Friday, October 31, 2008

Worshipping at the altar of raging consumerism

As you some of you might know, I love shopping with a passion that would make Carrie Bradshaw spin round on her heels and collapse in an ungainly heap on the floor. So, the fact that the largest inner-city shopping complex in Europe just opened 15 minutes walk away from the office should quite literally rank right up there as one of the best things evah.

What else could I do but go investigate and report my findings to you in a timely fashion?

The Westfield Shepherds Bush White City shopping centre during construction.

First, though, let me give you a little background on the area and my affinity for it. The first time I walked down the Goldhawk Road to Shepherds Bush after work I came to the conclusion that the whole area was a horrific dump and should be bulldozed into oblivion. I was a little rash in formulating that opinion, though, and in the years that followed I've developed quite a fondness for the area. Yes, Shepherds Bush Green is populated by winos and crack addicts trying to sell you a "one-way ticket to South America," but let's not forget that it's also home to the Shepherds Bush Empire, quite possibly my very favourite gig venue, a wonderful little subterranean bar called Ginglik (which is currently fighting for survival - please sign the petition to keep it open HERE), a quality cinema hidden away above Morrisons supermarket, and a variety of diverse and independent little shops (few of which I actually frequent, but I like the idea of them being there). 

The news that a massive new shopping centre was going to be slapped down just behind the green was greeted with mixed emotions by yours truly. Yes, I heart shopping big-time, but I was also worried that, although the project would help rejuvenate and bring jobs to the area, it might also suck the soul out of Shepherds Bush and kill off all the independent businesses scattered down both the Uxbridge and Goldhawk Roads (although as my boss pointed out to me earlier in the week, I don't think the "glittery wig store, dodgy mobile phone sellers, and bong shop" will face much competition from the flagship shopping centre).

So, after what seems like years of watching this massive building rise up from wasteland, Westfield White City (as they insist on calling it despite the fact that it looms over Shepherds Bush like the alien ship over the White House in Independence Day) opened its doors for the first time yesterday. Within are literally hundreds of stores, from familiar high street names and exclusive boutiques (grouped together in an area called The Village), to restaurants and cafes. Next year a gym and a multi-screen cinema will open (which leaves me wondering what will happen to the cinema in the teeny-tiny shopping centre just across the road…).

Anyway, as I've got next week off work I decided to hit-up Westfield this evening after leaving the office rather than waiting until I go back to work the week after next; although I'd like to say I was doing this purely for journalistic reasons and an interesting blog post, what it really comes down to is that fact that I was gagging to hit the shops.

It was actually kind of weird walking down to Shepherds Bush … it was as familiar as always, and yet walking round by the Empire you suddenly see this huge expanse of grey building poking out from behind the regular shopfronts that surround the green. And I'm not kidding - the thing is freakin' massive. Rather than nip in a closer side entrance, I decided to head for the main doors just past the brand new - and very shiny - Shepherds Bush tube station. And again I was knocked for six - it's even more freakin' massive than I realised. Seriously, it's like a futuristic version of The Wizard of Oz - like this massive building just fell out of the sky and landed on a vast portion of Shepherds Bush. Everything else pails in comparison; Bluewater (which is actually bigger) feels smaller … the Bentalls centre in my beloved Kingston is made to look like nothing more than a small shed in someone's back garden.

There's so much there - and everything is bigger. I don't know whether it's because the ceiling is very high and predominantly made of glass, but it just felt open and airy. The walkways are wide, the food court area clean, clear, and open. There's bigger versions of some of my favourite clothes stores, leading me to think that it's actually going to be quite dangerous for my bank balance what with the office being in such close proximity and me having five lunchtimes each week. I picked up a map and I still got lost (although in my defense the map is ludicrously laid-out).

Check out the funky glass roof.

Disappointments? A few. There's only one bookshop - admittedly it's a branch of Foyles, which is a good thing, but its actually a lot smaller than I'd imagined it would be, and no where near being the new favourite hang-out spot I'd hoped it might be (Borders in Kingston is safe in that respect). On the plus side they do have a reasonably good selection of graphic novels, with Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly books taking precedence over DC and Marvel stuff. In fact, a few of the stores I thought would be quite big were actually rather small - yes, Nike and HMV, I'm looking at you. What else? Oh yeah - the guide said there were two branches of Starbucks; I could only find one, which doesn't open until November; the other, according to the guide, is sandwiched somewhere between Boots and M&S, but I'm damned if I could find it; maybe it's magically hidden like Platform 9¾ where the Hogwarts Express departs from in the Harry Potter books?

The lack of Starbucks was annoying, actually, because the whole thing was a little overwhelming and I needed somewhere familiar to sit down and collect my thoughts. A concierge suggested Costa, but not wishing to be a traitor to the 'Bucks I headed instead to Shakeabout, a milkshake stand that blends chocolate bars and sweets into drinks (handy if you have a problem chewing solid food, I suspect). I went for a Cadbury's Shortcake shake, which entailed three chocolate biscuits being blended up with some milk and a massive dollop of ice cream (I watched them do it in front of me). This is undoubtedly not the healthiest beverage you could order, but it was many, many times awesome.

Cool things? Well, the All Saints store has an incredible window display comprised of a load of old Singers (sewing machines, not assorted Bryans, Aretha Franklins, and Diana Rosses).

This is just a small portion of All Saints' window display - it was a truly unique sight.

There's also a pretty cool central stage area that plays host to catwalk shows and musical performances. Everyone's favourite Afghan hound lookalike Leona Lewis sang here yesterday.

The stage area in a moment of peace before another catwalk display kicked off.

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An aside:

Spot the difference.

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So, the big question is … did I buy? Well … no. I was tempted by a few things - an awesome, faux-fur lined hoody that looked like it would be really warm and was pretty reasonably priced, a couple of books (which I decided against because I'm currently less than halfway through East of Eden), and a few t-shirts. Actually, let's have a bit of audience participation; these are the three tees I liked - vote on which one you think I should buy and I'll get the one with the most votes next time I'm in a branch of Topman.

So, what's my verdict on the Westfield centre? Honestly, I'm actually a little torn. Yes it's a stunning new shopping destination that I can definitely see myself visiting rather too much, but as I left I glanced across the road towards the little shopping centre that's home to the cinema, and it suddenly looked old, run-down, and obsolete. Not too long ago there was a cracking book shop in there with a coffee shop attached to it - then it closed down, and I can't help thinking that it was the first of many to disappear. The area's changing, and part of me thinks the regeneration of Shepherds Bush should've focused on sprucing up the historic buildings that were already there rather than just plonking a massive new shopping centre down.

Only time will tell, I guess, but as I headed back towards my car I saw firsthand how some of the residents now living in Westfield's shadow feel about the new development, and there's definitely a part of me that sympathises with them.

(Hammersmith and Fulham Council's tagline is 'putting residents first')

25 comments:

T-Bird said...

FIRST!

T-Bird said...

I vote for super number one Japanese fun times Cookie Monster!

Westfield seem to be having a world wide blitz. Last year they opened up a centre in the middle of the city (Brisvegas) that is very much like the one you have. It's not as big, but it has all my favourite designers.

She's got real pretty stuff

Tara said...

Speaking of shopping, I have a little factoid for ya...Did you know that the mask worn by the character Michael Myers in "Halloween" is a William Shatner mask? The director was looking frantically around for some masks and picked up two..one was a clown mask, the other was a William Shatner mask. He chose that one and attributes the success of his movie to Shatner.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Get the Cookie Monster T-shirt. GET IT! (Superman looks like he's having a poo, so you can't get that one.)

I'm curious: What does the All Saints store actually sell?

Oh, and T-Bird? I spent far too long watching that little rabbit nom nom nom-ing in that link.

CyberPete said...

I quite like the superman one!

Let's hope it doesn't end up half empty because that's sad. The big mall back in my hometown is sad like that.

A ten minute drive from where I live is Scandinavias largest shopping centre. It looks awesome and the shops are awesome but it's not as kool as walking up and down the highstreet.

Tim said...

T-Bird - It's an Australian compant too, isn't it?

Alannah's website doesn't seem to be doing much for me. And I think the yellow bunny is taunting me…

Tara - Yes - I did know that! Shatty writes about it in his autobiography, and even says that he went out trick or treating with his daughters onces wearing one!!

Inexplicable Device - Good point… does Superman poo?

All Saints sells slightly overpriced man clothes - www.allsaintsshop.co.uk (I can't be bothered to link properly). You've probably seen the grey v-neck jumpers with the goat skull logo on some d-list celebs.

Cyberpete - It did seem very busy last night, but it will be interesting to see how things go after the initial opening buzz and the Christmas period. Will be interesting to see how busy it is, say, one lunchtime next May or so…

WillowC said...

I do hope it doesn't do damage to the Goldhawk Road, that place is a national treasure. Where else will a 7-foot man loom over me and say "Come upstairs and let me paint your breasts"?

I vote Batman, by the by. It's your colour.

CyberPete said...

another thing is if the shops in there stay in business. Assuming rent is massive.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

I don't take any notice of D-list celebs, so I wouldn't know.
Your media-whoring has elevated you to C-list or higher, hasn't it? HASN'T IT?!

Tim said...

Willowc - Did he mean 'paint them' or 'paint on them'? Or did you have a carrier bag full of chicken?

And more importantly - did you let him?

Cyberpete - Indeed… to be honest, I think the exclusive boutiques will be the ones to struggle. You can get decent fakes in Shepherds Bush Market.

Inexplicable Device - I don't think I'm even on the list…

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Oh. Then you're not coming in.

Tim said...

Humph!

CyberPete said...

It's always sad to watch the shops in a big thing like that die.

It does look awesome though. Maybe I'll venture out there next time I'm in your fair city.

Tim said...

I think it'll be a while before any of them start closing … but if it's something like Luis Vitton I'm not terribly worried. Topman and Foyles are another matter!

I think you'd like it - there's lots of shoe shops!

CyberPete said...

Uh did you mention shoes?

I almost did one of your trademark special wees

Tim said...

They're not *my* special wees!

Dinah said...

I just saw this place on the news! I looked for you on the news in the raging crowd shots, but I didn't see you.

CyberPete said...

They are not?

Tim said...

Dinah - I was there! But I avoided the raging crowd shots … I didn't want to get mobbed or start a stampede.

Cyberpete - No. It's a franchise thing.

CyberPete said...

Who do I need to contact?`

Special Wees Inc?

Tim said...

Yes - I believe they're in the 'Yellow' pages.

*snicker*

CyberPete said...

It's considered poor form to laugh at your own jokes but that one.......

PRICELESS!

Tim said...

I KNOW!

watch*paint*dry said...

I just heard the sound of my credit card crunching.

Cookie Monster! Do it!
Or maybe Batman?

More importantly is Shepherd's Bush Central Line station open now?

Tim said...

Of cooooourse it is! It looks very swanky too!