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The Parisian department store as a paradigmatic place for interactions between tourism and shopping: the production of a heterotopia

Le grand magasin parisien, lieu paradigmatique des interactions entre tourisme et shopping : la production d'une hétérotopie
Vincent Coëffé et Jean-René Morice


Cet article a pour objectif d’analyser le grand magasin en tant que lieu paradigmatique, à travers le concept d’hétérotopie, cette dernière étant produite ici par les interactions entre le tourisme et le shopping à Paris. Alors que Michel Foucault n’a pas évoqué le grand magasin dans sa théorie de l’hétérotopie, l’article permet non seulement d’élargir ce concept aux lieux marchands mais surtout d’en renouveler l’approche géographique. La dynamique spatiale du grand magasin parisien renseigne sur le fait que celui-ci s’est maintenu en tant qu’hétérotopie bien que certaines caractéristiques du lieu aient connu une transformation. En effet, le grand magasin est dès son invention mis en tourisme et conçu comme une hétérotopie jouant sur les continuités et les discontinuités avec l’espace parisien. Alors que cette hétérotopie de la seconde moitié du 19e siècle est fondée sur la monumentalité de l’espace et sur un exotisme lié à l’imaginaire orientaliste pour des visiteurs principalement venus de France, la mondialisation accélérée du grand magasin et l’intensification de sa mise en tourisme en ont transformé en partie la configuration dans les dernières décennies. L’hétérotopie en tant que lieu imaginé comme « autre », fonctionne encore à travers le souci de la mise en spectacle, mais celle-ci est désormais instituée par les marques de luxe qui mettent en tension l’identité et l’altérité, l’exploitation du passé et la mise en scène de la création, pour des visiteurs en quête d’authenticité incarnée par l’art de vivre à la française.

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1For three centuries, the capitalist model has produced fantasy spaces which, while being based on the marketing of goods, are set up in such a way that they tend to suspend their economic purpose in order to constitute places fostering both individual and collective pleasures (Lemarchand, 2010; Berdet, 2013). Among these spaces, the department store occupies a unique position. Invented in the second half of the 19th century, and derived from the Parisian arcade, the department store is specifically created to accommodate a diversified commercial offer within a single legal entity and spread over several floors. From the outset, the monumental architectural design and sophisticated interior style have worked to enhance its attractiveness, capable of consolidating its commercial logic (Poupard, 2005). The Parisian department store is particularly unique in that it is emblematic of urban renewal at the time when Haussmann was redeveloping Paris (Harvey, 2003). A number of department stores were built beginning with Le Bon Marché in 1852, the brainchild of Aristide Boucicaut. This establishment was the inspiration for the novel Au bonheur des dames written by Emile Zola in 1883. This first department store was followed by Les Grands Magasins du Louvre (1855), Le Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (1856), Le Printemps (1865) and La Samaritaine (1869). When it opened in 1894, Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann became the final department store to be built in Paris in the 19th century (Figure 1), and has now become the Parisian symbol of international tourism linked to shopping (Coëffé, Morice, 2015). Except Le Bon Marché which is located on the left bank of La Seine, all the Parisian department stores are concentrated on the right bank, close to the main tourist attractions, and more particularly the prestigious monuments (Notre-Dame, Opéra Garnier, etc.).

Figure 1. The department stores in Paris at the end of the 19th century.

Figure 1. The department stores in Paris at the end of the 19th century.

Source : Jean-René Morice and Vincent Coëffé (design) ; Maylis Jaouen (production)

2In fact, the department store, as a symbol of “Paris, capital of modernity” (Harvey, 2003) at the time it emerged, was from the moment of its production a space built both by and for the tourist experience, taking advantage of the fact that the “tourist is a consumer away from home”: buying products specifically helps to extend the pleasure and preserve the memories associated with the place visited (Judd, Fainstein, 1999, p. 14). This is all the more true as Paris has, since the 18th century, been regarded throughout Europe as the capital of fashion and luxury (Berdet, 2013; Roll, 2009), and whose tourist attractiveness increased further during the 19th century to reach a global audience (Hancock, 1999; Stock, 2007; Gravari-Barbas, Fagnoni, 2013). Paris cultivated the image of a city devoted to pleasures, fun and festive activities, all associated with the advent of mass consumption (Csergo, 1995). Whereas the Parisian department stores were still mainly frequented by local and national customers during the 20th century, shopping in the contemporary period has become a strong motivational factor for international tourists, especially those from Asia (Hsieh, Chang, 2006; Coëffé, 2017; Morice, 2019). According to a study carried out in 2012 by the Paris and Île-de-France Regional Tourist Board, 15% of the 29 million tourists (for the whole of 2012) declared that shopping was one key reason for their stay in Paris, but this figure rose to 27% for Chinese tourists and 31% for Japanese tourists (OTCP, 2013). This relevance of shopping as a tourism activity in France is still significant and represented the number two preoccupation for international tourists staying in France in 2017 (DGE, 2018, p. 123).

3Although tourism implies a temporary geographical mobility within the fields of leisure and recreation (Edensor, 2001; Équipe MIT, 2002), its extension in contemporary society has reinforced the plurality of consumption methods, the symbolic dimension of objects having particular relevance in the tourist experience (Timothy, 2005). However, the Parisian department store is not only used as a space for consuming objects as we have suggested. The spatial design, both internal and external, also plays a role in the tourist attractiveness related to shopping (Timothy, 2005). By internal, we refer to how the product environment contributes to the meanings that tourists can project within the consumer space. The presentation of products, which also involves how they are described and explained, transfigures the goods by stimulating “magical salivation” (Baudrillard, 1970, p. 26).

4By external, we mean that the department store is conceived from the outset as a visible object in public space, its sheer size making it seem like an urban hub with a major role to play in the design of the Parisian landscape. As such, the department store should be viewed in a system of relationships at varying scales. It is this dual dimension (both internal and external) that our article sets out to explore through the prism of a conceptual tool: heterotopia. Although it was conceived from the start as an idealized world, an emblematic place in the urban imagination apt to disconnect the visitor from their daily world, the department store as a generic object has not been analyzed by applying the concept of heterotopia invented by Michel Foucault in the 1980s to designate “other places” (from the Greek “topos” = place, and “heteros” = otherness) and as “localized utopias” (Foucault, 1986, p. 24). Heterotopia was defined by Foucault from five principles: it is present in all societies; it may change function as societies evolve; it juxtaposes several incompatible spaces within a real place; it is linked to temporal discontinuities; and it has systems of opening and closing that regulate access (Foucault, 1984; 1986; Bonazzi, 2002; Staszak, Lussault, 2013; Sacco et al., 2019).

5While the concept of heterotopia has been explored through a broad spectrum of objects and ideas, particularly within certain epistemological trends such as postmodern geography for example (Soja, 1989; Johnson, 2013), the product consumption world has not been systematically analyzed using this concept, even if some works have been able to include it, such as those looking at North American mega-malls (Goss, 1993) or theme park streets (Kern, 2008). However, at the same time, there are many contemporary works on the “reenchantment” of shopping destinations (Ritzer, 2010, p. 117) which can clearly be considered as “cathedrals of consumption – that is, they are structured, often successfully, to have an enchanted, sometimes even sacred, religious character” (Ritzer, 2010, p. 7).

6Conceived by the imagination, heterotopia is nonetheless a place generated due to material foundations, as a geographic location. As such, the analysis which uses the concept of heterotopia allows one to go beyond the material/immaterial dichotomy requiring us to polarize theoretical choices. Besides, space which refers to “the social environment defined by its spatial dimension”, is hybrid, being both tangible and intangible (Lévy, Lussault, 2013, p. 353). Within the meta-concept of space, a place is not a pure container. The place is both the product and the producer of the relationships which individuals maintain with the space: the place can be seen as a spatial arrangement made up of human and non-human realities which generate a “local system” (Lussault, 2017, p. 42). According to Phil Hubbard, who was inspired by the theory of the production of space developed by Henri Lefebvre (1991), the place constitutes “a particular form of space, one that is created through acts of naming as well as through the distinctive activities and imaginings associated with particular social spaces” (Hubbard, 2007, p. 42). Heterotopias are composed of a concrete, instituted and instituting dimension, including through the bodies of individuals which are the first scale of spatiality, the latter being defined as “all the uses of space by social operators” (Lussault, 2007, p. 18). Heterotopias are all also made up of a more symbolic dimension in the sense that space is loaded with meanings, values ​​and norms which may for example be seen in discourses contributing to the production of other places which then allow spatial differentiation by conveying otherness to certain portions of the space (Hubbard, 2007).

7If the department store can be considered as heterotopia, this is because individuals allow it to be so through a plurality of actions, including those related to language. These spatial actions (space used as a resource for action) enable us to create a geographical unit which is distinct from others, a space endowed with specific qualities, because heterotopia specifically establishes a place which allows individuals to break away from everyday life, practices and places through which their routines are organized (Andriotis, 2010).

8This article therefore aims to contribute to the understanding of the heterotopia concept, questioning its heuristic value by looking at a type of place which has a strong spatial and urban dimension, the department store, whose invention is closely associated with the Parisian context, even though the concept has also taken off elsewhere, such as in London or New York (Crossick, Jaumain, 2018). But if the department store cannot be seen as a consumer place quite like any other as it symbolizes Parisian lifestyle and French culture for most international tourists (Coëffé, Morice, 2019), its heterotopic dimension experienced changes between the second half of the 19th century and the contemporary period. These transformations are linked to the acceleration of globalization and urbanization, the intensification of tourist mobility and the growth of capitalism based on a “systematic work on the stylization of goods and shopping places”, what some call “artist capitalism” (Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013, p. 12). All these processes are particularly concentrated in metropolises. If culture and tourism have become urban resources for the actors involved at different scales (from local to global) in the production of the urban space, numerous studies have shown that shopping can be included in tourists’ cultural activities (Williams et al., 2001; Gravari-Barbas, 2013).

9The Parisian department store is a paradigmatic place for relationships combining tourism and shopping, through the concept of heterotopia in the way this place focuses on the main characteristics of the latter. It is also paradigmatic in the sense that it allows us to refresh the reflexive approach developed by Foucault, but by looking at a place which he never actually mentioned. Finally, it is paradigmatic insofar as it enables us to concentrate specifically on the spatial dimension of the concept of heterotopia, a subject which is still rarely studied in geography.

10More globally, the article seeks to provide answers to the following questions: To what extent do Parisian department stores adhere to the concept of heterotopia? What tourist imagination are they related to? In what way are they “other places” which break with the familiar environment of tourists coming from around the world? How has a single heterotopia, the Parisian department store, operated differently at various times in its history?

11We have made use of a plurality of survey methods. Besides the resources provided by historiographic work on the department store that we have interpreted through the prism of the principles associated with heterotopia, we have analyzed a corpus of data and sources made up of studies as well as discourses and visual images (press articles, novels, documentation produced for promotional purposes, postcards, classic and more recent tourist guides). We also carried out an ethnography of the places, particularly of Les Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann, since it was the department store most visited by tourists in Paris in 2018 (Coëffé, Morice, 2019). The data collection (between 2012 and 2018) consisted of gathering responses to non-directive interviews, especially with certain staff from the department store (archive manager, heritage manager, salesperson, customer relationships manager).

12In addition, we spent some observation periods watching visitors to Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann at different times of the year and day. Less intensively, we also used the field analysis conducted at Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann at other Parisian department stores. In total, six places were included in the analysis for this research. Although Les Grands Magasins du Louvre no longer exist as they closed their doors in 1974, Le Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV) still displays a strong singularity compared to other Parisian department stores. Its offer is centered around home-improvement and decoration, unlike Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps and Les Galeries Lafayette, which are dedicated to luxury fashion in the broad sense (clothing, accessories, cosmetics, etc.). In addition, La Samaritaine plans to reopen in 2021 having been closed since 2005 for safety reasons. This upcoming reopening is emblematic of the intensification of the links between Parisian department stores, luxury goods, culture and tourism, in a configuration affected by the growing role of globalization.

13The methodological issue in the first section is to define the theoretical framework which encompasses this research. We aim to include the analysis of the concept of heterotopia related to the tourist place. Following on from this, we plan to reveal our initial results which centre on the temporalities and spatialities of a place, in this case in terms of how the Parisian department store combines tourism and shopping as a paradigmatic place for heterotopia. The final part is presented as a discussion which puts the heterotopia of the Parisian department store to the test in the contemporary context.

Heterotopia, a heuristic tool for analyzing tourist places

14Michel Foucault developed the concept of heterotopia in the 1960s when he identified a spatial turn. The philosopher considered that the contemporary world is organized in a privileged way by space understood as a set of relationships without however suspending time (Foucault, 1984). In referencing Gaston Bachelard and his phenomenological descriptions, Foucault starts with the hypothesis that the individual does not live in a Cartesian, homogeneous and empty space, but in one endowed with qualities, to the point that this space is also made up of places which can be distinguished from each other. In such a configuration, certain places may be considered as “real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality” (Foucault, 1986, p. 24).

15Despite the low number of studies analyzing the way in which tourism produces heterotopias (Andriotis, 2010; Rowen, 2016; Rankin, Collins, 2017), tourist places are privileged environments for the emergence of “other places”. While a tourist place is defined as “a temporary result of the emergence and stabilization of touristic practices” (Stock, 2007, p. 7), tourism as a practice is based on “deroutinization” (Elias, Dunning, 1994, p. 130), which is to say a more or less radical break from everyday life, specifically leading to a possible “controlled relaxation of constraints” (Elias, Dunning, 1994, p. 130). Unlike other forms of “deroutinization” which occur in familiar space, tourism involves relocation, a change of place “where alterity allows for a more efficient break with routine and recursive practices” (Stock, 2007, p. 6). Tourism actually begins with an act of representation, the ability of individuals to imagine a place capable of embodying their “deroutinization” project. While the tourist place is initially unreachable by the senses due to its distance from everyday places, it can however be grasped by individuals’ imagination. This imagination is in fact a faculty which consists of making something absent appear present through a wide spectrum of mediations (mental image, iconography, narrative, etc.). Some of which are made-up by the actors involved in destination management, whether they be institutions or private companies. The tourist place is thus built around “deroutinization”, potentially providing a pleasant experience (Elias, Dunning, 1994; Équipe MIT, 2002; Stock, Duhamel, 2005).

16This loosening of self-constraint, developed in the western world during its long process of civilization analyzed by Norbert Elias (1973), is made possible by displacement which allows one to confront a desirable otherness. Thus, Elias and Dunning make clear that “the routine activities of daily life, both public or private, require individuals to control their moods and impulses, as well as their affects and their emotions, with relative firmness while leisure activities allow them to generally come and go more freely in an imaginative world, one specifically created by these activities and which, in a certain way, recalls a reality of non-leisure (...)” (Elias, Dunning, 1994, p. 54). Such an assertion therefore brings the leisure space closer to heterotopia since it produces a more or less radical break with the habitus which prevails in the everyday world, via leisure activities and the places that they generate. Habitus, according to Bourdieu, designates “acquired dispositions, enduring ways of being or doing which are incarnated in bodies” (2002, p. 29). We do have to speak about this more or less radical break because a tourist place is specifically a space which generates a dialogism between the daily and the non-daily. Firstly, everyday life is not made only of routines (unreflexive habits), as demonstrated by Michel de Certeau in the “arts of doing”, or the “tricks” or “tactics” (Certeau, 1980, p. 61) used in everyday life by individuals, in particular to divert certain dominant norms. Secondly, the non-daily, which may be represented in a tourism practice, designated by Elias and Dunning (1994) as one which pushes “deroutinization” further into the spectrum of leisure activities, is controlled by standards and conventions shared by both tourists and the other actors who create the tourist place.

17Some of these standards are also instituted by tourist managers and workers insofar as the discourses and visual images they produce are resources which prepare for the displacement of tourists (Edensor, 2001, p. 71). This imagination creates a set of conventions adopted by tourists who put them to the test through their uses of the place. To the extent that tourists “are part of their baggage” (Edensor, 2001, p. 61), tourism “involves unreflexive, habitual and practical enactions which reflect common-sense understandings of how to be a tourist” (Edensor, 2001, p. 61).

18In other words, the tourist place is in fact fairly tenuously linked to the everyday world that it purports to represent but also to divert, or to invert. From this point of view, the tourist place is an exemplary case of heterotopia. Moreover, Foucault himself highlighted among heterotopias the example of “holiday villages”, in particular “those Polynesian villages that offer a compact three weeks of primitive and eternal nudity to the inhabitants of the cities” (Foucault, 1986, p. 26). The tourist place therefore also implies a singular relationship with time, a temporal discontinuity with everyday life but also a set of temporalities in which the ephemeral can communicate for example with a fantasy form of eternity. Foucault thus made heterochrony, which designates “temporal discontinuities” (Foucault quoted in Rankin, Collins, 2017, p. 230), one of the principles of his heterotopia.

19The tourist place is therefore not a utopia in the sense of being a “nowhere place”, a “non-place” (Augé, 2009), because it is a real place – although thought-out and experienced through imagination – in the sense that it is practiced, tested by the individuals’ body in their tourist experience. However, it can come close to the other idea of utopia as a “good quality place” (from the Greek word “eutopia”). In his theory on the production of space, Lefebvre also distinguishes three main types of “topia” (Lefebvre, 2000, p. 190): “isotopias” (“analogous places”), “utopias” (“a place which doesn’t have or no longer has a place, the absolute, the divine, the possible”) and “heterotopias” (“contrasting places”). Yet, Lefebvre puts leisure space well inside the third category, as a “counter space” (Lefebvre, 2000, p. 442). He confirms the idea that the tourist place does not completely escape a dominant order, in particular the capitalism space as it helps “the reproduction of the production relations”, so that “the space thus controlled and managed enforces specific constraints, rites and gestures (…), discursive forms (what one should or should not say), and includes the models and modulations of the space (…)” (Lefebvre, 2000, p. 442). The fact remains that across the leisure space in general and the tourist place in particular, there is a dialogism between realities which can elsewhere appear separated, or even in opposition: “that of the social and the mental, that of the sensitive and the intellectual, like that of the everyday and the extraordinary” (Lefebvre, 2000, p. 443). Lefebvre’s ideas reinforce those developed by Foucault related to the power of temporality in the layout of heterotopia, what Foucault calls heterochrony. As such, for Lefebvre, “the leisure space is the ultimate contradictory space” (Lefebvre, 2000, p. 443).

20These dialogisms between contradictory realities can also be seen in the system of opening and closing of tourist places which all, whatever their urban form, take advantage of this device. For example, Le Club Méditerranée “Polynesian village”, mentioned by Foucault and which some academics have included within a generic place referred to as “tourist plot” (Équipe MIT, 2002, p. 299), is a place created ex-nihilo by and for tourism by favoring a discontinuity with the immediate environment thanks to its physical closure. This later allows the control of tourists, who can access only if they pay an entry fee. No permanent inhabitants reside there and the place is designed exclusively for tourists, with the exception of a few local people who work there in order to provide the services expected by the tourists. From this point of view, the “resort” (Équipe MIT, 2002, p. 300) of which there are numerous examples around the world (Cannes or Courchevel in France, Saint-Moritz or Zermatt in Switzerland, etc.) is designed differently: the place is created by and for tourism, in discontinuity with those human settlements which existed before the emergence of the resort. Nevertheless, it remains potentially accessible to any individual who wishes to travel there freely without paying for entry, especially as the place is home to permanent residents.

21However, unlike these two examples of generic places, to say that department stores constitute tourist places cannot be taken for granted. Their primary function is to be a place for the consumption of goods, including everyday items. Nevertheless, historians’ studies reveal that tourists have been visiting this type of city space since their emergence (Crossick, Jaumain, 2018) and that the department store is capable of combining different temporalities and spatialities. This is also why it is a particularly heuristic place to study the concept of heterotopia, both theoretically and empirically.

The Parisian department store: a paradigmatic place of heterotopia

22The break created by the Parisian department store has been overestimated by some historians who speak of a “revolution in retailing” (Miller, 1981, p. 17). Indeed, “precursors can be found for each of the novel elements identified with the department store” (Crossick, Jaumain, 2018, p. 10). This is especially true for the Parisian arcade, this commercial organization which appeared in Paris in the first half of the 19th century and which brought the shops representing various brands together in one place (Poupard, 2005).

23However, the arcades did not take full advantage of the new possibilities offered by the iron industry. With the beginning of the Third Republic in France, and the partnership between architect Louis-Auguste Boileau and engineer Gustave Eiffel, these possibilities became reality (Berdet, 2013). Le Bon Marché was the perfect example of this when Aristide Boucicaut, the owner, extended the store in 1876. The break established by the Parisian department store is in fact due to three key elements.

The production of monumentality for the Parisian space

24The first element relates to scale and the ability of the department store to polarize Parisian space (figure 2).

Figure 2. A postcard of the Parisian department store as an emblem of Paris in 1932: Le Bazar de L’Hôtel de Ville and its monumentality.

Figure 2. A postcard of the Parisian department store as an emblem of Paris in 1932: Le Bazar de L’Hôtel de Ville and its monumentality.

Source: collection Jean-René Morice

25Although some high class shops of the eighteenth century “had gained reputations as tourist attractions”, these “did not possess the same symbolic importance in the city as department stores” (Walsh, 2008, p. 63). The first department store, Le Bon Marché, opened in 1852 in Paris the same year that the Second Empire began, a period during which Emperor Napoleon III made it his priority to transform Parisian urbanity in order to lift Paris within the ranks of world capitals, in particular with monumental architecture inspired by the ancient tradition (Csergo, 1995). Baron Haussmann’s urban reforms (after being appointed Prefect of Paris in 1853), which he prepared under the July monarchy, redrew the entire layout of Paris and transformed it into a metropolis of consumption, entertainment and leisure (Harvey, 2003). In fact this transformation of Paris created an urban system promoting the movement of goods and people, thanks to the innovation of wide boulevards connected to a station-network to take advantage of railway expansion. This new urban configuration therefore increased the popularity of the grand boulevards, a central element of Parisian attractiveness. The Parisian department store took advantage of this urban planning by participating in the scheme which sought to achieve a monumental perspective while confirming the “myth of a Paris being for pleasure” (Csergo, 1995, p. 153), which was also brought to life by its theaters, cafes, etc.

26The metaphor of the city is used to describe the department store, breaking with the shop space embodied in the novel Au Bonheur des Dames by Vieil Elbeuf as a “dark and narrow shop” compared to the department store represented by Le Bon Marché, described as “golden with light, like a city, with its monuments, its squares, its streets” (Zola (1883), 2009, p. 102). But unlike the Parisian arcades, the global scale was much more evident for the department stores, whose visitor flow was increased thanks to the universal exhibitions. The department store, endowed with a size specifically designed to accommodate crowds, was the emblem of modernity exalted during these major events. The attractiveness of these latter was illustrated by the rising number of foreign tourists in Paris, reaching 50 million during the 1900 Exhibition (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013).

27The Parisian department store also played a key role during these world events, as was the case of Le Bon Marché in particular: “To present itself as a city and national institution while simultaneously displaying to mass audiences the best of its wares, the House participated in all major international fairs, including those of Chicago and St Louis. At the 1900 world fair in Paris, it had its own pavilion” (Miller, 1981, p. 173). Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann set up their own pavilion during the International Exhibition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts (held in Paris in 1925), with a photo of it being printed on certain postcards. Even if in the 18th century certain “shops managed to operate on an enormous scale by renting pre-existing single structures of the right size” (Walsh, 2018, p. 64), department stores crossed a new threshold and as such reinforced the monumentality of Parisian space seen as a landscape for both Parisians themselves and tourists. In the years leading up to the First World War, Le Bon Marché was the largest department store in the world. The long monumental facades of Parisian department stores were elements designed to impress, enhancing visitors’ perception by incorporating luxurious details and materials such as with Le Printemps which sought to embody “feminine fashion and the elegance of Parisian ladies” (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013, p. 133). The sense of wonder they sought, was consolidated by the ornamentation above the entrance doors: above the porch of Le Bon Marché in Rue de Sèvres, where the shop name appears, there are “caryatids and statues of reclining gods surmounted by a pediment which gives the building the look of a temple” (Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013, p. 141). Michael B. Miller even mentioned the “Eighth Wonder” (Miller, 1981, p. 166) to qualify Le Bon Marché. This store diversified its communications techniques during the first few decades of its existence, including producing its own diaries for advertising purposes, with these being distributed during guided tours organized to show off the department store. The publicity helped promote the department store by using analogies referencing the prestige of the place described as a “monument”, a “palace” and the “most unique establishment in the world”, etc. (Miller, 1981, p. 174). Le Bon Marché was regularly used as a monument which symbolized Paris, along with L’Opéra, L’Hôtel de Ville or Notre-Dame. Increasingly inspired by Orientalism over subsequent decades, the design of department stores had at the same time drawn some of its architectural inspiration from the world of tourism, whether it was the grand hotel of the 1860s or of the ocean liner of the 1930s (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013). George Chedanne, who designed Les Galeries Lafayette building on the corner of Chaussée d’Antin and the Boulevard Haussmann shopping street, began his career in major hotels. This reference to the grand hotel thus echoed the district more generally, it being organized by and for tourists who could find hotels and apartments for rent (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013) near the Saint-Lazare train station.

Producing otherness by exotic imagination

28The second element comes back to the staging of the place. The 1867 Exhibition embodied an important change in the way of imagining mass leisure by announcing what Walter Benjamin called “the birth of the entertainment industry” (quoted in Csergo, 1995, p. 153) linked with the advent of “visual pleasure” in newly invented leisure activities (Csergo, 1995, 153). Shop-windows appeared as a generic device in the earlier decades which witnessed the development of department stores. Shop-windows were in fact capable of articulating both the exterior and the interior of the department store, and heralded the systematic spectacle which captivated the visitors once they were inside the place. The most famous designers were asked to create displays inside department stores, as well as the products they presented, in line with a theatrical aesthetic which appealed to the imagination. In 1893, a Christmas window at Le Bon Marché showed a skating scene in Le Bois de Boulogne; in 1909 it was a display inspired by the discovery of the North Pole. Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann copied the idea a few years later by including automatons in their displays (Chenus, 2016). This widespread use of staging resulted in a place encoded as an Elsewhere, associated with a certain exoticism. The internal layout of the department store therefore helped to reinforce and amplify this imagination, as shown by Le Bon Marché which created a full experience with a sense of wonder through the aestheticization of the physical sales space in a theatrical context: “(…) goods and decors blended one into another to dazzle the senses and to make of the store a great fair and fantasy land of colors, sensations and dreams” (Miller, 1981, p. 169). The goods were transformed into “phantasmagorias” (Benjamin (1939), 1991, p. 375), commercial objects which inspired dreams (figure 3), encouraging visitors to have “visions of the Orient” (Berdet, 2013, p. 66).

Figure 3. A postcard of Les Grands Magasins du Louvre around 1910: the oriental carpets hung on the walls transformed into “phantasmagorias”.

Figure 3. A postcard of Les Grands Magasins du Louvre around 1910: the oriental carpets hung on the walls transformed into “phantasmagorias”.

Source: collection Jean-René Morice

29Zola himself contributed to this production of imagination in Au bonheur des dames which described a place full of colors and conducive to sensations: “(...) on the ceiling were hung carpets from Smyrna whose complicated designs stood out against the red backgrounds. (…) On the floor, there were more carpets (…): in the center there was an Agra carpet, an extraordinary item with a white background and a broad, soft blue border through which ran purple motif, the product of an exquisite mind (…)” (Zola (1883), 2009, p. 143). This phantasmagoria could be found even in publicity material such as an advertisement showing “a shipment of Le Bon Marché toys by desert caravan to Morocco” (Miller, 1981, p. 176). The interior architecture also echoed the oriental imagination thanks to the use of monumental domes. The architect René Binet, who modernized Le Printemps in 1906, chose to design a large hall topped with a dome to accentuate the height of the store (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013). At Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the main hall also culminates in a neo-Byzantine dome inlaid with stained glass windows built in 1912. The inclusion of a monumental staircase, an element generally found in most Parisian department stores, further added to the scale of the design. At Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the grand staircase served all five floors flanked by golden balustrades. At Le Bon Marché, the main staircase provided “access like at the Opera, to a gallery at the top from which one can contemplate, as if on a balcony, the show of the crowd below” (Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013, p. 144). This type of display is complemented by the organization of cultural activities which contributed to the esthetization of people’s view and their senses more generally. Concerts were held at Le Bon Marché, and a museum-inspired painting and sculpture gallery was added on the second floor of the department store along with a reading-room where the visitors could peruse newspapers for free and purchase refreshments (Miller, 1981; Berdet, 2013). The iron columns and glass surfaces allowed light to flood in, like at the theater. This plethoric use of light also inspired designers of other major department stores such as John Wanamaker in New York who was fascinated by this element of Le Bon Marché: “Superb light, light wells everywhere, plethora of light” (Wanamaker quoted in Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013, 144). With this widespread spectacularization of design, Le Bon Marché interwove two worlds, creating both a new culture of consumption and a new consumption of culture.

A gendered heterotopia

30The third element which characterized the invention of Parisian department stores is sociological. In the context of a Napoleonic code which resulted in gender discrimination, with women being considered as minors in social roles largely associated with the domestic space (Harvey, 2003), the department stores created a new range of possibilities, partially relaxing the constraints of the behavior rules. The department store was a new type of place because it made anonymity possible, aided by the fact that “the relationship between customer and shopkeeper was more impersonal” (Crossick, Jaumain, 2018, 12) and by the emergence of crowds. These social relationships were themselves favored by systems of modernization and rationalization which amplified those techniques already partly adopted by the high-class shops of the eighteenth century and which have often been described: unrestricted access, fixed low prices, a rapid rotation of stock so as to constantly offer new products, an extended range of goods, bulk buying to allow low profit margins (Crossick, Jaumain, 2018; Walsh, 2018; Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013). Zola referred to the department store as “the cathedral of modern commerce, solid and light, made for a female clientele” (Zola (1883), 2009, p. 298). It was a gendered place, not only because the department store had female connotations (because the word “cathedral” is female in French) but above all, because it was a world most often populated by women (figure 4): while “the feminization of the sales workforce was not really achieved until the inter-war years and as late as 1910 women were a minority of those employed even in sales and services by Parisian stores” (Crossick, Jaumain, 2018, p. 17), in the 1880s women made up around 90% of their customers (Whitaker, 2011).

Figure 4. A postcard of a Women’s hair salon at Le Bon Marché in 1932 as a marker of the gendered heterotopia.

Figure 4. A postcard of a Women’s hair salon at Le Bon Marché in 1932 as a marker of the gendered heterotopia.

Source: collection Jean-René Morice

31Beyond that, the Parisian department store was regularly represented as a place allowing the subversion of the bourgeois model: “For conservatives in particular, women’s increasing presence in the public arena – linked in part to republican legislation of the 1880s – could only result in the abandonment of the foyer and the corruption of pristine interiority” (Tiersten, 2018, p. 118). The department store also therefore had its detractors who saw it as an extension of the urban street, encouraging women to move into the public space, allowing them free movement within an anonymous crowd. This spatial configuration created the possibility of strolling and uncontrolled socializing which was likely to corrupt the social and moral order. While men would have maintained their behavior while inside the department store, keeping their hats on in particular, women were considered to be potentially deviant. The department store was regularly imagined as the exact opposite of the traditional small shop prescribing more easily those ritual interactions based on politeness (Tiersen, 2018). Equally, the supposed weakening of social control over private spaces was compounded by the fact that the department store exposed women to social diversity by widening the spectrum of consumers, as Zola suggested when talking about the presence of “women without coquetry” (Zola (1883), 2009, p. 298). Bourgeois anxiety associated women visiting the department store with pathologies, within a system of symbolic oppositions: “the image of the feminine commercial public as chaotic, irrational and hyper-individualistic was constructed against that of the presumably rational, orderly and social nature of the masculine civic public” (Tiersten, 2018, p. 124). Women would have gone so far as to reverse the social order structured around male domination as Zola put it: “they had invaded the stores, they occupied them like a conquered country, like an invading horde, (…). The salesmen, deafened, broken, were treated like objects, as they would be by a tyrannical sovereign” (Zola (1883), 2009, p. 330). However, women remained exploited as consumers at the same time (Harvey, 2003), as Zola himself mentioned on several occasions, notably when referring to the department store as a “mechanism for eating women” (Zola (1883), 2009, p. 132). In this sense, the Parisian department store of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was akin to a gendered heterotopia, with the subversion being attributed to women by a masculine and bourgeois vision of the world. Potentially subversive, heterotopia nevertheless represented the dominant order.

32This latter is then embedded in the Parisian department store by the paradigm which emerged at the end of the 1950’s: the mall. Through this pattern stemmed from a new modernity, the Parisian department store, more specifically Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann and Le Printemps Haussmann, was designed from the rationalization of space, for example by the generalization of escalators in the traffic nodes in order to establish a continuous motion (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013). Besides, “the more space you have, the more profitable you are” (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013, p. 136). At Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the monumental staircase was dismantled in 1974, in order to allow a better use of the space. However, this event will be elected as an element of the story staged by the department store, when the issue of heritagization combined with touristification of the place and its re-enchantment arises.

Contemporary heterotopia: tourism, culture, luxury and globalization in the era of the “enrichment economy”

33The “enrichment economy” (Boltanski, Esquerre, 2017), means the will to qualify contemporary capitalism in its new relationships with production and work. This new way of enriching oneself is based on the trade of singular objects from the past, on the growth of luxury products and the commodification of heritage. Labour exploitation is replaced by enhanced storytelling, trade displaces industry and standardization gives way to customization (Ravelli, 2017).

The intensification of the department store touristification: producing here the Elsewhere for the World

34While La Samaritaine was bought out in 2001 by the LVMH (Louis Vuitton and Moët et Chandon group) luxury-product group which also owns Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps was taken over in 2013 by the Qatari investment fund Divine Investments SA (Disa) after having previously been acquired by the Kering luxury-product group. These changes reflect the globalization process which has concerned Parisian department stores in recent decades, with tourism amplifying this dynamic.

35Aside from major world events, in particular universal exhibitions, the customers at Parisian department stores in the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century were still mainly Parisians themselves or provincial visitors: the production of an Elsewhere, a place capable of disconnection from everyday life had to be embedded in a distant space, hence the choice of an imagination taking reference from the Orient, particularly in the context of an extremely active fashion for orientalism (Said, 1979). The change over recent decades has come from the fact that the Elsewhere is now produced for international tourists whose percentage share of tourist numbers is ever increasing, in particular those coming from the Far East (China, Japan, etc.). However, it has worked like an inversion in this movement: visitors come to look in the Parisian department stores for those images expected from Paris so much that the “Elsewhere” is now “here”. Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann particularly embody this change: 100,000 tourists visit the shop on average per day according to the Paris and Île-de-France Regional Tourist Board (OTCP, 2019), of which 60 to 70% are international visitors. The Chinese represent the largest number, making up around a third of total visitors. In addition, Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann have established a partnership with the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, an institution involved in the territorial marketing of Paris, by granting the metropolis “destination shopping” status which uses the emblem of the great store and its monumentality: “under their magical Art Nouveau glass roofs, department stores have become monuments just as unmissable as the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame”1. Although in many European cities, tourism professionals and local institutions promote their department stores as urban icons, the Parisian shops capitalize on the image of Paris as a destination associating shopping with culture. International tourism, shopping and culture are so closely interwoven in certain places that ten International Tourist Zones have been created in Paris which specifically allow businesses located in these areas to be able to open on Sundays. A zone around Boulevard Haussmann has thus been set up as an extension of those of “Saint-Honoré” and “Vendôme” where the commercial space is itself particularly structured around French luxury products. Along with their direct competitor Le Printemps, also located on Boulevard Haussmann and following difficult negotiations with union organizations, Les Galeries Lafayette have authorized Sunday opening, a decision explained in particular by competition from London and its department stores where Sunday opening is the norm.

  • 2 Taken from the OTCP website, visited on 23/04/2020.

36International tourism has also become such a major issue for Parisian department stores that services have been created for tourists from around the world, as illustrated by Le Printemps, which “offers personalized services such as bilingual shopping assistants, delivery to Parisian hotels, worldwide shipping, tax refunds or even accepting foreign currencies at the checkouts”2. At Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the services target Chinese tourists in particular. Through the establishment of a partnership with the social platform WeChat, widely used in China, the department store allows tourists to pay for their purchases directly using their smartphones via the WeChat Pay application. Le Printemps department store has set up an equivalent system using Alipay, developed by the Chinese group Alibaba. Les Galeries Lafayette have gone even further. Firstly, the department store has become known abroad and has established contracts with travel agencies to include a “Les Galeries Lafayette tour” (Basini, 2013) in tourist visits. The tourist guides therefore bring Chinese customers to the shop in exchange for commission which can be as much as 10% of those purchases made. Secondly, Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann have created a specific store dedicated to Chinese customers opposite the historic shop on the other side of Boulevard Haussmann. Named the “Shopping and Welcome Center”, it is a 4,200 square-meter space spread over two levels where the all saleswomen are Chinese speakers and shop signage is in the language too. While Parisian department stores have used international architects in recent years, such as La Samaritaine working with the Japanese agency Sanaa, the “Shopping and Welcome Center” was designed by the architect Ora-ïto.

37This accelerated globalization of department stores is in fact associated with the promotion of local footholds. In a strategy of differentiation from Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, certain department stores such as the future La Samaritaine or Le Bon Marché are also trying to attract those customers living in Paris. By remaining partly in the daily space of Parisians, these department stores are justifying their local identity as well as being a resource for international tourists who have the impression they are visiting a place located “here” (in Paris). The department stores regularly showcase Parisian symbols in their publicity material. Les Galeries Lafayette even included a stylized Eiffel Tower in their logo until 2015, because such images have been familiar around the world since its construction for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. This regular inclusion of the Eiffel Tower in publicity material creates symbolic connections between a key structure for both Paris and France and the department store which is therefore transformed into a local monument. Recent tourist guides have focused on the strength of this monumentality and the unique showcasing used by the Parisian department stores which have succeeded in resisting the dematerialization of retail and still offer a real shopping experience: “today, in spite of the competition of the ’low-end chains’ such as H&M or Zara, and online shopping, department stores remain the insignia of Parisian refinement” (Guides Bleus, 2018, p. 571). In contemporary mass culture, one of the trends of which is homogenization, individuals are looking for authenticity (Abélès, 2018), a representation which is strongly embodied in the tourist experience as Dean MacCannel showed when he spoke of “staged authenticity” (MacCannel, 1999, p. 91). When international tourists go shopping in Paris, they are particularly inclined to consume luxury products which are presented as identity and cultural markers: the goods are each associated with a prestigious brand whose reputation is itself derived from its identification with a place, either Paris or France, which are both designed like brands. These products, covering items which are both scarce and abundant within a luxury economy which relies on outsourcing to low-wage countries for some of its production (Boltanski, Esquerre, 2017), are able to guarantee consumers some social distinction. This distinction does not just come from the relatively high price of these goods, but also from the fact that they are associated in the imagination of many international tourists with the idea of “made in France” or even “made in Paris”. For certain tourists these products therefore work as a metonymy of Paris, a sense of place which is not specific to just this city but which can be seen in many tourist consumption experiences: “through consuming certain goods and services the place itself comes to be experienced (…) with the part standing for the whole” (Urry, 2007, p. 79). In Parisian department stores the goods offered, which have moved upmarket in recent years (Chabault, 2020), are closely associated with the French art of living. Although Chinese tourists take advantage of the lower prices for luxury products sold in France, as they are charged between 20% to 30% more in China, the symbolic dimension of the products is also the main factor in the decision to make a purchase. As such, the goods bought in Parisian department stores are seen as authentic, compared to items from the same brands sold in China and potentially manufactured by counterfeiters.

The interweaving of temporalities: exploiting the past, while persevering with creation

  • 3 DIY stands for « Do It Yourself ».
  • 4 Taken from The LVMH website , visited on 08/10/2020.
  • 5 Interview with a customer relationships manager (Le Bon Marché) in november 2015.

38While local tourism institutions promote department stores as monuments, department stores themselves emphasize the heritage of their buildings and the architecture associated with it in their communication, remembering at the same time the prestigious context in which they are situated. Following the renovations at BHV in 2013, the department store which belongs to Les Galeries Lafayette group was renamed “BHV Marais”. This new toponym reveals an identification strategy using a local neighborhood name associated with Parisian heritage. By highlighting its connection to the Marais, BHV thus created a heritagization which served to increase its prestige for both residents and tourists. BHV Marais epitomizes the strategy of the Parisian department store which consists in attracting in the same time local customers and international visitors. On the one hand, “Lilibricole”, a device that implies offering Parisian customers DIY3 workshops, enables this department store to differentiate from the others by promoting a mundane leisure activity far from the fashion world and its luxury products. On the other hand, in recent years, BHV Marais has also developed a tourism strategy founded on the local products associated with the “French art de vivre”, a position that also targets the residents’ imagination. BHV Marais offers a combination of shopping and cultural discovery that customers purchase through tour-operators and travel agencies (Lapoule, Colla, 2017) in order to live a unique experience. The strategy of Le Bon Marché is quite different. It targets both the neighborhood customers (supposed to come from the left bank of La Seine) and the luxury international ones: “International customers looking for a true Parisian experience rub shoulders with a French clientele attached to the singular spirit of the place and the quality of the service”4. But Le Bon Marché does not establish some partnerships with tour-operators, a way to stand out from Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann whose image is not local customers oriented5.

  • 6 Taken from the LVMH website, visited on 25/04/2020.
  • 7 Taken from the LVMH website, visited on 25/04/2020.

39The LVMH group prefers to reference symbolic places, emblems of Parisian heritage whose image reflects on La Samaritaine: “Ideally located, between Le Louvre and Notre-Dame de Paris, the department store is a true architectural monument where Art Nouveau and Art Deco coexist in a harmonious whole”6. La Samaritaine evokes both the historical importance of the department store and the disruption caused by the renovation works, while creating the imagination of a “total” place, offering a range of functions capable of generating a world in itself, having its own existence, a kind of city within the city: “The new Samaritaine places diversity, dear to the founders of the department store, at the heart of its raison d’être (…): a department store, a 72-room Cheval Blanc hotel, 96 social housing units, a crèche and offices will open their doors”7. This representation which associates the department store with the city is noted by certain journalists who write about it being a “miniature city” (Garnier, 2019). The heritage treatment is differentiated depending on the department stores, and the protection provided by the State for historic monuments does not document clearly what has been changed. While neither the facade nor the dome of Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann are protected as historic monuments, unlike the facade of Le Printemps which was listed in 1975, it is nevertheless the first department store to carry out visible actions. Indeed, 2008 marked a turning point with the creation of a “Heritage and Historical Archives” department within Les Galeries Lafayette. The heritagization of the place was embodied and strengthened by the creation of a guided tour (in groups) in 2012 by a cultural mediator in order that visitors might discover those parts of the department store related to its heritage. A portion of the original main staircase built in 1912 but dismantled in 1974, for example, is celebrated with an audio presentation. This is also backed up by the use of an information board (to explain the sense of place) to reveal the historical depth of the department store and the role played by key characters (Ferdinand Chanut who was responsible for the architecture and Louis Majorelle for the ironwork) involved in the work. All these actions have fed back into the heritagization of the place.

  • 8 Taken from Les Galeries Lafayette website, visited on 26/04/2020.

40In reality, the contemporary Parisian department store combines long and short time scales. To the development of the past they have added that of creation. In search of trends like in the period of “novelty stores”, Parisian department stores therefore pretend to be in a way “ahead of their time”. Thus, the accumulated time (long time) is coupled here with the time of disruption. As such, on their first floor, Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann have opened the Galerie des Galeries, a place designed to introduce visitors to “the talents of today and tomorrow, from the fashion world, the creative arts and design; disciplines which have always inspired Les Galeries Lafayette”8. The gallery is organized around four exhibitions per year focusing on French and international design. This strategy, which consists of staging novelty, was further reinforced by the opening of a Galeries Lafayette department store on Les Champs-Elysées in March 2019, in an Art Deco building “updated” by an “architect with an international career, well known, a bit rock’n’roll and a visionary”: Bjarke Ingels from the BIG agency in Denmark, a “gifted architect known for his manifesto works representing the city of tomorrow” (Vignal, 2019, p. 39). In this new store, which is smaller than the flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann, Ingels aims to enhance the products as if they were in a contemporary art installation. The merchandising is overseen by “curators”, equipped with the skills required to select rare and desirable brands, in displays created by salespeople whose job description is that of “personal stylist”, breaking away from the traditional image of Les Galeries Lafayette salespeople (Vignal, 2019, p. 41).

The “cathedral” of luxury brands: opening and closing the space

41According to Foucault, “the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (Foucault, 1986, p. 25). In fact, Parisian department stores manage to deal with dialogic elements. By combining the models of the oriental bazaar and the mall (Berdet, 2013), this commercial space provides a mix of rationality and imagination. Rationality is a principle which has been used since the invention of the department store (Miller, 1981) with the new commercial techniques therefore implemented. This principle is also embodied in the spatial layout that outlines the ways in which a linear space distinguishes the goods in a range or collection etc. Strolling, as a random mobility, is in fact regulated by the system of consumption which is superimposed on the phantasmagoria of abundance, a certain symmetry and linearity of shopping traffic regulated by the aisles and the creation of maps which help to guide people around (Coëffé, Morice, 2019). However, the Parisian department store space is also “enchanted” by the theatricalization of objects, a pattern which has endured since the invention of department stores and which is reinforced by the increasing amount of space reserved for goods originating from luxury brands. The presentation of products involves spatial and temporal resources. A narrative device effectively begins with the shop-window. From this point of view, those Parisian department stores which promote fashion have adopted the codes coming from luxury boutiques. This is in fact a “prison window” (Adham, 2006) which exacerbates the tension between opening and closing: although the store presents objects from prestigious brands, the opaque background to the window-display stops those passing from seeing into the interior of the department store. The opacity thus created, which attenuates accessibility, stimulates far more curiosity and desire with the articles appearing exclusive, or even sacred. This discontinuity between the department store and the public space of the city is reinforced inside by the depiction of the Elsewhere which breaks away from everyday life. Parisian department stores now seem to draw their references from the world of duty free shops in international airports (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013). The four Parisian department stores have duty-free counters, and for La Samaritaine it is Duty Free Shoppers (DFS), a subsidiary of LMVH, which will manage the department store. The abundance of signs is due to the large number of luxury brands which have opened corners, each one being like a boutique, independent from the rest. This layout is particularly accomplished in the atrium at Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, under the dome where the “brand corners compete in height and size” (Picon-Lefebvre, 2013, p. 140). The verticalization achieved by the use of hanging advertising banners and suspended video screens therefore mirrors the monumentality of the interior architecture, thus contributing to the sacred symbolism of the place. Department stores are therefore part of a more global spatial logic inherent in the modern tourist world which works by the “sacralisation (the making sacred) of sites” (Grant, 2007, p. 38). The tourist’s gaze is focused in the atrium of Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann by the upward movement as revealed by the fact that photography is tolerated here while being prohibited elsewhere in the department store. Visitors take photographs looking up at the dome (figure 5) while seemingly ignoring the consumption space.

Figure 5. Visitors taking photographs of the dome in the atrium at Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann.

Figure 5. Visitors taking photographs of the dome in the atrium at Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann.

Source: Vincent Coëffé, 2012 and 2014

42This sightseeing, discovering tourist attractions from an aesthetic viewpoint (Urry, 2002), is so closely linked to visitor activities that a 9-meter-long suspended glass walkway was added 16 meters above the floor-space in 2018. This device enables visitors to participate in an up and down movement allowing them to get closer to the dome while at the same time being able to see the whole ground floor area from above, full of human beings and goods.


43The Parisian department store is a place which is both generic and unique in each of its local and historical situations. A department store is therefore not a “non-place” (Augé, 2009), a somewhat controversial concept (Hubbard, 2007; Lussault, 2017) and qualified by Marc Augé himself insofar as no “non-place” actually exists in a “pure form” (Chabault, 2020, p. 17), that is to say a place without social relations, without history, and without an identity function. The Parisian department store cannot be summarized as an example of “surmodernity”, a place without a memory, and without the possibility of specific discoveries. The Parisian department store was conceived from its creation, as the successor of older places of consumption (arcades in particular) as an “other place” (heterotopia), but it is not a radical otherness. The space of everyday life and the space of tourism are interconnected in this urban heterotopia. Although the Parisian department store, whose contemporary paradigm is embodied by Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann (Coëffé, Morice, 2019), is a tourist place, it is laid out to challenge everyday places but represents them at the same time since it mixes local residents and tourists. This connection to the daily life is especially true when tourists bring to the department stores some incorporated norms rooted in their daily lives.

44The utopian dimension is present in the department store as it refers to an imagination of “high end” and “good quality”. Above all, it is specifically a heterotopia because the utopia is “localized”, it is part of a spatial system structured around relationships which we have shown to work on a dialogism. This allows the reciprocal relationships to converge in a place with logics which may seem contradictory: daily/non-daily, identity/otherness, anchoring/mobility, rationality/imagination. Rationality and imagination are simply two sides of the same paradigm, “artist capitalism” (Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013) which was already well ordered when the Parisian department store was invented. The imagination associated with it confirms Foucault’s idea that “contemporary space is perhaps still not entirely desanctified” (Foucault, 1986, p. 23). The aestheticization of the material sales space, amplified by the department store, helps to spread the imagination of consumption socially. Shopping at the department store cannot be condensed simply to the purchase of goods but also finds its meaning in the social relationships which occur there (Lipovetsky, Serroy, 2013, p. 150). It is really a question of introducing a system capable of offering a total experience, that is to say a “commitment which activates the physical, sensorial, cognitive, economic, social and cultural resources of an individual” (Lussault, 2017, p. 58).

45Since its invention, the Parisian department store has remained a heterotopia. However, while the department store from the second half of the 19th century displayed an Elsewhere through the prism of exoticism while embodying Parisian modernity, the contemporary department store sets up a temporal dialogism: on the one hand the department store converts its legacy into heritage, and on the other hand it establishes a disruption by staging the artistic creation. From this point of view, the department store combines the two forms of heterochrony described by Foucault: both the long accumulation time, and therefore temporal continuity, and the short time linked to novelty, and therefore temporal discontinuity. The tourists’ experience also reinforces the short time due to the transience of their presence in the place.

46To conclude, the Parisian department store exemplifies heterotopia as a place which brings together realities that may appear more dispersed in other heterotopic situations. By mixing both temporalities and spatialities, the Parisian department store is both inside and outside the place, as Foucault would say. Heterotopia therefore makes it possible to articulate dimensions which may have been conflicting (Gallan, 2015). The Parisian department store is also an “other place” which reveals relationships maintained with other generic places produced by recent advances in capitalism and globalization, like the airport terminals or malls from which they take inspiration, unless it is in fact the other way around.

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1 Taken from the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau (OTCP) website, visited on 23/04/2020.

2 Taken from the OTCP website, visited on 23/04/2020.

3 DIY stands for « Do It Yourself ».

4 Taken from The LVMH website , visited on 08/10/2020.

5 Interview with a customer relationships manager (Le Bon Marché) in november 2015.

6 Taken from the LVMH website, visited on 25/04/2020.

7 Taken from the LVMH website, visited on 25/04/2020.

8 Taken from Les Galeries Lafayette website, visited on 26/04/2020.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. The department stores in Paris at the end of the 19th century.
Crédits Source : Jean-René Morice and Vincent Coëffé (design) ; Maylis Jaouen (production)
Fichier image/jpeg, 227k
Titre Figure 2. A postcard of the Parisian department store as an emblem of Paris in 1932: Le Bazar de L’Hôtel de Ville and its monumentality.
Crédits Source: collection Jean-René Morice
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Titre Figure 3. A postcard of Les Grands Magasins du Louvre around 1910: the oriental carpets hung on the walls transformed into “phantasmagorias”.
Crédits Source: collection Jean-René Morice
Fichier image/jpeg, 256k
Titre Figure 4. A postcard of a Women’s hair salon at Le Bon Marché in 1932 as a marker of the gendered heterotopia.
Crédits Source: collection Jean-René Morice
Fichier image/jpeg, 287k
Titre Figure 5. Visitors taking photographs of the dome in the atrium at Les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann.
Crédits Source: Vincent Coëffé, 2012 and 2014
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
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Vincent Coëffé et Jean-René Morice, « The Parisian department store as a paradigmatic place for interactions between tourism and shopping: the production of a heterotopia »Belgeo [En ligne], 1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2020, consulté le 25 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Vincent Coëffé

Faculty of tourism & culture (ESTHUA), Laboratory ESO CNRS UMR 6590, University of Angers, France,

Jean-René Morice

Faculty of tourism & culture (ESTHUA), Laboratory ESO CNRS UMR 6590, University of Angers, France,

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Belgeo est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

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