You couldn’t fail to know that Selfridges was opening the doors of its only store outside London on Thursday 10 September. Practically every billboard and bus stop in Manchester has been announcing the fact for the past few weeks.
Selfridges commands the most prominent position in the Trafford Centre, right underneath the glazed dome, and takes approximately a third of the frontage on two levels. The entire facade is faced in rich terracotta-coloured marble and exudes a feeling of understated opulence even before you enter.
From ground-floor level the brightly lit beauty hall draws you in. The chaotic clutter of the cosmetics counters is offset by a stark background of brilliant white – white-painted walls and soffits and beautifully crisp white marble floor. Unfortunately, this brilliance overshadows the two display windows either side of the entrance which are dimly lit to the point of being unnoticeable.
Moving through from the beauty hall and further from the bustling mall beyond, the environment takes on a much more serene feel. The lighting level drops and the colours are softened – predominantly pale neutrals set against feature displays in lime greens and metallic bronzes. The flooring is now limestone and warmer in tone from the clinical entrance.
Limestone is the dominant material throughout and leads you, via generous walkways, elegantly through the store, which is fortunate as there is little or no signage to aid you should you wish to find the Sienna Restaurant (which I didn’t) or customer services.
The ground floor is devoted to the more classic lines and the interior reflects this. Quality of materials and quality of detailing, coupled with the flowing space planning and more than ample vistas, instills a feeling that you could never become stressed in this space – even on Christmas Eve!
The first views of the level above are spied through the elliptical void which the escalators penetrate. But beyond is a far grander mode of circulation, a curvilinear limestone staircase that divides into two at mid-level. Directly above is an eye-shaped roof light that allows natural light to play on the surface of the stone. The result is that the heart of the store is light and airy and contrasts well with the ambient lighting of the surrounding sales areas.
The rear of the first floor is targeted at the younger, fashion-oriented market. The finishes are less slick, there are areas of lacquered screed flooring, the theatrical lighting is mounted on heavy (aesthetically) lighting trusses and sections of ceiling bulkheads are cut away to expose the structure and ducting above. Colour is bolder and used to define zones whether it be in the kitchenware or linen department and all work harmoniously together.
For me, the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance was the food hall. Exquisite foods are temptingly presented in well designed and detailed display cabinets with the focus on the central “eat-over” counters, as Selfridges terms them. You can sit and enjoy a freshly made up platter of meats, cheeses or patisserie, served with the appropriate accompanying wine, while others around you purchase over the counter. This gives the area an unexpected life and vibrancy.
From the food hall you can witness the chaos of the mall outside and be thankful that the John Herbert Partnership, in conjunction with Conran Design Partnership, Gerard Taylor and Aldo Cibic, have created such a pleasing environment to shop in. But then with a 20m budget they should have.