The department store, "temple of women"

The department store,

  • Stores Réunis d'Epinal, perspective view.

    HORNECKER Joseph (1873 - 1942)

  • The department of silk stockings.

    ALIX Yves (1890 - 1969)

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Title: Stores Réunis d'Epinal, perspective view.

Author : HORNECKER Joseph (1873 - 1942)

Creation date : 1908

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 03-011197 / ARO1988-8

Stores Réunis d'Epinal, perspective view.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

To close

Title: The department of silk stockings.

Author : ALIX Yves (1890 - 1969)

Creation date : 1928

Date shown: 1928

Dimensions: Height 81.5 - Width 100

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: National Museum of Modern Art - Center Pompidou website

Contact copyright: © ADAGP, © Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Philippe Migeatsite web

Picture reference: 40-000100-01 / AM1975-2

The department of silk stockings.

© ADAGP, Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Philippe Migeat

Publication date: September 2007

Historical context

At the beginning of the XIXe century, many clothes are passed from one class to another: the "toilet seller" occasionally buys dresses, mantelets, caps, which she then offers to young coquettes. A large "beauty market" has emerged.

The department store created this framework by revolutionizing the trade of "novelties" from the 1860s. With sales at "low profit", it caused the contiguity, but also the overdifferentiation of products available in the same place: more than 200 types of items were sold in 1890, from dresses to perfumes, to nearly 15,000 customers a day at Bon Marché alone. The intense growth of the industry, that of press advertising, urban and rail networks, have made this development possible.

Spacious, well-lit, with displays where they can see, feel, try on, department stores offer women a real feast for the eyes, the touch, the imagination. Whoever wore a gray or blue cloth dress for ten years without washing it can now afford several Indian dresses in various colors each year.

Image Analysis

The first document is a project to decorate the façades of the Magasins Réunis d'Épinal (1908) by the architect Joseph Hornecker, who works in Nancy, a center of Art Nouveau. This perspective view is striking with the sense of grandeur imposed by the commercial edifice. Size by size, first. The Magasin Réunis is spread over three levels and extends widely in the city, which they seem to structure. Compared to passers-by, their windows appear huge. Grandeur, then, by the richness of its composition. The building is very sophisticated: multiple entrances, balustrades, roof terrace, with characteristic ornaments of Art Nouveau. The wrought iron rods curve and flare out into a lily. Plant shapes and blue locks seem to flow in long, soft waves. The color, the glass and the light bring fantasy. This new style is in stark contrast to the often well decorated, but sober and severe works of the previous period. Hornecker thus transforms a classic building into a flamboyant representative of Art Nouveau, essentially decorative art from the start. The project also incorporates several forms of point-of-sale advertising: flags fluttering in the wind; signs announce the various rays; and the windows seem theatrical. Nothing is too good for these Magasin Réunis.

With The Ray of silk stockings, Yves Alix continues a cycle on the observation of Parisian life begun in 1927 with Windows and Parisiennes. All customers of this department store are dressed the same. Along with the new way of shopping, Alix shows the effect: fur coat, cloche hat and high heels make up a uniform. The painter thus synthesizes the entire process of industrialization of fashion. The scene is very structured with soft hues. The sobriety of means, the nobility in the design and the colors, magnify the visitors of the department stores. The mockery also points through this "mechanism plastered on the living" (H. Bergson, The laugh). Close to cubism, expressionist, Alix progressively evolves towards abstraction: we can clearly see how the shift is already taking place in this work where everything pushes towards a "conceptualization" of the subject, how he makes the idea of ​​standardization at- beyond the actual department store experience.


"Colossus", "Tower of Babel", "Fairytale Palace", "seductive monster", the department store is the first to exploit coquetry and the desire for beauty in a gathered diversity. These formulas of the end of the century deliberately seek a female consumption, as Zola makes it say to Mouret, the director of Le Bonheur des dames: to keep "women at our mercy, seduced, distraught at the piling up of our goods, emptying their door -money without counting ”. Zola profiles the image of a new church, a cathedral of glass and steel where this cult would take the place of the old fervors: "The churches which the faltering faith deserted little by little were replaced by its bazaar, in the unoccupied souls. from now on. "
Obviously, purchases cannot be the same for everyone, despite the success of the process. Strong social differences emerge, sometimes experienced so massively as ruptures that the desires themselves remain very different. A petty bourgeoisie reading fashion periodicals appears. The department store spreads bourgeois culture among workers in the service sector, guiding them to the shores of the middle class. However, this contagion meets with some resistance. The countryside has thus long remained on the fringes of urban fashions.

  • architecture
  • Art Nouveau
  • women
  • fashion
  • city
  • trade


Geneviève FRAISSE and Michelle PERROT (dir.), History of women in the West, volume IV, “The XIXth century”, Paris, Plon, 1991.

François-Marie GRAU, Costume history, Paris, P.U.F., 1999.

James LAVER, History of fashion and costume, Paris, Thames & Hudson, 2003.

Georges VIGARELLO, History of beauty, Paris, Le Seuil, 2004.

Emile Zola, To the happiness of the ladies, 1883, reprint Paris, Gallimard, 1999.

To cite this article

Julien NEUTRES, "The department store," temple of Woman ""


  • Art Nouveau: Style that developed from the end of the 19th century, first in Belgium and France. He thrives in architecture and the decorative arts. The search for functionality is one of the concerns of its architects and designers. Art Nouveau is characterized by forms inspired by nature, where the curve dominates.

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