The new extension to Westfield London opened today.
That's the Westfield in Shepherd's Bush, not the Westfield in Stratford.
This sounded like the most incredibly exciting news.
I had to be there.
This new extension sticks out to the north of the existing mall, on the site of the former Silver Road Industrial Estate. It's on two floors, linked by occasional escalators, beneath a twisted lattice ceiling. At the far end is a glassy atrium, with links down to a small lower level and two additional car parks. And beyond that is the big anchor tenant, a new John Lewis over four floors - the largest in the country, and allegedly designed with 'West London shoppers' in mind.
The new mall opened this morning at ten o'clock. Unofficially security let queuing punters inside about fifteen minutes earlier, to ensure there was a buzz, and then the individual shops did their thing at ten. I've seen much longer queues. We streamed in quietly, threading our way to the escalators, past beaming staff with welcoming leaflets to thrust. As a gentleman in my fifties, it took a while before someone decided I was worthy of being thrust at.
A lot of smartly-dressed businesspeople had turned up, lanyards dangling, to cluck around their company's latest retail outlet. Members of shop staff lined up in doorways for one final pep talk, behind a ribbon to be cut more for their excitement than for ours. Meanwhile a series of temporary carts offered shoppers a variety of free sweet treats, from cream-topped coffees to some kind of posh fruit'n'nut mix. I was pleased to accept a gingerbread unicorn, although I was nearly elbowed aside by a steely-eyed mother in the process.
An entirely inaudible ceremony heralded the opening of John Lewis, and then the first customers flowed inside, past cameras eager to capture their initial response. Smiling partners with white roses pinned to their lapels waited to meet and greet, impeccably polite, as you'd expect after undergoing special engagement training with the National Theatre. It's like Stratford's John Lewis but nicer, and a bit bigger, were my initial thoughts. And then I spotted the differences.
On the ground floor is an 'Experience Desk' where you can book exclusive events and personal services. These include a Style Studio hosting workshops and fashion talks, a Home Design Consultation space, an &Beauty Salon and even a Personal Styling zone for men. There's also a Nursery Advice portal, an Apple-sponsored Discovery Room and a little tiny cocktail bar. The aim is very much to provide something customers can't get online, making the Westfield store far more of a must-visit destination. It's also wilfully wallet-emptying, and would never work in Stratford, but West Londoners are expected to be far more amenable.
The main external entrance to John Lewis is at the corner of a new piazza slotted in alongside Wood Lane station. In the lobby is a cutesy Benugo van flogging hot drinks, which at nearly three quid for a takeaway tea I thought over-priced... until I discovered the Nespresso department at the top of the escalators. But there's no need to go outside, indeed it's clear from the internal layout that Westfield's architects would rather you didn't.
Before you dash, be aware that most of the shops in the new extension haven't opened yet. Some are unwrapping themselves over the next weeks, others later in the summer, and several units don't even have a confirmed brand name attached. When all that's complete, Westfield London will officially become the largest shopping centre in Europe. I'm sure those whose idea of a good day out is a focused retail odyssey will lap the place up, and spend plenty. But there's nothing here you actually need, nor that you couldn't have got somewhere else.
n.b. if you visit today, there are special offers. These special offers...
Flagship Department Store: a) Coffee tasting and demonstrations; b) Personal Stylist talks; c) Free tasting samples; d) Home Design trend talks; e) Free jeans personalisation with any purchase; f) Easter crafting workshops; g) Double points for storecard holders. Luxury Beauty Retailer: a) Free luxury tote bag for first 100 shoppers; b) Free gift bag if you spend £100; c) £1000 of beauty products if you unlock the Beauty Vault; d) Mini facials and makeovers. Multinational clothing retailer: a) Launch of the company's first ever nail bar; b) Gift card for first 100 customers. American Furniture Company: a) Free workshops (including a paper flower masterclass with A Petal Unfolds, brush lettering with The Lovely Drawer and lino printing with Emily Dawe); b) Sweet treats and coffee; c) Gin cocktails in the evening. Danish Furniture Company: a) Win an iconic chair by entering the Grand Opening competition; b) fizz and Danish nibbles. Danish Variety Store: a) Free goody bag to first 50 customers to spend £10 or more; b) Take part in a prop-based photo opportunity to win in-store credit; c) Celebrate with a day of sweet treats. Seller of white goods: a) Goodie bag for first 100 customers; b) Free 'signature candle' if you spend £75; c) Bubbles and truffles. Spanish Clothing Company:a) Complimentary gift with purchases; b) Drinks served from 4pm to 8pm. Upmarket cosmetic connoisseurs: a) Complimentary single wick candle if you spend £60; b) Indulge in fizz and nibbles; c) Signature hand and arm massage. Handmade Cosmetics Retailer: Create your own bath bomb... a) 11am Twilight themed bath explosion, b) 2pm Dragons egg. British Chainstore Chemist: a) Balloons; b) free samples; c) Makeovers. British Menswear Tailoring: a) 15% off; b) Complimentary tea and coffee. Luxury British Perfumery: Complimentary 7.5ml atomiser when you spend £130. American Clothing Retailer: "Take home a gift with purchase". Frozen Yoghurt Dispensary: Free frozen yoghurt for first 100 customers. Global Sportswear Brand: Interactive games to test your accuracy and ball handling. Upscale Nailcare Boutique: 15% off. Eight cheapskate retailers: No special offers.
Only the Luxury Beauty Retailer still had a queue outside ten minutes after opening.
The pull of a 'complimentary single wick candle' wasn't managing it elsewhere.
All the free gingerbread unicorns disappeared in minutes.
Don't rush, it's just another shopping mall.