A self-inflicted travel hiatus for the first few months of 2017 and the arrival of a friend beginning their new life in London, prompted an expedition to some of the most iconic British retail stores. It has felt a little odd being in London for so long and not hopping to the airport on Saturday mornings. But it is a great opportunity to explore this city we currently call home.
In 1834, Charles Henry Harrod opened a small store in Knightsbridge, London, to sell groceries. Now, 183 years later, Harrods is a 20,000 square metre store filled to the brim with luxury goods, attracting the affluent from all over. These days the Harrods brand is Qatari-owned, although it has tactfully retained it’s British aesthetic. With more than 300 departments, Harrods really has you covered. From £60,000 bottles of cognac to funky pug speakers. The food hall at Harrods is also well known for it’s delectable treats, and I enjoy browsing their tea section. I’ve only been a couple of times but each time I marvel at it’s beautiful grand spaces, and the array of luxury items I can only dream of eating.
Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum and Mason began way back in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason who opened a grocery store (a trend is forming…). Expanding beyond groceries, the store is now a specialist in fine teas, biscuits and preserves, along with a gorgeous homewares section. Our visit was the first time I had been inside and I thought it was straight out of a dreamy film. Soft lighting made the glittering, perfectly-aligned goods seem extra delicious. I was particularly taken with the enormous teacup and saucer on the second level.
My friends will be familiar with my love for all things Burberry. I’m so incredibly fortunate to own a black wool Burberry coat of my own, and a delightful small bag with appropriately British clouds and raindrops. The flagship store on Regent Street is therefore a very happy place for me. The store is grand, completely on brand, and also includes the most adorable kids section! Being one of the most iconic brands is what earns Burberry a spot on our whistle-stop tour.
Comparatively young, Selfridge’s on Oxford Street opened in 1909. It is the second largest retail space in the UK, coming in at 50,000 square metres. Harry Selfridge visited London from the US and was disappointed with the retail industry which seemed to be trailing behind well-established department stores from his home. He decided (as you do) to buy a lot and open his own store in what was then considered an unfashionable area. Oxford Street has since become one of the most famous shopping strips in London, ensuring Selfridge’s is always full of visitors seeking well…anything their hearts desire!
The names we associate with British retail have all been around for a long time. They deliver on size and variety in stately buildings. It’s a pleasure to wander through these stores whether you’re appreciating the window-shopping opportunity, the location or the sheer magnitude of the endeavour to sell so many things. This was an unconventional self-guided tour perhaps, but worthwhile nonetheless!