Staid and tony Selfridges, a United Kingdom-based department store over a century old, has turned the idea of fashion and branding on its head. Beginning last month, the High Street retailer rolled out a new store-wide concept, “No Noise,” which invites shoppers to “celebrate the power of quiet” and find calm in the oft-chaotic department store setting.
At first, this idea appears to be the invention of BBC cult classic Absolutely Fabulous’ Edina Monsoon, the fictitious public relations executive known for trying to link Emma Bunton (Baby Spice) with Jordan’s Queen Noor and rolling out Alcoh-Spray, a product “great for kids.” But this well-curated series of exhibits harkens back to 1909, when the store’s founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, included a Silence Room in his floor plan to offer shoppers a quite respite “from the whirl of bargains and the build up of energy.”
“No noise” showcases several features. Architect Alex Cochrane designed a more updated Silence Room, insulated from the store’s noise and bustle. Visitors are required to remove their shoes and place phones and other “21st century distractions” in lockers before entry.
The biggest buzz is over the Quiet Shop, a back-handed tribute to some of the world’s iconic brands--only with the logos removed. Ketchup without the Heinz label, jeans that were once a shadow of Levi’s and jars of yeasty Marmite are now naked. According to Selfridges, companies took the step of “de-branding” their products for this exhibition.
And in an artistic touch that would have done Saturday Night Live’s alum Mike Myers’ “Sprockets” minimalist host Dieter proud, the store’s windows are beautifully adorned with almost nothing. Artist Katie Peterson elegantly assembled four window displays that explore concepts of space, time “and the wider cosmos.”
None of this should be too surprising. British retailers have been pushing the envelope when it comes to revamping their business models and marketing approaches. Joanna Lumley, whose character Patsy Stone plays Edina Monsoon’s better half in Absolutely Fabulous, is the spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer’s Shwopping campaign. The company encourages shoppers to drop off an old item of clothing when they buy a new one; some are donated to Oxfam, others are recycled into new fibers for a line of men’s and women’s coats. Last fall, the grocer Sainsbury’s allowed “ugly” fruits and vegetables to be sold within their produce section. And well, Tesco has had some horsing around going on with its supply chain, but in fairness has aggressively diverted waste away from landfills.
Now, if only the British retailers could nudge U.S. chains such as Target, Walmart and Macy's into doing something similar; although instead of a nudge, a severe paddling may be needed.
If you happen to cross the pond, Selfridges No Noise campaign will run until February 24.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India February 16-27 with the International Reporting Project.
[Image credit: Selfridges]