China Daily

Monkey business in the UK

A shopping holiday during Chinese New Year included special by- appointmen­t services in Bond Street, hints of fashion- week excitement and plenty of Year of the Monkey goodies, Mike Peters discovers.

- Contact the writer at michaelpet­ers@chinadaily.com.cn

We each have a memory bank of smells, that we identify with our childhood and our experience­s in life.”

I’ m not sure if Emma Thompson, one of my favorite film stars, got a monkey cookie when she popped into the Stella McCartney flagship store in London recently.

My little group touring the shop did, though.

And as we munched on the red- and- gold Lunar New Year treat, Thompson slipped quietly down the stairs from the VIP room, where she’d been examining a few pieces that had been chosen for her to examine by appointmen­t, at her leisure with a glass of champagne and lots of happy banter.

You don’t need to be an award- winning actress to get such treatment, though it’s helpful to have a fat bank account.

Bond Street by Appointmen­t provides customized itinerarie­s to give travelers “the ultimate London luxury experience”, and last year the program expanded in big ways to reach out to Chinese tourists who come to shop. Private shopping can include afterhours access, trunk shows and exclusive previews, hands- free shopping and a chauffeur.

Bond Street is home to over 130 luxury retailers, elegant boutiques, exclusive brands, designer fashion and bespoke goods. Many stores already had staff on hand that could speak Mandarin or Cantonese, but the new program delivered a carefully curated experience to anticipate the needs and desires of individual Chinese customers.

Organizers say Bond Street is the top destinatio­n for Chinese shoppers with China representi­ng 23 percent of total internatio­nal spending on the street with an average transactio­n of 1,450 pounds ($ 2,000).

While the traditiona­l image of a Bond Street merchant is a veteran tailor who looks vaguely like Sir John Gielgud, I wanted to visit a broad mix of shops and artisans since I was looking for a good story instead of an expensive suit.

Which is why I’m now staring at ladies’ shoes so amazing that I’ve almost forgotten the monkey- shaped cookie I was given on arrival at Stella McCartney.

The shoes are mounted on high- platform soles. The undersides are serrated like shark’s teeth. I’ve seen them — they have become a McCartney signature — but never touched one.

“Not sold on it?” says store manager Joanna Pitt with a big grin.

“Don’t worry, you’re not the first. When Stella first came out with these, everybody went ‘ Wha- a- a- a- at?’ But she

Edward Bodenham, perfumer

dragged all of her friends in here to buy them, and now some come back every season for the newest design. Now it’s probably our best- seller.”

Our champagne tour includes walking through the delightful children’s room, where the animal motifs and creative colors come to life for kids while mommy shops. We’re also introduced to some of Stella’s pet causes, including the store’s Meatless Mondays and luxuriant faux furs. No animal ever suffers for fashion’s sake here.

Our Bond Street adventure had started at another unlikely spot for a 50- plus male tourist: Floris, the perfumer who has an exclusive royal warrant to provide soaps and scents for Britain’s most exclusive family. Edward Bodenham, the seventh- generation owner in the Floris family of shopkeeper­s, does his work in a cocoon of mahogany wood and glass, where apothecary jars, century- old scales and weights, and a flotilla of pretty bottles and scent strips have pride of place.

“Modern perfumery is based on weight, on grams,” he says, “but we still measure out by hand, with a lot of trial and error, in old- fashioned glassware.

“The idea that perfume is for women is fairly new,” he says, noting that the shop’s fabled customers include James Bond creator Ian Fleming and Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill. Orders by Churchill and his wife, who had separate accounts here, are carefully recorded by hand in a fine leather volume behind his desk. There is a framed receipt from Admiral Wilson, dated 1810.

“Many of our classic scents are coming back for both men and women,” he says.

One of the most durable in the Floris line is Lime, so unisex it’s the preferred potion for shower gels and soaps at some of London’s most exclusive hotels.

“Of course, back in the 1700s and for a good while thereafter, we made scents much stronger than we do today. People didn’t bathe as much then,” he chuckles, “so everybody needed a bit of scent if they were going to be social.”

Spritzing paper strips as he talks, Bodenham says he walks customers through “families” of scent — floral, citrus, woodsy, Oriental — to see what scents they identify with.

“It can be hard to put smells into words,” he says, “but we each have a memory bank of smells, that we identify with our childhood and our experience­s in life.” You might embrace citrus because it recalls orange trees you loved on your grandfathe­r’s farm, he says, or you may avoid a scent because “you don’t want to smell like your parents”.

When Bodenham visited Shanghai and Chengdu two years ago for British Showcase, he found eager buyers for the scents of cherry blossom and rose geranium, the latter also a favorite of the late movie icon Marilyn Monroe.

He won’t tell us what might be in the queen’s medicine cabinet, but he says the royals generally don’t demand bespoke products.

“They tend to use what we have in the range,” he says.

Sometimes those are products that were created for the palace long ago.

“We still keep one mouthwash formula in the store, even though mouthwash isn’t what we’re about anymore. But the palace still likes it, so we have it.”

Our shopping tour proceeds to Mulberry, with leather handbags so popular in China that the brand launched them on the Chinese- language microblog platform Weibo in 2013. Johnny Coca, the label’s relatively new creative director, is eager to broaden Mulberry’s ready- to- wear line and plans some surprises in the upcoming fashion- week shows.

At the immense Liberty department store, we get lost in fabrics, in wonderful rugs, in the chocolate boutique — and we come back later for haircuts at the store’s old- fashioned barber shop, Murdock, where straight razors and shaving brushes aren’t just for decoration. Unlike in Churchill’s day, however, a “luxury Murdock wet shave” ( 55 pounds) now comes with a facial.

“A lot of customers looking for a traditiona­l cut are not so young,” says barber Marshall Darling.

“But we get a lot of guys from the film and arts industries — between about 28 and 40 — who want to be very stylish and have a quality cut.”

 ?? PHOTOS PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY ?? The Shard, a 95- story architectu­ral landmark, offers great views of London’s most iconic attraction­s, including London Bridge.
PHOTOS PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY The Shard, a 95- story architectu­ral landmark, offers great views of London’s most iconic attraction­s, including London Bridge.
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 ??  ?? Chinese shoppers find a warm welcome and plenty to buy in London’s most exclusive shops.
Chinese shoppers find a warm welcome and plenty to buy in London’s most exclusive shops.

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