Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shopping Like the Rich People Shop

On my dad's last day visiting me, he decided he wanted to go to Harrods.  It's a bit of a strange choice for my dad, who doesn't really like shopping, but Harrods is a department store unlike any other. (It's also something to do indoors. I thought the weather for the day was fine-- it was a bit chilly and there was some drizzle.  A nice day in November by UK standards... but I think I've acclimated.).  Harrods is enormous-- and for the enormously wealthy (and incredibly beautiful. My dad pointed out that everyone who works in Harrods is very attractive.  It's like you have to be a model just to work there.).

It's fairly imposing from the outside-- pretty impossible to take pictures of since it takes up a couple blocks


and is fairly tall as well.






Photos of the building itself don't quite do it justice, but the window displays photograph fairly well.




I'm not exactly sure what the displays are selling-- though, I'm sure those dresses are for sale in the store somewhere-- but they're nicely fantastical.  They're not quite Christmas-y (maybe the first one, a little) which is surprising since Harrods announced the arrival of Christmas-- and Santa-- on November 2.  But, maybe traditional Christmas windows are too pedestrian for Harrods.

The inside of Harrods is equally imposing; some of the departments, like the perfume department-- or the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie as the store guide calls it--are works of art in their own right.



Even the central stairwell (with escalators, of course-- I don't think anyone as wealthy as a regular at Harrods walks stairs), or the Egyptian Hallway, is stunning.


There's really just no place in Harrods that lets you forget you need a lot of money to shop there (and, that's before you look at the price tags on things).

My dad and I started our day at Harrods with lunch.  There is a food hall at Harrods




with every kind of food you can imagine-- and sit down counters in every department.  We didn't eat in the food hall, however. For one, it was really busy, so all the food counters had lines just to get a seat at the relatively small eating areas in each section. Two, I'm not quite sure how you eat together if you and your companion's food preferences differ greatly (as mine and my dad's can).  Each counter serves a separate department, but as far as I could tell, there's no simple, central eating area so that dining companions could buy from several counters and meet at a table  So, we opted to eat on the Fifth Floor in the East Dulwich Deli-- the name is deceptive.  Even a deli in Harrods is significantly fancier than anything the word conjures, so this is what a deli looks like in Harrods.


The prices are way beyond what one would imagine a deli would charge.  It may have been the most expensive meal we had during my dad's visit-- and I had a salad and he had a ham and cheese sandwich. I also had some fabulous juice mixed from apple, mango and banana.  It's very green even though the banana was the strongest flavor in it.




From lunch, we were headed to Christmas World, which I had great expectations for.  We came across Toy Kingdom first though, which is a lot of fun.



It may be more fun without kids there since without kids, there's no one to ask for stuff and you can spend time watching the employees demonstrate the toys-- like one who makes snow (it's some concoction you mix with water that really does look and feel like fluffy snow, only not as cold. And, you can make snowballs out of it.), or one who performs magic tricks with a small ball of light, or one who creates drawings on a black board that becomes multi-colored when a wooden stick is moved across it.  The same wooden stick can return the board to a blank, black, canvas-- it's like a modern etch-a-sketch, only cooler and with more potential to create good drawings.  As part of one demonstration, I got a sparkly heart tattoo (it's a tattoo kit that allows you to create tattoos out of glitter) and at another, my dad got a fancy sticker to wear (you create your own stickers with foil paper attached to a self-created or premade shape) which he gave to me after a few minutes.  (I guess he thought it was too girly).  See-- much more fun without kids in tow; I'm sure if there are kids in tow, they get the tattoos and the stickers.

We wandered through other sections of Harrods on our way to finding Christmas World, which turned out to be disappointing in comparison to the other departments.





There was a lot of Christmas stuff, but it wasn't the sort of "magical" world I was expecting. Maybe Toy Kingdom raised my expectations too high. Christmas World is on the same floor as Kitchenware, however, and there I got to sample a latte made from the new Starbucks Verismo system.  It which was surprisingly good, especially considering I chose to have the milk steamed from a pod (rather than have actual steamed milk) in my latte, just to see how it would taste.  I don't know that I would have known the milk came from a pod if I hadn't been told (and, watched it brew-- in two steps.  The milk pod brews first and then the espresso pod brews, with the water at a higher temperature.).

We also walked through the music department, which featured incredible music boxes.  This one has 8 (I think I'm remembering that correctly) different cylinders and mimics multiple instruments.



And, it retails for about 70,000 pounds. The saleswoman then showed us a more reasonably priced music box.  It features a moving bird








and sells for a much lower price-- about 20,000 pounds. (Makes you want to pick up several...)

About this time, my dad decided he was hot (I have noticed that the Brits really pump the heat in stores lately...) and tired of walking around, so he sat on an ottoman in the women's shoe department (which was about the only place with seating that wasn't reserved-- if you're not buying, Harrods really wants you to keep moving) while I wandered the first floor which is largely where all the womenswear (along with shoes) is.  This is when I came to the realization that I've chosen the wrong profession, at least if I ever want to be able to buy the kinds of clothes and shoes sold at Harrods (which, I have to admit, I kind of do. I went past a separate shoe department where the Manolo Blahniks were kept which is when I really started lamenting a professor's salary.  I really wanted to try them on-- but I was dressed for comfort in jeans, what is becoming a rather raggedy sweater and, after several months of walking the UK, even more raggedy sneakers and I didn't have the nerve to pretend like I belonged in the luxury shoe department (or, even the "regular" shoe department, since "regular" in Harrods means Prada and Jimmy Choo).  My realization that I do not make enough money to shop in Harrods combined with my dad's shopping fatigue ended our day, so we headed back to the tube station.  Harrods is lit up at night-- it's really quite pretty in the dark (I'm pretty sure that with the exception of the Christmas tree, it looks much like this all year round at night.).



We did, however, stop off at Hobbs of London (a very nice store with great quality clothing, if you're not comparing it to someplace like Harrods) on our way to the station so I could yet again look at the coat I've been admiring at the Hobbs store in Oxford.  This is why I should not go shopping with my dad-- when it's my money I'll be spending, my otherwise thrifty father becomes quite encouraging and loose with the wallet.  So, I now have a new winter coat.  I've been pretty hard on the little clothing I have with me here (though my brutal washing machine/dryer combo does hold a lot of the blame for this), so I don't really want to wear it around to travel (my current winter coat has started to look pretty shabby, and that I can't blame on the evil washer/dryer). Now, I visit the Hobbs coat in the shopping bag it's in-- it'll debut when I get it back to the States where I don't think I'm quite as hard on my clothes.

A couple days after my dad left, I continued my shopping spree by going to Bicester Village, an outlet mall about 30 minutes away from Oxford.  I didn't actually have any realistic expectations of buying clothes in Harrods, but I am getting really tired of the few sweaters I brought with me to the UK (the photos of me all feature the same ones, making it look like they were all taken in the same week even though I've been here for three months now) and, I'm getting tired of looking like a touristy slob all the time, and I thought an outlet mall would be the perfect place to pick up a few things to augment what I've come to think of as my very sad and schleppy wardrobe.  I was very wrong about the outlet mall being a perfect place for this.

Bicester Village is made up of stores for all the major designers magazines like Vogue feature.  There's Valentino, Max Mira, Prada, Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander McQueen... it goes on an on.  (You can get a real sense of the number of top designers represented, as well as the size of the shopping village which the picture below doesn't capture, from the Bicester Village map at http://www.bicestervillage.com/en/plan-your-visit/about-bicester-village/village-map/village-map.)  I fell in love with a blouse in Max Mira until I fished out the hidden price tag-- it was marked down to 495 pounds, which is a bargain if you consider it originally retailed for around 900 pounds.  In fact, all of Bicester Village is filled with those kinds of bargains-- gowns that once were more than 2000 pounds (or in the case of Valentino, more than 5000 pounds) at 40% off or sweaters marked down to 295 pounds (previously from 400 or more).  You can even get a Burberry scarf for just a little more than 100 pounds.  Honestly, there are some real steals to be found if you consider what these designers normally retail for; it's just that I would have had to actually steal in order to afford anything.


Bicester Village does have a few "common" stores like Northface, Juicy Couture, and something called Superdry which I think is a Japanese brand.  Superdry had pretty casual clothes-- lots of t-shirts and hoodies--which were largely in plain colors and had "Superdry" written on  them in large letters.  I didn't really get the appeal, but the store was packed.  Maybe because it was one of the only affordable stores in the place (and, affordable is relative here). 

The only thing I wound up buying at Bicester Village was lunch; I did, however, have lunch at the Jamie Oliver food stand


which was exciting because it's the first celebrity chef place I've eaten at.  I had beef stew-- for food sold out of a small stand, it was really quite good (as you can see, there were a lot of people queueing-- always a good sign).  I am apparently the only person who leaves Bicester Village empty-handed though; everyone else at the bus stop with me was laden down with bags.  I want to know what they do for a living.

I have about five weeks left in my living abroad experience-- I may just have to suffer with my terrible wardrobe (maybe throw away or donate a lot of it to the charity shops before I go) because none of the shopping experiences are going well, at least not from a buying perspective.  I did stop in a shop called Apricots when I got back to Oxford-- I found a really cute blouse there for 15 pounds... that seemed more my price range.

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