Magazine article Marketing

PROFILE: Theatrical Agitator - James Bidwell, Marketing Director, Selfridges

Magazine article Marketing

PROFILE: Theatrical Agitator - James Bidwell, Marketing Director, Selfridges

Article excerpt

Shopping at Selfridges is a dangerous occupation these days, and James Bidwell must shoulder much of the blame. Not that he betrays the look of a guilty man as he walks through Selfridges' Oxford Street store, which the company's Body Craze festival has transformed into a cacophony of noise and vivid colour.

For those of a nervous disposition, the message is clear: stay well away.

Shopping next to hordes of naked men and women or watching a performance artist whose piece de resistance is swimming through shards of broken glass may not be everybody's idea of fun, but Bidwell is convinced that Selfridges has concocted another successful menu of theatrical fare.

The successor to last year's Bollywood promotion, which saw the store transformed into a retailing eulogy to Asian film culture, Body Craze has a lot to live up to. But judging by the column inches afforded this year's gig, it has already justified its pounds 1m investment.

Much of that is down to the appearance later this month of John Kamikaze, an artist apparently discovered in a French abattoir, whose tricks include submerging himself in a tank of glass and suspending himself from serrated meat-hooks.

'We see ourselves at the heart of the collision between retail, culture, art and entertainment,' says the 38-year-old Bidwell. 'We have realised that, just as magazines, TV and the cinema are content providers, we too compete with other leisure activities for people's time.'

That element was highlighted in a rather unexpected way at the launch of the promotion, when Selfridges had to turn away more than 150 people wanting to strip off in the name of art. Even more surprisingly for Bidwell, one of the candidates was a member of his Monday night football team.

'It was quite unexpected to see him there,' he laughs. Bidwell might be a back-to-the-floor kind of marketer - he spends time in the London store at least twice a day, mingling with staff and shoppers - but he stopped short of getting his kit off.

With all this in mind, it's probably obvious that the days when Selfridges saw itself as a traditional department store group are long gone. It has been reinvented as a self-styled 'House of Brands', where products from Kylie Minogue's lingerie collection to Siemens' upmarket mobile phone division Xilibri clamour for shelf space.

Under Bidwell's former boss, Vittorio Radice - now departed to head Marks & Spencer's home retailing business - Selfridges has become what many analysts describe as a retail gallery, at the cutting edge of shopping and popular culture. …

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