Harry Selfridge was a fireball upstart, born in Wisconsin at the end of the 19th century, who skyrocketed up the creative and entrepreneurial ladder fueled by his unprecedented, radical and roundly victorious new ideas about what public space and consumable creativity could be. A trailblazer in forging the relationship between art and retail, he gave complete creative license to display artists — and quite possibly invented the concept of window displays at Selfridge’s & Co. in the then unfashionable western end of Oxford Street in London. It goes without saying that we identify with, and find inspiration in, his curiosity about as-of-yet-undiscovered nooks and crannies in beloved metropoli — rough or faded diamonds seeking a good fog and shine.
Mr. Selfridge’s breakthroughs dovetailed with and preempted radical shifts in democratizing gendered society and social spaces, a world in which women starting emerging from their kitchens and out into unstructured, free-willed leisure time at department store cafes, shops and promenades. By recognizing the imagination as a powerful driver of impulse and intention, Mr. Selfridge and his crew birthed the experience of retail therapy as we know it today — for better or worse.
Though not many among us would identify free market capitalism as a stakeholder in radical social change and free thought, we can perhaps credit this bootstrapped toe-head from the Midwest with creating a wonderland of aspiration, longing, imagination and the democratic freedom of buying — where just to hang out was, and is, totally free.
We’re excited to get addicted to what is bound to be the new Downton Abbey — Mr. Selfridge, which begins airing this Sunday on PBS.