Mr Selfridge: "good business is the best art"

I’ve been stuck at home yesterday, because of the first episodes of Mr Selfridge, a period television drama produced by ITV Studios for ITV and PBS.

The story describes the rise of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges department store, starting from 1909. The American entrepreneur, who got his fortune thanks to his work for Marshall Field & Company, arrives in a very aggressive London, not really keen to let an outsider reach the success. Selfridge describes what fashion industry is still about: shopping not as a necessity but as a pleasure; a need to engage customers the longer you can; displaying as an entertainment;

I can’t stop comparing the story with French famous book: Au Bonheur des Dames (Emile Zola). Whereas the French version insists on the Deus Ex Machina attributes of a business made to “manipulate” consumers’ desires, Mr Selfridge is more optimistic about the industry: real people trying to work together to shape the best services for customers; the obsession to find the best tactics – never done before – to generate awareness, performance and fun; rooting a brand in society’s new expectations (in 1809, women can wander unescorted).

Every fashion lover will find a favorite character: shopgirl Agnes Towler, played by a scene-stealing Aisling Loftus, is really interesting as it highlights the life of domestics and working class. Henri Leclair, the creative director of Selfridge’s in 1909, is of course key to better understand the role of Windows (and to understand why Oxford Street is one of the most fashionable street on Earth…). And we don’t mention Zoe Tapper (as Ellen Love) and her troubling charm…


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