January is shopping season. I never used to understand why anyone would fly halfway across the globe to shop in countries where the cost of living is so much higher. But now I do. The reason is the heavy discount, which we just don’t see in Australia. The thing is, after a 50% discount, prices at Harrod’s, and designer labels like Zegna, are fairly comparable to normal prices you pay in a department store in Australia. Except what you are getting is what in Australia would be counted as “luxury” (read: “extremely expensive”). So, for example, an Armani Collezioni suit at Harrods, after 50% off, was £200 – about $500. $500 can just about buy you a badly cut, made-in-China no-brand suit in Australia. A brand-name tie there was about £25 after discount – the price of a Home Brand-equivalent tie at Myer. And Myer simply has too many bad patterns in its tie collection.
Of course, none of this was much use for me at Harrod’s. I didn’t have the luggage space to shop, and what I did buy (souvenirs) weren’t on discount. What intrigued me more was the institution that is Harrod’s.
Once very much “establishment”, Harrod’s has become somewhat … eccentric since Dodi al Fayed, the son of the store’s owner, became involved with the former Princess Diana. The al Fayeds have always taken a non-conventional approach to running the store. The main escalator well, for example, is decorated in an Egyptian motif, with a large Pharaohnic statue at its base. They also famously used an Egyptian cobra to protect the luxury shoe counter.
The relationship of the company with the royal family steadily became worse. The royal warrants, shields declaring that a merchant is the appointed supplier of a certain class of goods to a royal, were removed from the store’s facade in 2001. Finally, when Diana and Dodi died, al Fayed turned bits of his store into memorials – a temple to their memory surrounded by a temple of consumerism. Pretty creepy, really. That said, I can sort of sympathise with al Fayed’s anger and his conspiracy theories. It is entirely plausible that The Establishment wanted Diana “removed” from the scene. Al Fayed’s reputation as a little crazy is probably as much the result of media exaggeration as his being driven to extremes by frustration at being largely ignored. Kind of like Lady Lucan.
Until next time,
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