The Marvellous Modernity of Selfridges' Designer Studio

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Osman Ahmed pays a visit to the London store's newly-opened Designer Studio to explore the Gary Card installation space alongside designer offerings from the likes of Alyx, J.W. Anderson and Richard Malone

Selfridges, the glittering bastion of London retail that sits majestically on Oxford Street, is going through some 21st-century changes. Recent visitors to the century-old department store will have noticed the introduction of self-styled ‘studios’ dedicated to categories such as body, denim and contemporary wear, each offering diverse edits of international labels. The latest and final addition, the Designer Studio, is perhaps the most ambitious by far, spanning 17,200 feet of the third floor and designed by architecture group Campaign. It marks the start of a new chapter for the iconic destination, shifting the focus onto dramatic artists’ installations, which conveniently double as sweater shelves, as well as cross-pollinations of price points and designers and a breakaway from the darker, windowless galleries that the store is known for. After all, this is the Edwardian department store that was the first to install women’s restrooms and actively broke down class barriers with its open-to-all atmosphere and experimentation in unconventional retail initiatives. Innovation is a part of its history, and is clearly continuing to inform its tug of war relationship with the constantly evolving digital sphere.

“It’s going to have everything from £20 T-shirts to £3,000 dresses,” says Ruth Hickman, the womenswear buyer who has overseen the development of the space from start to finish. “Whereas the contemporary section has essentially turned into an edit of dresses, the focus here is on separates. When we launched Agender [the non-binary retail section] last year, it was so successful and wanted to continue to merge those boundaries so there’s going to be a dedicated T-shirt space that has over 152 options of sweatshirts and tees that are more or less unisex.” The aforementioned T-shirts space is designed by “cult pattern pioneers” Patternity, who have created a two monochromatic spaces that are designed to contrast each other like yin and yang. Hickman is most excited about the retail follies designed by leading creatives, which will sit in the open plan space that, for the first time in Selfridges’ history, will have wide windows overlooking the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street. “Follies are essentially artistic structures that you can retail off. It enables us to give the space a branded element without committing to a shop fit. They are basically artworks that you can hang a bag on or put sweaters on.”

There’s a giant cubist Gary Card-designed meteorite that will house Kenzo’s energetic designs, described by the famed set designer as a “communication of our concept of ‘impact’”. There’s also an Op Art installation, designed by Artisan and dedicated to Moschino, as well as performative collaging during opening hours by art director Patrick Waugh for the Vetements section, the first shop fit in a department store for the Paris-based label. “My installations were based on a ‘theatre of forces’ and I explored the forces of pushing and pulling,” says Anna Lomax, who has designed what she described as a kebab of materials skewered with a brushed brass pole (push) and a leather strap pulling a terrazzo doughnut into flock perforated metal, holding it close while it teeters on the edge (pull). “My practice is currently centered around themes concerning the materiality of the city, its architecture, resources, character and moments, so the installations are a celebration of material found in London’s city life, from the perforated metal of street furniture and neon lights to the flocking and powder-coated textures that are inspired by combinations that can be found in the pound shop.”

A record number of 67 brands will fill the light-filled space, 29 of which are new to Selfridges and nine of which are exclusive to the retailer. Each brand in the store has also contributed to the playlist, with a jukebox revealing the moniker behind the music. “I feel as though I’ve really lucked out in having a buying director that has the faith to do something like this,” enthuses Hickman. “I’m really excited about Katie Jones and Martina Spetlova, and I love that we have Dilara Findikoglu, who used to work at Margiela, situated right next to Margiela’s shop fit.” J.W. Anderson and Christopher Kane have collaborated on installations for their sizable concessions, the first in the UK, which will sit alongside newcomers such as Wales Bonner, Richard Malone, Plys, Alyx, Yulia Kondrinina, and Tennesse Thomas’ label, the Deep End Club. In true Selfridges spirit, there’s also entertaining sources of inspiration: shelves of Claire de Rouen tomes, surrounded by benches, right by the newly installed windows that overlook the hoi polloi of perhaps the busiest street in London. Shopping in the heart of the city never felt more blissful.