The late, great Harry Gordon Selfridge

18 Mar
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Harry Gordon Selfridge

Founder of Selfridges & Co., London

If you’re anything like me, you will have spent every Sunday night for the last couple of months cosied up in front of ITV’s first big period drama of the year: Mr Selfridge. Loosely based on a book by Lindy Woodhead, the series is set during the opening of the eponymous Selfridge’s store on London’s Oxford Street in 1909. The show entwined the fictional lives and affairs of the staff working in the store, with facts and history about Selfridge himself and the huge stir the store opening created in London at the time. I picked up a copy of Woodhead’s book (in the Selfridges book department, of course) in eager anticipation before the show hit the screens to broaden my knowledge of the man and the wonderful legacy he left behind. So here’s a list of my favourite HG Selfridge facts – be inspired!

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Selfridges in the year of its opening in 1909

Before the opening of Selfridges, ‘browsing’ was not acceptable in stores.  Goods were kept behind the counter only to be removed upon purchase – the concept of being something that you didn’t need was unheard of – ‘shopping’ as an activity was simply not done. Because of this revolution in the method of retailing, within a matter of only a few years, the women of London would gladly while away a whole day purousing the shops – as many of us do today.

Selfridge came up with the idea of ‘Sales’! His idea of selling old stock at slashed prices was totally new at the time, completely revolutionising modern retail.

Selfridge was the first to put toilets in store for customer use – encouraging customers to spend hours in store.  He did the same with in-store tea rooms and restaurants too; previously an unimagined concept, within months of opening the Palm Court restaurant at Selfridges was THE place for ladies to lunch.

Selfridges was the first department store outside of Paris to put fragrance and cosmetics at the entrance to the store. At the time these products were considered personal and this was considered to be a controversial move – now almost every department store in the world does it!

He coined the phrase ‘Business as Usual!’

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One of Selfridge’s window displays

And finally, to warm the hearts of any fellow VMs,

“Selfridges became London’s first store to employ a large staff dedicated to window decorating and interior display”

quote from The Department Store by Jan Whitaker

All vintage photos used are from The Department Store by Jan Whitaker. I highly recommend this, along with the Lindy Woodhead book Mr Selfridge. (below)  The ITV series is available on DVD now.

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