Good department stores have unique personalities: They’re more than just fluorescent warehouses or overblown supermarkets. Take for instance Selfridges, the iconic British emporium that has been recently documented in the television series Mr. Selfridge. Naturally, it included a touch of artistic license about the how the success of the store came about in 1910 (putting merchandise on display; luring customers with exhibits and performances).
In fact, it was at Selfridges in the 1930s that my grandmother took my father to see the bridge of the Queen Mary displayed. The poor five-year-old boy thought he was going to visit the entire Queen Mary liner, and was dismayed to find that the whole ship hadn’t been transported to the department store. There followed many tears. Personally, I have never shed tears in any of London’s department stores. They are fun destinations to pass an afternoon or two when visiting, and are key for high-end shopping. Get your bearings by starting at the modest Liberty or Fenwick stores, before conquering the others.
Harrods is hailed as the king of department stores, and it’s here you’ll find the most impressive sales. The Food Hall is a must. Sample the cheese scones that are a Harrods’ classic and have your lunch at Pan Chai, home to London’s finest sushi. In addition to upscale restaurants, there are excellent souvenir-gifting opportunities (posh tea caddys and the iconic teddy bears).
Voted Best Department Store in the World three times including 2014, Selfridges’ innovative approach to all areas of its business keeps the keep customers faithful. The window displays are as elaborate as cinema sets, the 375,735-square foot women’s shoe department is the largest in the world, and the new outdoor rooftop restaurant, On the Roof with Q, offers an ever-changing line-up of seasonal fare and live entertainment.
Known as Harvey Nicks to Londoners, this store is the quirkier antidote to its neighboring department store, Harrods. Head to the Knightsbridge location and speak to one of the complimentary Style Advisors for advice on style and fit. Harvey Nichols was a Diana, Princess of Wales-approved spot: not that she needed help when it came to fashion.
Every visitor to London is charmed by this mock-Tudor style store that was founded and built in 1875. The floral prints and feminine accessories avoid looking juvenile with edgy cuts and avant-garde designs. As Oscar Wilde said, “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.” Other highlights? Signature textiles for upholstery and the namesake Liberty Haberdashery.
With the recent arrival of the Shoe Corner on the ground floor (three rooms filled with more than 8,000 shoes) Fenwick has asserted its significance in the pantheon of British department stores. Fenwick’s couture restaurant, Bond & Brook is a treat. Read fashion tomes while lunching on small bites to “fashion your own meal,” as they put it.