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Retail design first began to grow in the middle of the 19th century, with stores such as Bon Marche and Printemps in Paris, "followed by Marshall Fields in Chicago, Selfridges in London and Macy's in New York." These early retail design stores were swiftly continued with an innovation called the chain store.
The first known chain department stores were established in Belgium in 1868, when Isidore, Benjamin and Modeste Dewachter incorporated Dewachter frères (Dewachter Brothers) selling ready-to-wear clothing for men and children and specialty clothing such as riding apparel and beachwear. The firm opened with four locations and, by 1904, Maison Dewachter (House of Dewachter) had stores in 20 cities and towns in Belgium and France, with multiple stores in some cities. Isidore's eldest son, Louis Dewachter, managed the chain at its peak and also became an internationally known landscape artist, painting under the pseudonym Louis Dewis.
The first retail chain store in the United States was opened in the early 20th century by Frank Winfield Woolworth, which quickly became a franchise across the US. Other chain stores began growing in places like the UK a decade or so later, with stores like Boots. After World War II, a new type of retail design building known as the shopping centre came into being. This type of building took two different paths in comparison between the US and Europe. Shopping centres began being built out of town within the United States to benefit the suburban family, while Europe began putting shopping centres in the middle of town. The first shopping centre in the Netherlands was built in the 1950s, as retail design ideas began spreading east.
The next evolution of retail design was the creation of the boutique in the 1960s, which emphasized retail design run by individuals. Some of the earliest examples of boutiques are the Biba boutique created by Barbara Hulanicki and the Habitat line of stores made by Terence Conran. The rise of the boutique was followed, in the next two decades, with an overall increase in consumer spending across the developed world. This rise made retail design shift to compensate for increased customers and alternative focuses. Many retail design stores redesigned themselves over the period to keep up with changing consumer tastes. These changes resulted on one side with the creation of multiple "expensive, one-off designer shops" catering to specific fashion designers and retailers.
The rise of the internet and internet retailing in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century saw another change in retail design to compensate. Many different sectors not related to the internet reached out to retail design and its practices to lure online shoppers back to physical shops, where retail design can be properly utilized.
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