Christmas windows always delight, and, honestly, the best in the world are surely those of Harrods, occupying a whole block of London’s Brompton Road just west of the Sloane Street intersection. Harrods is the master of storytelling – store image director Mark Briggs says it is a way of giving the public street theatre and entertainment. This year one window features half a dozen life-size ballerina mannequins, in tutus and Ugg boots, and a reds-and-oranges cracker that pulls apart, to reveal Christian Louboutin shoes, and then closes, and underneath are tiny dolls-house set-ups of miniature shoemakers. Three of the windows are a partnership with Knightsbridge’s most creative luxury hotel, Mandarin Oriental London.
One of these windows shows a tiny mouse dressed as the hotel’s doorman, standing in front of the hotel: another shows the rear of the hotel, facing Hyde Park (this is London’s only hotel actually IN a Royal Park), in snow; the third, as featured here, is a mouse, Cinderella going to the ball. I was out to photograph these windows at 9.30 one morning and could not get near them – there were already fashionistas and wannabes and just plain tourists (sorry, no tourists are ‘plain’, we love’em all) using their iPhones to snap away. It had been easier, fortunately, to get a photo of the hotel‘s – real, not window-set – GM, Gérard Sintès, having green tea in the amazingly popular Rosebery Room. This space is packed, from its noon opening through, I suppose, to its one a.m. closing. Come here for tea, cocktails or an omelette, or whatever.
Look at the tea presentation. A floral William Edwards for the Rosebery porcelain, the Gyukoro green tea, from Japan, being elegantly poured into a glass bowl, with a complimentary shortbread on the side. I bet foreigners love this innovative way of serving afternoon tea when they are visiting here, the heart of London. The hotel’s imaginative communications wiz, Sarah Cairns, also promotes Englishness – wearing a red carpet dress by designer Jenny Packham (responsible for the fairy atop the 2015 Christmas tree, going up in this hotel later this very week) – going to big entertainment events in Hollywood, the Golden Globes, the Oscars and the like. Everyone on that A-List knows Mandarin Oriental London.
All its aficionados will be thrilled to know that this luxury hotel is, by the way, about to undergo a complete transformation – no, not into a magic Harrods display but a real theatre that is perfect for 2017 and beyond. As of third quarter of 2016 it begins a £82 million transformation, by Joyce Wang (think Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong). Fortunately, being H-shaped, they can close one ‘leg’ at a time, leaving the somewhat-smaller hotel to run uninterrupted. The Knightsbridge (‘town’) leg will be done first, then the Park-facing (‘country’) leg. Wait for this to be complete, smiles Gérard Sintès. Already, he says, this hotel has London‘s best indoor pool and gym, with fitness leader and nutritionalist Ruben Tabares (try his ‘green juice‘ at breakfast, when the Park view is incomparable) – and with both Heston Blumenthal and Daniel Boulud heading restaurants, and that day-long afternoon tea, who can beat it?