It’s hall go at Jenners new gift hall

Picture: Craig Stephen
Picture: Craig Stephen
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In its heyday there was nowhere quite like it. Unique finds off every windy, wooden stairway, shelves packed to precision with unusual items and one-off brands filling the shop floor to the delight of locals and tourists alike.

Jenners: an Edinburgh institution with an enviable reputation across the world and a name synonymous with quality.

However, in recent years, since the once independent Princes Street department store was taken over by high street giant House of Fraser, many a shopper has sighed as they mutter, “things aren’t the same anymore”.

But things are about to change in the iconic shop – if even only slightly – as managers hark back to their roots with a revamp of the forth floor to make way for a 3000sq ft gift hall stocked with around 50 authentic Scottish brands. And today, thanks to the teaming with the country’s oldest delicatessen and Italian wine merchant Valvona and Crolla, customers will be welcomed through the doors for the first time to give their verdict.

“The carefully selected edit of Scottish gifts echoes the heritage of Jenners and meets a growing demand from our customers,” explains John Murphy, Jenners’ manager.

“We are thrilled that together Valvona and Crolla and Jenners are able to offer something unique to the shoppers of our wonderful city.”

So what can customers expect? At a behind-the-scenes glance this week, clothing from Selkirk-based Lochcarron (Vivienne Westwood’s favourite tartan manufacturer), delicate paperweights by Caithness Glass and handmade ceramics by Glasgow-based Elspeth Gardner were just a few items already on display.

Soft tartan scarves and knitwear sat on Orkney Knitting Chairs loaned by Capital businesses Georgian Antiques and auction house Lyle and Turnbull.

The venture is Valvona and Crolla’s latest project with Jenners, with a partnership that began back in 2008 when the Elm Row delicatessen took over the department store’s second floor food hall. “This is going to be our flagship store within House of Fraser,” says Valvona and Crolla director Mary Contini. “There are between 30 and 40 brands available to buy now, but by the end of August this will have gone up to around 50.”

Many of them are bespoke, and only available in Jenners, but some will also be available to buy online.

“And pretty much all of these brands are new to House of Fraser – bar the odd exception,” she adds. “The impact projects like this can have is amazing. It goes well beyond shopping. It’s about helping local communities and supporting our heritage and traditions.

“This includes companies such as the Knockando Woolmill Company in Moray. It’s the oldest mill in Scotland and is now part of a trust to protect it.”

Mary has been working on this project for nine months, contacting and researching suitable brands.

Some she knew and has been a fan of herself over the years, such as Hawick Cashmere, which has a designated space – The Cashmere Room – within the new Scottish Gift Hall.

Liz Young, retail director for the company, says: “Mary is actually a customer of our Grassmarket shop. We started the initial discussions about this project about six months ago. And with this project, Mary is trying to pull the best of Scotland together, because people are coming back to this ‘made in Scotland’ idea.”

While the brands might sit alongside each other, businesses point out that they are not going head-to-head.

“I don’t see it us as being in competition with one another. We’re working together,” says Rosemary Eribe, managing director of Galashiels company Eribe.

“And that’s got to be the strength of Scotland – working together is what will make Scotland stronger, particularly when we’re competing against big countries such as China.

“The Scottish Gift Hall is great, given what’s happened to the high street - the quality has disappeared from Princes Street over the years - but Mary is trying to bring it back with this project.”

“This is my passion,” says mum-of-two Mary, even though she admits it has taken a lot of hard work to get to this stage.

“There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this,” she laughs.

“I’ve been travelling the country on the hunt and there’s been a lot of weekends away to find these great brands.

“This is a chance for people to buy very particular, one-off products.

“We’ve also commissioned pieces, such as the ceramic plate painted with a cockerel which is to commemorate Andy Murray winning Wimbledon.

“This project is so close to my heart and House of Fraser has been wonderful.

“It’s given us great opportunities and the mix between a small business and a massive organisation like House of Fraser is almost like David and Goliath – though I like to think of myself as Goliath.”

But while Mary might have been working on it for nine months, she believes today’s opening is the result of a life-long love of all things Scottish.

“When I was growing up in Cockenzie, one night a week my parents would have a date night,” she says.

“So me and my seven brothers and sisters would be looked after by two ladies called Margaret Davidson, from Peterhead, and Betty McCran, from Prestonpans. We would get dressed up in our Fair Isle jumpers and play Jimmy Shand on the record player.

“And it’s then that I think I got so interested in all things Scottish.”

And Mary is not finished.

Together with House of Fraser, she is planning a range of bags and holdalls in the department store’s tartan.

And she wants to continue to introduce more brands to the gift hall. Watch this space.

• To celebrate the launch of the new gift hall, customers visiting Jenners today will receive a complimentary glass of prosecco and Valvona and Crolla goodie bag.