Capital Gains: Fatal attraction of sex and shopping

Gorgeous, pouting Mark has worked at the chi-chi Gianfranco Ferre shop in Knightsbridge for six months. His sensual looking bluejohn eyes bat at the very suggestion that flirting with the customers might quicken both sales and the working day. Heavens, as if he would. It isn't his fault that he's an Adonis among men, is it? Did he ask for a jaw this square, place an order for cheekbones this high? No. He modestly sees a liking for people, an enthusiasm for clothes and 'an enormous amount of patience as the best tools for the job. He doesn't need to flirt.

Still, you can't escape that the beautiful are a pleasure to be around and that an inordinately high percentage of eye-popping personages happen to inhabit London's more upmarket retail outlets. Premeditated tactic or happy coincidence? Which accounts for the herds of the handsome stampeding through Heals every Saturday, willing to obey your every wish? Whatever, Mark in Ferre has to be one of capitalism's most seductive sales techniques.

Thank god. London's favourite pastime - shopping therapy - isn't what it once was. The Eighties are long gone. It's 1994 and we're supposed to be more caring and less materialist. Anyone who makes shopping the intense but uncomplicated experience it once was will earn the thanks of a grateful capital: glamorous shop assistants are the real heroes and heroines of our climes, a kind word here, a sustaining smile there, like Florence Nightingale at Scutari.

Indeed, shopping can be a self-centred, solitary pleasure and without the Venuses and Narcissi behind the tills, it would be onanism with bank charges.

'Staff are carefully chosen admits Kim, PA and oriental beauty at Muji, 'but to be sympathetic, to generate the right atmosphere. Good interaction isn't always going to be flirting. That would be exhausting.

Perhaps. But you don't have to be Julie Burchill to know there's a link between sex and shopping: spend, spend, spend. A jiggle and a giggle with charming, attentive assistants lulls and titillates the customer. The ability to put us at our ease is perhaps the quality shared by the metropolis's cutest shop assistants and good looks are just part of the arsenal they employ (Laurent at Stephane Kelian has the added advantage of a ludicrously erotic French accent). And they live only to serve: long legged, blonde Bridgette, the much fancied Saturday girl at clubby women's clothes palace Wit and Wisdom in Hyper Hyper, just wants to make us 'comfy. I help and I advise, but I know people don't want to be overpowered.'

True. There can be no move more fatal to the delicate courtship ritual that gets us to part with cash than that premature come-on - 'Would you like any help? - just as we're through the door.

SHOP 'TIL YOU COP

The Conran Shop 81 Fulham Rd, SW3

(071-589 7401). It's not just the furniture that's good-looking in the Michelin building.

Emporio Armani 191 Brompton Rd, SW3 (071 823 8818). Latin lookers.

Harrods SW1 (071-730 1234). Harrod's isn't just fierce matrons with hair in a bun, or even fiercer girls in war-paint selling cosmetics. Way In has some nice surprises.

Joseph 77 Fulham Rd (071 823 9500). Quite definitely the most beautiful girls in London. Equally definitely, not the jolliest.

Murray's Meat Market 32 Northcote Rd, SW11 (071 924 3639) and branches. Rough trade doesn't describe the winsome charm of these wholesome lads. How about 'nostalgia de la butcher's boy'?

Nakedly Nothing 230 Portobello Rd, W11 (071 221 2910). Gorgeous people, gorgeously romantic clothes.

(Photograph omitted)

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