That's an entirely different story for another time.
London was sprawled with these little kitsch attractions. And maybe the reason why I was so attracted to all of this tackiness was because they reminded me somewhat of home.
Like Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Burbank, or Ruby's restaurant in San Diego; even Hollywood Boulevard with their sidewalk characters mulling and congesting the front of the Chinese Theater always made me wish I took a picture with that Groucho Marx look-alike back in the Summer of 2009.
Kitschiness has a strange enduring power over people – or maybe it's just for people like me. Like a lava lamp, the prime example of the kitschiness of the sixties. Although, who owns a lava lamp nowadays in the age of AppleWatch and Netflix? Yet, we like tacky items like these, most likely because it gives us a strange sense of escapism or nostalgia, reminding us of a time that has long since past, or an age that we've wished we've lived through. A good modern example of kitschiness is whenever you stumble across those Buzzfeed quizzes on your Newsfeed that could "Calculate What Percent 90's Kids You Were."
What was your most favorite 90's toy? Was it Ferby? Tamagotchi? Polly Pocket? Or maybe even Beanie Babies?
In London, I loved walking Southbank and passing by The London Dungeon. It was so full of kitschiness because all of the actors would be outside dressed up like Guy Fawkes, Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd coaxing people into their attraction of doom. Even at Hampton Court, someone would be dressed up as King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn or Cardinal Wolsey, milling before the tourists to act out the actions of their historic counterparts.
"Oh good," I told her, when we got off the Piccadilly Line. "I need to buy a hairdryer."
"Trust me, this isn't a normal department store that we're going to."
Boy was she right.
Harrods towered over us like some Ottoman Empire fortress, or a long forgotten Russian palace. The building itself took over the whole entire block. As if its grandeur size wasn't enough to intimidate me, the department store boasted its palatial style, featuring a frontage clad in terracotta tiles adorned with cherubs, swirling Art Nouveau windows and topped with a baroque-style dome. People were strolling through the doors, leaving the department store with dark green plastic bags – the store's name dashed in gold on the front for everyone to see.
And I thought The Americana, The Promenade and The Grove were the nicest shopping centers I've been too back in California. But I guess in England, Harrods excels all three of those places.
"It's the world's most prestigious department store," Amy tells me as we walk in, a blast of cool air greeting us as we enter the makeup department. "There's nothing like it in the world."
"Most prestigious" in my books was whenever there was a Sabarro's in the food court section of the mall. But here at Harrods, they had their own little grocery store inside the building.
If the department store marvels in the United States came into being when Eisenhower was president, Harrods represents the time before the Romanov's were assassinated. Established in 1824, Harrods was founded by twenty-five year-old Charles Henry Harrod who originally sold his groceries in Knightsbridge. There was only a £20 turnover per week, but thankfully Charles Henry Harrod made a good investment in setting up shop in the Kensington area, because by the 1850's Knightsbridge rapidly grew into one of the most fashionable boroughs in London. By 1860, Charles's son took over the business – Charles Digby Harrod. And by 1868, the shop suddenly had a turnover that rose to £1,000 per week. Thanks to Charles Digby Harrod, this grand surplus of money helped him expand Harrods to the business that it is today. A surge of thriving retail, perfume stations and pharmaceutical distribution was added to the successful Harrods.
And Charles Digby didn't stop there to usher people into entering his shop.
In 1898, Charles Digby debuted the first escalator at Harrods. If that wasn't pretentious enough, nervous customers were offered brandy at the top of the escalator to revive them after the "moving staircase" carried them up a flight in the department store.
This was after all a place of worship for consumers.
Mitchell's renovation and architecture on the Harrod's escalator was later listed by English Heritage. This meant that it can never be altered.
Talk about being immortalized within Harrods of all places.
If anything, it was more conservative, well planned and well thought out. However, whereas kitschiness brought back memories from the past, Harrods provided a vision of the future.
And apparently, it was the kind of future I couldn't afford.
It’s difficult not to be awestruck and confused by a place like Harrods. Their motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique – “All Things for All People, Everywhere” – yet, as Amy and browsed through the Valentino dresses and were later greeted by a disapproving glare by a saleswoman with 50 pounds of makeup on her face, I found nothing for anyone, anywhere. Amy and I even checked out the stationary department to see if maybe their discounted pens would be worth to buy.
"£15!" Amy exclaimed. "I can get a whole pack of pens exactly like these for £1 at Tesco!"
Unless Harrods's standards for “all people” in their logo meant only the disgustingly rich, then Amy and I suddenly felt so out of place. I never desperately wished so much to be back home and shopping at Target at that moment.
Everything was so clean when Amy and I explored each room within the store. There were 28 upscale restaurants and 330 departments spread all over the 7 floors. Harrods version of a "food court" reminded me of an indoor version of the shops and bakeries in Beverly Hills. Colorful macaroons were stacked on top of one another to form a macaroon cake in one of the display windows, tea sets for the tea rooms were a shining pearl white with tiny roses crowning at the rim, and candy shops exhibited their new imported chocolate from Switzerland.
This was what the future would look like. No more free samples. Just food displayed behind clean glass cases, temping you to buy them. If Costco was the past, Harrods was some oddly formed please-do-not-tap-on-the-glass future.
Oh, and chandeliers in every room, hanging on every ceiling.
Because in this future, we all apparently wear a monocle.
I remember reading about this statue back in 2005 when I re-read my mom's old copies of People Magazine. It was an 8-foot bronze statue showing Princess Diana and Dodi dancing beneath the wings of an albatross. It was erected for what would have been Princess Diana's 50th birthday. At the base, the words "Innocent Victims" was inscribed. The guy who designed the statue: William George Mitchell – the same guy who immortalized his work through The Egyptian Escalator.
But why was there a memorial dedicated to Princess Diana and Dodi in Harrods of all places?
In 1985, the chairman of Harrods was Mohamed Al-Fayed, a successful Egyptian businessman. His eldest son, Dodi helped with the marketing at Harrods and would later date the Princess of Wales. He also died in the car crash that ended up killing Princess Diana. Since their deaths, Mohamed Al-Fayed commissioned Mitchell to construct two memorials inside of Harrods to the couple.
The first, was in 1998. The photographs of both Diana and Dodi were behind a pyramid-shaped display that held the engagement ring Dodi purchased the day before they died. The second, was the statue.
"They're probably not that thrilled about this," she said.
They weren't. It was true.
Once Mitchell revealed the first memorial, the royal family had slowly ceased their shopping at Harrods. But when the statue was officially displayed at Harrods, a total and complete stop at shopping at Harrods was enforced. Most likely because the statue's inscription, "Innocent Victims," implied Mohamed Al-Fayed 's accusations that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had ordered the deaths of Princess Diana and his son.
Offended, the royal family removed their coat of arms from Harrods and refused to shop there ever since. Qatar Holdings – the current owners of Harrods – were considering removing both memorials if it it meant getting the royal family to start shopping at their store again, except that both memorials were popular among the common people.
As a voracious royal historian, there's a lot of things that have made me sad when I go back to read about the great people who've ruled the United Kingdom.
I feel sad whenever I think about how Catherine of Aragon got screwed over by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I get upset whenever I am reminded that Lady Jane Grey was beheaded. And Margaret Pole. And Mary, Queen of Scots. I am frustrated with myself that there was nothing anyone could do to save Prince Albert's life. And I am angry at what happened to Princess Diana, how unfair her death was and how much better her life could have been if she hadn't married Charles.
When I was in middle school, I bought two books from a library sale. One was titled, Diana, Princess of Wales: A Biography by Penny Junor. The book was white, and it made Princess Diana's eyes on the cover look electrifyingly blue. The second, was a bright red cover with a black and white torn photograph of Princess Diana, titled, Death of a Princess: The Investigation by Thomas Sancton and Scott MacLeod.
I read the Penny Junor novel first. It was published in 1984, three years after Princess Diana's fairytale wedding to Prince Charles. What distressed me the most about Junor's biography was the fact that her writing was so positive and astoundingly cheerful that every sentence was enough for a pessimist like myself to gag on. She wrote about how lucky Diana was to be married to such a handsome and dashing prince like Charles, and how she was head-over-heels in love with him. The biography sounded like a too perfect love story, and ended with Diana and Charles riding off into the sunset after their marriage. No mention of Camilla Parker Bowles. Then twelve years later, Diana and Charles divorced.
I picked up Death of a Princess next, and was received with much confusion and concern from my English teacher, Lisa when she saw me bring the book into her classroom. Death of a Princess was more of a book dedicated to those who believed in the conspiracy theory that the royal family had Diana and Dodi killed in Paris. I thought it only fair to read a novel that was entirely on the opposite side of the spectrum of Junor's book. It casted the royal family in a more negative light and gave multiple reasons as to why the royal family would want them dead. The biggest theory was that Diana was pregnant with Dodi's child, and that a child born with a Catholic mother and an Islamic father would damage the image of monarchy.
"I didn't know you thought that the Queen of England was capable of such cruelty," Lisa said to me when I explained to her what the book was about.
"Oh trust me," I said to her. "The Queen of England has more important things to do, like buying a new corgi than plotting Diana and Dodi's death. I'm just reading this to hear what the other side has to say."
The novel was published in 1998, a year after her and Dodi's death. All I remember after finishing Sancton and McLeod's book was how angry people were at the royal family. Even if they had nothing to do with Diana and Dodi's death, they still blamed them for forcing Diana into a loveless marriage with Charles, plus the domino effect that lead to her death in Paris.
Instead, it happened in the 90's.
And even though there was no War of the Roses and no English Reformation, someone still died.
The memorial doesn't quite help though. I could understand people coming down to Harrods to visit the memorial and view it as a father's tribute to losing his son and future daughter-in-law. But for me, it was Mohamed Al-Fayed's big "F**K YOU" to the British monarchy. Fine, you ostracized her when she divorced Charles. Now she and my son are dead so now here's the respect you should've given her when she was alive. Not to mention that this big "F**K YOU" is also located in the middle of the mecca of all department stores.
It doesn't do Diana justice.
My advice, if you wanted to see a real memorial for Princess Diana, to get emotional over, take a trip up to Althorp – the Spencer family estate in Northhampshire, England. There, you won't find a ridiculously huge shopping mall. Instead you'll find sprawling acres of green, and pastoral views. But more importantly, you will also find the burial site of Princess Diana. Her final resting place is on an island in the center of Lake Round Oval. There's no 8-foot bronze statue, no picture of Diana and no engagement ring on display. Instead, from afar and across the lake, you can see an urn but not a headstone or a grave site. Better yet, no visitors are allowed to set foot on the island. It's quiet, it's peaceful, and it's in the middle of nature.
I turned to Amy.
"Honestly, this statue is kinda kitschy," I said to her.