeavors. Ever more international, brands have to be perceived in a positive light everywhere in the world at once, bringing forth the domination of the “concept window”, an implicit mélange of market research, target audience, publicity, sociology, taste, design, and architecture. On the street or in the shopping arcades of commercial centres, brands must be immediately recognizable. Today, the media and the public in general are more infatuated than ever with architecture, and big names in design are invited to create spaces where the shop window and shop interior merge into a single work of art, so that the presentation of merchandise fades to a secondary importance, and the brand itself is elevated to the status of modern icon. Since shop windows continue to be the basic element in all urban hustle and bustle and continue to inspire designers, we can find them duplicated on a smaller scale on every television or computer screen by home-shopping networks and online emporiums… The vitrine in this way becomes conceptual, if still playful, and somehow domesticated.

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