Yes, it is the return of the department store designer handbag offerings and I’ve taken two of the most established department stores in London. Fenwick opened on New Bond Street in 1891 and Selfridges, just a 5 minute stroll away, on Oxford Street in 1909.
Both with great retailing heritage should provide exceptional shopping experiences. One might jump to the conclusion that Selfridges would receive top marks; just its floorspace means that the range would tempt any shopper away from New Bond Street. However, Fenwick hasn’t forgotten its retail roots and can share some tips with Selfridges.
Firstly, I should admit that there wasn’t a lot to love about Fenwick’s handbag displays; some shelves seemed a bit sparse or maybe unloved. Maybe they could learn something from John Lewis’ words ‘never knowingly undersold’ which have guided this department store’s focus since 1925.
But, what there is to love at Fenwick, is their understanding of signposting. If you aren’t a fanatical follower of every designer’s collection, they have helpful and clear signs, for example, to say if a bag is ‘exclusive’ to the store – saves me popping up the road to compare it elsewher,e and to say if it is part of the ‘new season’ range.
I witnessed a gentleman benefiting from such signage. I overheard him talking to the assistant as he explained that he was buying a present for his wife. When the assistant guided him around, his relief was audible when he was directed to Marc Jacobs, “my wife has had one of these bags for years, I’ll get her one of the new ones”. He was at the till point with his wallet out within seconds. Top marks Fenwick for instore conversion tools!
Where does Selfridges excel? Firstly it is with its lighting. The Accessories Hall is well lit and bright; if you are buying a bag to match an outfit, it is easy to judge the colour of the bag and its potential fit with a dress or shoes. Secondly, the staff, regardless of the designer concession, were extremely knowledgeable and helpful. The sales assistant at Burberry nearly convinced me to buy their classic Banner bag in pale pink and I don’t possess anything pink in my wardrobe – pink and I do not hit it off!
I could have come away with a new bag ‘the Blackout’ from Balenciaga, available in other colours than black. It was a pleasant surprise to experience a designer’s concession where the bag wasn’t constricted by the security lead. At Balenciaga their bags were free to pick up instantly to get a feel for weight and size.
Comparing Fenwick to Selfridges is a complete waste of time. Fenwick, being surrounded by many of the designers’ own shops has a smaller collection of bags; typically designers who can’t be found on New Bond Street which is no surprise. Selfridges has a hall of bags, so spacious that it even has a rest spot for a glass of something; thirsts can be quenched at The Fount, whilst being surrounded by Stella McCartney bags!
It is unfair to compare Fenwick and Selfridges. Yes, they are both department stores and that’s where the comparison ends. It is probably more accurate to compare Fenwick with Harvey Nichols and Selfridges to Harrods. If Fenwick were to invest in refurbishment for its handbag corner of its store, it may compete more strongly with Harvey Nichols. Fenwick do have some intriguing bags that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
Selfridges vs Harrods; the result of this battle is a tough call. But Selfridges, I give you the prize for how light your hall is and how easy it is to move from one concession to another. And thank you for introducing me to Alaia and Roksanda’s bags.