Thursday doors #7

I’ve spent many a happy hour (and plenty of dollars) in the shop behind this discreet doorway at 693 Fifth Avenue. It was always my first point of call on trips to New York. I first visited in 1997 with an American colleague who was a big fan of the shop. I’d been dying to visit because whenever I’d admired something she’d worn and asked where it was from the answer was inevitably “Takashimaya!” I confess that some of my most favourite purchases which continue to give me joy à la Konmari came from this shop.

As its name suggests, Takashimaya is a Japanese chain of department stores whose first store selling kimonos opened in 1831 in Kyoto. The company expanded, merged with other businesses, opened overseas offices, went public and is now part of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. I’ve visited its main store in Tokyo which, while rather spectacular, was a huge disappointment as it was chock full of Western designer goods.

The New York store sadly closed in 2010 as Takashimaya chose to refocus on Asian markets amid struggling sales. I can still remember my shock when I found that it had shut and immediately advised my American friend (now based in Europe) to share the shocking news. To this day we both still visit the site of the former New York store and walk away shaking our heads remembering the fun we had in its basement restaurant and the amount of money we’d spent on its beautifully curated collections.


Another one bites the dust

I was inconsolable in 2010 when I discovered that Takashimaya had closed its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. I must have stood for a good 10 minutes checking that I was at the correct spot – 693 Fifth Avenue. This had been a beautifully curated collection of men’s, children’s and women’s fashions, and homewares spread over a number of floors with a great restaurant in its basement. I had spent untold hours (and dollars) here and it was always my first stop on any trip to New York. I immediately contacted my American friend who had introduced me to this wondrous emporium. She too was shocked and saddened. Trips to New York haven’t been the same since and I always go back to the shop’s location  in the hope that it will have miraculously re-opened.

I was similarly distressed on my first visit to Japan in 2007 when I visited Takashimaya’s main store in Tokyo. It was nothing like its Manhattan outpost. Stuffed full of European designer goods, redeemed only by its wondrous displays and fascinating basement food hall. I was shocked to find departments with clothes for cleaning the house, particularly as the Japanese live in small houses, and don’t get me started on the nightwear department. There in a nutshell was the reason for Japan’s low birthrate. Forget about importing French patisseries, import French underwear!

News reached me this week, that another concept store I hold dear, Colette’s in Paris, is to close in December. This is another store I’ve enjoyed browsing around and it was often the high point of any window-shopping stroll along the pricey rue Saint-Honore. The owner Colette has decided to retire although her daughter will continue to run the company’s webshop. The place is a mecca for all things fashionable and on trend. The three-storey emporium always has an eclectic collection of goodies, the latest designer clothing and a brilliant bookshop which carries all the major fashion and design magazines, and let’s not forget the basement water bar with over 100 brands of bottled water. Now, I’m a big fan of internet shopping but sometimes you just need to see and feel the goods.

It’s not just major shops in meccas such as New York and Paris that are closing, one of my favourite bread shops has closed. The shop had opened in the mid-forties and black and white pictures of the current owner’s grand-parents decorated the walls. I assume the owner wanted to retire and her kids no longer wish to pursue the family tradition. So the supplier of some of the best croissants and brioches in the area has closed. Unlike many bread shops, it also sold coffee and cakes and, aside from being a breakfast favourite, we also liked to pop in for afternoon coffee and cakes. It’s always sad when shops such as these close. No one has yet taken over the shop which occupies a large corner plot on a major shopping street.

Of course, since we’ve been living here, any number of shops have closed though many more have changed hands, often for the better. A rather run-of-the-mill bread shop in the centre of town, after three changes of ownership, now sells the most fabulous cakes, pastries and bread. My beloved needs no excuse to visit. Meanwhile, over the road the purveyor of the very best donuts we’d ever eaten, full of crème patissiere, changed hands and stopped selling donuts. It was probably a blessing for my waistline and now such wonders fall under the category of strictly forbidden. Luckily, in the same period, the shops closest to us have all prospered and expanded their range of produce. The only disappointment was the fish shop which opened and closed within a month. It had a brilliant selection of fresh fish but we’re already well-served by other fish shops (and the port) and clearly demand was insufficient. It’s hard to argue against market forces though I shall continue to support my local shops.

Corners of my mind

I had a bit of a trip down memory lane this week. I have an embarrassingly, extensive collection of scarves and shawls which occupies three very large trunks. Each item is individually  stored in plastic bags while the more expensive ones are also wrapped in special tissue paper. Lavender sachets are scattered throughout the boxes.

The collection dates back to my early teens. My father bought me my first  scarf, which I still have and wear, to go in the neck of a dusky pink shirt-waister which I wore to the Davis Cup semi-final at Edgbaston: GB v W Germany. The Germans won (they went on to lose 5-0 to USA in the final). I had the pleasure of meeting them before the match as we had dined in the same hotel.

The next addition to my collection was the scarf I’ve been wearing this week. It was one my father bought my mother when they were in Paris, on their honeymoon. It’s a denim-coloured, silk square lightly patterned with grey and black flowers. It goes beautifully with jeans. Initially, I just used to “borrow” it and then I took it away to university with me and it’s never been back.

You might wonder why I have such a large and extensive collection. It started largely thanks to my parents who, after trips overseas, would reappear bearing gifts of jewel coloured scarves in an array of shapes and sizes, just the thing for livening up any outfit, which I have added to in the intervening years.

The collection really took off once I started working. Scarves are a great way of adding colour to a sober work suit. If you like, they’re ties for women. When I was working in investment banking, it was not uncommon for the Japanese banks to hand them out at signing ceremonies – Hermes of course.

Scarves are also the perfect present to pick up in an airport. Many of my Hermes scarves were bought by my beloved.  I generally then went and changed them for something more to my taste at my nearest Hermes shop in Cornhill. He was none the wiser.

Lest you think they are all expensive, the collection comprises scarves in every price bracket though from time to time, as they have lost their lustre, the less expensive ones have been sent to the nearest charity shop. I can still remember where I bought each one and even recall the price. At times this gift  comes in handy.

About 10 years’ ago, my collection took a direct hit in a flood (burst water tank) and while only a few were damaged (thanks to the plastic bags) together they represented a rather substantial investment. Fortunately, the insurance company didn’t so much as bat an eyelid, probably due to the amount of detail I supplied relating to their acquisition, and I spent a very pleasurable day seeking replacements.

Inevitably, I have a number of favourites. Many of these were gifts from my dear American friend who lives in Asolo and who has exquisite taste. A large number were purchased either in Liberty’s department store in London (still a fertile hunting ground) or at the late-lamented Takashimaya in New York. I confess I’ve often bought scarves, intending to give them as presents, which I have then hung onto because I liked them so much.

Since moving to France, and spending most of my days in lycra, I’ve rather gotten out of the habit of wearing scarves. Now, thanks to Rapha, I have a collection of small, silk squares that I wear rather jauntily round my neck when cycling and this has prompted me to investigate once more the contents of those large boxes.

One box contains my Hermes scarf collection plus the more expensive silk scarves, including the one which was designed, made and embroidered with bike parts by a very dear and gifted friend.  Another, even larger box, houses silk shawls, pashminas and cashmere scarves. The third, and final box, shelters the  remainder. In total, I have around 750 and their collective worth equates to a studio apartment in an unfashionable part of Nice.

The collection has only minimally increased in the six years I have lived in France. But scarves are like shoes, you can never grow out of them. They fit you whatever your dress size. If they go out of fashion, put them away and at some point, they’ll come back into style and  you can just go shopping in your closet.