Selfridges : pioneers of oxford street

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selfridges carrier bag

selfridges logo

Selfridges of Oxford Street, London is regarded as one of London’s must visit stores for over 100 years. Their flagship store dominates the west of London’s Oxford Street. Selfridges & Co. holds a Royal warrant of appointment to HM The Queen as suppliers of food and household goods. Shop for ‘This week’s most wanted’ at

selfridges 100 years

Selfridges celebrates 100 years

Selfridges is a true shopping emporium in the grand sense with their London Oxford street store being the second largest shop in the UK (after Harrods) . One of the advertisements placed on the opening day in 1909 stated that ‘all are welcome’ and this philosophy continues today. Selfridges endeavours to be an inspiring place to shop – ‘whoever you are and whatever you want’.

Selfridges oxford street opening poster

Selfridges grand opening advertisement March 1909

From super-luxury to the everyday Selfridges features high quality food, consumer goods and a wide range of exclusive fashion brands such as Givenchy, Chloe, Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and newer designers such as Temperley, Anya Hindmarch and Sienna Miller’s TWENTY8TWELVE. Selfridges also offers a range of exclusive gift hampers, food hampers and Christmas hampers.

selfridges carrier bag

Selfridges cheerful iconic yellow (pantone #109c)

The founder of Selfridges was Harry Gordon Selfridge. He was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, USA on January 11, 1864 . His father did not return home after the American Civil War, so his mother supported the family by becoming a school teacher.

Selfridges hamper

One of a range of delectable Selfridges hampers

In 1879, Selfridge joined the retail firm of Field, Leiter and Company (which eventually became the famous Macy’s) in Chicago. Over the following 25 years, Selfridge nicknamed mile-a-minute-Harry, worked his way up through the ranks and his innovations included lighting the store’s display windows at night and opening Chicago’s first store restaurant where women would lunch un-chaperoned during their day out shopping.

selfridges opening 1909

Poster heralding the opening of Selfridges March 1909

He would be credited with popularising shopping as being a being a fun activity not just the mere seeking of necessities.

Selfridge was appointed a junior partner and then married Rosalie Buckingham (of the prominent Chicago family of Buckinghams) and soon amassed a considerable personal fortune.

selfridges coronation

Selfridges celebrates HM The Queen's Coronation in 1953

In 1906, Selfridge travelled to London with his wife. During his visit he felt the modern American style of department store would prove a successful concept in England and thus decided to invest a huge sum of £400,000 in building his own department store, in what was then the less fashionable western end of Oxford Street in London. The new store  opened to the public on March 15, 1909. It set new standards for the retailing business in Europe. Selfridges stores are known for their architectural excellence.

Selfridges store oxford street

Selfridges flagship store, Oxford street London, today

Their London store was designed by Daniel Burnham, who also crafted Marshall Field’s main store in his home town of Chicago. Also involved in the design of the store were the American architect Francis Swales, who worked on decorative details, and the British architects Frank Atkinson and Thomas Smith Tait. The distinctive polychrome sculpture above the Oxford Street entrance is the work of British sculptor Gilbert Bayes.

Inside the store Selfridge put merchandise on display so customers could examine it, located the appealing and highly profitable perfume counter prominently front-and-centre on the ground floor and established policies that made it safe and easy for customers to shop — techniques that have been adopted by retailers the world over. During the time of the first world war He wrote a book titled ‘The Romance of Commerce’ published in 1918-(see also below).  Selfridge was undoubtedly a retail visionary and has been accredited with, amongst others, the quotation ‘the customer is always right”
Selfridges bullring birmingam

Selfridges store in the Bullring area of Birmingam, England

The shop floors in his new Oxford street store were structured so that goods could be made more accessible to customers. There were elegant restaurants with modest prices, a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German, American and “Colonial” customers, a first aid room, and a silence room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double-glazing, all intended to keep customers comfortable and thus likely to stay and enjoy the store for longer periods.

selfridges oxford street lift attendants

Lift attendants at Selfridges Oxford Street c1909

Staff members were taught to be on hand to assist customers, but not too aggressively, and to demonstrate features and benefits of new merchandise, in particular machines powered by the newly available electricity.

Following the world stock market crash in the late 1920’s, precursor to the great depression of the early 1930’s, Selfridges investments almost vanished alltogether. In 1941 he left Selfridges and died in 1947 in Putney, south London,  his personal monetary wealth much diminished,  though his retail emporium still surviving and trading.

At the end of the second world war, the Oxford street store building survived comparatively unscathed – although the Blitz destroyed the famous roof gardens (which once also boasted an ice rink), which never re-opened to the public again. Flooding put the lifts out of action for the duration, while further bombing destroyed the Palm Court Restaurant. The ground floor windows – deemed too dangerous to be exposed – were bricked up. A Doodle Bug (V.2 bomb) smashed into Duke Street in 1944, narrowly avoiding the main store. Flooding impacted on the activities of the top-secret U.S. Army Signal Corps telecommunications system code-named SIGSALY, installed deep in Selfridges sub-basement.

Selfridges-miss selfridge girls 1965

The Miss Selfridge girls at the launch of Selfridges 'youth' brand in 1965

The store continued through the years of post-war austerity though investment in the store had been lacking. In the mid-1960’s Selfridges was given a much needed make-over, and driven by the new fashion driven youth culture, in 1965 Miss Selfridge was opened with its own entrance in Duke Street, a mezzanine coffee bar, specially mixed music and an exclusive Pierre Cardin department, Miss Selfridge was a bold gesture by a big department store to challenge the rise of small, fashion boutiques such as those in London’s Carnaby Street. Miss Selfridge still thrives today.

selfridges bathing 1920's

Selfridges swimming attire in the 1920's

Selfridges yellow carrier has become one of the hottest accessories in town – and not just in London. Selfridges has opened three stores outside of London ;  Trafford Park, Manchester in 1998, followed by the Exchange Square store in Manchester’s city centre in 2002. And most recently a avant-garde designed store in the bullring of Birmingham,  designed by radical architects Future Systems which opened in 2003.


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