The Place: Dominating its corner of the Brompton Road in London’s Knightsbridge since Victorian times.
The Story: Everyone thinks they know Harrods. The green and gold bags, the vast emporium of lights stretching across the Brompton Road as far as you can see.
But … But a lot of people will have a vision of an earlier era, very traditional, old money sort of Harrods. And they forget that it’s often been very innovative.
Like? Like being one of the first stores anywhere to have moving escalators. Imagine!
Crikey, that is going back: 1898. And people were given brandy to calm them down after the excitement. In fact, Harrods is internationally known for the quality of its escalator design. But innovation is not the first word people think of and it should be – it’s for the adventurous.
Really? It looked like the same behemoth last time I passed: Since 2010 Harrods has had a vast programme of refurbishment, it’s not over yet and on top of all that it’s bursting out of its brick covers for the first time and expanding in 2020.
OK, hold on. Firstly what happened in 2010? Previous owner Mohamed Al Fayed finally sold it to Qatar Investment Authority.
Dare I ask? About £1.5 billion.
Holy Moly: And then the money really started pouring in. Let’s start with the world famous food halls.
Ah, now I know where I am with this. It’s all fancy plastering and old tiling: Right – the interior is as gorgeous and photo-friendly as it ever was. But the store caused a right kerfuffle last year when it introduced a vegetarian butcher (which Retail Insider reported on).
Who objected? Well actual butchers for one. But the point was that people are unsure how to cook or prepare a lot of exotic vegetables. They might walk past them in their local ethnic green grocer but won’t ask. The veggie butcher will do for veg what a butcher does in recommending cuts of meat for different recipes.
What’s the vegetable equivalent of scrag end? I don’t imagine they sell it anyway.
So I’m getting the idea that if you can have your exotic veg spiralised then the customisation thing is big in-store: The personalisation thing is HUGE in Harrods. And much of it is done the same day. Are you ready?
I think so: You can have personalised stationery done by Smythson on the second floor. The Fashion Lab on the fourth floor will engrave your jewellery. There is also embossing, hot stamping and embroidery available to name a few. But the piece de resistance has to be the chance to create your own perfume at the Salon de Parfums on floor six. It’s a two tier thing…
Let’s just cut to the top tier shall we? Fair enough. You have an initial interview about your emotional relationship with scent and then there is a “beautifully creative process taken over an extensive period of time’ ending up with a chest containing your perfume with a funnel and travel atomiser.
How about vajazzling? Don’t be ridiculous. Although let me check.
No, really it’s fine: They do do a thing with Swarovski crystal.
Leave it: The motto for Harrods is after all Omnia Omnibus Ubique.
Ah yes: I presume you know what that means.
Obviously but just explain to the readers: All things to all people everywhere. And the thing that right now a lot of people from all over the place are queuing up for is the lift to the fourth floor of Harrods.
And what exactly is on the fourth floor? The Wellness Clinic where for £95 a time you can indulge in cryotherapy.
Go on then – what is it? Brief exposure to a freezing temperature to rejuvenate skin, speed up the metabolism – in short the body goes into trauma mode.
Nice: Trust me there are women who go there ALL the time. But of course it’s only for three minutes a time.
Sorry. Three minutes? Yes.
For £95? Yes.
Cry-otherapy for the husbands then… I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that H Beauty is officially a thing. Like K Beauty or J Beauty.
Ummm: Korean Beauty or Japanese Beauty. Geddit. Harrods now has a vast beauty space opened in June 2019 followed by a skincare emporium in October 2019. It is reinventing itself as a 21st century international beauty destination.
Today the world. Tomorrow…? Lakeside.
Errr: No really. In the spring of this year for the first time since its inception in 1849 Harrods is expanding beyond Brompton Road.
To Essex? Yes. Bespoke beauty (facials/hair), new brands and coffee to cocktail bar. Insta-friendly. Boom.
OMG. Remember when I said vajazzling: Behave. It’s Harrods in Essex not Essex in Harrods. And anyway they’re expanding in Henley too where the good people of Bucks can now avail themselves of the H Café.
H-Okay: Billed as a taste of the food halls there will be all day dining, pastries and click & collect for online orders.
Right enough of these H-outposts: Back to the nearly million square feet at Knightsbridge if you would. I’m glad you mentioned the size of the store because it brings me neatly onto Pointr.
The what now? Since 2016 there has effectively been a SatNav for the store.
Get away: The Pointr technology uses a network of iBeacons installed in the ceiling of the venerable old building. The map detects the customer so when you’ve just paid £95 to freeze yourself and you need Champagne right now, one simply types ‘Champagne’ into the locator and a complete route based on where you currently are is mapped out for you digitally.
Genius: Yup. Talking of champagne, there are a total of 21 eateries in Harrods. Running the full gamut from oyster bars to sushi restaurants, ice-cream parlours to cocktail lounges. A new dining hall concept opened in 2019 to great acclaim.
All in all, it seems to me that it would be completely possible to spend a whole day in Harrods with no need to leave at all: I’m telling you. This old matriarch of a shop has got a few tricks she could teach those high street whipper snappers. A place of experiential retail theatricality since way before that was even a phrase.
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