Streamline Moderne

At the end of each year, our team reports on the Museum’s activities from the past twelve months – including what objects have been added to the Permanent Collection. As we compiled our list of 2015 acquisitions, there were a few unforgettable pieces that demanded our attention. These striking suede and leather heels from the 1930s are undoubtedly one of our “Staff Picks” for Favorite New Acquisition of 2015:


1930 – 1935
Suede and metallic leather
Museum Purchase

There is so much to take in when you look at these shoes. Does your eye travel directly to the graphically striped cuff? Maybe you first notice the silver and black bow, or the metallic heel. The boldness of these embellishments demonstrates how the nature of Art Deco design began to subtly change in the 1930s. Speed lines and smooth curves became the hallmark of what is now known as Streamline Moderne, the 1930s interpretation of Art Deco. Think of the blocky carvings and statues that adorn New York City’s Rockefeller Center, which opened in May 1933.  The industrial design world embraced Streamline Moderne, and examples of this style appeared on everything from cars to clocks.


Thanks to a stamp on the insole, we know the shoes were sold by “T. Eaton’s.” To our Northern neighbors, this name surely has significance – Eaton’s was Canada’s most popular department store throughout the twentieth century, combining the glamour of Selfridges with the extensive geographic reach of Macy’s. Timothy Eaton founded his store in Toronto in 1869; like many department stores, Eaton’s began in the dry goods business. The store continued to expand, opening a location in Toronto’s fashionable shopping district, but sales truly skyrocketed when Mr. Eaton introduced his mail order service in 1884. The vast nature of Canadian territories meant that many residents outside of cities had difficulty purchasing supplies. Suddenly, Mr. Eaton’s catalog offered everything from fashion to farming equipment, thus spreading consumerism from city center to countryside, and forever changing the way Canadians shopped. The publication grew from thirty-two pages to over 500, and became something of a national treasure until it was discontinued in 1976.

Eatons Catalog 1930

Eaton News Spring Fashions
March 29, 1930
McGill University Library
By the early 1930s, Eaton’s was responsible for nearly 60% of department-store business in Canada.[1] The Eaton family celebrated their success by opening a massive and modern flagship store on Toronto’s College Street. Lady Flora Eaton, wife of Timothy Eaton’s son Sir John Craig Eaton, hired renowned French architect Jacques Carlu to envision the Seventh Floor of the new store as an auditorium and restaurant space.[2] Carlu had designed Eaton’s restaurant in the Montreal store – an equally impressive Art Deco achievement – and was famous for consulting on elegant ocean liner interiors. This nautical influence, another attribute of the Streamline Moderne movement, is particularly recognizable in Eaton’s famous Seventh Floor architecture. Carlu designed the layout of the space, while his wife Natasha painted the murals. Together, they created the legendary Round Room restaurant, an Art Deco masterpiece (complete with an original Lalique fountain) that opened in 1930, and is now a Canadian historical landmark.

Round Room 1930 

The Round Room on Eaton's Seventh Floor, 1930
Canada's Historic Places

7th floor auditorium c 1930

Eaton's Seventh Floor Auditorium, c. 1930
Canada's Historic Places
The blog has visited Art Deco’s influence on fashion before, particularly as clothing and accessories began to reflect changes in architecture and the emerging vogue for sky scrapers. The Round Room opening coincides with the date of the Museum’s shoes; is it possible the design of the shoes was inspired by this magnificent store? The repeating lines of the Round Room ceiling and floor are echoed in the silver and black striped cuff, and the speed lines on either side of the shoe would not be out of place in the Streamline Moderne style auditorium and foyer. Moreover, the Round Room would be the perfect place for a fashion-forward woman to debut her chic footwear. The boot-like design make these avant-garde shoes appropriate for day time; paired with an equally Moderne suit, they would make quite an impression for an afternoon of shopping and lunch on Eaton’s Seventh Floor.  

Sadly, Eaton’s was challenged by increased competition and the changing pace of retail in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Although the brand is now defunct, thankfully, College Street’s Seventh Floor was restored in 2003 to its original glory after being closed to the public for over twenty years. The Round Room and auditorium now operate as the event space Carlu, named in honor of the visionary architect.  These unique Eaton’s shoes showcase the store in its prime, and we are thrilled to have this important Canadian brand represented in our Collection.  

We want to hear from our Canadian readers – do you remember shopping at Eaton’s? Tell us about your experience!


[1] Donica Belisle, “Consuming Producers: Retail Workers and Commodity Culture at Eaton’s in Mid-Twentieth-Century Toronto” (Queen’s University Master of Arts Thesis, Kingston, Ontario, September 2001), 13.

[2] Bruce Allen Kopytek, Eaton’s: The Trans-Canada Store (Charleston: The History Press, 2014), 242.


Additional Resources:

Whiteson, Leon. “The Graceful Lines of Streamline Moderne.” The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), Feb 11, 1990.

Canada’s Historic Places;

Canadian Museum of History;

Library and Archives Canada;

Art and History of Rockefeller Center;

One response to “Streamline Moderne

  1. Fashos says:

    Thanks for sharing the best collection.

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