Harvey Nichols Baku, Globus Plaza, Baku & Nargiz Cafe at Harvey Nichols www.harveynicholsbaku.com
What is sin? What is hell? I’ve always believed that committing a sin is when you don’t abide by the rules of the heart and fail to treat your fellow humans as you would like to be treated yourself, and hell is where you find yourself when your conscience pricks you and you know that you have done something very wrong. You don’t have to be religious to get that. There are small sins and big sins and different layers of hell, I agree with Dante on that.
I’m currently floating around in middle hell. I feel terribly ashamed of myself for hissing and snapping at a shop assistant. The poor girl was just doing her job, trying to be friendly and trying to engage me in a sales conversation and what did I do? I responded in a nasty arrogant condescending way, trying to make myself feel big and her feel small. In my head, I keep starting conversations with my conscience with ‘Why do they follow you around so and not leave you alone? It’s her own fault! And anyway, I was tired and hungry.’ But I know perfectly well that I’m just desperately groping for excuses. Too bad I can’t make any of them stick and just have to look myself in the eye and accept that on that occasion I was a total and utter cow. I want to make up for it in a big way, go back to the shop, give the girl a hug and apologise and buy her a bunch of flowers but I’m not sure I’d recognise her now and, somehow, I haven’t got the gumption. Maybe at least something good will come of it. Maybe, finally, I will get my head around the fact that no, I’m not at home, I’m in Azerbaijan now and here the sales assistants follow you around and crowd you and show you items you’d never want. That’s simply how it’s done here and the only right or wrong about it, is how I respond to it. Why on Earth should the locally prevailing culture adapt to me? It is I who should adapt to it!
Talking about shopping, there’s a new kid on the block in Baku, the long awaited and excitedly anticipated Harvey Nichols! This quintessential London department store, founded in Knightsbridge in 1831, is arguably classier, more fashionable and more contemporary than Harrods, Selfridges, Peter Jones and all the rest of the big London stores put together and it’s Fifth Floor café and restaurant is where the cool crowd hang out. These days owned by the Hong Kong Dixons Concepts Group, it has, since 2011, expanded to other locations in the UK, around the world and now also to Baku. At home in London, I am a Harvey Nicks regular. They always have what I’m looking for, whether it’s fashion, make-up or lunch, though I have never been to any of their off-shoots elsewhere. It brings out my inner Patsy Stone (Absolutely Fabulous UK comedy series) so I promise you, I was almost wetting myself with excitement that this temple of style was going to come to Baku; a taste of the big city, European chic, life in the sophisticated lane, Darling!
On a cold and windy Baku Saturday, I trotted off to check out whether it lives up to the hyperbole or whether it’s a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.On first sight, I felt a little let down. Harvey Nichols in London is famous for its incredible window displays. They tell stories, they draw you in, they are a visual delight. Here, they are no different from anywhere else but, at least, the building on Globus Plaza has a certain elegance. Inside it does look vaguely Harvey Nicholsish. The general colour scheme is the same although there are some taste humdingers you’d never ever see in the mothership. Wildly patterned carpeted changing room doors? Meh! The cosmetics department on the lower ground floor with its little concession islands looks good and offers a suitably broad spectrum of good quality international brands, as does the sunglasses section. Throughout, there are more shop assistants, dressed in their signature black uniforms, than shoppers and, as is typical here, they descend on you, sometimes more than one at a time. But they are very polite and helpful and mean well, it’s just that I like to browse, to sniff and scratch, so to speak, and to make my own choices because, guaranteed, no shop assistant will know what I like. That leopard print shirt dress? No thank you, that can go straight back on the rail, I wouldn’t be seen dead in it!
My great style icon is Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), the female lead in the series House of Cards.. Wow, those stylists have outdone themselves with her fabulous outfits and accessories. Very plain, very simple, very chic but admittedly, she is tall and very slender and has a super toned body, all of which help to pull off that incredible look. In direct contrast, the fashion floor of Harvey Nichols Baku seems to be full of appliquê, flounces, peplums, glitter, sequins, diamante and busy patterns. Even on denim…..And, an absolute no no for me, so many items turn out to be made of manmade fibres. They may look like cotton or silk but they are made of polyester and rayon. They have a few major designer names to attract the more style conscious shopper, but even the Christopher Kane collection consists of neon coloured lace mini dresses. Eurgh! Shoe queen that I am, footwear was interesting to investigate. Again, those very clumpy sky high platforms which went well out of fashion elsewhere a good two years ago at least, still seem to be popular here but there are also some cute and funky summer sandals and shoes, though little selection of classic court shoes and sling backs. As for the menswear, it was thoroughly boring. Azeri men like to wear a lot of black, it seems, often with plain white shirts and black jackets or windcheaters. Ties are also only available in sombre colours and there are no nice Paul Smith type stripy shirts or even plain pink ones or more vibrant ties and accessories.
All in all, I was disappointed with the merchandise on offer and its display. It’s very run of the mill, with nothing original or outstanding. Frankly, I can’t see myself returning to Globus Plaza for retail therapy. For upmarket type clothes shopping, I’d by far prefer Bisque, Emporium or Port Baku Mall, though ultimately, I am much more likely to spend my money at Harvey Nichols in London. However, the fact remains that every successful business has to cater to its target audience and in this case, that’s obviously neither the fictional character Claire Underwood, Patsy Stone nor I!
The restaurant on the top floor opens on the 23rd of April, apparently, and it will be interesting to see what that’s like. The Nargiz Café on the lower ground floor is certainly worth a visit. It’s well presented and a pleasant place to go for a coffee or a quick snack. What’s more, it is really good value with an excellent large Americano at AZN3, deep fried Calamari for AZN6 and a bottle of French Chardonnay at AZN24. My delicious Orange Cheesecake was AZN6.