Fur flies as Harvey Nicks takes on Jean Brodie's favourite shop
Saturday 04 September 1999
The store, favoured by a certain flavour of compulsive, central London shopper, has stolen a march on its stodgy competitors with a deal which allows Scotland's wealthy buyers to drop their cars at the front door for valet parking.
Across St Andrew's Square glower the senior management of Jenners, the world's oldest independent department store and haunt of Scotland's well- heeled county set for a century. All that stands outside its front door is a bus lane.
"Of course, we're annoyed," said Maureen Kennedy, marketing manager at Jenners. "We've been around since 1838 and these newcomers get all these privileges."
When they arrive, the newcomers are also likely to take the city by storm with their extraordinary accessories such as this year's must-have items - goatskin cushions, denim stretch trousers with a tiger print on the bottom and diamond-encrusted tiaras for the millennium.
Edinburgh, which for all its fine buildings and parliament lacks great shopping, is thrilled by the prospect. "You can imagine BMW convertibles pulling up on the pavement and the passengers spilling out into Harvey Nicks," said Robin Hodge, publisher of the The List, Edinburgh's events guide. "It's not something that the tweed skirts of Morningside are used to."
Jenners is particularly mad with Edinburgh Council, which is committed to restricting car use in the capital, but has been faced with an ultimatum by Harvey Nicks.
"If we do not get those 41 parking spaces, then the store moves to Glasgow," said Steve Spray of Coal Pensions Properties, which owns the site.
As a result, the council shows every sign of succumbing to the pressure when the Harvey Nichols application is considered later this month.
Approval is expected, with no concessions for Jenners, which is demanding equal parking rights.
At stake, if the council does not co-operate with the Knightsbridge-based company, is Edinburgh's chance to capture a style icon and begin to challenge Glasgow as the fashion capital of Scotland.
Whereas Glasgow parades Versace, Armani and Hugo Boss stores - with Paul Smith apparently coming soon - Edinburgh has three huge Marks & Spencer outlets. A survey of Britain's top 100 shopping centres placed the capital in 15th place behind not only Glasgow but Aberdeen and even Peterborough.
"The joke in Edinburgh has been that its people have always dressed their houses more than they have dressed themselves," says the style writer Jackie McGlone. "There have typically been far more interior design shops and galleries than clothes stores. You only had to be at the opening of the new Museum of Scotland on St Andrew's Day last November and you would have see wall-to-wall tartan bridesmaids' dresses. Big frills, flounces and Laura Ashley are about as far as a lot of people have got here."
Jenners is trying to beat the impending competition from the Patsy and Edina camp by forsaking its Miss Jean Brodie image. During the Fringe, it courted controversy with a special window display, entitled "Standing Ovation", in which three well-dressed mannequins stood against urinals. The store is also planning to open a restaurant run by the television chef Gary Rhodes. But its big moment every year remains the family-friendly, but hardly fashion-forming 40ft Christmas tree that decorates its vast atrium. However, the arrival of Harvey Nichols will, says Peter York, the style guru, stir up a city which, made rich by the successful professional classes, accountants and lawyers looking after other people's money, has never been characterised by conspicuous consumption.
"They are the sort of people who constantly talk of `My son, Alister, the doctor and my son, Alister, the barrister," said York. "But that's all changing, now it is really going to be a capital. They know they are not as groovy as Glasgow and Harvey Nicks is just the sort of place where you can dip into a new life by buying a bottle of olive oil."
Kate Wiggin, fashion editor of Caledonia, the new fashion monthly, thinks Jenners may face trouble ahead.
"A lot of women in this city like to dress well but they have to go to 15 different shops to make a outfit.
"The glory of Harvey Nichols is that its buyers have their fingers on the pulse and they can dress you from head to toe just by going through the various floors."
However, Charlie Miller, Edinburgh's top, award-winning hairdresser, is more cautious about the arrival of the AbFab gang in 2002.
"It will be great to have Harvey Nichols but Jenners should not worry even if they don't have the valet parking. Jenners knows Edinburgh. It may be changing, but not that rapidly. People aren't over-adventurous here. We're still pretty conservative."
Jenners: founded in 1838 by Charles Jenner and Charles Kennington
Harvey Nichols: founded 1813 as a linen shop by Benjamin Harvey
Jenners: Edinburgh-based Douglas Miller family Harvey Nichols: Majority of shares held by Dickson Concepts International, Hong Kong-based group
Jenners: None, except the shop on the Royal Yacht Britannia
Harvey Nichols: Leeds. New Edinburgh store to open in 2002
Jenners: The Queen
Diana, Princess of Wales. George Michael
Jenners: Conservative, top people's store. Jean Brodie
Harvey Nichols: Fashaholics heaven. Patsy and Edina
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