Thursday, February 6, 2020

Quote of the Day (Edwin Heathcote, on the Early Department Store as an ‘Urbane, Well-Lit Refuge’)

“The history of the department store is inseparable from the modern metropolis. It emerged in the late 18th century as the confluence of conspicuous consumption, a refuge, a paradise and a microcosm of contemporary production. Harding, Howell and Co.’s Grand Fashionable Magazine opened in Pall Mall in 1796 as a big store separated into departments, but the idea was developed by stores like Harrods (founded in 1834 and opened in Knightsbridge in 1849) and Marshall Fields in Chicago and an expanded Le Bon Marche in Paris (both 1852). For the dirty, constantly under-construction and industrial 19th-century city, department stores were an urbane, well-lit refuge from muddy roads, smoke, crime and horse manure. They also offered respectable employment for women who might even be accommodated in dormitories above the stores. They represented liberation. Emile Zola refers to their centrality in the changing status of women in his 1883 novel The Ladies' Paradise, though he also notes the stores were equally a mechanism for monetising feminine desire.” —English architect, designer and critic Edwin Heathcote, “Shop and Awe,” The Financial Times, Aug. 25-26, 2018

Today’s department store is a far cry from its 19th-century counterpart and it has lost its fair share of cachet, as indicated most recently by the announcement that Macy’s will be closing 125 locations over the next three years.

The conditions that led to the invention of the department store are no more, but that doesn’t mean the format can’t be reinvented. I, for one, will be pulling for this format to endure, even if it’s in a somewhat different than what we’ve gotten used to over the years.

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