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Selfridges: A Retail Theatre of Wonder

Inside Selfridges department store | Source: Selfridges
By
  • BoF Team

LONDON, United Kingdom — At Selfridges' flagship location situated on London's Oxford Street, one of the world's busiest and most populist shopping thoroughfares, the menswear department has built a reputation for supporting emerging talent and acting as a global platform for launching less established labels.

In recent years, it has positioned itself as a London market leader for luxury streetwear, which is also impacting the buy in the company's other retail locations in Manchester and Birmingham. In addition, Selfridges' creative director Alannah Weston has embarked on a long-term strategy of creative in-store presentation and experiential initiatives to promote a sense of 'theatre and wonder' for consumers. World-class in-store presentations and top-tier designer collaborations continue to set Selfridges' menswear department apart from its competition.

BoF sat down with Terry Betts, Selfridges buying director, to learn more.

BoF: Describe Selfridges’ approach to retail.

TB: I don’t think there is such a thing as a traditional department store anymore. I really see Selfridges as truly a multi-platform business. We have people shopping in store and researching online, and vice versa actually. In terms of what we do best, I believe we showcase the best talent in the industry and within that we provide an edit, the best of that talent, for our customer. That is what our customer is looking for – the newness, a sense of exclusivity… there is an expectation for that. It is that hunger and appetite for what is new that really drives our business.

BoF: How do you get across newness, fashion-ability and a sense of exclusivity to your menswear consumers?

TB: I think one of the key threads of Selfridges is the store environment and how you get that sense of theatre and wonder throughout the business. It is that connection; the links in relationship between in-store events and windows presenting new projects, new designers and new schemes. Obviously at the core of all of that, creativity is the product. I think as a way to understand what our customer is looking for and what he wants, when all of those things come together, it is a really powerful and emotive reaction and it clearly drives commercial success. There are so many more factors that make Selfridges the environment that guys enjoy shopping in; [it’s] that reaction when we know we have got it exactly right.

BoF: What role does the product itself play in doing so?

TB: I think we are certainly brave. We like to push the boundaries and that involves a number of collaborations with brands. We are about to embark on a project called Masters of the Universe, where we have selected a number of masters representing different fields and there is an overall master, Rick Owens, who is our key partner. So instead of just buying his collection, which is wonderful and a key brand for us, he has produced exclusive pieces for us, exclusive labels, exclusive pieces of furniture, and we are recreating some of his key shows in our windows. I guess it is that sense of theatre and wonder and emotion that goes beyond the product, although the product is key and central to the message. It is really a partnership across lots of different levels, multi-channel for sure.

We really see it as our responsibility to provide a global platform to launch new talent – that is a really exciting part of what we do here. That kind of hunger for newness means we are fast to embrace newness, however bold or avant-garde that is, and I think it is increasingly those avant-garde collections that are giving us a lot of success because our customer is looking for something new. He knows that even though we are working with the best talent, even within that remit we are still pushing the boundaries to make sure we have the strongest pieces. Our guy is certainly looking for those catwalk pieces and embracing them more and more.

BoF: How is the menswear department product assortment evolving?

TB: This season we have definitely embraced luxury streetwear, which is a key direction for us. We have had exclusive launches with Pigalle and Off-White, last year we did an in-store event with Hood By Air, so I think in recent times that has been something that we have become a real authority for. We have certainly presented those street brands in a luxury way with real authority. I think that is why brands that are inherently very niche and would normally go to specialist stores come to us to launch their lines. In the case of Pigalle for instance, we did a film screening, which was the film screening they showed in Paris Fashion Week, and we held an event where we presented the collection with live models. It is very honest partnership. So even though these brands are moving into a much bigger environment with incredible footfall, which is a huge positive for them, we treat each one on a bespoke basis.

It is creating that world. It is not just about launching it; it is launching it in the right way, with the right message. Across our website, we really embrace it, from visual merchandising, events, buying and merchandising right through to the shop floor. I think then our customer sees that this is Selfridges, with something that we get behind, and we are doing it with authority.

BoF: How do you approach customer service within the department?

TB: In the department there is a streetwear room, a designer room and a luxury room. It is a huge focus for us that each of those experiences is very true to the product. Each of the teams in those rooms is hired with a specific brief in mind. They wear the product that is in that room. The guys in the designer room would wear maybe Lanvin, Givenchy and Rick Owens, the guys in the luxury room would wear anything from Cucinelli to SloWear, and then in the street room they might be wearing Hood By Air and Kenzo, so the customer feels, quite rightly, that the staff are recruited because they love the product. They are specialists and they are trained. It is a true passion about their products that comes through.

We have incredible retail briefs for each of those teams that involve cultural trips. It could be museums, exhibitions, shows. Our Dries Van Noten specialist took a trip to the Dries exhibition in Paris, which was nothing to do with the buy and that season's product, but gave that sense of being immersed in the brand. We get so much feedback from customers that they get so much more than just being sold clothes: the experience, the recommendations of things to do in London or Manchester or Birmingham, wherever the stores are. In London we are on one of the busiest streets in the world, but somehow when you step into that environment, I think the one-to-one service is quite amazing.

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