There are reviews of handbags aplenty, so how do I help you navigate the choice that is out there? Well, if you find yourself in London SW1, along the Brompton Road, perhaps after a walk in Hyde Park, you will find yourself along Knightsbridge’s main shopping street, with two department stores that need no introductions; Harrods and Harvey Nichols. If you are dressed in an outfit suitable for a long walk in the park, one may suggest a quick change, but more on this later.
One might think that department stores, even two of London’s finest, will offer similar handbag shopping experiences; both championing the same selection of enviable handbag collections from the world’s most famous designers. Comparing the two stores wasn’t as easy as I thought.
In preparation I was expecting to collect some hard facts to measure choice, service, ease of access and inspiration. In fact, it proved futile in scoring the number of brands, the ratio of assistants to customers, number of floors and evidence of signposts of new arrivals.
I can confirm there isn’t any point in trying to recommend Harrods over Harvey Nichols or vice versa. To be clear, there will be opinions I’m sure, that one is better than the other. These will only be opinions as there is a lack of points of comparison. However, I am able to recommend which one to visit, depending on your needs or purpose of your visit.
If you are looking to buy a designer handbag just because you want to own a designer piece, head straight to Harrods. There are five halls full of designer bags; from Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermes to the lesser known but just as coveted, the one-offs from Analeena. Through the halls I found a Tom Ford beauty, the Alix Hobo which offers such a comfortable, lightweight, chalk-white leather shoulder bag. Ask Laura Seki to attend.
Most designers featured a snake-skin/python skin bag. I spotted a lovely and more unusual shaped bag at Alexander McQueen. The small size is just right for a day out. The mini size would be too small to house the phone, make up, wallet, keys, tissues, sunglasses and keys. Louis Vuitton had a snake-skin right at the back of their store area and I loved the understated branding (as featured as the article main image).
Unfortunately, the assistant at Chloe I think jumped to the conclusion from my relaxed outfit (jeans, pumps, top and jacket) that I might not be able to afford their snake-skin handbag. She was very forthcoming with cheaper options and reiterating that was the reason for her shortlist of bags for me to consider. Clearly the age-old upsell sales technique was alien to this assistant. She also missed the clue of my own Mulberry handbag I was carrying.
What I would say is that most of the staff at Harrods were free of spending potential predictions. It was a delight to speak with Sunny at Prada who explained how the ostrich leather was pressed for a smoother finish – I fell in love with the classic Struzzo bag in green.
Intrigued to see how the refurbishment investment at Harvey Nichols has improved the shopping experience, I walked a couple of minutes up the road towards the Mandarin Oriental. Straight away there is one similarity with Harrods, the majority of their handbag selection is on the ground floor, accessible from the side entrance (that has the express lift to the 5th Floor).
This is where the similarities ended. Some of the designers at Harvey Nics were familiar to me but I found myself enjoying a different type of handbag shopping experience; one that enabled me to be inspired by the aesthetic of the bag rather than the designer signature. I felt myself thinking ‘ooh, I wonder if that will go with…’.
Harvey Nichols isn’t the place to go and collect your thoughts on what designer bag to buy; it is a destination to discover handbags; the collection is small but eclectic. You can still seek out a designer bag, if they are in the store; you will just need to visit the first and second floors to find their concession. Or if you do need a bag for more casual occasions, head to the 3rd floor. I found a Zadig & Voltaire bag with a fresh take on snake-skin, which would work well with a daytime dress or more a casual mid-week night out in jeans and heels.
So I find myself failing to compare the two department stores. On a personal note I don’t think one is better than the other. They are different. The thought of suffering judgement at Chloe or Gucci at Harrods doesn’t appeal. One might think visiting at a less busy time might help. However, at Gucci I just had to laugh – a member of staff was more preoccupied with refilling the stapler than offering service. On asking for help, he explained that he was the cashier, so he wasn’t able to provide assistance. Shame, as there weren’t any sales for the five minutes I waited. Additionally, you won’t be overwhelmed at information about the individual bags or designers at Harvey Nichols, as there are less staff available.
In summary, go to Harrods for the well known handbag designers and overall you will meet some helpful staff. Perhaps research beforehand, have a shortlist and head straight to the designer’s area. Go to Harvey Nichols to be inspired by the lesser established designers. It’s less about the name, more about introducing fresh designs.
One thing I can say that will happen in both stores, you will definitely find your next designer bag. I will continue with my search for the best department store in London for handbags. Whilst not neighbours, let’s see how Selfridges of Oxford Street and Fenwick’s of New Bond Street compare. Watch this space.