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The Shoe Galleries- Selfridges

19:54 Posted by Alison

Bette Midler once said: “Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world.” And so it was as a girl with ambition and The Divine Miss M’s words ringing in her ears, that I hot-footed it to Selfridge’s earlier this week to wander the vast Shoe Galleries that have opened in the department store’s West End branch.

Housed in a recently converted area that covers 35,000 square feet on the second floor, The Shoe Galleries are the largest shoe department in the world. They have the capacity to display over 4,000 different styles of footwear, enough behind the scenes storage to hold an astonishing 55,000 pairs in stock at any one time and more than 150 brands were available on the shop floor at the opening, ranging from Havianas to a series of specially designed luxury creations.

As I stood next to a giant illuminated shoe in the entranceway and looked to the back of the department, it felt like I was peering down the footwear-filled rabbit hole. Polished surfaces and meticulously lit stands are partitioned, colour coded and seamlessly integrated throughout the Jamie Fobert designed space, but as high street names give way to high fashion, shapes and colour palettes magically shift and price tags grow.

Around the perimeter, individual boutiques carry the flavour of their respective brands. Uggs have peppered their ‘chalet’ with inviting sheepskin throws and cushions, whereas Topshop’s tempting enclave (the first located outside of their own stores) boasts sharp mirrored walls and clean lines that frame the confident designs. At the other end of the spectrum, world renowned designers have decked out their boutiques to resemble apartments soaked in their inspirations and character. Many are sprinkled with incredible personal touches, like family photographs (Louboutin) and delectable fabric normally reserved for the labels’ runway pieces (Chanel).

Despite the segmentation, the floor plan is deceptively open and at its heart are the seating areas. Commercial trends are perched on angular lime green islands, which float amongst white tiles and arch with a mind of their own before morphing into benches. The designer area is furnished with plush, vintage cinema seats; a welcome contrast to the cast steel and clay shelving and floor to ceiling glass racks that suspend Dolce & Gabbana in front of indigo crushed velvet walls.

As enchanting as the fittings are, it is when that Cinderella moment arrives that The Shoe Galleries truly shine. Searching for the perfect fit among thousands feels special rather than overwhelming and whether you are being waited on by Dior staff or scanning through the latest offerings from River Island, the atmosphere is simultaneously comfortable and exciting.

It is clear that every element of the shopping experience has been carefully considered and the gallery theme has certainly been incorporated to great effect. Rather than being thrust in your face, subtle and relevant artistic touches are scattered throughout the department, encouraging you to browse whilst periodically capturing your interest; a jaunty cluster of televisions flickers to life as you pass and plays interviews with celebrities who attended the opening, a display table crafted from used wooden shoe moulds supports cascading heels, Havianas form a rainbow across one wall and marble plinths hold the most expensive lines aloft like priceless relics at the rear of the store.

The department is a visual delight, a work of art in itself, and it is impossible to fully take in the surroundings during a snatched lunch break visit. As I turned to leave, I vowed to return and caught sight of the shop front advertising promotion. ‘What’s your shoe story?’ it proclaimed. All I can say is if it culminates in a trip to the Wonderland that is The Shoe Galleries, it is bound to have a happy ending.

Photos: Copyright Alison Rowley.
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All original content is ©Alison Rowley 2012. No words or images may be reproduced without permission from the copyright holder.