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VM inspiration: Galeries Royales Saint Hubert in Brussels

The glass-roofed shopping arcade in the centre of Brussels is a VM ‘must-see.’ The footprint of the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (1847) forms a deliberately angled shape with an additional short spur designed to avoid a long, rather dull, vista. It comprises three galleries: The Galerie du Roi, of the King; Galerie de la Reine, of the Queen; and the smaller Galerie des Princes, of the Princes.

The precursors of today’s shopping malls the Arcade was a means of protecting customers from the elements and allowed leisurely promenading, contributing prosperity to previously neglected areas. It is the work of architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer (1811 - 1880) and banker Jean-Andre de Mot (1876 – 1918): it took nine years to secure property rights for Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert development, but only eighteen months to build in Italian Renaissance style.

In many instances, the original store-fronts are beautifully unchanged with a spider’s web of small curved panes above recessed doorways, lit by frosted-glass lanterns.

Store windows retain their original looks too as at this Italian glove specialist, proclaiming its heritage in gold foil on the glass. In a very traditional manner, the narrow glass shelves display a row of wooden hands, most crisply holding the pair to the one on the hand – a very neat means of keeping the pairs together and avoiding the loss of one glove.

The floor of the window displays merchandise in neat lines, a rather dull strategy for most merchandise, but for small leather-goods it makes a pleasing effect, with gloves organized by category: mens; ladies; peccary; driving; silk-lined; and unlined.

The relative complexity of the display serves to teach customers about glove categories. Note the extensive collection of coloured sheepskin gloves pinned down the left side of the window, adding a little colour to a predominantly practical black, brown, and tan display.

The store interior appears original too, with small drawers each neatly labeled. The easy chair and casement clock suggest more leisurely past times. Note the discreet curtain under the arched doorway dividing the office from the store; the practical runner preventing wear on the polished wooden floor; and the lovely old cash register. Only a framed image of a kitten suggests the personality of the owner.

The small stores, all decorated for Christmas, offer the delicacies expected of fine retailers, including this confiserie with its frosted pine-cone wreath, suspended with a broad tartan ribbon over apothecary jars filled with Turkish delight.

The window of candy and chocolate specialist Neuhaus showcases Saint Nicholas, the original Santa, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving. The 4th century saint placed gold coins in shoes left out for him on 6 December, his saints day, which is widely celebrated in the Low Countries with small gifts. Saint Nicolas is accompanied by Black Pete, commonly depicted in Belgium as a black-skinned boy with dark curly hair in Renaissance dress, whose elf-like role is to mischievously prevent disobedient children from receiving gifts. The ‘N’ of Neuhaus has been added to Nicolas’ mitre hat, which Black Pete is attempting to paint, whilst Saint Nicholas decorates a chocolate teddy bear.

A last classic store window here at Delices du Roy, filled with tea, biscuits, and chocolates in perfectly spaced rows, broken by a graphic of macaroons on the window above two oversized cocktail glasses filled with chocolates. The store interior perfectly matches the classic display with its mahogany cabinets.

The galleries and the stores within are a pleasure for the eyes, and of course, very tempting for the charge card too.