I always feel a bit queasy at commercialism’s attempts to associate itself with anything other than money. Take all adverts, for example. Specifically perfume ads; if you have no idea what product your TV is bombarding you with, it’s usually perfume:
We are no longer being blinded by science, rather such philosophical questions as, ‘Can you iron a guitar?’ (I don’t care what they tell you on QVC.) As it turns out, Philosophy – not Lynx – is the opium of the consumer masses. And this can only be a good thing.
High street department store Selfridges has taken this concept to its very extreme with their ‘No Noise’ campaign. In their own words: In an initiative that goes beyond retail, the project invites you to celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds. My initial response to an ‘oasis of quiet in the chaos of Oxford Street’ was to suggest the HMV down the road – but what do I know, eh?
On the project’s website there’s a ‘No Noise’ button that when clicked, offers such philosophical tidbits as:
Headspace does not mean an absence of goals, wishes and dreams. It simply means that we hold these things lightly, not allowing them to interfere with our experience of now.
Experience of now… right. The shopping experience, I’m presuming. Whatever – this all screams perfume ad.
Special ‘headspace pods’ are also dotted about the store, offering the subject audio advice from love through to sanity and self-esteem. Five minutes walking through Selfridges fashion department recently caused me to mislay all three. ‘Beauty comes from within, if we just know where to look for it’, says ‘No Noise’. Turns out it’s found at the MAC counter, third floor. Pleasure’s all mine.
The standout entity of this whole pretence is surely the Silence Room, designed to emulate that of Selfridges founder Harry Gordon in 1909 where busy shoppers could “retire from the whirl of bargains and the build up of energy”. ‘We think we need it now more than ever’, say the No Noise crew. More than, say, online shopping? I’m not convinced.
‘All we ask is that you leave your shoes, phones and 21st century distractions in the lockers provided.’ Picture the scene: shoeless, phoneless members of the public staring blankly at each other like patients in a GP waiting room thinking, “I wonder what he’s got?” (in their de-branded yet still garish yellow shopping bag, you understand).
I guess it’s easier to quarantine stressed-out customers for ten minutes than command everyone to purchase in silence to the sound of crashing waves, or a dolphin. But by God, I’d pay to see that (missed a trick there, you lot).
I worked at Selfridges in 2008 for three blissful weeks in the Christmas department. In that time, I dealt with a child suffering a nervous breakdown due to breaking a bauble (around eight quid each, to be fair), a man who brought the broken head and body of a model squirrel to the counter which I frantically debated how to wrap and a woman who was infuriated upon waiting a full two minutes for her one penny change. And all to the backing track of relentless festive hymns.
And I loved it. None of this ‘Silent Room’ camaraderie – if you choose to shop in a bustling high street department store, in my opinion, you should suffer. I don’t know what Selfridges is complaining about, anyway. It’s not like it’s Primark at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon – the only thing more bewildering than a perfume ad. I rest my case.