The countdown to the launch of the new Victoria Gate shopping centre in Leeds has begun. There are just five sleeps until it opens its doors on October 20.
Along with fashionistas queueing to shop in Cos, Gant and & Other Stories, there will be plenty of architecture and interiors enthusiasts.
The £165m centre by Hammerson is a statement building in steel and glass with twisted aluminium fins and a glazed link to an equally striking John Lewis store, clad with a white diamond design.
It’s one of the largest John Lewis stores outside London, boasting one of the biggest homeware departments in the country.
Even more exciting for lovers of boho interiors style is the opening of the first Anthropologie in the North of England. The ultra-hip, American born company, whose flagship UK store is on Regent Street in London, sells fashion, gifts and homeware and has a cult following. Its decision to open in Leeds is a real coup and is partly thanks to Gisela Garcia-Escuela, the UK head of Anthropologie, who went to university in Leeds and has retained a love for the city. “I had been looking at Leeds for a long time trying to find the right building and in the end I went with Victoria Gate. I chose Leeds over Manchester because I know it’s a great city and the customer profile is right for us,” she says.
Anthropologie’s success is down to its striking individuality. Each store has its own “art room”/workshop, where staff make their own innovative, exciting displays and installations. While it sells its own in-house designed products, it also sources vintage and antique homeware and prides itself on collaborating with artists and makers worldwide.
“We invite artists to design something for us and we will make it but we also buy one -off pieces from local artisans. We buy local and global,” says Gisela.
Its latest collaboration is with Leeds-based textile artist Mister Finch. He has created a series of hand-sewn, soft sculptures for Anthropologie at Victoria Gate. There’s an interview with Mister Finch and a sneak preview of the exhibition based on the theme of “a thimble witch and her familiars” in today’s Yorkshire Post magazine.
Another much-loved brand with a huge fan base that is branching out from London to Leeds is wellbeing fragrance specialists Neom Organics, best known for its gorgeous, eco-friendly candles. Founder Nicola Elliott, an aromatherapist and former journalist, who began by making therapeutic, essential oil tinctures for stressed-out friends, was looking to open a regional outlet to complement her shop in Wimbledon and her popular online store. Victoria Gate was perfect as the business HQ is in Harrogate, where Nicola now lives.
The White Company is also moving into the new shopping centre and will have more retail space for its best-selling bedding and its furniture.
Those who like to support smaller, local designer makers will pleased to hear that John Lewis is piloting its first ever “Made Locally” range. It will stock 120 products from 11 makers based within a 30 mile radius of Leeds. They will also be stocked online, making them available to shoppers across the country. The project is in partnership with Harrogate-based business The Great British Exchange, which sources artisan products from new designers, established makers, independent businesses and British-based factories from across the UK and markets them to retailers who want to sell British made goods.
The Yorkshire makers on the shelves in the John Lewis home and gift departments include The Harrogate Candle Company, Martha and Hepsie, Myroo, The Art Rooms, Jolly Smith and Jane Katherine Houghton.
There will also be a Smart Home department specialising in high-tech products, including the Samsung family hub refrigerator. It comes with a wi-fi enabled touch screen and three in-built cameras that take pictures of the fridge contents so you can log in remotely and check on what you need to buy. Meanwhile, those looking for interiors advice will find it at the John Lewis Home Design studio.
Philippa Prinsloo, Head of Design for Home at John Lewis, says: “It’s not just shopping, it’s all about creating an experience and this will be our most experience led store to date. There’s everything from advice from our interior designers to a beauty spa, personal stylists and coffee bars.”
About 60 per cent of the Home department products, including fabrics, ceramics and furniture, are designed in-house and sit alongside well-known brands and collaborations with independent designers. Those familiar with John Lewis will know that it caters for a wide range of tastes and nowhere is this more evident than in the homeware department. Its room sets range from classic country to contemporary and “fusion”, which is a blend of traditional and modern.
*While interior trends change regularly there is, says Philippa Prinsloo, Head of Design for Home at John Lewis, a definite and sustained desire to connect with the countryside. The longing for bucolic bliss, she thinks, could be the fast-paced and demanding, high-tech world we live in.
“We have built on that for Christmas this year. It’s all very natural and white,” she says. The rural influence continues for spring summer 2017, which looks all set to be the year of the plant pot. “People are putting plants in their home again,” she says. “It’s all about connecting with nature again,” says Philippa.