Saturday, 15 November 2008

Mixed messages

A couple of weeks ago, the largest shopping centre in Europe opened within spitting distance of where I live. If my flat was higher up I could probably even see it from my desk.

It's called Westfield. Gorgeous, innit?

Except... I’m not fond of shopping malls: I find them claustrophobic, even when they’re very spacious. I need to breathe a bit of fresh air from time to time. If I can’t, I lose the will to live after a while. They’re not kidding when they say Westfield is the largest shopping centre in Europe. It’s absolutely ginormous: I’ve been there three times since Day 1 (when I took the pics above) and still can’t quite find my way around.

It should be ‘a good thing’, though. We’re all hoping it will signal the start of the long-promised regeneration of Shepherds Bush. Not before time, we thought, when we first heard about it. The ‘gentrification’ was going to happen, years ago, when it was announced that Kate Moss would be buying a flat in the area; she never did. Then, Nigella, who’d been living around here for years, dissed the place after John Diamond died and soon moved to a much posher address with her millionaire husband. So let’s hope it won’t be a case of jamais deux sans trois. But it might, and Shepherds Bush may never become a new Notting Hill Gate since hardly any residents will have the money to avail themselves of what Westfield has to offer. The only customers will be those foreign multi-billionaires to whom we owe the fact that London is the most expensive city in Europe, if not the world. At the moment, business in Westfield is booming, apparently, but what about after the holidays, when all the fairy lights have been switched off and everyone has received their credit card bills? What then? Some of the stores will survive, but others are bound to close down (I think I can already tell which ones). Will this bright and shiny temple of consumption turn into another desolate warehouse, full of mobile-phone stores and charity shops?

Curiously, Westfield has revived my fondness towards Hammersmith, which has been my playground until now. It has a wealth of fun, cheap stores, like Primark and Tiger and the newly opened Poundland and, of course, TK Maxx, where I can get items of clothing I couldn’t afford otherwise. I can have fun in Hammersmith: I can spend the odd pound without feeling guilty. Westfield is for ‘serious’ shopping. Although it will be very nice not to have to traipse to the West End if I want to visit Debenhams or House of Fraser or a large branch of M&S, I predict I will mostly come back empty-handed and rather frustrated from my trips to Westfield.

I will just have to resist going there and instead stay at home and make preserves and mend my tights using my hair, as India K probably advocates in her latest book on thrift. I am so sick and tired... of clich├ęs... no, of wealthy people giving me advice on how to live frugally. I could hardly be more frugal than I am already. I gather there are adults out there who’ve only lived in a time of boom and who would welcome some tips, but someone who wrote a bestseller entirely devoted to shopping – and who will be raking in the royalties for this book too – is in no position to tell them anything about not spending money. Or doesn’t credibility matter any longer?

Oh, and one more thing: what is missing in Westfield – and that will sadden some of my readers – is a posh perfume shop. There isn’t a single ‘niche’ fragrance to be had – nothing but so-called department-store stuff. There is a branch of Beauty Base (the Queensway perfumery), but it doesn’t even sell the Serge Lutens scents it used to stock a few years ago. Actually, talking of Beauty Base, the boss should have a word with some of his employees and tell them not to antagonise customers by using words like ‘You’re not allowed to...’, etc. Considering Beauty Base sells miniatures clearly marked NOT FOR SALE, I don’t think it has a leg to stand on when it comes to things not being allowed, do you?



  1. What are you not allowed to do at Beauty Base?

    My respect for them dropped a bit after, in my best busy body way, I pointed out that the tester for L'Interdit that they had was of a totally different version to the fragrance they were selling (1 versus the completely different 3) and they showed no concern whatsoever.

  2. You're not allowed to open a boxed miniature - just the box - to see whether the bottle is a replica of the full-size one. I didn't have the reflex to draw the attention of that spotty youth to the NOT FOR SALE mention. I will next time. On opening day, they should have been giving away samples, not rapping potential customers on the knuckles.

    Was that in their Queensway store? I can't say I'm surprised. The Westfield staff care even less and are even less pleasant.

  3. Excellent article and very well said.

    Shopping malls, now matter how spacious and upmarket, make me itch after a very short while.

    Incidentally the traffic on Wood Lane and up onto the Westway at peak times is now murder.

    Mind you I'd be the first to say that I'd love to see the Bush come up in the world a bit. On balance ... not complaining, especially since my wife now has a job there.