By FIONA HILLARD
If Holly Golightly ever found herself in the midst of the mean reds while travelling through London, she’d surely find solace in the hallowed hallways of Liberty and Harrods. Who needs breakfast at Tiffany’s, when you can devour floor upon floor of weird and wonderful shopping experiences at two of London’s most exclusive luxury department stores?
Sitting snugly on the corner of Regent Street, Liberty has been providing customers with cute self-styled prints and quality designer goods from its charming mock Tudor façade since 1875. Liberty wouldn’t be British if it wasn’t just a little bit eccentric. So, how’s this for quirky – the store’s unusual timber exterior was constructed in 1924 and comes courtesy of reclaimed wood from two ships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.
Before you even set foot in the shop, you’ll notice the remarkable window displays – heck, you might even want to photograph them. There’s good reason too. Liberty employs a team of specially trained window dressers to ensure that the windows look more like surreal art installations than run-of-the-mill dummies in frocks. They’re certainly a talking point, as are the freshly cut flowers that greet you at the entrance. And not a sheet of cellophane wrap in sight!
Once you enter the store you’ll find the ground floor split into various rooms, giving you the feeling that you’re visiting the lobby of a cosy stately home rather than a sprawling department store. Liberty’s founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty deliberately planned the building to look this way, saying at the time of its construction that he wanted customers to feel as if they were walking around their own home. The fireplaces definitely add to the effect. Anyone who has visited will agree that the laid-back ambience is a good bit different to the heaving crowds of Topshop, Oxford Circus…
And so to Harrods. Of course you can get between the two using the Tube stops at Oxford Circus and Knightsbridge, but it is altogether much cleaner and calmer if you travel there with London car hire. By renting a car you’ll be free to shop at your leisure and you won’t have to worry about dragging shopping bags up and down staircases.
Harrods, Knightsbridge is a department store that needs little introduction. It is brash, decadent and over the top, but in the most wonderful way.
The department store, as we know it today grew from very humble beginnings. Charles Henry Harrod established the business in the rough and ready East End area of London in 1834 as a grocery wholesale shop. With profits on the up, he was able to move to swish Knightsbridge in 1849. The building that houses the store today wasn’t completed until 1905 but over the next few decades, the company made steady progress snapping up property throughout London until it was itself bought over by the House of Fraser in 1959. Harrods remained under their management until 1985 when Egyptian shipping tycoons, the Fayed brothers splashed out £615 million on the store and set about blinging it up in their own inimitable style.
Indeed, since taking over the store, the Fayed’s have been busy putting their own distinctive stamp on the building, perhaps most noticeably through lavish Egyptian décor. Marble floors and walls give the impression that you’re wandering through a jewel encrusted Egyptian temple, while a specially employed opera singer belting out elegant arias assures you that this is a shopping experience like no other.
Two memorials commemorate the tragic deaths of Diana Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed, Mohamed Al Fayed’s son. The first includes photographs of the couple above a pyramid shaped display case that contains a wine glass smudged with lipstick (said to be Diana’s from a Paris restaurant) and what appears to be an engagement ring, thought to have been purchased the day before they died. A second monument was constructed in 2005 close to the Egyptian escalator at door three. It is named “Innocent Victims” and is a bronze representation of the pair dancing on a beach. The jury is still out on whether the monuments are poignant or tacky. Perhaps a little of both.
On a lighter note, anyone on the market for a new pet will find Chihuahua pups, rabbits and hamsters for sale upstairs in the pet department. Don’t forget to tog out your new canine companion in the latest designer gear from the nearby pet accessories department. See, Harrods has thought of everything – nothing is too excessive, eccentric or expensive.
Next time you’re in London, why not make the extra effort and go see what all the fuss is about for yourself? You’ll be glad you did. Check out TWENGA now for the best deals in hotels in London.