Every day on the way to work my bus passes Selfridges. And from my elevated seat on the top floor, I get a pretty good view of the extraordinary themed displays that they put up each month. Sometimes they’re pretty rubbish. There was one about a month ago which had lots of ill-looking 70s-style mannequins posing uncomfortably against a snot green background. Around them were lots of fruit and vegetables. I think they were plastic. The whole thing made me feel a bit ill.
But for every failure, there’s a tremendous triumph. At the moment they’re running a Vegas-themed month in conjunction with some vile online gambling thing that I’m not prepared to link to. if you’re interested, they’re mention in the official website: Vegas Supernova.
The site is pretty well designed, but it really doesn’t convey the majesty of the thing. On top of the front awning is a huge neon sign that almost overwhelms the whole building, screaming Vegas Supernova into the night. It completely swallows any of the Selfridges branding, and sits surprisingly comfortably with the neo-classical architecture and the Art Nouveau sculpture. If you’re having trouble visualising it, try thinking of Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Palace from Back to the Future Part II. Yes, you’re getting it now. It’s that wonderful. I’m going to be so disappointed when they have to remove it.
Anyway, the best imagery is in the shop windows at the front of the store. They could have gone in a number of directions with this stuff – Vegas isn’t the hardest place to evoke. But rather than just push tackiness or spectacle, they’ve brought in David LaChapelle. His work is extraordinary, it’s almost as if Vegas itself is self-representing what it thinks is most important about itself – using only the plastics and artificiality and neon that it has naturally at its disposal. It’s almost an innocent portrayal of the place, as if the city doesn’t know that it’s kind of tacky and just wants you to like it.
My favourite example of this stuff is the representation of the city’s sexuality – where the brazen display of breasts that Vegas is known for is abstracted and repackaged in plastic as windows full of inflatable breasts. Every so often they deflate a bit and then reinflate, pressing massive artificial nipples agains the glass. It sounds pornographic, but they’re made of such artificial and bright material that they look a bit like children’s toys. It feels like the city itself is going, “look at all my toys”.
The whole thing conveys an impression of Las Vegas that is as alluring as it is repulsive, as exploitative as it is extraordinary. It does this so elegantly. You look at the brashness and respond to its simplicity and eagerness – it’s complete lack of awareness of how slutty it is. And then at another level, you reel at the lack of self-awareness. Extraordinary.
Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend the whole experience, but if you want to see the spectacle for yourself, you’ll have to get down to Selfridges today or tomorrow before they start taking it all down. And if you’ve seen it already, why not let me know what you though about the whole thing by posting a comment below?
[These images are courtesy of Rebekah Ford, who managed to get much better photos of the orbs than I did. You can see more on her Flickr photostream. I feel I should also share one of her insights on the whole spectacle – that the inflatable breasts looked like they were about to burst through the glass in their thousands and start bouncing down the streets Prisoner-style. It’s an image I’ll take with me to my grave.]