Tag Archives: Whistles

Saturday at Bicester

Yesterday I went to Bicester Village. I love an outlet park – as, judging by the crowds, does the rest of the world. And I mean rest of the world: Did you know that more than a quarter of all Bicester Village’s customers are Chinese, and that over there it’s better known than Harrods or Selfridges? Look, even the signs are translated into Mandarin:

There’s also a prayer room for Muslim customers:

Nothing promotes tolerance and inclusiveness like the whiff of profit.

I like Bicester because, with its faux New-England clapboard buildings and Disneyesque atmosphere, it reminds me of the Grove in LA. Both offer a similar shopping experience, but for me the Grove has the edge because it has a 14-screen cinema and a fountain that dances to Lionel Ritchie. If Bicester’s going to be up there with the world’s greatest malls, I’d suggest it gets itself a dancing fountain.

People get sneery about these places with their manicured lawns and chain names, thinking them bland and sanitised. But living in East London, bland and sanitised is a real treat (yes, I’m sorry, I liked it when they did up Spitalfields.)

In fact, my only objection to Bicester was the range of stuff on offer, which was a) horrible, and b) not very heavily discounted (I think that Tod’s sign was a lie.) I miss the old days when it first opened, when Whistles and DKNY were pretty well the only brands of note, but they were practically giving it to you. Today it’s all £900 Jimmy Choo handbags reduced to £600. Which is still a lot of money for a shiny great vulgar lump of leather.

But you can’t be a brand snob at Bicester. You may think Dolce cheesy and Dior naff, but lurking in the bargain bins at either, you might find a beautifully made, logo-free jumper for 20 quid. It pays to keep an open mind. Which is how I came to find myself going home with a blazer from (cough, splutter) Jack Wills.

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Mary Portas for House of Fraser

I know that many admire her forthright approach, but personally I can’t stand Mary Portas. Everything about her, from her haircut to her cuffs to her manner, is too pointy and scary, though I sense this is deliberate. She’s one of those people who see honesty as some great virtue – the kind who’d rather leave you sobbing in a corner than pretend, just for niceties’ sake, that they thought you were something other than a total twonk.

I fucking hate people like that. I was once shortlisted for a writing prize (I know, I know. How? Etc.) Anyway, one of the judges was Lionel Shriver, who is (was) a hero of mine. The ceremony, full of smart literary types, made me feel awkward and nervous. There was a lot of champagne floating about, so I downed about three buckets of the stuff before staggering over to thank her for putting me through.

‘Which story was yours again?’

I explained.

Instead of saying something bland and encouraging before extricating herself, she made this little face, as if she was holding back puke, before saying, ‘YeeeeeeeeeeessssI think I voted for that one,’ therefore making it unequivocally clear she didn’t.

I mean, why be such a bitch? I was left feeling doubly gutted (because I then lost) – and for what? So she could feel the smug glow of the pathologically honest. Anyway, that’s why I hate Mary Portas. Because she’s like Lionel Shriver. Hmmm.

But I’ve been seeing mention of Portas because she has a new clothing range out tomorrow, aimed at the over-40s. This is the demographic sorely underserved on the High Street, or so everybody keeps saying, even though forty-pluses can go to Whistles, Toast, Agnès b or about a million other shops and come out not looking like a dog’s dinner. (Actually, my tip would be all those Danish brands – by Malene Birger, Rutzou and that sort of thing.)

So far I’ve seen nothing of Portas’s collection for House of Fraser, except for what she wore in the photograph accompanying an Observer interview. This was a pair of four-inch stilettos (is that really what the over-40s have been gagging for?), some tight coral trousers (quite nice, actually, but not desperately forgiving of middle-aged thighs) and a tailored grey shirt of the kind you can probably already find in Theory or Joseph.

But, unlike those shops, the House of Fraser concession will boast lots of extras you don’t expect, such as bellboys and a moan phone, where you can air any grievances. The bellboys in particular strike me as a terrible idea, as most women I know want less attention when they go shopping, not more, since more assistants = more people to bully you into spending money. I know women (myself included) who avoid shopping in boutiques altogether because the friendlier the owner, the more they feel pressured into buying stuff. The appeal of the department store is its anonymity.

Stuff phones and bellboys – my suggestions for a happy shopping experience are simple: Not too many stairs (men always get the ground floor by the entrance, while women have to traipse two miles into the bowels of the building to find their rails); a good three-way mirror offering arse-view as well as front-on, and an atmosphere that’s not too dark, loud or alienating (Abercrombie & Fitch, I’m talking to you.) And that’s about it. There – easy. Somebody give me a job shouting at shopkeepers.

Mary Portas’s collection is available online here.

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