Three years ago, Saks Fifth Avenue made headlines when it relocated the shoe department of its New York flagship to a 17,500-square-foot space on the eighth floor, gaining its own zipcode and recognition as the largest of its kind in the world. In September, however, that crown traveled across the Atlantic to Selfridges, where London’s high-end department store has completed a two-year overhaul of its third-floor shoe department.
Called the “Shoe Galleries,” the space has doubled in size to 35,000 square feet, or around a third of the floor’s total footprint. The aim was to make Selfridges’ Oxford Street location the footwear destination for shoppers in central London and to put the offers from rivals such as Harvey Nichols, Harrods and House of Fraser in the shade.
Following the decision to refurbish, chief executive Paul Kelly called together a team of architectural and store design firms charged with making this a reality and asked them to look at what was there. “It was truly awful,” he says. At the time, the space’s large, open floorplan hemmed in by multiple pillars was distinctly below par when compared to other areas in the department store.
London-based architect Jamie Fobert says he took an architectural, rather than a fixturing, approach in redesigning the interior. Among the challenges, he says, were a lack of daylight and a low ceiling, owing to air handling units. To open up the space, Fobert stripped the store back to the steelwork and relocated the air conditioning equipment into the walls of each of the galleries. “This meant we were able to raise the ceiling from nine to 11 feet and now you see only six columns instead of 40,” says Fobert.
This created a floorplan featuring six multi-brand galleries surrounded by 11 boutiques, each of which is devoted to a single couture label, including Dior, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Tod’s and Christian Louboutin. Each boutique brand, Fobert notes, was allowed to install its own fixturing, creating a series of shop-in-shops that feel like distinct entities.
However, it’s the galleries that really grab shoppers’ attention where a vast range of branded footwear is on show in a series of semi-discrete but adjoining galleries, all aimed at providing entertainment for the average shoe worshipper. Fobert says a different palette of materials was used in every gallery, with the intention to make each work as its own retail space. For example, in the first two galleries, home to Havaianas flip-flops or mid-market footwear from All Saints, River Island and Office, asymmetrically shaped oak tables and a bright-green sculptural “dragon” form are used to display shoes. This same area also has polished geometric concrete seating, the back of which is used as a series of mid-shop display plinths. In another gallery, an escalator atrium provides additional access to the shoe department, while overhead, large skylights flood the space with natural daylight.
Further drawing attention to this redesigned department is a series of visual statements, including a giant stiletto that stands guard at the entrance and an installation near the escalator atrium of hundreds of identical gray shoes with green laces that point upward, creating the impression of a field.
Finally, when choice has proved too much, there’s a “photo-me” booth where shoppers can sit down and record their “shoe story” about a favorite pair or the purchase they just made. The new L’Aubaine restaurant was also added into the department as a respite for shoppers.
Selfridges’ new house of shoes displays 4400 individual styles at any one time, with close to 100,000 pairs in the stockroom. It will be a while before anyone steps forward to challenge this one.