Inside Edinburgh's Harvey Nichols new International Accessories Department

While Edinburgh locals and visitors are distracted by the new St James Quarter, it’s easy to forget the excitement around the launch of Harvey Nichols, way back in 2002.

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 5:05 pm

Although its neighbours, Jenners and Topshop, closed down in 2020, this four-story department store has managed to survive recession, lockdown and the rise of internet shopping. Now it’s about to unveil a new International Accessories Department, which will open on July 8.

It seems that, post-pandemic, the hunger for luxurious arm candy continues and handbag brands include Balenciaga, Fendi, GUCCI, Spanish brand, Loewe and Saint Laurent.

Scarves (including the ever popular offerings from Alexander McQueen), sunglasses from the likes of CHANEL and Tom Ford, hats, jewellery, wallets, cardholders and key-rings, among other things, also feature.

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Louise Masson, general manager at Harvey Nichols Edinburgh says, “We can’t wait to showcase the new space to our customers. From contemporary textures and vintage-inspired designs, our carefully curated selection of women’s designer bags showcases the very best of the latest trends and new season styles.”

The new ground floor area, which sits behind all this store’s cosmetic counters and fragrance offerings - to include upmarket brand, Chantecaille Beauty from early August - has undergone a complete refurbishment. Everything is now displayed to its full potential, as if it this place were an art gallery. There are new fixtures and fittings, rugs, tables, cubby holes and plinths.

Just like the Harvey Nichols windows, which change with the seasons, theatrical visual merchandising is important when it comes to selling accessories.

Tina Lamb

It’s very different from online shopping, when a simple image on a plain white background will do.

“One of the most important elements for us is showcasing the strongest edit in an eye-catching luxury environment,” says Harvey Nichols’ London-based buying manager for women’s accessories and shoes, Tina Lamb.

“We’re known for fabulous window schemes, something which is reflected throughout our portfolio of stores. Customers love to see, touch, and try on products when shopping. It is an experience supported with exemplary customer service that you cannot replicate online”.

There are also a few new designers who will be making their Edinburgh debut in the refurbished department, including a luxury Italian fashion house.

L-R: Bottega Veneta (The Mini Pouch Intrecciato teal leather clutch, £1,330); Bottega Veneta (Cassette lime padded leather cross-body bag, £2,370)

“We are extremely excited to be launching Bottega Veneta, which is exclusive to us in Scotland”, says Lamb. “Additionally, we will be showcasing Maison Michel hats from Paris, the same atelier that creates hats for CHANEL. Maison Michel is another brand exclusive to us in Edinburgh, and customers can discover these exquisite hats in a beautiful pop-up space in the new department”.

These are easy-to-wear, with styles including neutrally coloured Panamas and fedoras, and you might imagine that customers will gravitate towards similarly classic designs after lockdown. However, the fact that some of this new department’s other showcase pieces include Loewe’s anagram emblazoned basket bag, made from calfskin moulded into the shape of an elephant, an aqua-coloured textured Fendi bag, and one of Bottega Veneta’s sculptural Cassette bags - yours for well over a grand - in bright lime green, might suggest that people’s tastes are a bit wilder than anticipated. These are not laptop-friendly totes and rucksacks for commuting to the office, though maybe we don’t have to worry about that any more. They’re the opposite of the executive classic that is the Mulberry Bayswater.

The popularity of these irreverent pieces might be explained by the “lipstick effect”, where it’s said that people are willing to spend more on cheering luxury items (like a bright red lippie, or perhaps a handbag, even if it is a pricey one), when there’s a major crisis or recession.

“We are finding that post-pandemic customers are looking for stand-out investment pieces,” says Lamb.

Balenciaga (Neo Classic City nano crocodile-effect top handle bag, £1,1900); Bottega Veneta (The Mini Pouch Intrecciato teal leather clutch, £1,330); FENDI bag, sold out

“Although our customers look for timeless, iconic shapes and styles, they are also being drawn to more emotional products and something fun to reflect the new wave of optimism”.

As far as this buyer’s personal taste goes, she does rate ergonomics.

“For me, it’s a combination of practicality (as a bag always must do its functional job), beautiful quality, and an unusual colour”, she says. “I generally wear a very neutral palette, in terms of my clothes, so a bag is my pop of colour”.

However, buyers can’t be distracted by their personal tastes. Lamb and the rest of the Harvey Nichols team always looks closely at what their clientele are attracted to. Sometimes they’ll offer them more of what’s popular, but they also have to provide for those who’re looking for a piece that’s entirely different from everything else they own. (For example, that elephant-shaped tote).

“Our approach to buying is two-fold; we look to see what is resonating with our customers, as well as trying to offer them the unexpected”, says Lamb. “Our core business revolves around our key brands - iconic bags that retain their desirability season after season. However, we also buy into seasonal colourways and textures that generate excitement. We also invest in the new accessory lines from the brands - the latest bags, which we know will become the future icons”.

Although the capital is perceived as being rather reserved, with Glasgow as our louder and more glamorous sister, perhaps we’ll see a few people in the capital, sporting that bright green and quilted Bottega Veneta. You won’t be able to miss it.

Loewe’s elephant logo-jacquard canvas tote, £1,150.00: Cubi Anagram small canvas top handle bag, £750

“Our Edinburgh-based clients are extremely educated shoppers who want to invest in quality, true craftsmanship and high-quality items, but are also looking for newness too”, says Lamb. “Many are disinterested in the fast fashion alternative and much more interested in celebrating investment pieces”.

30-34 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, www.harveynichols.com

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Saint Laurent Kate black crocodile-effect wallet-on-chain, £1,225; Kate small off-white leather shoulder bag, £1,225