Skene Catling de la Pena

Selfridges Shoe Department (London, 2008)

Skene Catling de la Peña was one of three practices asked to develop a scheme for a new shoe department at Selfridges, London. Selfridges needed a showcase for the new focus on luxury brand accessories. The scale of this new department – an entire retail floor (approximately 2500 square meters) – led to the questioning of general global department store trends, in particular the notion of a single overall visual spatial identity.

In the initial feasibility study, SCDLP queried this area of retail, coming up with a much richer programme that included pedicures, foot massage acupuncture and other complimentary treatments, as well as supplementary activities, services and products. Visual merchandising, the way in which shoes are conventionally displayed, was also questioned. SCDLP looked at the general limitations of traditional shoe display (against Saks 5th Avenue, whose enormous shoe department was given its own post code, as a case study), and the problems of presenting ‘jewel-like’ luxury in a vast space.

In response to the scale of the site, the scheme was developed as a miniature ‘city’ with discrete zones, each related to a different level of retail offering. An ‘uptown’, ‘downtown’, ‘soho’ and ‘industrial zone’ were created, with two clear circulation systems, one to allow ‘shoeless’ browsing. Arriving at this floor would mean entering a magical secret city, with theatrical devices used to suggest further layers of even more mystery.

Public parks, planting and pavilions – in reinvented, surreal form – would house the complimentary activities and allow a completely original approach to visual merchandising led by the imagery of Guy Bourdin and the Theatre de la Mode. The overall scheme would be unifies through the use of materials. A very fine grain (and sustainable) concrete would form the structures and circulation within which the individual brands would sit. This in turn is contrasted against the silk satins and velvets to create a unique and couture environment.