The launch of Selfridges’ contemporary and denim destination department is the culmination of the director of womenswear and childrenswear’s first year in the role since moving across from menswear.
When Selfridges opened the final part of its third floor revamp of its London Oxford Street branch on September 10, it marked exactly a year since Anita Barr took over the role of director of womenswear and childrenswear.
Despite her nine years at the world- famous shopping emporium, east London born and bred Barr had previously only worked in the menswear sector, so admits that the past 12 months of heading up womenswear at the department store has been one of the steepest learning curves of her career.
Her first year in the post has culminated in the launch of 3rd Central, the 26,000 sq ft destination shopping area that is intended to be the lynchpin of Selfridges’ third floor. It unites both the store’s contemporary ranges and denim brands – which previously sat at opposite ends of the second level – in one area around the central atrium.
“My first year directing womenswear has been an amazing experience, particularly working on 3rd Central,” says Barr. “We wanted to create a cool destination area that people would want to come to, in a shopfit that does those collections justice.”
The resulting concept was designed in conjunction with London-based architectural practice Fashion Architecture Taste (FAT). “Our brief was to create something distinctly different to the rest of the store, and that would represent more of an installation area or art gallery than a traditional shopfit,” explains FAT designer and director
To this end, steel and recycled wood are prominent in the fixtures and fittings, as are yellow chevron floor patterns, strip-light signage and glossy laminate wood counters. “I wanted it to look like a trading warehouse, where brands might have just rocked up and set up selling,” explains Barr.
While a number of the UK agents for contemporary brands in 3rd Central were very positive about the new area – 20% of 3rd Central is formed of brands new to Selfridges for autumn 09 – the edgy aesthetic did worry one denim brand Drapers spoke to. “Selfridges has to be careful not to make this new area too contemporary. Some of the denim brands have middle-of-the-road customers too, and it is important not to make those shoppers feel uncomfortable shopping there.”
Barr refutes this will be the case, insisting 3rd Central is suitable to span the ages “of 18 through to 80. We have a very wide customer base and our denim buy reflects that,” she says.
Barr analyses Selfridges’ denim in two sections. The core and classic brands, such as J Brand and Seven For All Mankind, are balanced with more trend-led labels, including Current/Elliott and Paige Premium Denim. Although the volume of stock between core and fashion brands is fairly even, Barr says trend-led brands make up about 70% of denim sales, as fashion-forward customers religiously buy into new looks each season. There are also a number of new additions to the denim area for autumn 09, including London label Superfine and denim from Justin Timberlake’s William Rast streetwear brand.
The layout of the denim section is based around a 30ft denim wall, with clear style signposting for each row of product – skinny, flare, boyfriend and so on – with this strong demarcation also extending down to the wooden hangers on which the overspill of jeans is displayed. “Now we have the room to do denim with authority it is important that we offer something for everyone, and clearly show that,” says Barr. She will not comment on which denim brands are the bestsellers but says that Sass & Bide and Paige Premium Denim both do particularly well.
Selfridges also has a UK-exclusive deal with Bodymetrics, an electronic scanning pod that captures 150 different measurements of its subjects and then offers customers the ability to either have bespoke jeans made to their exact measurements, or a guide as to their body shape. Staff are then able to suggest the best suiting brands or styles. “We have UK exclusivity of Bodymetrics. This gives our denim area a real customer service edge over other stores,” she says.
Alongside the comprehensive denim offer, Barr has managed to tie down a number of exclusive shopfits for her contemporary brands. The Alexander Wang area features furniture straight out of the US designer’s New York studio, including chairs, a table and an animal skin rug, while the Vivienne Westwood Anglomania graphics are exclusive to Selfridges, and form part of the only Anglomania shop-in-shop in the country.
“It is these exciting one-off installations that really add to the feeling of an exclusive shopping area,” says Barr.
Whistles, Sweaty Betty, and French brands Zadig & Voltaire and Maje are currently the only concessions on the floor. Barr has plans to move Reiss up from the second level later this year but will not commit to how this will affect the existing brands in 3rd Central.
With such a strong marketing push for the new area, and huge hanging billboards cascading down the central atrium of the store, it could reasonably be assumed that this increased focus on contemporary and denim is a reaction to Barr’s female shoppers spending less on high-end product.
Barr is quick to refute this. She says: “Our designerwear has had a great season for spring 09. Of course you get more for your money with contemporary and diffusion labels, so we want to offer that as a strong option, but we are still seeing plenty of investment in aspirational items from the catwalks.”
In terms of keeping the new area
fresh with brands, Barr was excited about seeing what was on offer at London Fashion Week. “I was thrilled that Burberry showed in London,” she says. “The collection is always so beautiful, and I love Vivienne Westwood, but it is the young guys who are exciting to watch coming through – the likes of Kinder Aggugini and Peter Pilotto.”
Who in fashion do you most admire, and why? I am really privileged to have worked with so many inspiring people. Working with David Walker-Smith (Selfridges’ director of menswear and beauty) was amazing. He really guided me and was very grounded.
Which is your favourite store besides your own? I love Merci in the Marais district of Paris. I saw it the day it opened. It has an amazing energy and you have to go through this hidden door to get to the clothing.
What is the best-selling product or brand you have ever worked with? I think I would say Alexander McQueen. The product is really cool, the mainline does phenomenally well across all Selfridges stores, and the diffusion line, McQ, is equally fabulous.
What has been your proudest moment? My two children. Having kids completely changes your outlook on life. I have two little girls, a five-year-old and a two- year-old, and they already know their style. My two-year-old is brilliant at accessorising; she loves wearing bangles all the way up her arm, and putting on headscarves.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in fashion? I love dressing people, so maybe I would be a stylist. My sister and I used to have quite unusual style when we were younger, and used to love going and getting cool things from second- hand stores. But if it wasn’t to do with fashion, I think I’d like to be a professional surfer. It’s a bit random as I’ve only ever been surfing twice, but I love the freedom you get with surfing.
2008 Director of womenswear and childrenswear, Selfridges
2003 Buying manager of men’s contemporary, Superbrands and Spirit sections, Selfridges
2000 Senior buyer of men’s contemporary, Spirit and sports, Selfridges
1993 Buyer for Way-in men’s, women’s and denim collections, Harrods
1992 Sales associate, Harrods