London's famous department store, Selfridges, first opened its doors on Oxford Street on 15th March 1909. American businessman, Harry Gordon Selfridge, recognised the historical importance of the area and voiced his belief that any great business should "unify beauty with its effort".

Selfridges

The street was undoubtedly one that commanded beautiful architecture - landmark features include the magnificent Marble Arch with its opulent Corinthian columns. Oxford Street developed into a retail area during the late 19th century and one of its most handsome buildings to this day is Selfridges department store.

History

Selfridges and Co was formed in June 1906 and the architect Daniel Burnham began work on designing a building that radiated Edwardian Baroque grandeur. Although the store was ready for its grand opening in 1909, the building wasn't completed until the 1920s. It occupied an entire block and was the biggest department store in the West End, with an elaborate fa├žade boasting richly decorated neo classical columns leading to its description of a "temple of the retail business".

Knowing the value of publicity, Mr Selfridge had sent out around 600,000 personal invitations, while adverts had been placed in the national newspapers inviting everyone to come and witness the splendour of the new store.

As soon as the doors opened at 9am, crowds of excited shoppers poured in to marvel at the interior which was decorated with fresh flowers, greenery and shiny decorations that resembled snowflakes suspended on threads - to mirror the winter's day outside.

Unlike most London stores of the era, Selfridges didn't have any interior dividing walls, giving it an airy and spacious feel as each department opened on to the next.

Harry Selfridge

Born in Wisconsin in 1858, Harry Selfridge was 51 when the store opened and already a dynamic businessman, having worked for US department store Marshall Field since his early 20s and rising through the ranks from junior clerk to managerial level. He had suggested that Marshall Field should open a London store but when this didn't happen, Mr Selfridge left in 1904 and opened his own department store with financial backing from tea tycoon John Musker.

Selfridges also had a post office, a library, a theatre booking office, an information bureau, galleries displaying works of art, a comfortable rest room, a roof garden and restaurants. Interpreters were on hand to help foreign visitors and a trained nurse was available, should first aid be needed.

Selfridges employed 12,000 people when it opened and every day, Mr Selfridge toured the store in formal dress to personally keep an eye on things. He ran the store until 1941 and died six years later, aged 89.

Window displays

Today, Selfridges is renowned for its amazing window displays, which are tourist attractions in their own right. It was one of the UK's first shops to introduce window dressing to attract customers, in an era when the tradition was for shopkeepers to stand in the shop's doorway trying to entice customers inside. The window displays at Selfridges were not only entertaining and aesthetically pleasing, they also served an educational purpose since they often displayed new inventions.

Today's window displays have been labelled "the most iconic window displays in London" - their Christmas displays attract hundreds of people every year. The 12 windows facing Oxford Street had their most spectacular display ever for Christmas 2016 - featuring 12 Santa Claus, 72,000 sequins and 114,000 baubles.

Selfridges at Christmas

Selfridges has several stores in different locations across the UK, all in popular retail areas including Manchester's Exchange Square, Manchester's Trafford Centre and Birmingham's Upper Mall East Bullring. All sell the same high-quality, luxury items that have made the flagship Oxford Street store among the best department stores in the world.

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