13 May 2024


Zoom lecture

The Birth of the Paris Department Store.

Fashion, design, toys, advertising, 1852-1925

A lecture based on the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

(10 April -13 October 2024)

with Anne Catherine Abecassis

From the mid to the late 19th century department stores became the new temples of modernity and consumerism in Paris. Aristide Boucicaut was the founder of the first Parisian department store, Le Bon Marché, which he inaugurated in 1852. The MAD exhibition focuses on the history of Au Bon Marché, Les Grands Magasins du Louvre, Au Printemps, La Samaritaine and Les Galeries Lafayette from the Second Empire to their consecration at the celebrated Art Deco exhibition (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) of 1925.


Department stores benefited from the rise of the bourgeoisie as the newly prosperous class of French society. The stores catered to the beginnings of mass culture and the emergence of modern leisure activities, so that "shopping", much like the theater, dance halls, cafés and concerts, became the new bourgeois pastime. Mostly, the stores needed to seduce the Parisian woman: she could look, but also touch, and try on the latest fashions, and also find everything she needed for the modern home. They became the "kingdom of women" famously described by Émile Zola in his preparatory notebooks for his great novel devoted to the department store, Au Bonheur des Dames.

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