How Mr Selfridge Put The Fun In Shopping

On April 13, 2015

Before the first series of Mr Selfridge aired in 2012 I knew little about Harry Selfridge. I had been to Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street many times without ever giving a thought to the man behind the store. Yet it was clear there was something special about the place; something that set it apart from the retail crowd – much like Harry Selfridge, himself, in fact. It got me thinking about what made Selfridges so different. Outside, all towering magnificence – columns and grandeur and jaw-dropping window displays. Inside, opulence; an Aladdin’s Cave of possibility. Everything about Selfridges screamed swagger.

When Harry Selfridge opened the store in 1909 his vision was at odds with London’s idea of what then constituted a department store. At that time, the business of shopping was staid and mannered. There was no such thing as browsing or handling the goods on sale. Harry changed all that. He wanted a store that was bright and attractive, where shoppers could experience something almost within the realms of entertainment. Harry was passionate about serving his customers. His love of those who shopped in his store was evident. It was Harry who declared that the customer was always right. His aim was to make shopping fun and theatrical, leading commentators to compare him with the great showman, Barnum. The Selfridges of today still epitomises at least some of his show-stopping ethos.

My best shopping moments have been in Harry’s old store. I think he would be proud.

The Skirt

It was in Selfridges I found my favourite perfume after a fruitless tramp around countless other West End Stores. It was in Selfridges I fell for my all-time favourite skirt, fifteen years ago. Very fitted, in a bold silk chiffon print, with splits up the sides, it was the most glamorous thing I had ever owned, and the most expensive. The fit was perfect, the cut clever, and somehow I knew it would not date. I loved everything about it, including the label, Elvis Loves Jesus and Co Couture, and the ‘secret’ label stitched into the lining that read Heavenly. I wore it recently and memories of trying it on and leaving the store with one of those distinctive yellow Selfridges bags came flooding back. Not long after I bought it, I went back to Selfridges and spent more than I could afford on a dress from the same collection. Pink, silk chiffon, fitted. Splits up the side. Timeless.

For me, Selfridges retains at least some of the unique style Harry worked so hard to create. All these years on, it’s as if the spirit of the charismatic mile-a-minute showman still walks the shop floor.

It was only when I started watching the Mr Selfridge series that I got to know the man behind the store. The more I learned about him, the more I was drawn to him. Much of the credit goes to Jeremy Piven, who plays the part so well. His Harry is an outsider; a maverick and a risk taker, not averse to ruffling feathers to get what he wants. The Harry Selfridge we see on screen is warm and funny and vulnerable – and infuriating at times. For me, he is an inspirational figure whose ideals are as pertinent now as they ever were. I hope the love I have for him comes through in my novel, WHEN HARRY MET ROSE: MR SELFRIDGE AND THE SEARCH FOR LOVE. It’s a celebration of a great TV show and my take on how Harry and Rose Buckingham met and fell in love, in Chicago in 1890, when he was working at the city’s Marshall Field store. It says much for Harry that he won the heart of a society debutante from one of Chicago’s wealthy and influential families when he was still far from being the successful entrepreneur he later became. In his story, there is surely inspiration for us all.

You can find WHEN HARRY MET ROSE: MR SELFRIDGE AND THE SEARCH FOR LOVE in the US on Amazon and in the UK here.


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