The Time of the boutiques : From booth to eBay
The Time of the boutiques
From booth to eBay
Véronique Moerman + Christine de Schaetzen, April 6, 2009
Le Temps des Boutiques/Boutique Concept_Bxl
Le Temps des Boutiques/Boutique Concept_Bxl


The Time of the boutiques is, in a way, an extension of the very successful The kitchen, a way of life, exhibition organized by the Fondation pour l’Architecture in 2006. The reconstituted kitchens of that show allowed visitors to relive the design and evolution of that most important room in the house, the kitchen, from 1900 to today. Now, visitors are going to be immersed in the experience of window shopping, reliving this unique thrill through the ages. The timeline and themes cover a period of two hundred years, beginning in the 1800s with boutiques built in the First Empire style, through to eBay, the virtual boutique of today. This represents the first full scale retrospective in Belgium dedicated to boutiques, in which the interplay of architecture and design reveal the various influences of Belgium and France, England, Italy, and the United States. The exhibition is conceived around the life-sized reconstruction of historical shop windows from the past and present, inside of which will be original documents and artifacts, such as furniture, plans, models, drawings, watercolors and gouaches from all the great architects and designers of the Belgian and international scene. Many of these pieces come from the rich holdings of the Archives d’Architecture Moderne (AAM), one of the premiere such archives in Europe.

Armani 5th Avenue_Fuksas Studio
Armani 5th Avenue_Fuksas Studio


The exhibition explores the idea of the boutique as a place of both material presentation and symbolic representation using architecture to express meaning economically, socially, aesthetically, sociologically, artistically… The exhibition relates these diverse themes by starting with the advent of the shop window, the vitrine, under Napoleon, and tracing them through to the photography of Atget, inspiration to the Surrealists; moving on to the movement of Art dans la rue, which conceived of the shop window as a way to embellish the city street; then to modernism with its introduction of polished steel and chrome and aluminium, all part of the art of lighting and display; to the fifties, dominated by the search for la vue totale; and up until the most contemporary vitrines, which bear the signatures of the most respected names in design from New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Seoul,…           

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.

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.

Klassisk store
Klassisk store


The exhibition concludes with a gallery of current photographs of boutiques, cafés, and larger stores. Here, the idea of the boutique is “reexamined and corrected” by eleven photographers from the Contraste school of photography in Brussels, directed by Nicolas Van Brande. Starting in spring 2008, the photographers have been working freely, giving a personal touch in their exploration of the wide world of boutiques. The photo gallery is integrated into the exhibition on the first floor of the Fondation pour l’Architecture.

Brown Sugar_FlindersLane-shopfront
Brown Sugar_FlindersLane-shopfront


In the exhibition itself, a series of life-size reconstructions of shop windows emblematic of different epochs have been staged. Behind each window and façade are displays of original documents and artifacts from these periods. On the ground floor, a public square is recreated, surrounded by three shop windows from a covered shopping gallery: a vitrine from a 19th century café, an Art Nouveau vitrine (from a design by the architect Paul Hankar) and an Art Deco vitrine (from a design by the architect Marcel Caillie). In the covered gallery, photographs and designs from commercial galleries (les galeries Saint-Hubert, les galeries Bortier…) and from department stores (Innovation, Old England…) are shown. A window from the shop of a record- and bookseller from thirties displays books on architecture, posters, and records from the period. The mezzanine room is occupied by a section all about the boutiques of Brussels during the first half of the 20th century. A kiosk there presents original dance clothes designed by Akarova.

On the next floor, an Olivetti shop window from the fifties and an American household appliance store (Rival) from the sixties are on display.

www.fondationpourlarchitecture.be