Of all the department stores in London, Selfridges certainly has branded itself up strongly. Those yellow and black paper bags stand out nicely in busy crowds. Such a big shop with so many strands on offer in such a competitive market needs a big bold identity tying it all up.
I’m not convinced the bags denote fabulous content anymore though. I find Selfridges is less and less inspiring to mooch around. The fashion floors are pragmatic these days, with high-street names taking up most of the space. But these really don’t sit well next to the few expensive brands they still carry on the main floors. A handful of Celine beautifulness does not a fashion department store make.
Elsewhere in the store, those small, unusual accessories and homewares (awesome Japanese kitchen sponges, anyone?) have gone. Space has been sold off to concession after concession. Ironically early department stores developed out of covered market stalls. So we go back to that pile it high and sell it (not so) cheap ethos. Is it really what the Selfridges public want? They obviously think so. But for me it’s not so very special any more.
I don’t want to be all about a golden era of shopping. If any industry needs to move fast, it’s retail. But – like Mary Portas – I enjoy nice service. And people who know, and like, what they are selling. I like to see an ‘eye’ behind products on offer. And if it isn’t my taste, I still appreciate a good display. And I also feel more inclined to part with money to a nice shop keeper. To be honest, buying online means you don’t have to engage with surly staff or feel like such a sucker for buying from someone who can’t even manage ‘hello’.
And all this results from my re-discovering and photographing a tatty old Selfridges paper bag? It doesn’t take much to light my tinderbox of retail rant, does it?
The bag seen here is small (about A6) wrinkled and from about 1929. A delightful illustration of two definite flappers – they’re always described as having boyish hair and no hips – promotes rather lovely bathing costumes and wraps. I like to think this bag had a small haberdashery item in it when it left the store all those years ago. And that it sat, complete with unused content, in a wicker sewing box for some 75 years. Then a canny eBay seller thought to see if some sad shop-ephemera-spotter would pay a pound (plus postage) for an old, stained – and now empty – paper bag.