Think of shoes, and it is the vast, wonderfully eclectic Shoe Galleries that come to mind, not a particular style. Such is the effect Selfridges’ shoe department has had on the collective sartorial consciousness since it opened in September 2010. The brand-new second-floor space, which is larger than the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and indeed any other shoe department in the world, has left an indelible mark on shopping history, transforming the way we buy shoes.
The newly revitalised department ticks all the requisite boxes for elegance. Where other shop floors are criss-crossed with shelves and display units, this 35,000-square-foot space is split into six salons and 11 ‘apartments’, which convey the design DNA of the brands that occupy them. For example, the Repetto boutique includes a ballet studio, while the Gucci boutique has the look of a jewellery box, with its striking, rose-gold ceiling. The permutations are endless; each offers a different style and type of shoe, from platform to stiletto, kitten heel to over-the-knee boot.
‘Imagine you are in a gallery,’ suggests Sebastian Manes, Selfridges’ director of accessories. ‘From the entrance you see a succession of doorways, and at the end a huge window flooding the space with daylight. Your journey begins with shoes from the best of the high street. Slowly you begin to travel through different galleries until you reach the end – the couture designer gallery, flanked by Chanel and Louboutin.’ The perfect canvas for the new collections, the Shoe Galleries offers styles to suit any outfit or situation from a completely new angle. As if that wasn’t reason enough to visit, there is also Aubaine a chic French eatery hidden inside.
Of course, not many shoe departments have the visual energy Selfridges brings. Canadian architect Jamie Fobert, whose projects include the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow and a design concept for Givenchy, has fashioned the traditional shop floor into something altogether different. In place of display shelves are plinths of Spanish alabaster, resembling Eduardo Chillida sculptures. Each plinth holds a single pair of shoes. While marble and carpet walkways weave through the rest of the store, here, the floor is oak parquet and velvet cinema seats are scattered around. The effect is two-fold: first, the allure of the new; second, the displays demand to be rifled through.
Once again, Selfridges has found a glamorous way of enlivening cavernous spaces. As the new season approaches, let shoes be your talking point and the Shoe Galleries your guide.