A life of order

Photograph of Labour and Wait shop window display

A bit of a tie-in this time. Whilst researching amongst Ernő Goldfingers bits and pieces in his office at 2 Willow Road (for my exhibition) I marvelled at how he’d designed himself drawers with compartments to fit every little stationery thing – rubbers, rulers, pencil sharpeners. You name it.

The desire to order, compartmentalise and label lies heavy with me (in a Star Wars kind of way) and it’s always nice to find kindred spirits. Imagine then my squeak of joy and rustle for my iPhone camera when I saw this treat of a display a few weeks back. It was the window at Labour and Wait. I mention them often enough on this blog to make readers suspicious.

This display speaks for itself, does it not? Ordered lines of inconsequential but rather perfect everyday objects. Amongst the clutter, debris and tat of a hot, muggy Sunday on Brick Lane – this window gladdened my retentive little heart.

Window display is a funny thing, hard to judge. You want to show off enough merchandise to tempt people in, but not so much customers feel you have 100s of everything to sell off. You want to catch the eye but not repel the imagination.

A lovely old chap I once interviewed – who had been a window dresser in London from the 1930s on – told me that the art of displaying home goods (like stationery, kitchenware and linens) was done best by the John Lewis Partnership. They still do it very well. And whilst I know that their archive contains many albums of images of their window displays, frustratingly, I could find nothing digitised on their websites.

The Partnership perfected a system of measured lines of tightly grouped objects, keeping to a grid, with harmonious colour combinations. Very tasteful. Ordinary objects laid out as art. It’s a form of display that came straight to England from Germany in the early decades of the 20th century, carried in the minds of the many escaping émigré artists. It was taught in London by the Reimann School, amongst others.

All you have to do is picture the lines in one of those Bauhaus graphic designs and you’re almost there.

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