Selfridges fills the real-life role in London life that many tourists think Harrods does; aside from Harrods’ olive drab sacks, no shopping bag speaks louder about your shopping preferences than a canary yellow screamer from Selfridges. It’s unquestionably the better of the two stores, since it’s not merely a sprawling sensory treat, but also sells items you’d actually buy. Since its 1909 opening by Harry Gordon Selfridge, an immoderate American marketing genius from Marshall Field’s in Chicago (the building was designed by Daniel Burnham, of Manhattan’s Flatiron Building fame), Selfridges has pioneered many department store practices. Placing the perfumes near the front door, filling its 27 ground-floor windows with consumerist fantasias, coining the phrase “the customer is always right”—all Selfridges inventions.Some one million products are for sale, and the beauty department is Europe’s largest. The thicket of food counters on the ground floor gets busy at lunchtime, and the rest of the store is just as popular at other times; some 17 million visits are recorded each year. Selfridges has traded in history, too; the first public demonstration of television was held on the first floor in 1925, and 3 years later, the store sold the world’s first TV set. During much of the Blitz, Churchill’s transatlantic conversations with FDR were encoded via a scrambler stashed in the cellar. The store’s popularity is enjoying a goose thanks to the series Mr. Selfridge, with Jeremy Piven barking his way through the title role, which gives the store the soapy treatment.
400 Oxford St., W1
Our Rating Transportation Tube: Bond St. or Marble Arch Phone 0800/123-400 (U.K.), 113/369-8040 (overseas) Web site Selfridges