The Story of Selfridges at Christmas


There’s nothing better to stir up the festive spirit than a stroll down the high street when the Christmas window displays are in full swing! Walking between rows of sparkling shop windows, decked with everything from giant robins to hand-painted sprouts, makes shopping a happy experience, rather than a chore.

Every year, it’s a race between the leading retailers to see who can erect their Christmas window display first. Selfridges on Oxford Street in London usually takes the crown, with its 12 huge windows becoming a tourist attraction in their own right during the festive period.


© AnnaMoskvina / Adobe Stock


Market leader

Founded in March 1909 by American entrepreneur Harry Selfridge, Selfridges has always been a market leader when it comes to Christmas displays. It was the first luxury department store to devote a whole section of the floor to Christmas.

Mr Selfridge always had big ideas and understood the power of keeping ahead of the competition – advertising the store’s opening day, 15th March, he ran the most extravagant advertising campaign in the history of retail, which cost £36,000. Taking into account inflation, this equates to around £2.35 million in today’s money!

He employed the best-known graphic artists of the day to draw detailed images of every aspect of Selfridges and paid for advertising in 18 national newspapers, filling 104 pages in total.

So, the store’s large-scale and undoubtedly expensive Christmas window displays are something that look set to continue into the future, since they have drawn customers in throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.


Rock ‘n’ roll icons

This year, as always, Selfridges launched the high street’s first Christmas window display of 2018 back in October. With a very modern theme, the display features bespoke rock ‘n’ roll Santas, with iconic stars such as David Bowie and Freddie Mercury having been 3D-printed into mannequins mimicking the artists’ most famous poses.

They are singing into vintage microphones covered in jewels – 2,000 Swarovski crystals each, to be precise! The mannequins are playing real guitars that have been loaned by rock ’n’ roll icon Bernie Marsden (the guitarist from Whitesnake) from his own unique private collection.

As the focal point of the window at the junction of Oxford Street and Orchard Street, an amazing piano sculpture contains more than 2,000 piano keys.

The windows also contain 1,500 glittering curtains, comprising around 5km of shimmering fabric, and they include a vintage theatre with original seats from the 1970s that have been re-upholstered with red velvet.


Sustainable windows

Designed by Tracy Kendall, the wallpaper that forms part of the backdrop is made from sustainable materials by British craftspeople. All of the props are going to be used in the store and for special events in the future, so that nothing ends up at landfill sites.

Selfridges has been working with New Life charity to recycle all of their window displays after they have been used.

Selfridges’ displays seem to get bigger and better every Christmas. Last year’s festive window display was revealed in October 2017 and was based on the theme, “With love from…”, featuring a brass band and people riding gold bicycles!

There was also a market scene containing a giant robin, and 5,000 hand-painted sprouts! The largest corner window featured Santa Claus figures and mannequins holding flags proclaiming love and peace at Christmas.

In 2016, the famous Selfridges’ display contained 114,000 baubles, 72,000 sequins, two tonnes of glitter and 12 Santa Claus!

In 2015, the Christmas windows’ theme was A Journey to the Stars, with the 12 windows displaying the 12 signs of the zodiac. Selfridges took the display so seriously that the window dressers took an astrology course at Greenwich Observatory and spoke to an astrologer before they started, to give them a feel for the theme.


Innovative ideas

Harry Selfridge was said to be the first retailer who recognised the significance of having truly awe-inspiring window displays to draw customers in, with no expense spared.

In the early part of the 20th century, his displays were usually educational, as well as aesthetically pleasing, as they displayed the era’s latest inventions – and even had live models for the first time in the 1920s.

He believed in the “pleasures of shopping” and actively encouraged customers to browse, rather than having his sales staff pounce on them the moment they walked in. Once the window displays had attracted them, he liked to give them time to have a good look round.

In the early 20th century, this modern way of shopping was virtually unheard of and normally, a retailer’s floor-walkers would try to persuade customers to make a purchase. Mr Selfridge reportedly visited one store and when he told an eager sales assistant he was “just looking”, the young man reportedly told him to “Hop it, mate!”

This only served to reinforce the entrepreneur’s determination to introduce a different and modern approach to retail and his forward-thinking philosophy has continued into the 21st century.


Best of the rest

Other retailers with spectacular Christmas window displays this year include Harrods, featuring many different scenes representing Christmas over a 24-hour period.

These depict festive activities with a Harrods twist, such as unwrapping presents containing luxury gifts from the Bottega Veneta brand, eating a huge Christmas dinner with foods from Harrods’ legendary food halls and a party with Elie Saab’s designer fashions.

Liberty of London features a display with animals carved into the panels and pillars to bring The Liberty Christmas Story to life. The black and white animals look stunning against a background of festive scenes, with Christmas trees covered in sparkling lights adorning a balcony above.

Harvey Nichols of Knightsbridge features a Christmas display with a bold lime green backdrop, metallic hues and plenty of sparkling lights. The display includes a giant Champagne bottle, which “pops”, showering the other window displays with bright hues of gold and silver.

In today’s competitive retail climate, window displays are indeed a powerful marketing tool that encourages customers through the doors and into a store.

We’d love you to share your Christmas shopping experiences on Psydro’s unique reviews platform.

You can also enter our awesome Christmas competition, where you’ll have the chance to win one of 75 Love2Shop vouchers to spend at high street stores such as Argos, TK Maxx, Debenhams, Starbucks, Next, HMV and Topshop, to name but a few! The winners will be picked at random on 31st December 2018.

The Psydro team would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Shopping New Year!