A CATHEDRAL OF COMMERCE FOR A PEOPLE OF CUSTOMERS

“A cathedral of commerce for a people of customers” was how Émile Zola defined the mammoth commercial enterprise of Au Bon Marché in Au Bonheur des Dames. Founded in 1838 as a large family-run haberdashery, by 1877 Au Bon Marché had almost 2,000 employees and was the leading department store in France. It was also one of the first stores to grasp the importance of mass advertising.

In the early twentieth century, while it was developing home delivery and carriage-inclusive mail order services, Au Bon Marché was already sending several million fashion catalogues all over the world and paying hitherto unheard-of attention to the design of posters, calendars, advertisements, daybooks and greetings cards.

Devambez was the natural partner for this radically modern enterprise: during the first decade of the century, Au Bon Marché asked Devambez to design and print greetings cards depicting children’s games and the professions of yesteryear, citing Au Bon Marché as “the store that sells new items from all over the world, to be visited as one of the most extraordinary sights in Paris”.

To respond to an international clientele attracted by its reputation, its architecture and its constantly updated range of products, Au Bon Marché employed interpreters in a large number of languages. In 1910 it announced the inauguration of the Hotel Lutetia; once again, Devambez was commissioned to promote the “only palace hotel on the Left Bank”, producing a small, meticulously laid out book with ornate lettering, telling the story of the district and talking about the crucial role of the grands magasins in the modernisation of its urban design and social make-up.

Au Bon Marché greetings cards, series entitled “Les jeux d’enfants” (children’s games) and “Les métiers d’antan” (professions of yesteryear), Paris, Devambez, [after 1906]

Souvenirs d’antan. Hôtel Lutetia, Paris, Devambez, 1910