Sepia Saturday

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This week’s Sepia Saturday is an open theme. It’ll force me to post some Mr Selfridge photos I haven’t had time to upload. These are from Selfridge Archives and WTTW’s Ask Jeffrey segment on Harry Selfridge.

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Harry Selfridge (r) with daughter Rosalie

Rosalie and Violette Selfridge

Rosalie and Violette Selfridge

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Marshall Fields where he innovated shopping

Marshall Fields where he innovated shopping

Older Harry on top of his store

Older Harry on top of his store

Oxford St. Selfridges in 1909

Oxford St. Selfridges in 1909

Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge

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Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge provides the context and biography of H. Gordon Selfridge, Harry or Chief to his loved ones or employees. Woodhead chronicles Selfridge’s life from his youth when both his brothers died and his father deserted the family to his death. “Mile a Minute Harry” was a dynamo who started working at age 15 and made his way to Marshall Field’s in Chicago where his innovations in display and showmanship revolutionized shopping. It’s thrilling to read of this era when there was so much change and when drive and imagination could, for some, propel them to great wealth. (That still happens but so many fields have matured and aren’t new frontiers. Certainly retail isn’t half as exciting as it was when Selfridge started.)

Selfridge became a partner at Field’s due to his own chutzpah by just directly asking the much more reserved Marshall Field, who was going to offer it down the road. But when Field’s was choosing a successor, Selfridge knew it wouldn’t be him so he left Marshall Field’s and tried to start a store in Chicago. While it failed because the city just did not have enough sales staff of the ilk that Field’s had, Selfridge did make money on selling his store to Carson, Pirie, Scott. Too young to retire, he opened a store in London, a city that was stuck in time with fuddy duddy floorwalkers who’d expel any browsers. As the itv/PBS program shows Selfridge’s was part department store, part theater (an a hell of a lot like Marshall Field’s down to the evergreen bags). I enjoyed the book’s detail and rooted for Harry as he devised creative means to make shopping fun and his store bigger and amazingly service-oriented (like Field’s was).

After 1918, when his wife Rose dies, Harry’s life starts to slide, which made reading rather sad. The store was still successful, but Harry’s proclivity for women, showgirls to be more exact, got him mixed up with such greedy, shallow women. He lavishes them with jewels and money to gamble/lose that you feel the impending financial ruin coming. It’s sad because had Rose lived longer, Harry probably would not have wound up in a two bedroom flat after selling all his property and losing most of what he built up. (I so hope the TV show takes its time running through history. The man’s life is just so sad at the end.)

Woodhead offers a lot of context including what was going on in entertainment, politics and city history for both Chicago and London. She shares what his friends and relatives thought about Harry, what allies and adversaries he had. Yet I felt there was a distance between Selfridge and me, the reader. So many questions may not be possible to answer. Harry did burn a lot of his letters when he got older. It’s rather cloudy how Harry and his wife met and what their courtship entailed. I didn’t feel I knew Harry the way I knew Proust after reading his biography. That might not be fair since Proust was a writer and probably more self-absorbed than most. Woodhead’s very thorough in her research so I grant if there was information to be had she would have found it. But perhaps Harry was the sort of life of the party that no one really knows well.

Mr Selfridge Finale, Part 1

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I wanted to see more, but also dreaded the end of this season of Mr Selfridge, probably my favorite new show hands down. Miss Mardle and Florian are together in bed at the start of the show. Newspapers still won’t print Harry’s side of the procurement scandal, though they do print that Mae has left Lord Loxley. Agnes waits for news from George, but there is none. Rose convinces Harry to hear Mae out, perhaps she should be forgiven for vouching for her evil husband. Here we see Rose and Harry’s marriage it all it’s glory.

Mr Groves sees Florian and Miss Mardle together and thinks it’s untoward. Kissing goodbye on the street. Really! Also, Miss Mardle, who’s way too maternal towards Florian for my tastes, gives him lunch money as he heads off to his factory job. I’d like her to find a nice widower. It’s not just that Florian’s younger, but that he’s got so little personality. He’s part ESL student, part son, part lover. You can do better, Josie. Mr Groves agrees, this relationship isn’t right for her, but he’s far less tactful. He later calls Miss Mardle to his office and scolds her for impropriety and insults her calling her an “old fool.” For the chief of staff, Groves isn’t very good with people.

Winifred Black, journalist

Winifred Black, journalist

To help the store out of its slump, Delphine proposes bringing the spirit of her nightclub to Selfridge’s. Mr Crabb is skeptical, with good cause. Henri doesn’t say either way, but offers a different proposal, which one could take as skepticism about “The Spirit of Delphine’s at Selfridge.”  Still Harry goes with it and soon Delphine’s busy giving the Palm Court an Arabian makeover. Meanwhile Henri proposes asking journalist Winifred Black Bonfils to do an article on Selfridge’s. Since she wants carte blanche and has a huge following, it’s risky, but Harry doesn’t flinch from risk. Thackeray and Delphine expect to dazzle Winifred, but neither succeed. Instead Winifred writes about Agnes, her gumption, determination and rise through the ranks at Selfridges. The story’s a hit connecting with readers who identify with a young woman getting successful through creativity, determination and pluck. Thackeray’s envy is sure to have a long shelf life. He’s not the sort to forget a slight.

Kitty convinces Frank to investigate Loxley. Finally, it dawns on Frank that perhaps Loxley used him. Indeed, Frank. Perhaps Kitty should take your job and you could sell perfume. His editor refuses to look into another side of the story, so Frank quits. Frank and Mae team up to root out the truth.

The most ominous scenes in the show were with Rose at the doctors. Anyone who’s read Wikipedia or Lindy Woodhouse’s  Shopping, Seduction  and Mr Selfridge  knows that Rose dies in 1918. I didn’t expect to get hints of this in 1914. She’s become one of my favorite characters. Harry’s not an easy man to be married to and Rose isn’t a real assertive woman, but she isn’t a doormat either. It’s a complex, fascinating and loving relationship. Rose has gotten more involved in the store and surprised us with her shooting skill, her good decision making, and her leadership when Harry was gone. I realize she wouldn’t be in Season 4, but I hope she’s alive throughout most of Season 3. At least give us that.

When Delphine learns that Rose has a congestive problem she encourages Rose to go off to the country (so she can seduce him). Rose, you need better friends, dear.

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Selfridge Background: Window Displays

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Here’s some information I got from Gale Virtual Reference on window displays in the 18th – early 20th centuries. Interesting that L. Frank Baum was involved in this business:

WINDOW DISPLAYS

The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw an evolution in shopping spurred by a faster turnover of manufactured “fashionable” goods and an increase in department stores selling them. These shops pioneered new techniques of window display. Rather than piling their stock up—as had been common in markets and bazaars—they sold goods in mannered and self-conscious window displays, intended to sell nonessential goods.

In cities, where competition was strongest, stores had larger windows and more frequently changing displays. A visitor to London in 1786 wrote of “A cunning device for showing women’s materials whether they are silks, chintzes, or muslins, they hang down in folds behind the fine high windows so that the effect of this and that material, as it would be in the ordinary folds of a woman’s dress, can be studied” (Adburgham, p. 6). This comment suggests that there was an awareness of sophisticated marketing techniques and a developing vocabulary for display in the late eighteenth century, which would be developed but not improved upon by later generations.

By the nineteenth century the small store with glass windows and some form of gas lighting dominated the main street. The arrival of department stores in the 1850s—multistoried buildings that utilized plate glass in long, uninterrupted window displays—would herald a new display aesthetic. Fashion goods began to be displayed in lifelike room settings, with mannequins. Known as “open displays,” these windows relied on themes and narratives, rather than sheer quantity of goods, for visual impact. The window display was now contextualizing goods, giving them precise domestic or cultural settings and imparting qualities other than practicality and price. In these displays the fixtures, stands, and mannequins, came into their own. Unfashionable stock goods continued to be displayed as though they were on a market stall—piled high or stacked in rows in the windows in “massed displays.”

Professionalization of Display Trade

These open displays were developed first in America, where the professionalization of the display trade had begun in the late nineteenth century. The display technocrat L. Frank Baum (who would later write The Wizard of Oz) began the first journal aimed at the display trade— The Show Window in 1897—and founded the National Association of Window Trimmers in 1898, which did much to raise the status of window trimmer to that of display manager. America had a large number of colleges teaching commercial design based upon the work of pioneering consumer psychologist Walter Dill-Scott, author of Psychology of Advertising in 1908. His theories for appealing to hidden desires of customers using particular colors, images, and formations in advertising layouts were applied to window display though numerous handbooks and journals detailing the creation of the “selling shop window.”

This approach was brought over to England by Gordon Selfridge (a friend of L. Frank Baum) and his dis-play manager, Ernst Goldsman. Both men had worked at Marshall Fields department store in Chicago in the 1890s, where Selfridge had introduced radical and innovative methods of display and marketing, starting the first window displays and display department. Selfridge’s department store in London opened in 1909 with the longest window facade ever seen in Britain. The store achieved instant fame for its window displays: “They gaped in amazement at the American-style window-dressing with its life-like scenes and with wax models arranged in realistic poses” (Honeycombe p. 205). Goldsman was integral to the professionalization of the British display trade, founding the National Association of British Display Men in 1919. Such display organizations disseminated new ideas via lectures, display fairs, and their journals.

Works Cited

Audas, Jane. “Window Displays.” Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005. 434-436. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.

Mr. Selfridge, Season 2

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In the third episode of Mr. Selfridge’s second season, Delphine Day (Polly Walker) organizes a card game with some of the influential movers and shakers she knows including Harry and Lord Loxley. It’s wonderful to see the smug Loxley lose to Harry.

People are coming to terms with the war. Agnes receives a letter from her brother George and though it’s been redacted he seems chipper. Miss Mardle takes in a Belgian refugee. She expects Florian to be a woman’s name, but it turns out that her refugee is a young man, a rather innocent and attractive Belgian. If he brings any chocolate into the house, she’ll be putty in his hands. This mix up is rather weak. Of course, Miss Mardle could arrange to have a woman live with her and someone else could take in Mr. Florian.

I’m worried about Henri who’s very mysterious this episode. His secret life remains so, to a larger extent. He’s giving lots of money to a suspicious looking man, who’s supposed to track a woman down for him. Since he’s gotten on Mr. Thackery’s bad side, Thackery follows him around town looking for dirt. Henri had best watch out. My guess is that while the problem may not be innocent it’s not as bad as it seems. Thackery expects that Henri is a German spy. Poppycock, Thackery. Poppycock.

Things are looking up for Lady Loxley as her husband’s finances are going up since he’s getting kick backs for army procurement deals. She’s been authorized to get a new wardrobe. It’s a pity that Mr. Thackery just couldn’t pick up on the newer trends. All he could show her seemed dated, though I thought the gowns were stunning, just not right for wartime.

Rose was used nicely in this episode. She saved the day as the store must employ women in the warehouse. Their garments made work nearly impossible. No one at the store really knew what to do, but Rose stepped in and figured it all out. Later when Mr. Crab organized shooting practice for store employees, Rose impressed her son Gordon with her expertise. I love seeing these new facets of hers and I’m glad to see she and Harry’s marriage is improving. Yet I do fear Daphne is up to something with Harry. She was needlessly secretive about the card game when she saw Rose.

All in all, the season’s shaping up nicely. The new characters are intriguing, though troublesome and having the mother and girls away makes the cast size more manageable for the writer. I don’t miss Miss Love at all or Harry’s philandering. While that will no doubt return, I’m glad the show isn’t all about infidelity and illicit romance.