Last week I was meeting a luxury retailer for the first time and they asked me what my ultimate retail experiences were. We got into a conversation about modern luxury not necessarily equating to spend and I shared details of a couple of stores I’ve visited that have impressed me where I haven’t had to blow the budget. But a top ten? That’s tricky. Here goes…
My Top 10 luxury retail experiences (with estimated starting costs)
1. Monmouth: A black filter coffee (£2)
My office is so close to Monmonth’s Covent Garden store that it would be easy to go here every day. It takes a little longer than ordering an Americano in the high street coffee chains but this is worth the wait. I’ve never found a better cup of coffee.
2. LaDurée: Buying macaroons (£10)
You don’t have to head for the Champs Elysee for these French delicacies; there is a store in Burlington Arcade that will save you a visit. The interior is lined in gold foil and really stands out. I won’t include a photo- they just don’t do it justice. I recommend the Blackcurrant Violet and the Caramel with Salted Butter. Ladurée runs series of limited edition boxes, inspired by fashion designers.
3. Gentlemen’s Tonic: The wet shave (£35)
There is nothing like the old-fashioned wet shave with a cutthroat razor. I’ve tried a few different places over the last few years and I think the service at Ted’s Grooming Rooms and Trumper is more impressive but Gentlemen’s Tonic have transformed the experience into one of totally luxury.
4. The Savoy: Afternoon tea for two on the Strand (£80)
I think everyone knows that The Savoy was closed for refurbishment for nearly three years and reopened at the end of 2010. The extensive renovations (which cost over £200m) have transformed the interior and it looks.. well, similar to what was there before. I haven’t stayed here yet for the full Savoy experience, but their breakfasts are great and better still, book a table for afternoon tea in the Thames foyer. I can’t think of many experiences for under £100 that are more memorable than this one.
So that’s my luxury on a budget recommendations, but if we extended the budget a little further…
5. Smythson: Shopping for personalised stationery (£195)
Ok, so Smythson is nothing new. In fact, they have been around since 1887 (almost as old as Ladurée) and recently, everyone has been talking about their revival, brought about by Samantha Cameron, Private Equity backing, and some impressive leather goods. But Smythson were best-known for their bespoke stationery. And I think its time is now. At Strand, we’re finding that with a sea of email campaigns, the traditional Direct Mail campaign is starting to enjoy a recovery. The results we’re enjoying from Direct Mail are better than they were five years ago. For that reason, with most communication now taking place over emails and social media, the impact of a hand written card is so much greater. If you can’t make it to the store, it is possible to order online, but if you did, you’d be missing out on the main event.
6. King & Allen: A bespoke suit fitting £299
When I was 20, a Savile Row tailor offered to make a suit for me. Nothing earth-shattering there, but this was a bit different. He said, ‘Look, I know you’ve got no money but why don’t you pay me off in instalments? Just come into the shop whenever you can and pay what you can afford.’ Before I knew it, I had my own made-to-measure suit and to this day, it still looks amazing. Bespoke gives you a look that is almost impossible to replicate on the high street. I’ve been back and think the Savile Row experience is something everyone should witness once in their life. However, if you want the bespoke experience and can’t stretch to Savile Row prices, there are a few tailors around who will make you a bespoke suit for a lot less. Through a recommendation from a friend, I tried King & Allen and they made me a great suit with a number of unique touches that make it my own. I won’t share these with you here. Ask King & Allen about their customisation options and see what they can provide for you. Visit them in Charing Cross and the experience is almost identical to Savile Row.
7. High Road House: Room service (£300)
High Road House is a great hotel for midweek stays- when I’m working too late to head home or have a dinner in London. Join their member’s club for £350 and you can get substantial discounts on their rates too. But that’s not my luxury experience. If a last-minute change of plans means you need to book a room, don’t worry about a change of clothes; High Road House offers a room service menu from Net-a-Porter with same-day delivery of essential items. Net-a-porter have always got their packaging just right, and when you’re away from home, it stands out even more as a spectacular luxury experience.
8. Georg Jensen: Buying a gift (£500)
Last year, I was in Georg Jensen’s Bond Street store buying a gift for someone, and being new to the brand, I was offered a tour. It really adds something to the experience when you are given an introduction to the heritage and understand a little bit of the designer’s inspiration behind her creations. Go into the Bond Street store and ask for Mhairi. She has found me gifts from under £100 that are lavishly wrapped and presented just as beautifully as their luxury jewellery costing 50 times as much.
And if there was no budget, the list of luxury retail experiences would be endless. Here are a few that have recently grabbed my attention…
Way above £100
9. LN-CC: A private appointment (£free)
Modern luxury retail is changing. Ten years ago, brands such as Gucci and Prada used to furnish their stores with highly polished chrome and glass cabinets resting on deep-pile carpets. A visit now to Dover Street Market, Colette or even Comme shows that it is possible to succeed in luxury retail without the gloss. Emerging Japanese brands have demonstrated that the quality of the product must come before expensive packaging, real estate and big-budget advertising campaigns.
LN-CC is a fashion retailer in London’s East End that has to be seen to be believed. They stock all the top luxury brands and some unknown ones too. The unique environment they have created, in my mind, makes the products stand out much better than the hi-gloss approach. And with an appointment booked, the standard of service beats most of the established luxury brands too. I’ve said it’s free, but it would be difficult to leave here empty-handed.
10. Porsche: Car shopping. (From £50,000)
There’s something missing when you visit many luxury car showrooms and it doesn’t take me long to come up with a pretty comprehensive list of things I’d change if I ruled their world. Visiting Porsche in the UK is never quite the experience it should be. Even their own sat nav’s find it difficult to track down the UK HQ, which is in the suburbs of Reading just off a motorway. Head past Sainsbury’s and McDonalds and you’ll find it… perhaps not the luxury destination one might expect.
But there is an alternative. In 2008 Porsche completed the development of a building at Silverstone race circuit called their ‘Experience Centre’. Drive any of their new cars round the circuit and once you’d decided which one is right for you, you can get involved in the design your new car in one of their Personalisation Lounges. And if you’re not sure whether to tick some of the option boxes, head back out on the track and test them out.
Harrods By Appointment: Personal Shopping at the Penthouse £free
Another retailer’s ‘By Appointment’ service and this time it’s Harrods.
I can’t put together a list of luxury retailers without mentioning Harrods somewhere, so I couldn’t quite stop at ten. If you want a bespoke shopping experience without the crowds, Harrods have three separate suites. The Penthouse is their most recent service and anything can be arranged there, from appointments with the designers, private fashion shows and even a private dinner! I say the service is free, but naturally you are expected to spend. Considerably. I’d say that most watch retailers don’t really have the right environment for relaxed shopping but with the recently refurbished Fine Watch Room on hand (Europe’s largest?) perhaps this is it.
So that’s my top 10. I know that as soon as I’ve published this article, I’ll think of someone I’ve forgotten. Who else should be on the list?