Keen to reflect contemporary interests and fashions, Rudolph Ackermann in his popular monthly periodical ‘The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics’ (1809-1828), offered a regular feature which focused on some of London’s leading luxury retailers. Each article was accompanied by a coloured illustration of a shop interior and included a detailed descriptive text, which encouraged readers to vicariously experience the spaces represented.
The pleasure to be gained from imagining such interiors and the appeal of the luxury items described, vividly highlights the interest contemporaries had in shopping. Seen as a social, even cultural activity, a visit to some of London’s exclusive retailers was an experience to be relished. Ackermann’s feature in March 1809 on ‘Harding, Howell and Co’ offered its readers a step-by-step walk through the expensive draper’s shop. The article’s enthusiastic author builds anticipation for his readers, describing the first ‘department’ customers would have encountered to be ‘fans and furs’, the next ‘silk, muslins, lace and gloves’. Moving deeper into the shop customers would then have a chance to peruse ‘jewellery, and ornamental articles’, before reaching the final department which was ‘set apart’ for millinery and dresses.
Central to the shopping experience was not just the array of goods on display but also the environment in which they were presented. Throughout his features on London retailers Ackermann was keen to include precise measurements for each showroom, noting the exquisite decorations, the number of display cases used, what they were made of, how the rooms were lit, if there were places for customers to sit, and even the number of staff employed. Such details strongly asserted the shop’s luxury credentials, highlighting the significant investment retailers were prepared to make in order to entice the right class of customer.
Serena Dyer, ‘Shopping, spectacle and the senses: fashion retail in Georgian England’, History Today, Vol. 65, No. 3, 2015.
Jon Stobart, Andrew Hann and Victoria Morgan, Spaces of Consumption: Leisure and Shopping in the English Town, c.1680-1830, Routledge, 2007.