Another day, another larger shoe department – each one bigger than the last.
Address Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1A
Opening day November 6, 2012
Brands More than 250
Area 15,000 sq ft
That has been the story in women’s footwear retailing ever since Saks Fifth Avenue opened the “biggest” five years ago. The mantle subsequently passed to Selfridges, but the title is now back in New York, thanks to Macy’s.
That, however, is women’s footwear. With men things have been rather different … until now. Last week, Selfridges opened what it claims is “the largest men’s shoe destination in the world”. The arms race has begun, and it is hard not to wonder when the next “largest” will hit the headlines. For the moment, however, this is as big as it gets for men.
What has been done here also bears comparison with Selfridges’ women’s Shoe Galleries, in a manly sort of way.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
The best stores give the impression of abundance without making you feel that it’s all too much to take in. And this department does it well. It is a very large space, and most of the mid-shop fittings are thin, elongated, low and white, in the case of single shoe runs, or translucent for higher fixtures. Rectilinear walkways give a masculine feel, while young fashion is denoted by a wall of scrolling red dot matrix messages and narrow shelves lined with colourful canvas shoes. A conservative but contemporary look dominates the rest of the space.
Top marks go to the Paul Smith area, a semi-discrete space with counters made from piled books and where black walls contrast with primary-coloured pendant lights.
02 - CONCEPT
A 15,000 sq ft space with a central area and open-front ‘rooms’ arranged around it. Good use has been made of natural daylight, which hits the rear of the area. Straight lines and few curves serve to indicate that this is a male shopping space, and note should also be made of the leather parquet floor created by Bill Amberg. Looks expensive. Certainly. But this is Selfridges, and expectations are high. The lace display cabinet is also worth a look.
03 - SERVICE
Lots of sharp-suited staff are on hand to attend to customers’ every footwear need, and it’s hard to turn one of the many corners without being asked if all is well. This is a positive, and among the many who had turned up to have a look around on opening day, genuine shoppers were being capably looked after. An old-fashioned shoe-polishing counter sits close to the entrance. However, rather than being a scruffy add-on, this consists of a smart-looking type on hand to buff shoes at a vintage desk.
04 - PRODUCT
The stats are impressive. There are 250-plus brands, 3,200 styles and 72,000 pairs of shoes available at any one time, so if you have the means, the male footwear world is pretty much your oyster. Entry level is more substantial than across the road at Primark, but Converse and its kin do make this a fairly accessible offer. If you want to push the boat out as far as it will go, bespoke ‘exotics’ go up to £15,000. Something for almost everybody then – a soft- and hard-soled democracy.
05 - COMPETITION
There are few places that are more competitive than London’s Oxford Street, and Primark, just opposite, is certainly somewhere you can pick up a pair of men’s shoes for a lower price than in Selfridges. That said, if brands are your thing, then this is about as good as it gets on Oxford Street, or anywhere else for that matter. When it comes to selecting clothing or footwear, a willingness to shop around is not something always associated with male customers, but putting everything under one roof as Selfridges has done really does equate to choice, and maybe even real browsing.
06 - VERDICT - Raising the bar once again
Selfridges often has an uncanny ability to set the bar a little higher than others tend to be willing or able to do. The new men’s shoe department is no different. This is democratic male glamour, where customers with varying degrees of available spend can rub shoulders as they peruse a very wide range. It is also a good place to be. There are chairs and sofas where shoppers can take the weight off their (well-shod) feet and admire the surroundings. A few things could have been done differently, but only a few. This space will do well.