Selfridges, then and now

I think everyone at least heard about the “grand” Selfridges. The innovative department store, and also one of the biggest in the world, was founded in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge and his purpose was to make shopping a funny thing; he said that “develop imagination throw away routine”. The extraordinary exhibitions and the modern and original displays make shopping here a pleasure for everyone, no matter from which social class they are. The department store is then, the new “church” of the modern society “cathedrae de commerce modern”.


(Photo taken from

It was more like an “art gallery than a shop” (Monument to modernity). For example, in July 1909, the French aviator Louis Bleriot turn out to be the first one to fly over the English Channel and after that, his plane was placed on display in Selfridges for four days, attracting more than 150,000 people to visit the store. It was very unusual in that time and that’s how he was the first to launch the “theatre of retail”.


(Selfridges architecture, outside ceiling; Photo made by Astrid Acatrinei)

Selfridges was and it’s today all about luxury, fantasy and good service. Mrs. Gordon wanted to create a safe heaven principally for women, so encourage them to stay and spend an entire day in the biggest department store. It was also the first shop who provide restaurants, a library, luxury bathrooms and a hairdressing salon for his customers. Therefore, he improved the ability to take pleasure in life through shopping experience, but the interesting part was that you must know before what you want to buy and definitely buy.


(Selfridges Restaurant; Photo made by Astrid Acatrinei)

Women were encouraged to spend more than can afford and buy things they will never need. An example is the fact that, Mrs. Selfridge decided to make the window display more theatrical and he replaced the face of the mannequins, thus encouraging desire. Thereby every woman wanted to be in the dummies place and they were defined by the ability to buy and as much, to be bought; they were fashion themselves in a particular identity. That encouraged distinction and emulation via consumption: you are not what you are, you are what you buy. They wanted just to impress, to pretend they are another type of person and this was definitely a time when society was very stratified.


(Actual window display; photo made by Astrid Acatrinei)

As I said before, the amazing and innovative thing was that, in a friendly space, everyone can find what they wanted, from a piece of cheese to an expensive Chanel bag. The department store was also divided and in 1911, Selfridges opened a ‘bargain basement’ in the lower ground part of the store, planned for housewives, to save money. Despite it being at the worth end, the merchandise was presented just as exquisitely as product was on the upper floors, presenting the retailer’s ability of mixing the élite with the normal. “I am prepared to sell anything, from an airplane to a cigar”, Mrs. Harry said at the time. One year earlier, he brought perfumes and they were located at the entrance, again quite strange for that period. The department store revolutionized the sale of beauty products and perfume; before Selfridges, these items were considered taboo and they were frequently sold at the back of stores, but Mrs. Gordon himself made the choice to move them to the front of the store, and the rest is just history. Sell Fridges? No, they’ll absolutely don’t.

Currently, nothing is changed or at least different. People are getting crazier than ever and an example it was the BALMAIN collaboration with H&M. People were actually fighting for the clothes and also for every hanger, they were running and screaming in the store and all I can say about this, is that they have completely lost their minds! As I said in the article that I wrote before, we should stop following the masses.