Recent period television shows of Downtown Abby, with wonderful millinery fashions, harken back to the days when on this side of the pond the Marshall Field store is well established. It is a current PBS series, though, Mr. Selfridge, which takes precedence in my mind. Mr. Harry Selfridge, in the program, has come from Chicago. His life is lavish and full of intrigue. His beginnings in Chicago are little known. It is important we look a bit of what is known of his role in Chicago, particularly in his employment at Marshall Field’s. He moves along on a successful course to create the best store in London.
A fine historian, Gayle Soucek has written “Marshall Field’s:The Store That Helped Build Chicago”, published in 2010 by The History Press. http://www.amazon.com/Marshall-Fields-Store-Helped-Chicago/dp/1596298545/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365789701&sr=1-1&keywords=marshall+fields+the+store+that+helped+build+chicago This book is also available in the Visitor Center display of books, which makes a trip to the store even more enjoyable than ordering online.
Ms. Soucek was a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, and worked for the store. Her accounts of Selfridge give us some insight into a man with big ideas. While in Chicago “Mile a Minute Harry” rose over the course of 20 years from stockboy at $10/month to wholesale salesman on the road, to eventually head of retail. He is credited with adding the tea room, which was an additional way to keep customers in the store. Keeping customers longer meant greater opportunity to sell them more…hats.
Above is the seventh floor Visitor Center of the former Marshall Field’s State Street store, now known as Macy’s.
The area is dedicated to honoring the legacy of Field’s with wall decor of historic photos, and a brass plate of the names of employees with 50 yrs service. There are pillars of brass plates of names inscribed of employees lost in World War One, and World War Two.
Panels with the dark green color knows in all things Fields for decades feature a bit of background, and historic photographs.
In the panel of Field’s Firsts there is a photo of a window display in 1892. Tho the fashion is elegant a close up shows the lone hat.
Another historical writer, Robert Ledermann,with a background in retail and the credit field, has explored Marshall Field’s in his book “State Street: One Brick at a Time”, published in 2011, by History Press.http://www.amazon.com/State-Street-Brick-History-Press/dp/1609492943/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365880014&sr=1-1&keywords=State+Street
Mr. Ledermann adds this gem of information, ” Field himself first went to France to buy Paris bonnets and personally directed their shipment to Chicago so that the ladies of the city might receive then in their original hatboxes.” It is not hard to imagine the thrill the customer must have had to see the creation in the original packaging. I am not aware of how long that practice may have continued, but it was certainly well received, and again set apart The Store as the place for fine millinery, fresh from the designers abroad. To have any of those hats would be a thrill today, and if it were still with the box, just divine.
Stop back for Part 2, coming soon, on the most elegant and elite fashion spot in the Marshall Field store, the 28 Shop. Both Ms. Soucek and Mr. Ledermann give us more to think about in the world of fashion. Of course there are photos of the 28 Shop from the April 10, 2013 visit as well.