Harrods is an upmarket department store located on the Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London. The Harrods brand also applies to other enterprises undertaken by the Harrods group of companies including Harrods Bank, Harrods Estates, Harrods Aviation and Air Harrods, and to Harrods Buenos Aires, sold by Harrods in 1922 and closed as of 2011, with plans announced to reopen in 2013.
The store occupies a 5-acre (20,000 m2) site and has over one million square feet (90,000 m2) of selling space in over 330 departments making it the biggest department store in Europe.
The Harrods motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique—All Things for All People, Everywhere. Several of its departments, including the seasonal Christmas department and the Food Halls, are world famous.
Harrods founder Charles Henry Harrod first established his business in 1834, aged 25. The business was located south of the River Thames in Southwark. The premises were located at 228 Borough High Street. He ran this business, variously listed as a draper, mercer and a haberdasher, certainly until 1831. During 1825 the business was listed as ‘Harrod and Wicking, Linen Drapers, Retail’, but this partnership was dissolved at the end of that year. His first grocery business appears to be as ‘Harrod & Co.Grocers’ at 163 Upper Whitecross Street, Clerkenwell, E.C.1., in 1832. In 1834 in London’s East End, he established a wholesale grocery in Stepney, at 4, Cable Street, with a special interest in tea. In 1849, to escape the vice of the inner city and to capitalise on trade to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in nearby Hyde Park, Harrod took over a small shop in the district of Brompton, on the site of the current store. Beginning in a single room employing two assistants and a messenger boy, Harrod’s son Charles Digby Harrod built the business into a thriving retail operation selling medicines, perfumes, stationery, fruit and vegetables. Harrods rapidly expanded, acquired the adjoining buildings, and employed one hundred people by 1880.
However, the store’s booming fortunes were reversed in early December 1883, when it burnt to the ground. Remarkably, in view of this calamity, Charles Harrod fulfilled all of his commitments to his customers to make Christmas deliveries that year—and made a record profit in the process. In short order, a new building was built on the same site, and soon Harrods extended credit for the first time to its best customers, among them Oscar Wilde, Lillie Langtry, Ellen Terry, Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Sigmund Freud, A. A. Milne, and many members of the British Royal Family.
On Wednesday, 16 November 1898, Harrods debuted England’s first “moving staircase” (escalator) in their Brompton Road stores; the device was actually a woven leather conveyor belt-like unit with a mahogany and “silver plate-glass” balustrade. Nervous customers were offered brandy at the top to revive them after their ‘ordeal’. The department store was purchased by the Fayed brothers in 1985.
Following denial that it was for sale, Harrods was sold to Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar in May 2010. A fortnight previously, chairman of Harrods since 1985, Mohamed Al-Fayed, had stated that “People approach us from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Fair enough. But I put two fingers up to them. It is not for sale. This is not Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury’s. It is a special place that gives people pleasure. There is only one Mecca.”
The sale was concluded in the early hours of 8 May, when Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani came to London to finalise the deal, saying that the acquisition of Harrods would add “much value” to the investment portfolio of Qatar Holdings while his deputy, Hussain Ali Al-Abdulla, called it a “landmark transaction”. A spokesman for Mohamed Al-Fayed said “in reaching the decision to retire, [Fayed] wished to ensure that the legacy and traditions that he has built up in Harrods would be continued.” Harrods was sold for £1.5 billion; half of the sale will be used to pay bank debts of £625 million.
Al-Fayed later revealed in an interview that he decided to sell Harrods following the difficulty in getting his dividend approved by the trustee of the Harrods pension fund. Al-Fayed said “I’m here every day, I can’t take my profit because I have to take a permission of those bloody idiots…I say is this right? Is this logic? Somebody like me? I run a business and I need to take bloody fucking trustee’s permission to take my profit.”Al-Fayed was appointed honorary chairman of Harrods, a position he will hold for at least six months
Significant event timeline
- 1824: Charles Henry Harrod starts his first business as a draper, at 228, Borough High Street, Southwark, London.
- 1834: Charles Henry Harrod (1799–1885) founds a wholesale grocery in Stepney, East London
- 1849: Harrods moves to the Knightsbridge area of London, near Hyde Park
- 1861: Harrods undergoes a transformation when it was taken over by Harrod’s son, Charles Digby Harrod (1841–1905)
- 1883: On 6 December, fire guts the shop buildings, giving the family the opportunity to rebuild on a grander scale
- 1889: Charles Digby Harrod retires, and Harrods shares are floated on the London Stock Exchange under the name
- 1905: Begun in 1894, the present building is completed to the design of architect Charles William Stephens.
- 1914: Harrods opens its first and only foreign branch in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It became independent of Harrods in the late 1940s but still traded under the Harrods name usable only in Argentina Harrods Buenos Aires.
- 1914: Harrods buys the Regent Street department store Dickins & Jones.
- 1919: Harrods buys the Manchester department store, Kendals; it took on the Harrods name for a short time in the 1920s, but the name was changed back to Kendals following protests from staff and customers.
- 1959: The British department store holding company, House of Fraser, buys Harrods.
- 1969: Christian the lion was bought by John Rendall and Anthony ‘Ace’ Bourke. The lion was set free in Kenya after reaching maturity.
- 1983: A terrorist attack by the Provisional IRA outside the Brompton store kills six people.
- 1985: The Fayed brothers buy House of Fraser including Harrods Store for £615 million.
- 1986: The small town of Otorohanga in New Zealand briefly changed its name to Harrodsville in response to legal threats made by Mohamed Al-Fayed against a person with the surname of Harrod, who had used the name “Harrod’s” for his shop.
- 1990: A Harrods shop opens on board the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, which was then owned by the Walt Disney Company. Harrods gives right to Duty Free International for a licence to operate a Harrods Signature Shop at Toronto Pearson International Airport’s Terminal 3 (closed shortly after)
- 1994: The relationship between House of Fraser and Harrods is severed. Harrods remains under the ownership of the Fayed family, and House of Fraser is floated on the stock exchange.
- 1997: An English court issues an injunction to restrain the Buenos Aires Harrods store from trading under the Harrods name.
- 2000: A Harrods shop opens on board the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, owned by the Cunard Line.
- 2006: The Harrods “102” shop opens opposite the main shop in Brompton Road; it features concessions like Krispy Kreme and Yo! Sushi, as well as florists, a herbalist, a masseur, and an oxygen spa.
- 2006: Omar Fayed, Mohamed’s youngest son, joins the Harrods board.
- 2010: Qatar Holdings become the new owners of Harrods, after Fayed announces he has sold the shop. It had been reported that Qatar Holdings paid £1.5 billion for the Knightsbridge store, in a deal signed in the early hours of 8 May 2010.
- 2010: Harrods looks at the possibility of expanding to China and opening a new shop in Shanghai. Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, said, “There are other areas of the world where we could operate profitably.” The number of Chinese shoppers visiting Harrods is increasing, and the average spent by a Chinese shopper is three times that of any other nationality.
- 2012: The figurative sculptures that once adorned the Harrods food hall are consigned for sale at West Middlesex Auction Rooms, The two Mermaids supporting a giant Clam and the Stag and Boar sheltering under an English Oak are purchased by Greaves & Thomas for inclusion in an elaborate fountain for Ryde, Isle of Wight.
Products and services
The shop’s 330 departments offer a wide range of products and services. Products on offer include clothing for women, men, children and infants, electronics, jewellery, sporting gear, bridal trousseau, pets and pet accessories, toys, food and drink, health and beauty items, packaged gifts, stationery, housewares, home appliances, furniture, and much more.
A representative sample of shop services includes 32 restaurants, serving everything from high tea to tapas to pub food to haute cuisine; a personal shopping-assistance programme known as “By Appointment”; a watch repair service; a tailor; a dispensing pharmacy; a beauty spa and salon; a barbers shop; Harrods Financial Services; Harrods Bank; Ella Jade Bathroom Planning and Design Service; private events planning and catering; food delivery; a wine steward; bespoke “picnic” hampers and gift boxes; bespoke cakes; bespoke fragrance formulations; and Bespoke Arcades machines.
Up to 300,000 customers visit the shop on peak days, comprising the highest proportion of customers from non-English speaking countries of any department store in London. More than five thousand staff from over fifty different countries work at Harrods.
As of 15 October 2009, Harrods Bank has started selling gold bars and coins that customers can buy “off the shelf”. The gold products range from 1 g to 12.5 kg, and can be purchased within Harrods Bank. They also offer storage services, as well as the ability to sell back gold to Harrods in the future.
Harrods was the holder of royal warrants from:
- Queen Elizabeth II (Provisions and Household Goods)
- The Duke of Edinburgh (Outfitters)
- The Prince of Wales (Outfitters and Saddlers)
- Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (China and Glass)
In August 2010, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed revealed that he had burnt Harrods royal warrants, after taking them down in 2000. Harrods had held the Royal warrants since 1910. Describing the warrants as a “curse”, Al-Fayed claimed that business had tripled since their removal. The Duke of Edinburgh removed his warrant in January 2000, and the other warrants were removed from Harrods by Al-Fayed in December, pending their five-yearly review. The Duke of Edinburgh had been banned from Harrods by Al-Fayed. Film of the burning of the warrants in 2009 was shown in the final scene of Unlawful Killing, a film funded by Al-Fayed and directed by Keith Allen.
Since the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al-Fayed, Mohamed Al-Fayed’s son, two memorials commissioned by Al-Fayed have been erected inside Harrods to the couple. The first, located at the base of the Egyptian Escalator, was unveiled on 12 April 1998, consisting of photographs of the two behind a pyramid-shaped display that holds a wine glass smudged with lipstick from Diana’s last dinner as well as what is described as an engagement ring Dodi purchased the day before they died.
The second memorial, unveiled in 2005 and located by the escalator at door three is entitled “Innocent Victims”, a bronze statue of the two dancing on a beach beneath the wings of an albatross, a bird said to symbolise the “Holy Spirit”.[The sculpture was created by William Mitchell, a close friend of Al-Fayed and artistic design advisor to Harrods for 40 years. Al-Fayed said he wanted to keep the pair’s “spirit alive” through the statue.
After the death of Michael Jackson, Al-Fayed announced that they had already been discussing plans to build a memorial statue. This was unveiled in April 2011 at the rear of Craven Cottage football ground (Fulham F.C.) but removed in September 2013 on the orders of new club owner Shahid Khan.
From 1989 Harrods has had a dress code policy and has turned away several people who it believed were not dressed appropriately. These included a soldier in uniform, a scout troop a woman with a mohican hair cut, a 15 stone (95 kg) woman and FC Shakhtar Donetsk’s first team for wearing tracksuits. This however, is no longer the case, and most outfits and dress-styles will be allowed within the store, though security staff still retain the right to refuse entry without giving an explanation as to why. Harrods still has a strict and accepted dress code, where people are refused and not allowed to enter the store if they are wearing swimwear, if they have bare midriff or bare feet, if they are excessively sweaty, or if they are wearing dirty or unkempt clothing.
The store occupies a 5-acre (20,000 m2) site and has over one million square feet (90,000 m2) of selling space in over 330 departments making it the biggest department store in Europe. The UK’s second-biggest shop, Selfridges, Oxford Street, is a little over half the size with 540,000 square feet (50,000 m2) of selling space., while the third largest, Allders of Croydon had 500,000 square feet (46,000 m2) of retail space. By comparison Europe’s second-largest department store the KaDeWe in Berlin has a retail space of 650,000 square feet (60,000 m2).
Harrods and Mohamed Al-Fayed have been criticised for selling real animal fur with regular protests organised outside Harrods.Harrods is the only department store in Britain that has continued to sell fur. Harrods was sharply criticised in 2004 by the Hindu community for marketing a line of feminine underwear (designed by Roberto Cavalli) which featured the images of Indian goddesses. The line was eventually withdrawn and formal apologies were made. Harrods has been criticised by Guardian journalist Sali Hughes as “deeply sexist” for making female employees wear six kinds of makeup at all times without requiring this of male employees.
Asma al-Assad, the wife of the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, used an alias to shop at Harrods despite economic sanctions imposed by the European Union that froze funds belonging to her and her husband.
In March 2014, a parody story in Middle East satirical website The Pan-Arabia Enquirer claimed that following a dispute among Gulf countries, Harrod’s Qatari owners had banned shoppers from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia from entering the store. The article was reported as fact on a cover story in Pakistan’s The News International.
Due to its status and expensive nature of its merchandise, Harrods has been connected with several high profile crimes over the years, including the 2012 theft of a £24,000 designer dress, part of what was referred to as a ‘£240,000 Harrods crime spree’
Harrods Ltd v. Harrods Limousine Ltd
On 27 October 2008, Harrods Ltd applied to the Company Names Tribunal under s.69(1)(b) Companies Act 2006 for a change of name of Harrods Limousine Ltd, which had been registered at Companies House since 14 November 2007.
The application went un-defended by the respondent and the adjudicator ordered on 16 January 2009 that Harrods Limousine Ltd must change their name within one month. Additionally the respondent was ordered not to cause or permit any steps to be taken to register another company with an offending name which could interfere, due to its similarity, with the goodwill of the applicant.
Harrods Limousine Ltd was also ordered to pay Harrods’ costs.