Sitting on the train from Waterloo and just before arriving at Clapham Junction, an elongated billboard informs you that there is ‘An extra long bank holiday thanks to Her Majesty for everyone’.
In spite of this being an ad for Lastminute.com’s services, it does much to capture the mood ahead of the forthcoming event. All well and good, and you’d imagine therefore that a few stops down the line Kingston-upon-Thames would be awash with patriotic fervour, particularly in view of its regal name and antecedents.
Yet walking along the main pedestrianised shopping drag (aka Clarence Street), which does look as if it has seen better days and is in need of some kind of shot in the arm, the fashion retailers that have opted to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee are the exception rather than the norm. Even the cathedral-high Bentalls Centre has not really rolled out the bunting in any meaningful way. That said, there are a few retailers that have indulged in a spot of Union Jackery and Kingston is the better for it.
Without doubt, the biggest visual merchandising splash in town is that carried out by Bentalls department store, deep in the furthest recesses of the eponymous shopping centre. Unlike almost every other shop in the mall, Bentalls actually has a long street (or four-lane highway more accurately)-facing elevation and this has been used to good advantage.
The theme that has been chosen for the in-mall windows is a bucket and spade one under the legend ‘A Great British Holiday’. The street-facing windows are about rose-tinted British life (there’s even a Union Jack hot air balloon with the word Bentalls on it in one of them), apart from the one with an outsize illuminated flag.
There is more than an air of nostalgia about what’s been done, but the retailer has managed to incorporate contemporary fashion as part of this without any sense of disconnect.
In-store, there are a number of pause points that also play the royal heritage card, with white screens bearing black silhouette crowns and pictures of the monarch at various stages of her reign. These are subtler than the windows and set the regal mood, without overwhelming the fashion offer on the first floor.
It is a pity that the bulk of the windows in this somewhat Maginot Line-like store will only be seen by those arriving by car and heading for the car park, but this is the best Jubilee panorama in Kingston.
You’d expect one of the high street’s most established names to mark the Diamond Jubilee and Austin Reed does not disappoint. Like almost all of its rivals, strings of Union Jack pennants has been draped across the top of the window, but the underlying theme is a day at the races. Using a graphic that looks like an advert for a Le Touquet holiday from the 1930s, Austin Reed recreates the sense of a time when semi-formal dressing was more common than not. This also provides the opportunity to display garments that would be equally at home at the regatta or when peering through binoculars at the runners and riders.
There is nothing remarkable about all of this, but the window offers a sense of security with a scene that dates back to well before Queen Elizabeth II made it to the throne. Formalwear is an intrinsically conservative mode of dressing and the Austin Reed window chimes with this.
The sun had just emerged for the first time in weeks on the day of visiting and suddenly, Accessorize’s window scheme looked appropriate rather than wishful thinking. Featuring summery, winsome sunglass-wearing types leaning out of a caravan servery as the backdrop for the window, a Jubilee note is struck by the many Union Jack-covered items on the tables beneath this graphic. The Union flag is also employed as bunting above all of this and the whole is rather more about summer festivals than street parties where punks and pensioners hold hands.
More practically, the sheer diversity of stock that has been shoehorned into the window without it feeling crowded shows how much care has been taken by the visual merchandising team. In terms of a colour scheme and the way in which this has been executed, there is a lot about this window that those working at nearby Cath Kidston might find familiar.
In the relatively Jubilee-free zone that is the Bentalls centre, one of Gap Kids’ two windows has been devoted to the occasion and it shines out like a beacon. This is a pretty in-your-face execution, given that the effect is achieved by foregrounding clothes with Union Jack motifs on them. On the other hand, it is startling when compared with the relative blandness of many of its neighbours.
The mood is one of casual celebration, rather than any kind of retrospection, and allowing for the fact that the Union Jack flag is currently something of a fashion item, this could be any time of year. There is also the matter of the front of the shop just inside the door. This echoes the Jubilee theme of the windows in a way that most other 60 years-inspired displays do not. The colour scheme is also bang on brand in terms of freshness and has an almost New England/Cape Cod feel about it.
The retailer that takes pride in making each of its stores in some way different to avoid the sense of it being a chain does not fly the flag overtly. Yet you get the sense of a Jubilee celebration. This is achieved by using The Hare and the Tortoise fable and giving it a red, white and blue twist thanks to the stock that has been chosen to accompany the vignette in each window.
There is real humour about what’s been done with village signposts stating ‘FINISH LINE’, ‘ALMOST THERE’ and ‘WRONG WAY’ alongside a window decal that reads ‘Look at ’em go’. Red, white and blue bunting has been strung across the top of each window and the windows are capable of providing service both for the Jubilee and the Olympics.
Finally, it was out of the Bentalls Centre and onto Kingston’s main shopping street where River Island has what amounts to the coolest Cool Britannia display in town. The backdrop for the window features a highly elaborate and abstracted Union Jack that has been turned into a quasi-map dotted, at various points, with coronet-toting corgis.
Few concessions are made to the Jubilee in terms of the stock being worn by the mannequins, but they are linked to the rest of the window by touches such as Union Jack earrings. And of course there are more corgis, at the feet of the mannequins. The corgi may be the Queen’s pet of choice, but there is little doubt that these are cool canines, sporting hats and Wayfarer-esque eyewear.
Along with White Stuff, this is probably the least reverential window display in Kingston, but it is also one of the more interesting ones, purely for the manner in which an event steeped in heritage has been given a contemporary twist.