Commerce and community

Already transfixed by the heady mixture of clothes and art at Dover Street Market, Sofia Redgrave considers whether the new Westfield centre will be as successful.

Is the new Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush cool enough, or cheap enough, to overcome the credit crunch this christmas? Tessa Jowell for one believes that this is the perfect economic climate for Westfield to open, welcoming a huge influx of money to London: “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”. I’m not so sure.

Costing £1.7 billion and taking over seven years to complete, Westfield, Europe’s largest shopping centre, opened on 30 October. The shopping experience finally began with a glitzy ceremony and 100,000 visitors on its first day. Among these were a mixture of locals from White City estates and Vogue fashion editors. They sipped free champagne together and were doubtless awed by the enormity of Westfield, but will either of these groups be doing their Christmas shopping here?
Westfield does have quite a bit to offer: from an H&M to some slightly less obvious additions like Inglot, a cult Australian make-up brand. However, the valet-parking and concierge service, whist giving the illusion of affordable luxury, may just be another excuse to spend money in what could be termed ‘another glorified airport lounge’.

Westfield has brought Bond Street to Shepherds Bush with a modern conceptual design, encouraging many world famous fashion houses to set up shop. The Village, a swanky salon-style space has a very different character to the main mall. With chandeliers and a beautiful champagne bar, all reflecting the brands it hosts, it is definitely going for ’boutique’ rather than ‘Bluewater’.

But where do the people in pursuit of a real ‘shopping experience’ combined with high-end fashion go? Dover Street Market. Dover Street Market was founded only three years ago by Comme Des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo inspired by the legendary Kensington Market. Don’t be misled by the title: Dover Street Market bears little resemblance to any normal ‘market’. It has been described by Kawakubo as ‘beautiful chaos’ and epitomises dynamism. Similarly, don’t expect to leave with a bargain or to barter over price: the best of Galliano, Pierre Hardy, Junya Watanabe, Chanel and YSL have been cherry picked for the fashion obsessed. A soulless warehouse has been transformed, featuring six floors of cutting edge fashion. Spaces are constantly updated by creatives who conjure up interesting designs with the allocated space. Pop-up shops feel more like art installations than boutiques; sloping floors, stuffed animals, shocking props and portaloos adorn the space. One installation looked remarkably like Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’, the next a scene from an alternative farmyard.

Retail is presented in a whole new light; as well as a place to shop, the market works as a gallery space, playing host to competitions and design retrospectives. There is absolutely no sense of airport lounge here and those with the money to shop at Westfield’s Village should give this stylish alternative a go.

And for those of us with limited funds who still want a level of luxury and fashion? Try outlet shopping at Bicester Village and York’s Designer Outlet Village. This fashion is last season’s, but don’t be put off, it’s often indiscernale from the hottest current trends.

Bicester, just outside Oxford, is home to brands such as Dior, Burberry, Jaeger, Thomas Pink, Zadig Voltaire, Mulberry, Myla, Wolford and Links of London. So when you are thinking of doing your christmas shopping this year, ensure that you make a day trip to an outlet village and, with discounts of up to 70%, your friends and family will be wondering how you beat the credit crunch this Christmas.

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