I’ve said it before, I don’t like Harrods anymore. I don’t like the current owner who displays a Madame Tussaud waxwork of himself in the Man’s Shop. I don’t like his creepy security guards who enforce the store’s dress code and tell you how to carry your handbag. I don’t like the tasteless Diana and Dodi Memorial on the lower ground floor. With that said, I was in the neighbourhood yesterday and thought it would be fun to drop in on Harrod’s exhibition “Timeless Luxury”, a celebration of the backstories of the world’s most iconic brands. How, for example, officers in World War I would commission Aquascutum, the inventor of the waterproof wool coat, to make coats with deep pockets for ammunition, ergo the name “trench coat” or how Louis Vuitton got his start packing trunks for Napoleon. Well, that sounded interesting.
When I arrived, I was directed to the Harrods Story Exhibition where I learned some amazingly cools things, like the fact that the store embalmed Sigmund Freud, delivered a baby elephant to Ronald Reagan and once employed Dave Prowse, the original Darth Vader, as a fitness instructor. There was an enthusiastic archivist on hand to answer questions. So far, so good, but I felt so sad to have missed the Harrods they were talking about, the eccentric, interesting and admirable Harrods that delivered a crocodile to Noel Coward, and daily fresh herring to Alfred Hitchcock in Hollywood, that would hire you an ambulance complete with a trained nurse or teach etiquette to debutantes. I kept asking myself how the Harrods of yesteryear, the one with class and esprit could have ended up as such a soulless temple of ueber-consumption, more Las Vegas than London.
But what about the brands? To tell you the truth, I only made it through part of the Baccarat Exhibition (very nice) when I started to get what I would describe as a Harrods' headache – too many people, silly prices and sillier rules. Here are some of the things that I missed:
The Ferragamo Exhibition - shoes worn by movie stars and royalty since the 1920s – (Sounded good, shoes are always interesting)
Valentino Exhibition – the vintage Valentino gown that was the inspiration for Julia Roberts Oscar dress (who cares?)
Turnbull & Asser Exhibition – Pieces worn by Rupert Evans and Mick Fleetwood (who?) and patterns of Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin and Sean Connery (had potential)
The Little Black Dress Exhibition – featuring Versace’s safety pin show stopper made famous by Liz Hurley (haven’t these people seen Breakfast at Tiffanys? Now that was a ‘little black dress’!)
I’m really not sorry to have missed these exhibits, or Aerin Lauder’s Fragrance debut or the launch of Van Cleff & Arpels children’s collection (I could give up right here and become a Bolshevik) but what I am sorry to have missed is the Harrods that was more interested in pleasing the Royal Family than Kylie Minogue. Almost every visitor to London makes a pilgrimage to Harrods and to be fair, the food halls are fun to wander through, there are lots of nice overpriced places to eat and the toy department is far better than Hamleys. But if you are looking for that great old store – reader, it is gone. What’s left, as they say in the Michelin Guides, is not worth the detour.