Malkin Lecture: Design on Display: Making the New York Department Store

The department store redefined the shopping experience in New York at the turn of the 20th century. This transformation was the work of architects, window dressers, shopfitters, and interior decorators who made the department store a significant site for design production and innovation. Display became central to the economic aims and artistic pursuits of leading retail outlets including Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Abraham & Straus, Wanamaker’s, and Siegel Cooper. Architects multiplied show windows, shopfitters customized casework, window dressers built ambitious arrangements, and decorators created immersive interiors. Stores’ success thrived on speed and change. Techniques and technologies of attraction developed to keep pace with consumer taste and demand. Exploring behind-the-scenes in window display workrooms, shop fitting factory floors, and architects’ and designers’ studios, this illustrated talk by curator Emily M. Orr highlights the department store’s dynamic role in design history.

Emily M. Orr is Associate Curator and Acting Head of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. She holds a PhD in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art/Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Her primary areas of scholarship include industrial design, retail history, and the modern interior. She is the author of Designing the Department Store: Display and Retail at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Bloomsbury, 2019) and co-editor and author of E. McKnight Kauffer: The Artist in Advertising (Rizzoli Electa/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2020).

Abraham and Straus, The Model Department Store (exterior), ca. 1894. Courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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October 17, 2022

Monday, October 17, 2022 at 6:30pm
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