Monday, November 21, 2011

Book spotlight: The World of Department Stores by Jan Whitaker

By the 1870s what we’ve come to recognize as the classic department store, with its vast assemblage of merchandise ranging from clothing and fabrics to house furnishings of all kinds came into being. By the 1890s big stores around the world – but especially in Northern Europe and in countries begun as English colonies – had expanded to include piano, bicycle, and luggage departments, as well as grocery stores, photography studios, and restaurants. The huge volume of advertising by department stores financed newspaper expansion and the foundation of the first advertising agencies. For people living in big cities and medium-sized towns, the department stores lining downtown streets served as proud evidence of local prosperity and up-to-date style.

Although some stores from the golden era of department stores remain in business today, particularly in global cities such as Paris that have heavy tourist traffic, most no longer have the huge market share in consumer goods they once enjoyed. Nor, in our electronic age, are department stores the places where consumers encounter the latest technological wonders. Nevertheless many grand buildings remain, as do photographs and historic artifacts which have been displayed on every single page of this lavishly illustrated book which is being published simultaneously in France and England.

Read the reviews!

“Since my visits as a child to La Opera Department Store in Santo Domingo, I have believed that the best department stores are merchants not of clothing or shoes or cosmetics but of dreams. Whitaker’s book is a remarkable around-the-world look at these dream factories. It is an invaluable resource to anyone interested in the business of retailing and to shoppers everywhere.”

—Oscar de la Renta

“The World of Department Stores is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the foundations of the urban experience in the West and the department store as the ultimate expression of the needs of the rising middle class and its tastes.”

­—Leonard Lauder, Chairman Emeritus, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

“I have nothing but good memories about the many department stores that played an important part in my business, [and] I warmly welcome the publication of this wonderful and unique book on department stores throughout the world.”

—Hubert de Givenchy

"The birth of the department store in the late 19th century brought everything glamorous together under one roof—from inviting, intelligent architecture and design to the latest fashions. Jan Whitaker's The World of Department Stores looks back to the biggest and brightest shops—including the belle epoque splendor of Paris's Bon Marché, the block-long, palatial GUM in Moscow; and the always outrageous holiday windows at Barneys New York."

–Elle Décor


Jan Whitaker is a consumer historian often consulted by the media about historic department stores. Her first book on this subject, Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class, focused on American stores. She writes and lectures about department stores, with essays appearing recently in Philadelphia Style and in an encyclopedia published by the German Historical Institute.

Visit Jan online at

1 comment:

Melanie Ski said...

Sounds like a great Coffee Table book, and conversation starter for guests!! I bet the photographs are wonderful.