Selfridges is one of the most iconic shops in the UK, and like many Brits, I’ve been enjoying watching the new ITV drama Mr Selfridge on Sunday nights that offers a glimpse into the origins of the store.
Set in 1909, the show features Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) and the story of how the now famous shop in Oxford Street, London, came into being. Having been there many times, I was inspired to find out more about the store after watching the programme, and thought I’d share what I’ve read.
There’s a great section on the Selfridges website that provides the history. I spent an enjoyable hour or so in the shop back in 2007 when I went to discuss all things comms informally with the then Director of Comms Christine Watts and meet her team.
Sound of silence
When the shop opened, Mr Selfridge created a Silence Room where shoppers could “retire from the whirl of bargains and the build up of energy.” In a nod to the origins of the store, it has been brought back as part of the No Noise initiative, which is currently running until the end of February.
The area, in the Ultralounge, has been designed and reincarnated by Alex Cochrane Architects as an insulated inner-sanctum, shielded from the noise and people. Shoppers are encouraged to leave their mobile phones and shoes behind when they go into the space.
I really like this idea and from looking at the pictures it looks like an oasis of calm. I’ve worked in numerous places that have rooms for employees to brainstorm and “be creative” in. They usually feature beanbags, a table football, squashy sofas and wall-sized whiteboards. I wonder if those rooms would work better if they took this approach and removed all the “visual noise” or whether it’s this that inspires them. Hmm.
If you go to the shop over the next few weeks, you’ll see Headspace pods, which are billed as offering different meditations, where shoppers can experience their own peace and quiet.
Selfridges has also launched a Quiet Shop where the brand names and logos have been removed from products such as Marmite (pictured on this page), Heinz beans, and Levi jeans. Their famous yellow bags have also had the logo removed. You can read more about No Noise via Design Week and Selfridges’ Pinterest board.
The store is holding a series of talks every Sunday 1-2pm GMT, on the Lower Ground floor book area for the next few weeks featuring topics like cloud spotting, romantic poets and fishing. Speakers include Sir Tim Ackroyd, Clare Pollard, Rachel Johnson and Tom Hodgkinson. This is so refreshing, and a break from the normal craziness that you usually experience in Oxford Street!
When I worked in-house in the corporate comms team at Visa, we regularly used to have guest speakers come and share their stories with employees. They ranged from mountain climbers to deep-sea divers and provided the chance to hear fresh perspectives. They used to spark all sorts of conversations and opportunities to think differently.
I’m interested to know your take on what Selfridges is doing, have you seen the show? Do you think ideas like the ones above would work for your organisation?
You can see an overview of what’s happening between now and the end of February in this video:
Thanks as ever for stopping by, Rachel