London’s most famous shop was opened by the flamboyant American, Gordon Selfridge, 102 years ago. It was Britain’s first purpose-built store and one of the first to advertise shopping as a great and sensual pleasure rather than a chore.
Today you can’t walk down Oxford Street without noticing its monumental entrance guarded by a statue of the Queen of Time riding in her Ship of Commerce or the lavish window displays that tempt even the most shopaphobic through the doors. But this shrine to shopping also has a long and interesting history. Here are six things you might not know…
A roof with a view
At various times in Selfridge’s history, the roof has been an elegant tea garden, complete with cherry trees and lily ponds, an ice rink, a mini-golf course and a shooting range. Sadly, these days all you’ll see are pigeons and air-conditioning units.
During World War II, one of the store’s basements was used by soldiers from the top secret US Army Signal Corps and Churchill and Eisenhower both visited. At 60 metres below street level it was safe from bombing, had secure telecommunications and was a few streets away from the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.
The customer is always right
Gordon Selfridge is one of several figures credited with the invention of the phrase ‘the customer is always right’. While this may be apocryphal, he certainly revolutionised customer service, introducing music, well-trained staff and upmarket restaurants to his new store. The possibility of shopping as a genuine ‘experience’ was born with the slogan ‘Why Not Spend the Day at Selfridges’.
The biggest photographic artwork ever made
When the building underwent renovations in 2002, the scaffolding was cloaked by some of the largest photographic artworks ever produced, 60ft tall by 900ft long and weighing two tons. The portraits of celebrities included images of Elton John and artist Sam Taylor-Wood. In 2009, a gigantic picture of David Beckham wearing only skimpy Armani underwear stopped traffic on Oxford Street.
A Blue Plaque for Gordon Selfridge
The visionary retailer was commemorated by an English Heritage blue plaque in 2003. You’ll find it at Landsdowne House, 6 Fitzmaurice Place in Berkeley Square; the home he shared with his family between 1921 and 1929.
An early demonstration of television
In 1925 the inventor of television, John Logie Baird, demonstrated a prototype television set at the store. Selfridge’s would later be an early champion of TV but initially people were sceptical. When Logie Baird took his machine to the Daily Express, the editor said: “For God’s sake, go down to Reception and get rid of a lunatic who’s down there. He says he’s got a machine for seeing by wireless!”
Selfridges now has branches in Manchester and Birmingham. For more information check out the Selfridges website.
This post first appeared on the UK Curiosity Blog.
Image 1 via vicioustubers