Regular readers will know that I have more than a casual relationship with London’s fashion department store, Fenwick. I don’t just love it, it’s part of my DNA.
Whenever I need a Dress (with a capital D) that’s where I head and I’ve never been disappointed yet. On one famous occasion I went in for one dress and came out with six.
That was about five years ago and I wear all of them still. (Four Gerard Darel, one Paul Smith and a Nicole Fahri – all silk prints, with pockets and no waistline definition. I know what I like.)
It’s also my first port of call for tailored trousers. And quality T shirts. There’s a great lingerie department with excellent fitters. And I’m obsessed with the costume jewellery department.
It has the perfect balance of special pieces which bring that zing to the simplest outfit, without ridiculous prices. It’s where I bought the little gold shepherd’s hook ear bobs I wear every day of my life.
As for the socks and hosiery department, it’s a London institution. I wouldn’t buy my Wolfords anywhere else.
My relationship with Fenwick goes back decades. There was even one memorable February day in the 1980s when I worked in the lingerie department, to write a reportage piece for the Evening Standard about men buying sexy scanties for Valentine’s Day presents.
That was an eye opener, let me tell you. (If I can find it in my cuttings mountain, I’ll post it on here.)
Another connection is my friend Fay Maschler, who consulted on the ultra chic in-store restaurant Bond and Brook. I love it so much, I used it as the setting for a crucial plot point in my book Everything Changes But You.
It’s the small scale of the place I love.
I adore the wow factor of Selfridges’ big impact modern glamour, but it’s so huge, so loud and so crowded, I find it overwhelming to shop in. Equally, going to Liberty is something verging on a religious experience for me, but there’s so much to love, I usually walk out with nothing.
Fenwick has just four very navigable floors and it’s my delight to start at the top and do the circuit, until I am familiar with pretty much all the – perfectly edited – stock.
Perfectly edited and hand-picked for grown up shoppers. Not ‘the mature woman’ (shudder) but sophisticated people who know what suits them and want it in the best quality, with just enough of a nod to the latest trends.
There’s an abundance of chic, wit and elan – but no wacky fashion in Fenwick.
And if all that weren’t enough, it also has the best ladies loos in London. Worth a detour. Third floor.
So, I have to confess, I took it personally when they started changing the place. The first to go was ‘my’ lingerie department, which used to inhabit the southeast corner of the ground floor. It was shifted up to the first floor, to what feels like a bit of a corridor, without anyone asking my permission.
I felt quite huffy about it.
But I soon got over it when the ground floor space was replaced with an amazing new shoe department, complete with bespoke shoe-trying-on seats. This was a massive plus because previously shoes was the only area I felt the store was weak in.
On my first visit to the new shoe department, I bought these…
The next alarming change was moving my beloved costume jewellery from directly inside the northwest entrance to a space in the middle of the ground floor.
After so many years of walking in those corner doors and going straight to the arrays of earrings and necklaces, it was almost like a meditation for me, and I felt properly discombobulated.
Then, making it worse, they moved the glorious hat department (my usual destination after costume jewellery, for a bit of flagrant play trying on of £400 headgear…) to an upper floor. And then – shock horror – tights and socks to what felt like a less honoured spot.
By now I was seriously miffed. Didn’t they understand how we all feel about the shop? How it’s part of our identity? I had high level summits about it with my best girlfriends. Was Fenwick being ruined forever?
I was really quite stressed about it, but now I can answer that question: no. A resounding no.
I found this out last week when my lovely friend Saskia Havekes of legendary Potts Point florist Grandiflora, invited me to the exclusive London launch of her new fragrance Madagascan Jasmine, which was happening as part of the roll out of the new beauty department, now positioned where hosiery and handbags used to dwell.
Along with London’s leading beauty editors and bloggers, including the very special Sasha Wilkins of Liberty London Girl, after a breakfast in Bond & Brook, decorated with Saskia’s amazing flowers in ice, we were asked to spend as long as we wanted in the new beauty area choosing an eight item wish list, including at least one perfume, one skin care product and one make up.
It was just about the most fun I’ve ever had standing up, pretending to have a bottomless beauty budget and talking to each (lovely) brand consultant about the right moisturiser/concealer/foundation/eye brow mascara for me from their range.
I felt as though I were living out one of my childhood fantasies of being accidentally locked over night in Harrods (I wrote about it as story for English when I was eight and it was printed in the school magazine – my first piece in print).
What was really entertaining at the Fenwick beauty department supermarket sweep was seeing the beauty editors and bloggers – people who get sent every new product going, in the hope they will write about it – getting as giggly and overexcited as I was.
What made it so glorious for them was getting to engage with products in the seductive glory of a retail setting. So much more fun than opening Jiffy bags at their desks, however delicious the contents and exactly the delicious experience which made them all beauty writers in the first place.
And all the better because the new beauty floor in Fenwick is as exquisitely edited as the fashion departments. The classic big names – Chanel, Clinique, YSL – are there, but mixed with a specially-selected handful of elite brands, including By Terry, Sisley, Giorgio Armani, Chantecaille, Francois Nars and Charlotte Tilbury.
Some, such as the new Swiss dermatologist-developed, natural skin care range Ananne, are exclusive to the store.
What keeps the experience in the Fenwick tradition is that, unlike other department stores where the beauty areas sprawl on exhaustingly like the savannah, here it is contained within a delightfully cosy space, where you really can get round everything with no FOMO.
So my favourite store is different, yes, but in spirit and atmosphere, gloriously the same.
It took me over an hour to choose my eight products – here are my choices.
Sisley Global Anti-Age Cream
Ananne Lavantium Purifying Cleanser
Chantecaille Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask
Grandiflora Madagascan Jasmine
By Terry Eyebrow Mascara
Giorgio Armani Crema Nuda foundation
Chanel Inimitable Mascara
Chanel Le Ligne de Chanel Eyeliner Duo (black and charcoal sparkly)
Here’s what the Perfume Society had to say about Saskia’s fragrances http://perfumesociety.org/the-first-lady-of-flowers-launches-grandiflora-fragrances-at-fenwick-follow-the-fragrant-journey-of-floral-artist-saskia-havekes/