paying homage to selfridges -- 11/01/17

Today's selection -- from Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead. With the Industrial Revolution came the consumer society and, inevitably, the department store. By the mid-1800s, such stores as Le Bon Marché in Paris and both Whiteleys and Harrods in London were well established, followed by R. H. Macy & Co. in New York, Marshall Field and Co. in Chicago, and John Wanamaker & Co. in Philadelphia. The late 1800s and early 1900s were a golden era of growth, profitability and innovation in the industry, and among the most innovative was Selfridge & Co., founded by Harry Selfridge, who left his post as a manager at Marshall Field's to open his iconic London store in a grandiose new building in 1909:

"[Selfridge announced:]

We have every pleasure in announcing that the formal opening of our premises --London's newest shopping centre -- begins today and continues throughout the week. We wish it to be clearly understood that our invitation is to the whole British public and to visitors from overseas -- that no cards of admission are required -- that all are welcome -- and that the pleasures of shopping as those of sight-seeing begin from the opening hour.

"In promoting the 'pleasures of shopping', in calling the store a 'shopping centre' and, more significantly, in talking about 'sight seeing', Harry Selfridge was putting into place things we take for granted today. Art exhibitions in-store? Selfridge did it in 1909. Cookery demonstrations in the kitchen equipment department? Selfridge did it in 1912. But nearly a hundred years ago, these were visionary ideas. It was almost as if H. G. Selfridge was being advised by his new friend H. G. Wells. ...

"Against all the advice from his army of technicians scrambling to finish the store interiors in time, Selfridge fixed the opening day for Monday, 15 March 1909. No one believed the store would be ready. Indeed a journalist escorted round the premises reported that 'disorder reigned supreme'. The 1,800 staff worked throughout the weekend until midnight on Sunday, frantically unpacking and arranging stock in over a hundred different departments. In the store's magnificent windows, hidden until the opening by ruched silk theatre curtains, Edward Goldsman had created exquisite fashion displays inspired by Watteau and Fragonard. ...

Laura Vague pays homage to the legacy
of Selfridge.

"Staff positioned by the Oxford and Duke Street doors counted in 90,000 people on the opening day. In a nice theatrical touch by Selfridge, who always got on very well with the local constabulary, over thirty policemen were on hand outside to handle the crowds. For the most part those who came were just looking. Actual sales totalled a meagre £3,000, well under target. Selfridge himself didn't mind. Or if he did, he didn't show it. As far as he was concerned, the opening day was a bit like the opening night of a play. It was the reviews he was waiting for. Did people like the store? Would they return? Would it be a long-running success?

"There wasn't much not to like. The place was a marvel. There
were six acres of floor space with no internal doors. Instead there were wide, open-plan vistas -- perhaps not quite as open as Selfridge had wanted but given onerous fire restrictions, still a revelation for London retailing. Nine Otis lifts, each six foot square, whisked passengers from the toy, sports and motoring departments on the lower ground floor to the restaurant on the top floor. The store was brilliantly lit and flooded with the scent of fresh flowers. Floors were carpeted in the house 'signature green' which was also used for every­thing from the commissionaires' uniforms to the smart delivery vans.

"There was a library, fully stocked with all the latest magazines and newspapers; a silence room (for respite between exhausting bouts of shopping); a branch post office (for mailing letters and cards written on complimentary store stationery); an information bureau; and, in a forerunner of today's concierge services, staff on hand to book every­thing from train tickets or seats at a West End show to a hotel suite or a steamship state room on a passage to New York. There was a first-aid ward with a uniformed nurse in attendance (her clothes supplied by the in-store nurses' uniform department); a bureau de change; parcel and coat drop-off points; sumptuous ladies' and gentlemen's cloak­rooms; a barber's shop; a ladies' hairdressing salon that also offered a manicure service; and even a chiropodist. The huge restaurant served lunch to people entertained by an orchestra, while men -- though not women -- could escape to their own smoking room. Harry Selfridge had thought of everything.

"His competitors were dumbfounded at the amount of space given over to services. Surely the point of a shop was for people to buy things? The Selfridge philosophy, however, was first to get them in, then to keep them there. Thereafter they would buy."

mr selfridge |


Lindy Woodhead


Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge


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Copyright 2007 Lindy Woodhead 2007


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