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Now owned by the Qatari royal family’s financiers, a miraculous holdover from the golden age of shopping has been retooled into a bombastic mall appealing largely to free-spending out-of-towners. Few London-born people bother with it, yet it thrives, proof of just how awash with foreign fortunes the city truly is. Its thronged but terrific Food Hall rooms are a glut of exorbitantly priced meats and cheeses, its ornate seven-floor facade emblazoned like a Christmas tree after dark, its jewelry hall attended by robotic staff plying the husbands of spoiled wives with champagne until they give in. But much floor space, where too-loud rock music blares nonstop, is devoted either to brands you’d find for a third of the price at your local mall or to One-Percenter nonsense such as £150,000 sculptures. The artificial environment, from the overpriced razzmatazz to the clerks wearing straw hats, would be more authentic at Disneyland than in London of old. In the souvenir “emporium” on the second floor (£17 for sandwich-size gusset bags; £15 mugs; teddy bears aplenty), I sense the air has been pumped with the same scent you smell at Disney wherever the company wants to coax customers into purchasing (a trick called “olfactory coding”). Of the many escalator banks, the most interesting is the uproarious Egyptian-themed one at the store’s center. At its base is a tacky brass fountain memorial to Dodi Al-Fayed and
Princess Diana, who died together in Paris in 1997—his father owned Harrods at the time and campaigned to prove Prince Philip ordered the murder of Diana lest she marry a Muslim. A lipstick-smudged wine glass from the couple’s final tryst is preserved along with a ring with which alFayed claims his son intended to propose to Diana. Tacky! If you crave a real British department store, visit Fortnum & Mason or Selfridges; if you want to be flabbergasted by the pompous excesses of the jet set, Harrods is the overly shellacked circus for you, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s something traditional.