If not the realization of the ultimate dream, then it’s certainly a happy circumstance when the fashion-following traveler lands in Paris, Rome or London in the season of the Soldes, the Saldi or the Sales.
Some years ago, I found myself in London for the last week of the winter sales, so one morning, when the weather was fine, the sky clear and the air mild enough for a pleasant walk but chilly enough to make little forays into warm shops a pleasant prospect, I trotted up to Oxford Street to hunt down some bargains. “50%, 60%, 75% off!” screamed the giant red letters on shop window after shop window. “Final days!” urged others. It was compelling, irresistible.
Soon I was part of a shopaholic sisterhood dashing from store to store and floor to floor. Side by side we rummaged with grim intent through mountains of tangled t shirts, and twisted cardigans with missing buttons. We scrabbled through shelves of low-rise, skinny, stretch jeans with 12 inch waists and six foot legs. We flipped through racks jammed with dresses, jackets and shirts in dreadful colours and impossible sizes. I was beginning to lose heart. Clearly, London women were either 7 feet and 7 stone or 7 feet and 20 stone with a penchant for synthetics in purple, silver and mustard. There was nothing here for me.
I shifted the search to menswear where the target market was evidently the super-sized chap with flamboyant taste. There were racks of XXL shirts in lurid stripes and tables piled with loud checkered caps. I gave up and headed to children’s wear and a room a-wash with steals in frilly hot pink. It was here, finally, that I scored the day’s great bargain hunting triumph. Beyond the racks of pink and frills, in dim and all but deserted boy’s wear, I fossicked patiently through shelves of jeans until I found one, the last, I think, in size 7-8.
As I marched home through the now dark streets I found myself pondering two fundamental sale-shopping truths. Firstly it pays to hit the sales early, before all the real bargains are snapped up (those dedicated shoppers who camp on the pavement the night before the sale starts certainly know a thing or two) and secondly sale-shopping is not for the faint-hearted, it takes determination and lots of it.
In 1875, Arthur Lasenby Liberty opened his first drapery store on Regent Street. he called it Liberty. Selling high quality oriental silks, ornaments and objets d’art from the East, it attracted a discerning clientele with a taste for the foreign and the exotic. The artists Ruskin, Rosetti and Whistler were among Liberty’s first customers.
Soon the store began to manufacture and print its own fabrics, with designs by artists like William Morris. With their fine quality silks and satins and their subtle and artistic colours, Liberty prints gained great popularity as dress fabrics, especially during the years from 1890 to 1920. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Liberty’s had a considerable influence on contemporary trends in style and design, such as the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau, which was so closely associated with the store that it became known in Italy as “Stile Liberty”.
In 1925, after Liberty’s had outgrown its original premises on Regent Street, it moved to the present Tudor revival Arts and Crafts building on Great Marlborough Street. The timbers used in its construction were recycled from two British naval ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan. The store’s quaint “country-house” exterior continues into the interior which is small, intimate and “old-world” with dark wooden counters and display cases, polished floors, stairs and decorative elevators. It curves around several wooden balconied, “mock-Tudor” style atrium with glass roofs.
Today Liberty remains dedicated to fine quality and service. It continues to uphold its original style and traditions. It maintains its historic links with arts and crafts, selling original stationery, pottery, jewellery and furniture of the highest quality. On its top floor, it houses the period Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts furniture which it so greatly influenced. It still sells the hand-blocked silks and other oriental goods for which it was known when it first opened in 1875. And the beautiful liberty prints are an enduring hallmark of the house.
Yet, for all its old world charm, dedication to its arts and crafts foundations and its stile Liberty, Liberty has embraced and fully exploited the possibilities of the digital age. Liberty is out there online, offering its exquisite wares to loyal patrons and through its blogs, inspiring artists and craftspeople around the globe. In-house or online Liberty is a shopping experience like no other.
Now with Liberty, the TV series, Arthur Lasenby Liberty’s store takes on another new life….
Like Buckingham Palace, the Eye, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Tower Bridge, certain legendary shops rank high on the London visitor’s list. Like these monuments they are British institutions and similarly, each stands, in its own way, for something solid and enduring in the culture of the UK.
Harrod’s of Knightsbridge
Harrod’s grand old department store, with its art nouveau windows, baroque tower and dark green awnings, is a Knightsbridge landmark. Its name is synonymous with quality, variety, style, class and excellent service.
Harrod’s began life in 1849 when Henry Charles Harrod opened a small grocery business on Brompton Road. As it provided high quality merchandise and superior service, it soon won a large following of discerning customers. Expansion was inevitable. By the end of the 19th century, Harrods was a state of the art department store, complete with one of the world’s first escalators. It had grown to fill an entire Brompton Road block and its range of goods had expanded to cover “everything from a packet of pins to an elephant”, all of the highest quality of course and always delivered with impeccable service.
Now with seven floors, three hundred and thirty three departments, a staff of over four thousand and with the Qatari Royal Family at the helm, Harrod’s of Knightsbridge is a long way from that first little grocery business.
Its goods include things that Henry Charles Harrod could only have dreamed of and services he could never have imagined. There’s a state of the art Technology Department, with a force of techsperts on hand to connect you to the tablet, pod, pad, notebook or smart phone of your dreams. In the Candle Room Spa, specialists will restore your well-being. Pop-up shops display the shoes, the bags or the designer of the month. Then of course there are the infinite possibilities of a Harrod’s on-line, including Issu a glossy catalogue of the latest stock, so you can select before you shop, virtual tours so that you can plan your expedition and of course on-line services which allow to shop from the luxury of your living room
Still, with all this growth and change Harrod’s has remained faithful to its original mission to provide variety quality and excellent service. And it is this timeless, solid, classic Harrod’s shopping experience that takes me back here time and time again. It’s the doormen, who greet you as you swing through the doors, discreetly assessing your security risk and vetting for infringements of the no shorts, no thongs, no backpacks dress code introduced by Mohammed El Fayed in 1986. It’s the ambience of the place, with its dark-panelled stairs, vast halls, mirrors, studios and feature rooms. It’s the sheer range of beautiful things; like the 8 fashion rooms dedicated to designers from Armani to Zimmerman and the Parfumerie which sprawls across the entire ground floor, where a force of glamazons wait in the aisles with atomizers always at the ready. It’s the black clad demi-gods and goddesses, who reign over its departments.
It’s the iconic departments, themselves, like the Refinery (for gentlemen’s grooming) the Cigar Room and the Wine Room. It’s the Feature Halls, which, at festivals like Christmas, brim with the latest in gifts in decorations and in dressings and fare for the yuletide table. It’s the Harrod’s collection of special, souvenirs; London buses, bags and bears, tins of tea, biscuits and sweets, pot mitts and tea towels and especially, the House of Harrod’s China collection, with its exquisite Coat of Arms and Queen Victoria pieces.
It’s those special services, offering bespoke tailoring, jewellery and perfume, the monogram service, the personalized shopping service that will preselect, advise and allow you privacy, time and space to decide on your purchases or the personalized gift service which will guide you to the perfect present, the wrap it gorgeously and deliver it the next day.
It’s the Harrod’s food hall, which endearingly and reassuringly to its grocery store roots, remains at the heart of the building, in the centre of its ground floor. Nothing says indulgence, luxury and quality like fine food and Harrod’s Food Hall says it with great eloquence. There’s a seductive aroma – a blend of coffee, chocolate and nuts and pastry. White, hand-painted Edwardian tiles line the walls and form a backdrop to a visual feast of gourmet chocolates, patisserie, charcuterie and sumptuous arrangements of fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables that make you want to whip out the easel and oils and translate them all into a still life.
It’s the small, simple things, like those little green shopping bags with elegant gold Harrod’s signature.
In none of my Harrod’s shopping expeditions have I ever uncovered an elephant, or even a packet of pins for that matter. I’m sure, though, that they were there in some fabulous guise or other. I’m certain too, that if I had really wanted to find them, a Harrod’s glamazon, demi-god or goddess would have dedicated themselves to the task in true gracious Harrod’s style and I that I would have carried them off, perfectly packaged, in one of those signature Harrod’s bags.
Bangkok is the proverbial shopper’s paradise. It has a multitude of malls, plazas, complexes, centres, arcades and boutiques and even more squares, small shops, markets and street stalls. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Bangkok, probably at a lower-than-elsewhere and/or irresistibly flexible price, too.
You can hunt that international shopping “must have” in a number of the city’s chic plazas. Emporium, on Sukhumvit, houses a department store, designer fashion boutiques, fabulous, state of the art Asian homestores and Jim Thompson silks. In Ratchaprasong shopping district, Gaysorn has all the European greats such as Gucci, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Burberry and Christian Dior. It also features many of Thailand’s innovative fashion labels such as Fly Now and Kloset Red. The Peninsula Plaza, on Rajadamri Road, is often described as Bangkok’s Harrod’s. Its 70 boutiques include Cartier, Davidoff, Versace and Gucci as well as top local fashion designers and jewelers. Here, too, you’ll also find some of Bangkok’s best tailors.
For a taste of old Bangkok head to O.P. Place, next to the Oriental Hotel. This 1908, neoclassic building was originally constructed as the Falk and Beidek Store, furnishing elegant outfits and home comforts to expats. Now, it offers high quality Thai silk, jewellery, carpets, paintings, leather goods and handicrafts. It also houses one of the Chitralada shops which specialize in handicraft goods made at the Sai Jai Thai workshops for the disabled, founded by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Narayana Phand, also in Ratchaprasong, is Thailand’s largest handicraft centre. It features a tremendous selection of high quality handicrafts from all over Thailand – silks, ceramics, wood carvings, lacquer and bronze ware, ethnic clothing, musical instruments, and Khon masks – all at reasonable prices.
Mah Boon Krong most commonly known as MBK, on Sukhumvit, is a large seven-storey air-conditioned market, packed with stalls selling everything from clothes, fashion accessories and cosmetics to mobile phones, DVDs and electronic games.
In Siam Square on Rama Road you’ll find a labyrinth of lanes with hundreds of cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops selling the latest and most outrageous in local youth fashion. Scattered among them are some of Thailand’s most avant garde and promising young designers, such as Srestis.
Stroll along any of Bangkok’s busy main streets like Sukhumvit, Silom Road or Rama I Road any day, or night, of the week and you’ll pass through long, meandering bazaars of stalls piled with souvenirs, clothes, shoes, CDs, bags and accessories at low, negotiable prices.
The most famous and most fascinating of all Bangkok’s shopping experiences is the weekend market at Chatuchak. It stretches for miles out on a far flung arm of the BTS sky train. Here, you’ll find everything from Animals to Zippers and among them are amazing objets d’art, carvings, masks, costumes, paintings, sculptures, homewares, furniture, silks of every shade and texture, racks of mass-produced clothes and shoes, as well as local designers’ one-off masterpieces. Chatuchak takes time and lots of it, but it’s worth it, not only for the treasures you’ll find there, but also for the sheer pleasure of looking.
“The shopping’s great in KL but that’s it! You wouldn’t want to spend more than couple of days there” a sun-tanned latte sipper in a Melbourne café advised her earnestly listening friends.
True, the shopping is great in Kuala Lumpur, you can buy anything there and what’s more everything is either reasonably, or incredibly, cheap. Even in the high-end centres like KLCC, under the Petronas Towers, you can snag a Gucci or a Zegna for a good price while over on the Bukhit Bintang, also known as the Golden triangle, in swanky malls like Lot 10 and Starhill there are more well-priced designer deals. Then, of course, there’s China Town, where you can buy copies of all the same stuff for less than song.
But the bargains don’t stop at clothes. There are plazas, like the BB (Bukhit Bintang) stacked with electronic goods and gadgetry; computer gear, cameras, ipods, ipads, phones as well as all the software and accoutrements to go with. Cheap DVDs and CDs, both real and pirated, abound.
The cavernous lobbies of the KL shopping mega-malls also favour the showcase, often featuring local crafts, clothes, jewellery and textiles by local producers and designers. This is fortunate, because it’s possible that in the grab for global goodies at Asian prices, the true treasures of Malaysia might go un-noticed – treasures like the rich variety of sumptuous textiles, the traditional costumes with a modern twist, or the beautiful lace kabaya, the delicate chain of three brooches that fasten them and the gorgeous sarongs that go with them.
Shops open late, always after ten, but often after noon, and close as late as midnight. They are always packed with people, most of them tourists, like our latte-sipping friend, trawling for the latest and cheapest. It’s a long, hard, serious business hunting bargains, haggling over prices and finally hammering home the purchase. So to ease the shopper from one deal to another, there are endless chains of pit-stop cafes, bars, eateries and ice-cream parlours. Then to break up the hours, there’s the spectacle, such as the fun-park with its roller coaster screeching and swooping around the upper reaches of Times Square Berjaya. And last, but not least, there’s the ubiquitous foot massage, to ready the worn-out shopper’s feet for the trot back to the hotel.
Yes it is true, the shopping is great in KL, in fact, the whole shopping experience is great in KL but that definitely isn’t it, there’s more – lots more.
Vaci Utca is to Budapest as Oxford Street is to London or as Boulevard Haussman is to Paris. Fashionistas chasing the latest brands will find them in Vaci Utca’s global chain stores. Glamourous ladies will find the ensemble of their dreams in its chic boutiques and the accessories to match in its elegant department stores. For tourists, or others, seeking something uniquely Hungarian, there are amazing folk art stores.
My personal favourites on this street is a fascinating little second hand shop which sells everything from old Dual Monarchy heirlooms to insignia from Soviet uniforms. I lost myself for hours among its collection of faded family photos.
Vaci Utca is also liberally dotted with traditional cafes, burger bars and fast food (for shoppers in need of refreshments?)
At night, when Budapest party people come out to boogie or imbibe in Vaci Utca’s clubs and bars, the whole area hums with life.
Just beyond the Danube’s Liberty Bridge is the Market Hall, an old steel-framed brick building which dates back to the end of 19th century.
The ground floor stalls offer local produce of every kind; fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish; wine, cheeses, nuts, pulses, preserves and pickles and sweet and pungent smelling Hungarian delicacies.
Upstairs are exquisite local crafts, knitted goods, lace, embroidery and fabulous wooden toys – knights and soldiers, cars and trains and gorgeous dolls of all sizes, in national dress.
There are bands, buskers, constant movement, noise and fun. There are sensational little eateries selling traditional dishes. Everything is cheap.
While traditional textile weaving has declined until only two looms still clack away on Mykonos, fashion has found its own unique expression here and it’s booming.
In colours reflecting the bleached Cycladic houses, the bright Aegean sea and the clear Mediterranean sky, Mykonos style favours soft, light pure cottons or linens, in shapes fitted to the hot summer sun and the relaxed lifestyle.
Boutiques line the narrow laneways of Chora. Tailors and machinists beaver away still in back rooms and upstairs studios. Many have been here since the early days of tourism on the island. Many have outfitted some very famous figures
Salachas, in Georgiouli Street, is a small shop, crammed with linen and cotton garments all of Greek materials and all locally made. Grandfather Joseph Salachas was a tailor in the 1960s and among his clients were Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. It was who dreamed up the iconic knotted, bare-midriff shirt for movie star Jean Seburg.
Today, Joseph Salacha’s descendants keep up the tradition. His grand-daughter helped me to outfit three little chaps in beautiful blue and white striped shirts, teamed with soft white cotton three quarter pants.