Workshop: ‘Retailing, Architecture and Material Culture: Historical Perspectives’

Tuesday 22 May 2018
University of Wolverhampton, UK



10.30 – 11.00        COFFEE  AND WELCOME

Chair: Laura Ugolini, University of Wolverhampton, UK

11.00 – 11.30       Katalin Medvedev, The University of Georgia, USA

The Transformation of Budapest Fashion Retail Scene from 1867-to World War II

11.30 – 12.00       Lynn Pearson, independent scholar, UK

English Co-op Store Architecture, 1844 to 1914: Design by Committee?

12.00 – 12.30      Briana Oliver, independent scholar, UK

Selling Sex in the Burlington Arcade

12.30 – 13.30        LUNCH

Chair: George Campbell Gosling, University of Wolverhampton, UK

13.30 – 14.00       Simon Briercliffe, Black Country Living Museum, UK

‘Work in progress’ presentation: Forging Ahead: recreating a post-war Black Country high street at the Black Country Living Museum

14.00 – 14.30        Andrew Taylor, Nottingham Trent University, UK

New Doorsteps, Old Ground: Post-industrial Warehouse Use in Liverpool

14.30 – 15.00       Phil Lyon, Umea University, Sweden and Dave Kinney,, UK

Repurposing Retail Premises: The Life and Times of 54-56 Fossgate, York

15.00 – 15.30      COFFEE 

Chair: TBC

15.30 – 16.00   Myriam Couturier, Ryerson University, Canada

“Dignity and Utility”: Dusty Rose, Glass Blocks and the Fashion Retail Space of the 1930s and 40s

16.00 – 16.30     Regina Lee Blaszczyk, University of Leeds, UK

Fashioning Commercial Modernity: American Merchandisers and their Workspaces in Europe, 1870s-1940s

Wonderful selection - cropped


The workshop will be held in Room MH108-9, on the first floor of the Mary Seacole (MH) Building, City Campus, University of Wolverhampton.

The Mary Seacole (MH) Building is located on City Campus Molineux, a short (10/15 minutes) walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

For maps and directions, please see:

 The fee is £ 20

 To register, please complete the registration form available here (The link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store)

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at:

Consult Pollards


Regina Lee Blaszczyk, University of Leeds, UK

Fashioning Commercial Modernity: American Merchandisers and their Workspaces in Europe, 1870s-1940s

Between 2013 and 2016, I served as the director for The Enterprise of Culture (EOC), a €1-million EU-funded collaborative research project on the business history of the European fashion industry. The EOC advocated a closer examination of the supply chain in the fashion system, stressing that a wide range of corporate actors, from fiber makers to mass-market retailers, have long been essential to the globalization, modernization, and democratization of fashion.

Building on these insights, I am working a new book that focuses on the history of the people, places, and commercial spaces, which, although largely hidden from the public eye and the historical record, have been central to the transatlantic fashion system. My early research in corporate archives, trade journals, historic photographs, and commercial streetscapes has yielded promising insights on the operations of numerous businesses that exported European style goods—millinery, textiles, lace, corsetry, baby clothes, clocks, and glassware, and so forth—to North America between the 1870s and the outbreak of World War II. This group of “fashion intermediaries” formed a human bridge between manufacturers in Europe and the booming consumer society of the United States. They included the American buyers who visited Europe on annual purchasing trips; the Paris commissionaires and style services who exported reports on color and styles; workers in the resident European buying offices of prestigious American department stores like John Wanamaker of Philadelphia; and the professional staff in firms such as the Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC), a major group buying organization which by the 1920s had offices in Asia and Europe, including London, Paris, Florence, Berlin, and Vienna.

This paper will examine the little-understood history of American merchandisers and their connections to Europe from the 1870s through the late 1930s with reference to the materiality of the neighborhoods and buildings of important wholesale districts in Europe. It begins by laying out the broad history of the commercial networks that connected the United States to Western and Central Europe, drawing on evidence in historical newspapers, trade journals, and corporate archives to consider the workspaces of American buyers in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna. It will then examine the European operations of the AMC in Berlin, Paris, and Vienna with reference to commercial space and the daily work routines of resident buyers and stylists. The paper addresses two of the workshop themes: 1) the architecture of shops, markets and retail premises (broadly defined to include wholesale space) and 2) the material culture of distribution.

Simon Briercliffe, Black Country Living Museum, UK

Forging Ahead: recreating a post-war Black Country high street at the Black Country Living Museum

In the two decades after World War Two the Black Country moved swiftly from an industrial region at full capacity from wartime production, through a period of austerity, to a prosperous local economy based on strong exports and a well-paid working class. Before the wholesale redevelopments of towns such as Tipton and Darlaston in the later 1960s, the region’s urban centres came to symbolise the contrast between the rapidly-advancing modern world of skilled industry and a rapidly-changing social scene, and the demography, architecture and retail practices of the pre-war world. The Black Country has long lacked academic research into its history as a whole, and this is particularly true in the post-war period.

The Black Country Living Museum currently represents the region in a range of industrial, domestic and retail settings, using living history techniques to interpret the region up to the 1930s. The Forging Ahead project aims to extend the Museum’s timeline by recreating an entire Black Country high street set from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. This includes fully recreated or replicated buildings, and a number of brick by brick “translocations” from around the region. These range from traditional counter service shops including a butcher and newsagent; to showroom stores including a music shop and gas showroom; food and drink outlets including a civic restaurant; and a Co-operative branch at the point of self-service. The Museum’s ethos of “real lives, real stories” will be extended into this development, so that the interpretation will be based on specific archival and oral history research, rather than presenting a notional or typical version of each shop. This paper outlines the plans as a work in progress. It examines the context in which the street will be set and invites further academic engagement with the project.

Myriam Couturier, Ryerson University, Canada

“Dignity and Utility”: Dusty Rose, Glass Blocks and the Fashion Retail Space of the 1930s and 40s

“Knit lingerie can be brought to couture heights […] jersey lingerie belongs to forward living as surely as fast planes, glass brick, mobile houses and uncluttered spaces.”

Women’s Wear Daily, October 3, 1946

My paper examines American fashion retail architecture in the 1930s and 1940s, using as a starting point a specific architectural element: the humble glass block. Through a textual and discursive analysis of articles, published in the influential trade publication Women’s Wear Daily between 1936 and 1949, that specifically mentioned glass blocks, this paper explores the popularity of this material and other contemporary retail design trends — including modern amenities such as air conditioning, the use of precise colour schemes, and lighting technologies — that reflected broader social issues throughout the Great Depression and the Second World War. While glass blocks and other design details were praised for the sleek, modernistic atmosphere they conveyed to retail spaces, they served specific architectural, cultural and economic functions. They helped create shops that were aesthetically pleasing, tightly controlled, and situated in a liminal position between inside and outside — a kind of mass-produced complete work of design and consumption.

Using literature on shopping spaces, consumption, architecture and fashion, including Rebecca Arnold’s The American Look: Fashion and the Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s New York, this project illustrates that the visual and cultural themes promoted by fashion publications during these years — which emphasized sportswear, new materials, disciplined bodies, minimalism, and hygiene — were also communicated in the physical, material spaces where women shopped, with many stores being actively built and renovated during the Depression and wartime years. Similar design features and colour palettes were found in shops selling both high fashion and casual wear, from New York to South Carolina, creating deliberately unified retail spaces that emphasized ease, comfort and modern sensibilities in the midst of turbulent times.

These everyday shopping spaces — which aimed to provide an experience that felt rational yet upscale — are particularly interesting as they historically fall between the downtown luxury department store and the post-war American suburban mall. The paper concludes by discussing similarities between these historical designs and modern-day shops and online spaces that also rely on minimal motifs, homogenous colour schemes and aesthetic narratives to sell fashion and ‘lifestyle’ products.


Phil Lyon, Umea University, Sweden and Dave Kinney,, UK

Repurposing Retail Premises: The Life and Times of 54-56 Fossgate, York

We are increasingly familiar with demise of retailers who were important for a while, were seemingly indispensable for customer needs and then slipped first into decline, then to nostalgic reflection. Seldom, though, are we able to photograph the last days of a once vibrant business and collect reminiscences of the owners.

The Army and Navy store in Fossgate, York, opened in 1919 and closed in 2012. Over that period it had reinvented itself several times to address changing customer needs and the premises’ interior was occasionally rearranged to provide appropriate sales and storage areas. It was famous locally for the traditional counter service internal configuration, as well as for the varied workwear, outdoor leisure clothing and equipment it stocked. Eventually, market changes overwhelmed its ability to adapt and, with retirement, the premises were sold to become a bar-bistro. While this is consistent with the current narrative of decline in retail diversity on urban streets, it has to be remembered that these premises had been repurposed several times before 1919 and were part of a longer-term dynamic of business initiation and extinction. The Fossgate premises illustrate a longer-term historical reality sometimes overlooked in the genuine collective sense of loss felt when a familiar shop closes: the repurposing of commercial buildings is not restricted to our own times although each event will be produced by distinctive conditions.

Our presentation today provides a photographic record of the interior, a brief oral history from audio recordings taken at the time, and is set in the context of changed ownership and purpose over the years as reflected in newspaper archive material.

Katalin Medvedev, The University of Georgia, USA

The Transformation of Budapest Fashion Retail Scene from 1867-to World War II

Fashion studies focused on Western Europe have for long taken centre-stage, while leaving the same kind of scholarship on Central Europe mostly in the wings despite the existence of a dynamic fashion tradition in that part of the world.  To counter this drawback, this study focuses on the early history of the development of fashion retailing in Budapest, which has not registered much in fashion studies as an important European fashion center. The paper brings to light the Hungarian capital’s robust fashion production, consumption and retail scene from the late 19th century until World War II.

In 1867 nationalist unrest within the Habsburg Empire by dissenting Hungarians led to the foundation of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In this dual monarchy it became a patriotic goal of Hungary to make Budapest in every sense a true equal of Vienna, which was then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The opportunity to show that Budapest was not inferior in any way presented itself in 1896 when Hungary commemorated the 1000th anniversary of the settlement of the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarians. To demonstrate its power and influence in Eastern-Central Europe, the country organized a massive exhibition to showcase its modern cultural, industrial and commercial achievements.  In preparation for the festivities, local industrialists began to adopt Western industrial and commercial technologies and launched grandiose construction projects. As a result, in no time, Budapest became an important commercial and retail hub, and a genuine fashion site as well. In fact, according to Hungarian dress historian Katalin Dozsa, by the turn of the century the proper order of premier European fashion centers were Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin and Budapest.

The role of Budapest as a fashion city was to transmit mostly French high-fashion styles to Eastern, Central and Southern Europe. The wealthy came from as far as Istanbul to Budapest on shopping sprees because ‘everything was Parisian quality, but the prices were a lot cheaper,’ as the Magyar Bazar reported.  The faster turnover of production, increased consumer demand and a growing population necessitated the drastic modernization of the retail scene.  As fashion as a cultural phenomenon became increasingly important, several new department stores were established to respond to the needs of a new, growing urban middle class. The first truly modern department store, Parisi Nagy Aruhaz (Parisian Grand Department Store), was an opulent institution that matched Zola’s description, who called department stores the ‘cathedrals of commerce.’ In this paper I detail the unique architectural and interior design features of Parisi Nagy Aruhaz and other department stores that were built in the first decades of the 20th century and make the case that these retail establishments have been instrumental in turning Budapest into a fashion city. The article combines data collected through archival research at the Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Hospitality and a review of the limited number of existing Hungarian secondary sources on the subject.

Briana Oliver, independent scholar, UK

Selling Sex in the Burlington Arcade

This paper will explore the semiotics of sex and the consumer behavior in London’s Burlington Arcade during the mid to late nineteenth century. The Burlington Arcade, a multifaceted retail space located in London’s West End, sold expensive trinkets to the affluent ‘respectable’ shoppers during the morning and then at mid-afternoon changed patron to that of the prostitute and their clientele. The Burlington Arcade provides a platform from which to study cultures of consumption, the cosmopolitan spectacle, and influence of retail space on consumer behavior. Through electoral records, diaries, litigation and illustrations such as ‘Prostitutes Bribing the Beadles in the Burlington Arcade’ in The Day’s Doings (1871) this paper will geographically localize consumer history and the history of sexuality in Victorian London. The content for this paper is derived from my journal article in E-Rea (to be published in June 2019) and research completed for my History of Design MA at the Royal College of Art in partnership with the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Lynn Pearson, independent scholar, UK

English Co-op Store Architecture, 1844 to 1914: Design by Committee?

This paper forms part of my work in progress towards a comprehensive study of the architectural output of the English co-operative movement, both wholesale and retail elements (to be published by Historic England in 2020). The paper considers the decision-making processes behind the design and construction of co-operative stores and related buildings before the First World War. The year 1844 is used as a convenient starting point. Several co-operative groups ran shops prior to that date, but when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers opened their original store in 1844, they set a standard that many others followed successfully.

By the end of the 1880s there were around 2,000 retail co-operative society stores in England, the number rising to c2,600 in 1901 and about 4,500 in 1914; these figures are for individual branches rather than the separate shops – grocery, drapery and so on – that a single branch might contain. The stores were owned by the generally working class members who, through their society’s committee structure, had responsibility for financing, commissioning, design and construction. They could choose to use the services of their own building departments, run architectural competitions, select a (normally) local architect, or continue a long-term relationship with a specific architectural practice. Another option was to use the Architects’ Department established by the federal body, the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), in 1897; around 15 architects were employed by 1914.

Using extracts from the minutes of local co-operative societies, discussions of shop design in co-operative and architectural journals, images of shops, archive photographs and plans, this paper attempts to create a greater understanding of the design decisions taken by co-operators themselves. Unusually for a working class group, they were able to exert some influence over the built environment; several had the opportunity to make foreign visits as co-operative delegates.

The main points considered are: the architectural development of the co-op store; the extent of members’ influence in the design process; questions of regional and local identity; the role of often-overlooked provincial architects; changing symbolism and iconography; relationship with modern design; the use of advertising; and competition between societies. In conclusion, the paper reflects on the importance of the co-operative movement’s built heritage in our townscapes and its cultural significance.

Andrew Taylor, Nottingham Trent University, UK

New Dootsteps, Old Ground: Post-industrial Warehouse Use in Liverpool

This paper will consider the changing landscape of the north docks area of Liverpool and the post-industrial use of former warehouses in the wider city environs.

Once heavily populated by warehousing and storage facilities, the north docks have seen a significant shift in landscape due to the encroaching redevelopment of the area. Similar locales in the city, such as the Baltic Triangle, have seen artists and start-up companies take up residence in vacant buildings, as city-centre property redevelopment, results in the aggressive tearing down of buildings, allowing for former warehousing and factories to be desirable locations for creative communities.

Examples of this practice, is in evidence in other UK cities such as Birmingham, with the Custard Factory in Digbeth, which describes itself as ‘the UK’s leading destination for creative and digital businesses, independent shops and alternative culture outside London.’[1]

‘Make Liverpool’ have recently opened a second site in Liverpool, adding to their site in the Baltic Triangle, and their website offers some interesting pointers:

Make Liverpool sits firmly at the heart of the city’s creative and maker scene, where we’ve worked to support artists, makers and small businesses since 2012. Growing from the Baltic Triangle, where we’ve been based for more than five years, Make encompasses creative space in Elevator Studios – where we run a hub for small businesses and makers to grow and develop projects and ideas – with 18,000 square feet of maker space on Regent Street, amidst the growing cultural cluster of Liverpool’s north docks.[2]

Similarly, Elevator Studios is located in a large former warehouse, described as having once stored cotton, spices and coffee.[3] Instrumental in the regeneration of the Baltic Triangle area, Elevator is a prime example of warehouse use being transposed for modern purpose.

This paper will build on continuing research into the north docks area of Liverpool that began with my initial Liverpool Warehousing Co. Ltd publication (Manchester: zimZalla, 2016), which researched the use of warehousing in the city centre and will offer samples (in the form of poetry and sound poetry) of recording such space in their redeveloped manifestations.

[1] Accessed 18th December 2017.

[2] Accessed 18th December 2017.

[3] Accessed 19th December 2017



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