Selfridges has opened the world’s largest footwear department with a splash of cash and stylings that will leave the competition wondering how to respond.
W hat do you do if you want to make a splash in the world of women’s footwear? Design a range of outlandish styles in outré colours, stand back and hope for the best? Well, that would certainly be an approach and it might even garner a few column inches, but the chances are that, come Sale time, there would be plenty of work to be done in clearing unwanted stock.
If you happen to have the luxury of 35,000 sq ft of space to play around with and a pot of money on which to draw, you might feel inclined to open the world’s largest footwear department, call the space The Shoe Galleries and then wait for the stampede. This, roughly speaking, is what Selfridges has done with a three-year project that, according to chief executive Paul Kelly, cost “well in excess” of £10m and came to fruition last week. A private preview of the department, hosted by creative director Alannah Weston, was one of the hottest tickets in town ahead of the official launch yesterday.
The numbers alone do a lot to tell the story. Six “galleries”, 11 boutiques, a garden, a restaurant, more than 100,000 pairs of shoes and about 4,400 individual styles under a roof that would more normally be associated with a medium-sized supermarket than a footwear department. There is nothing like this anywhere else and it is the most exciting department store retailing space to open this year. It has also earned the highest score ever awarded in these pages.
Key looks and merchandise mix
High street meets catwalk might be the executive summary for what’s on show in The Shoe Galleries. Such is the scale of the space that in some rooms there are self-contained collections from Ugg Australia and Topshop, while deeper into the shop-in-shop there are rooms set aside for Prada, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin. And then there are the galleries, which run from front to back of the department and are used for multi-brand offers, with mass-market names including River Island, All Saints, LK Bennett and Kurt Geiger (admittedly the latter pair are at the considerably better end of the mass market) all being given space. These lead to the designer rooms, where price more or less ceases to be a consideration as you wander round with an unlimited credit line to your bank.
These are the “designer rooms” and Kelly says there are more than 150 brands on offer in The Shoe Galleries. If watching the pennies really is an issue, however, there’s always the long wall of Havaianas flip-flops to provide a point of entry. There really is a sense that, whether it’s boots or flashy courts, ballet pumps or the kind of heels that you have to stand still in, this is an everywoman of an offer.
Wherever you look, this is a visual feast. The tables, for instance, composed of shoe lasts cobbled together to form a display fixture, are an eye-catcher, but then so are the piles of televisions next to the glass balustrade and, equally, it’s hard to miss the outsize single shoe with flashing lights and heels of the kind that would make grown men run for the hills. Of particular note is the lighting around the perimeter in the designer rooms. The space is generally dark and the shelves have been backlit in a fairly lurid cerise - the perfect backdrop for a glamorous collection.
Now imagine a field of shoes from which wispy green grass is growing or waist-high solid alabaster blocks used as displays for individual pairs of shoes and you have a measure of the imagination that’s gone into the creation of all this. If this were a fashion store, you’d be wowed. The fact it is just about footwear makes things even more impressive.
The place is mobbed… with staff. It’s actually quite difficult to move without running into a smiley and exceedingly polite face waiting to practice the gentle act of parting you from your cash. They’re all very good at it and it would seem, at points, almost churlish to refuse. It may be a design and designer-led space, but this does not mean anyone is unwelcome. It’s about egalitarian service and the feeling that, irrespective of who you are, The Shoe Galleries will be for you.
Selfridges worked with architect Jamie Fobert on The Shoe Galleries and its footprint is about a third of the second floor space. Sebastian Manes, director of accessories, says the brief given to Fobert was simple: “Make it bigger and make it better than anyone else.”
The concept Fobert returned with was a central space and a series of attached boutiques and rooms. Manes says the brief given to the brands that have taken space in the boutiques was to create an interior that would be “like your apartment”, and a look around confirms that became the reality. Every room is worthy of inspection and there is a sense of occasion about each.
Selfridges has doubled the size of its footwear offer and, looking at it, it’s hard to remember what the old footwear department looked like. Kelly says that before work started he asked those involved to look around and memorise the starting point: “It was awful,” he says. This is a transformation. They’ve even heeled in a restaurant to take the weight off the pins when you’re all shoed out.
Would I buy?
Self-evidently, I’m not female but the temptation to reach for the wallet was strong - for someone else, you understand. If they managed to do something of the kind for men, then a purchase would be a racing certainty. This is that rare thing, a store that provides the perfect environment for the stock it houses and where the call to action is provided simply by the sheer breadth and depth of the offer. Women beware!
Selfridges proves once more it is ahead of the pack with a world-beating offer making the Oxford Street landmark the destination for shoe shoppers wishing to be à la mode. You can only wonder what other retailers along the strip will be thinking.
Address 2nd Floor, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1
Size 35,000 sq ft
Number of styles 4,400
Number of boutiques 11
Number of galleries Six
Approximate cost “In excess of £10m” (Paul Kelly)
Reason for visiting There are no reasons not to