[Luxus Magazine] A Brief History of Luxury: The Department Store, or the first shopping destination under one roof

A “cathedral of commerce” born in Paris under the Second Empire, the department store was both the symbol of a triumphant consumer society and a player in the evolution of the female condition. Despite the stock market crash of 1929, competition from hypermarkets and e-commerce, the model has managed to reinvent itself, remaining, from the City of Light to Doha, from London to Tokyo and from Milan to New York, a shopping destination in its own right.



They include Le Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, Harrods, La Rinascente, El Corte Inglés, De Bijenkorf, KaDeWe, Takashimaya, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus. Although the names, cultural influences and brands distributed differ, all these department stores owe a great deal to a certain Aristide Boucicaut, founder in 1852 of the very first of these temples to consumerism: Le Bon Marché.


Two exhibitions in Paris look back at the origins of these gigantic stores, from their architecture to their range of products and services, and their daily flow of visitors.


The first takes place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD) from April 10 to October 13, 2024. The second will take place at the Cité de l’architecture from November 6 to April 6, 2025.


Au bonheur des dames

Our story begins in the City of Light, at the corner of rue de Sèvres and rue du Bac. It was here that Aristide Boucicaut, the son of a hatter from Normandy, came to Paris to work as a calico (novelty salesman), and came up with an idea that would forever change the face of the shopping experience in the mid-19th century.


He was the first to reproduce on a larger scale the novelty stores he had worked in. The textile items (shawls, hats, gloves, stockings, ribbons, lace, etc.) that gave their name to this type of store were to make up the initial offering of his “Au Bon Marché” establishment. This extensive range was later extended to include carpets, travel goods, perfumes, stationery, toys and ready-to-wear clothing.


Enlarged and inaugurated in 1872, this XXL store lends itself to strolling, with its wide aisles and open spaces. It already featured the elements that would become a benchmark throughout France and the world: multiple themed departments and floors, an exposed riveted metal structure, a central space served by a monumental staircase (later replaced by escalators), domed roofs and immense display windows.

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Featured Photo: Les Grands Magasins Dufayel poster 1895-1900 © Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Picture of Victor Gosselin
Victor Gosselin
Victor Gosselin is a journalist specializing in luxury, HR, tech, retail, and editorial consulting. A graduate of EIML Paris, he has been working in the luxury industry for 9 years. Fond of fashion, Asia, history, and long format, this ex-Welcome To The Jungle and Time To Disrupt likes to analyze the news from a sociological and cultural angle.

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