Arguably the best-known retail store in the world, Harrods attracts a global clientele to its upmarket Knightsbridge location, where it provides a unique shopping experience. Owned by Qatar Holding, the retailer’s Latin motto, ‘Omnia omnibus ubique’, means ‘All things for all people, everywhere’.
This is certainly the case, as the brand also operates Harrods Bank, Harrods Estates and Harrods Aviation, providing a complete service for its 15 million customers each year. The London store occupies more than 90,000 square metres, with 330 departments operating across seven floors, making it one of the largest shopping establishments in the world.
Harrods’ roots are in early 19th century London, when founder Charles Harrod opened a haberdashery shop in Southwark in 1824. Business was buoyant, so he and his wife Elizabeth expanded to new premises on Cable Street, Shadwell in the 1830s, where they ran a grocer’s shop.
This led to the couple launching a new wholesale business in Eastcheap, where Charles’ Midas touch soon had sales thriving. Twenty-five years after he opened his first small shop in Southwark, Charles purchased new premises on Brompton Road, Knightsbridge in 1849. The business, which he named Harrods, initially operated from one room selling tea and groceries, with two shop assistants and a messenger boy.
However, thanks to his management and business skills, the retailer expanded steadily. By 1880, it had transformed into a busy department store, selling not only food but also garments, perfumes and medicines. It attracted a well-heeled clientele and was known as an upmarket shopping experience for wealthy shoppers by the late 19th century.
Following Charles’ death at the age of 86, Harrods became a public company four years later in 1889. In the 1890s, its banking services and estate agency opened and in the same decade, the exotic pets department opened – even selling lion cubs!
In 1959, the retail store group House of Fraser bought Harrods and in 1985, Egyptian business magnate Mohamed Al-Fayed purchased the store.
In August 1997, Mr Al Fayed’s son, Dodi and Diana Princess of Wales died in a horrific car crash in Paris. The world was in mourning.
As the 20th anniversary of their death approaches, it will be a painful memory for Mr Al Fayed, who erected a memorial to his son and Diana following the tragedy. Displayed on the lower ground floor, at the bottom of the Egyptian escalator, the memorial designed by Harrods’ architect Bill Mitchell features portraits of Dodi and Diana and an inscription.
In 2005, a second memorial was unveiled. Designed by Harrods’ artistic design advisor William Mitchell, a bronze statue of Dodi and Diana on the beach is a further touching tribute to the much-loved princess and Dodi.
Mr Al Fayed sold Harrods to the Qatari royal family for £1.5 billion in 2010. Today, aged 88, he is a reclusive figure who is still mourning the loss of his son. He reportedly spends hours each day sitting by Dodi’s grave and has kept his son’s Park Lane flat unchanged since 1997 as a shrine.
A Grade II art-deco listed building, Harrods was refurbished to the tune of £20 million in 2016, when a new grand entrance boasting 16 sets of spectacular double escalators was created. The store’s exterior was revamped and 1930s windows were restored. In addition, a stunning large glass dome was built on the roof.
Harrods is legendary for its amazing Christmas decorations, especially the window displays which are a tourist attraction in their own right. They have different themes every Christmas and the intricate designs can take 500 hours to create! There is also a traditional Christmas grotto, where youngsters can travel on a magical journey through Santa’s toy workshop, Harrods-style, before meeting the man himself.
The department store is also renowned for its high-quality restaurants and food halls, which date back 100 years. It operates many premier services including a ‘By Appointment Personal Shopping’ service and its Urban Retreat Spa, where tired shoppers can feel revitalised.
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