James Bidwell, Selfridges

From Friday, Selfridges will seek to transplant the colour, glamour and ‘over-the-topness’ of Bollywood into its Manchester and London stores – for 23- and-a-half days only.

A film poster-style canopy will be draped over Oxford Street’s entrance; an underlit marigold stage will sit at the foot of the store’s escalators; the flagship Premier restaurant will be transformed into a Taj Palace Hotel, complete with a simulated walkway of hot coals; and giant fruit props will adorn the Food Hall. In Manchester, a huge staircase will fill the central area. All of these are designed by Nitin Desai.

‘It is Desai at his most extravagant,’ says Selfridges marketing director James Bidwell. ‘Tokyo Life [last year’s in-store extravaganza] was all about dry, urban, minimalist consumer culture, whereas Bollywood is maximalism at its best.’

The genre of cinema is perfect for an event of this kind as it deals in huge stage sets, Bidwell says. ‘And the theme of Bollywood enables us to bring opulence, music, drama, dance and colour into a store environment.’ Musical numbers form a key part of any Bollywood film, as do storylines of ‘thwarted love’, Bidwell explains.

Why is Selfridges embarking on such an ambitious mission, which, even by Bidwell’s admission, is a ‘big job with lots of work’? The simple answer is that May is not usually a very busy month and this theme is a strategic move to drive store traffic. But if that were the sole reason, a beefed up in-store marketing programme would suffice.

‘Bollywood is of-the-moment and resonates with the UK public,’ he says. ‘It will enable us to broaden our customer base as well as educate in a gentle way. Selfridges has always focused on the theatre of retail. We are rarely just about transactions.’

Shoppers should experience the unexpected, and an up-to-the-minute theme allows Selfridges to maintain its strategy of being part of modern culture, he adds.

Both he and Selfridges chief executive Vittorio Radice travelled to Bombay last November to meet Desai and were overwhelmed by his sets at Film City, Bombay’s answer

to Hollywood.

Desai is travelling to London this week with his ‘entourage’ and crates of his kit have been arriving since early April, but Selfridges is producing the entire show

in-house, led by head of 3D design Mat Wilkinson.

A third in-store extravaganza is planned for the future, but Bidwell is not letting on as to the theme. ‘There has to be a reason to do something on this scale – the last thing we want is something similar every year,’ he says. ‘Whatever it is, it will be groundbreaking and surprising.’

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