Thursday, April 11, 2024

La Naissance des Grands Magasins 1852-1925, Le musée des Arts décoratifs


Yesterday was the 1st day of the big department store show at MAD and I was there when the doors opened.

Are you a devoted department store browser (different from a shopper)

I began serious browsing around 11, 12 years old, mainly dollhouse furniture at Woolworth’s 5 & 10.

I regularly took the bus to Strawbridge & Clothiers in Jenkintown 

And the train to Wanamaker's (renown for having the largest working organ in the world)in center Philadelphia to view the latest magazines and toys.

I did a brief stint as a salesgirl in Bonwit Teller’s in Philadelphia. 

An even briefer as stock girl at 
Henri Bendel (while at Parsons School of Design in New York).

All excellent early prep work for exploring 

Paris’ grand shopping emporiums wouldn’t you say.

The exhibit is focused on French department stores of course, with no reference to any other grand shopping halls. Nevermind.

In modern major cities, the department store made a dramatic appearance in the middle of the 19th century, and permanently reshaped shopping habits, and the definition of service and luxury.

Department stores were taking advantage of the rise of the bourgeoisie, which was their first clientele. 

The Second Empire was notorious for splendor. Department store owners understood that to attract customers& encourage buying they needed to arouse feelings of pleasure.

The architecture of these Babylonian palaces’ in the words of Emile Zola, drew inspiration from theaters and opera houses. 

Their monumental facades and domed rotundas were perfect for Haussmann’s grand boulevards.

A bit of department store whimsy from Charlie Chaplin in The Floorwalker.

Some French whimsy on Bon Marchés.

This is a good size exhibit for devoted browsers and shoppers covering history, architecture, toys, clothing, home goods, graphics, mail order catalogs, the worker’s lives. No detail is forgotten. I highly recommend 👍
If you'd like to receive Paris breakfast letters and map
s in your mailbox, stop by my
                               ☕️ Or buy me a KO-FI ☕️

Their museum giftshop has plenty of fun items to bring home. The MAD exhibit continues until 10 October.


  1. Stacia7:22 AM

    How fun! The only department store browsing I have ever really done was at Harrods when I lived in London. They make it easy with restaurants to fortify the customers and treats to purchase in the food market. I would easily spend half a day in there just taking in the wares and, of course, the people-watching. While I am not so interested in being indoors with large crowds any longer, I would certainly check out Paris department stores on my next visit.

    1. Anonymous8:40 AM

      Harrods and Selfridges…heaven on earth 🌏
      I Love hanging out in both of them…though Selfridges seems to be for the 1%ers

  2. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Oh Carol!! If ever there was an exhibit I would love, love to see it would be this one! Growing up in Chicago, by age 12 I could take the bus and train to department stores, and Marshall Fields was the BEST! That was one fabulous and glamorous store, with everything in the world. It was 50% of my education…….just learning so much in that glorious place. And on par with the Parisian department stores. But, sadly, Marshall Fields no longer exists…….so…….just have to get to Paris!
    Love your posts and your paintings, Carol ( own many! ) Love, Suzy Mazur in Grosse Pointe, Michigan

    1. Anonymous9:55 AM

      Thanks Suzy ❤️
      Yes indeed a wonderful exhibit bringing back many sweet memories

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    A fun post! Great to learn you attended Parsons, & shopped the all purpose Woolworths. The old department stores were novel. Last visited one in St Pete FL called Maas Brothers.

    1. Anonymous9:54 AM

      Revealing my wicked past & past times.
      Woolies had single Gingerbread men for $.50 Yum yum

  4. PBS ran a series "Mr. Selfridge" about a wealthy Chicagoan who built a department store in London › wiki › Mr_SelfridgeMr Selfridge - Wikipedia
    Mr Selfridge is a British period drama television series about Harry Gordon Selfridge and his department store, Selfridge & Co, in London, set from 1908 to 1928. It was co-produced by ITV

    1. Anonymous11:11 AM

      Thanks Lynne,
      I just found it on Dailymotion

  5. Julie Barreto2:23 PM

    I wrote my senior paper for my BA in Modern European History on “The Rise of the Department Store” at UCBerkeley way back in 1977. Your post sure brought that back to me. I really should have included illustrations! I love the democratic underpinnings of the whole concept: all are welcome!

    1. Anonymous8:43 PM

      Exactly Julie,
      The stores were the public entertainment for all and free entry!
      I didn’t mention but store workers got a place to live & meals. They were treated well.

  6. This one looks fabulous! I'm so glad you got to see it. I would have loved all the art and the costumes, too!

    1. Anonymous8:45 PM

      The graphics were out of this world Jeanie. Such big posters back in the day.

  7. Bonnie L9:33 PM

    Zola’s ‘Au Bonheur des Dames’ (The Ladies Paradise), was supposedly about Le Bon Marché, the first grand magasin in Paris. I think it was made into a tv series, but set In Italy!!

    I love the big department stores in Paris. Most of ours were put out of business by malls, now the malls are being put out of business by internet shopping! Thank goodness we have Paris for some serious window licking!

    1. Anonymous10:24 PM

      Loved Zola’s book 📕

  8. Anonymous10:09 PM

    In Minneapolis we had Daytons and more plus in St Paul four or five more and all time favorite Woolworths dime store. So many places to go look.

    1. Anonymous10:25 PM

      Department stores were the lifeblood of a city.
      They still are in Paris ❤️

  9. Right up your alley:) I was a salesgirl during college..I loved it..My favorite was Eaton's in the shiny cosmetic dept.Ive loved all the shows on beginnings of the large stores..

    1. Anonymous9:03 AM

      Yes right up my aisle 😊
      Hanging out in department stores - as much fun as museums, maybe more.

  10. This looks like a really interesting exhibition, would go if I could! I like learning the history of places like that. Growing up in the country department stores were in the city, and when we visited there wasn’t time for strolling around. Fun places to visit when in Paris and London.


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