Earlier this month I had the good fortune to visit Barcelona for a few days. Of course I took in the shops (I can’t believe you’re asking) and whilst the P’ de Gracia is home to the smartest shops (boy could I have done some serious bank balance damage) it was pretty reflective of any high street/ fashionable shopping centre the world over. However, it was whilst exploring the narrow streets of the old town (near the Picasso museum if you’re interested) that I was most enthralled. Home to the individual designers, nestled alongside traditional Spanish shops, I discovered one of the oldest espadrille manufacturers where I made a mercy purchase (that’s mercy for my feet) which turned out to be the most comfortable espadrilles ever. In the narrow warren of the old town was where I felt most inspired, and most at home.
Returning to Blighty, and more personal shopping, last week we (my companion and I) were approached by a reporter from BBC Radio Leeds asking for our thoughts on Leeds. Apparently Leeds had been voted the 10th best or worst (sorry I can’t remember) city or something like that and the reporter was clearly outraged by the position in the ranking!
I said my thoughts might not be air-able as I’m not really a Leeds city centre fan. Personally I find Leeds to be dirty (the streets are filthy, although the same can be said about London too) and dull, lacking individuality and soul. I wasn’t just comparing it to the individual boutique areas of Barcelona with its cafe bars nestled alongside the shops. Closer to home, York is a great city, pretty much has all the high street brands, and a bit more character (especially on Saturday afternoons!), with bars and individual shops alongside the big names. Yes Leeds has the new Trinity, but what exactly is new? Armani and Victoria’s Secrets spring to mind, but I suspect a huge chunk of the tenants have relocated from elsewhere in the city, leaving empty units in their wake (as I reported last year: http://somethingextrafromthepersonalshopper.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/trinity-leeds/).
Don’t get me wrong, I did once love Leeds, having spent a good 15 years of my life there, first at college, then at work. I was delighted by the arrival of Harvey Nics, and remember queuing up on opening day to get a glimpse, and then returning after work to purchase my first designer product because the queues were too long at lunchtime (incidentally I bought a Gucci belt, which I still own). Back in the day, I loved the Victoria Quarter with its individual shops – especially Itzy (I think that’s what it was called) which was on the corner where Reiss menswear is now located, owned by two sisters who stocked the most unusual accessories, quirky jewellery and their friendly approach helped cause serious damage to my credit card! I do remember Leeds fondly, I just can’t pinpoint where it all went wrong?
Nowadays I can hardly muster enthusiasm for Leeds, even for personal shopping. It sounds awful, and I can’t believe I’m committing this to words, but I have to check the age of my companion and her needs (strangely enough there is more choice with a wider age range for men) before I agree to shop in Leeds. For example the two most popular requests from customers are for Spanx and NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans). I haven’t found a single Leeds city centre stockist for either brand – please do correct me if I’m wrong. Whereas both brands can be found in York and Manchester – there are two stockists of each brand in Harrogate for goodness sake!
Leeds as a city feels like a teenager, unsure where its final destination lies. It’s trying to be hip and happening, it’s trying to move away from the awful reputation it had in the 1980s, but in the meantime lacks direction. I know it sounds negative and Leeds has made a positive start, the new areas do look good and now we’re heading out of recession it has a chance to attract further investment and become the City to which is aspires, but right now it has a long way to go to become my favourite.