Friday, August 10, 2007

There’s no other shop like Debenhams. Well actually there is. And while you could now argue that the first sentence, while short and, in an almost drunken way, beautiful, has lost a great deal of its initial integrity, it sort of still says what I want it to. Debenhams has its own smell, its own wit, and a big enough selection of men’s clothing so as to make visiting any other clothes shop ever, totally unnecessary and, in actual fact, rude!

What makes Debenhams different in my opinion (recently voted the seventh most important opinion ever by readers in the March 2007 edition of Opinion magazine ( a magazine for people with opinions.) ), is its ingenious staffing policy. Whilst there are the normal positions that every department store offers, Debenhams has a couple of tricks up their sleeves to ensure you purchase:

Take trying on clothes for example. You’ve just tried out an item. You’ve done the five minutes of staring in the mirror arching your body around like an inebriated aerobics instructor and you’ve finally made your decision. They don’t fit properly, too baggy…maybe bright ‘yellow’ jeans are just never going to be ‘me’. But then on exiting the changing room you come face to face with a transformed changing room attendant. Gone is the welcoming smile and baffled acceptance of your need to try on a garment first. Now, a fixed intimidating stare, a person in a purple blouse looking into your soul. “Are they OK?” they say, an enforced lightness in the tone totally failing to hide the underlying menace.

Already you’re too uncomfortable for a straight pithy utterance of “No”. For me it’s the memories of last time I used such a response; the garment angrily grabbed, removed from the coat-hanger and then re-hung in a long tortuous ceremony know as ‘properly’. An assembled crowd watched tutting to the rhythm of a rain sodden Saturday afternoon. For those moments, those long hate filled moments, I was the humiliated scourge of high-street fashion; the one who wasted everyone’s time.

‘I ummm….they don’t really…fit me’ I manage, my eyes looking so far down I can see that Earth has stopped rotating.

These days I always say I love whatever I‘ve tried on, even wiping away a fake tear of happiness as I quickly make my exit. I walk back to the place where I originally picked up the beige waistcoat and stealthily re-hang the garment in its original position. And I know I’m not the only one. You only have to look around the great store at the amount of clothing that’s been forced clumsily onto hangers to realise that many before and after myself, have been permanently broken by the eyes of a retail devil.

The more innocent side of Debenham’s staffing inventiveness are the ‘clothes-starers’. About five members of staff per-floor who’s job, it appears, is to gaze lovingly at various garments. Pupils fixed, they run their hands down the arms of shirts and blouses, eyes then closing slowly to savour the moment. Sometimes a line of clothing will be struggling to sell and the starers are quickly redeployed to do their magic. The seeming sincerity they display is breath-taking. People fight to get their hands on the golden pot of clothes at the end of this purple rainbow.

I’ve simply scratched the surface of the Debenhams, but that’s all I could ever hope to do. It’s probably not actually real.

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