No expense has been spared in the makeover of Harrods’ women’s footwear department and the money has been well spent, with the glamorous surroundings complementing the luxury offer.
Marigay McKee, Harrods’ fashion and beauty director, looks around her and professes to be “very, very pleased”. We’re standing in the middle of the newly completed women’s footwear department at Harrods, which Drapers reviewed last month, perhaps a little harshly, when the final touches of the makeover were still being put into place.
Now the 20,000 sq ft space (23,000 sq ft if you include the nearby Shoe Boudoir, run and managed by Kurt Geiger) is looking busy and everything is where it should be. So with the covers off and the wraps down, how have things progressed and what confronts the shopper in search of a luxury footwear experience?
The 10 branded shop-in-shops notwithstanding (think Dior, Prada, Miu Miu and Tod’s, for instance), all of which have their own distinct shopfits, the first thing the visitor is likely to notice is the ceiling - a swirling bronze creation. “It’s art deco,” says McKee, “and it’s part of making the shoes like jewels; this is about the product as hero.”
She says there are about 120 brands in the department, located on the first floor. A lot of footwear to accommodate therefore, and making this a reality is achieved with plinths and tables in the mid-shop and a perimeter wardrobe system that has brand labels that can be changed at the click-clack of a Manolo Blahnik heel.
The intent, says McKee, pointing at one of the wardrobes that houses Lanvin footwear, is to be able to expand a brand’s presence, or incorporate a new range without a major departmental relocation. All of the wardrobes follow the same pattern, with just a discreet sign indicating which brand you are perusing. This is a simple layout and one that, in the wrong hands, could be a tad dull.
It is not, however, and one of the reasons the now finished design, created by interior design company Shed, works is the emphasis that is placed on making the mid-shop glamorous and a high degree of visual merchandising pizazz. Whichever end you happen to stand at, it is hard to avoid the impression you are looking at a fashion runway.
McKee says this is intentional and as “the shoe now occupies the same position as the It bag did five years ago,” it is important its place as a fashion essential is made clear in the store. This means the department has a walkway running through it and if you start at the east end, there’s a table of brightly coloured Tod’s loafers that acts as both an introduction to the shop-in-shop of the same name and as entrée to the runway.
Head west along the high-gloss cream terrazzo tiles and, as well as the bronze filigree pattern overhead, the most obvious feature is the columns. All of these are mirrored - something McKee says is frequently absent in department stores around the world. It also helps shoppers to view their “toe cleavage” - a female shoe feature she says is an essential element of upscale shoe wearing.
The Yves Saint Laurent strappy sandals on the circular brass and glass table at the front of the area bring toe cleavage sharply into focus. Each sandal has a clear acrylic foot inserted into it to stress how it might look if it were worn. A single red shoe is displayed on a shoe-sized plinth, supported by a stalk, which gives the arrangement prominence. This is just a small area within the whole footwear department, but it serves to illustrate the attention to detail that has gone into the whole enterprise.
Move deeper into the department and you get an idea of the full palette of materials used. McKee points to the base of mid-floor units and says: “Carrera marble”. The material is used around the base of each of the wardrobes too. And the wardrobes themselves have brass surrounds, providing an echo of what is going on overhead.
There were, on the official launch day last week, also a number of tall, thin, shiny black plinths topped by glass edge-to-edge boxes, each of which contained a single pair of shoes. These are, in effect, a footwear hall of fame, with a photo of the celebrity wearer attached to each plinth.
They add further razzmatazz to the walkway and encourage the feeling that you have walked into a space where luxe is the watchword, a term, incidentally, favoured by McKee when talking about the department.
But what of the unfortunate male who is brought in to appraise his partner’s shoe buying habits? Soft, velvet-covered versions of the butler’s chair have been put in place off the main walkway. “They’re about privacy and being able to relax when you come here. They also help to take away any feeling that this could be an intimidating place,” says McKee. Several men had indeed installed themselves in these, rather than the banquettes that are also used more generally across the department, and they did appear to be viewing the experience as a positive.
And no review of the department would be complete without mentioning the way in which the ceiling swoops down at various points across the centre in the form of art deco-style illuminated beacons hanging just above the stock. There is something almost Moroccan about this and it is impressive, taking the eye towards the centre of the footwear department.
Finally, there are the 10 shop-in-shops. McKee says the reason for their selection is simple: “Money. We’re taking as much as ready-to-wear in the Dior space,” she says.
In spite of the cost of this (McKee says the shell alone cost £2.5m), there is no arguing with success. She says if you look at the combined turnover of the men’s and women’s footwear departments, they are taking “at least £1m a week”.
Now it’s makeover payback time, and the department looks set to keep smiles on the faces of McKee and the owners, the Qatari royal family. At least the female scions of that dynasty will know where to head next time they pop over for a spot of retail therapy. l