My daughter and I spent the day at Bicester Village yesterday. On arrival, I dutifully sent my husband a text saying “Safe at Bicester.” He text back, “Safe? Did you forget your purse then?” He knows that Bicester is my shopping heaven.
Bicester is an ‘outlet’ shopping centre located just north of Oxford, where high end brands such as Gucci, Prada and Vivienne Westwood stores are arranged in what looks like an old fashioned village, in barn style shops. For those with a more midline price range, there are also outlets such as Levi’s, Clarkes and Jack Wills.
I love Bicester, we go a couple of times a year, and we had a hugely enjoyable day but it did make me think yesterday about what constitutes designer ‘value’ and what is the price of quality.
The designers who came up with the concept for the Bicester Outlet were extremely canny and have created a delightful environment of 130 stores in a village style setting with free parking a few steps away, (they even offer valet parking). The village is adorned with flowers, plant pots and brightly coloured displays and as well as all the shopping, offers unusual tempting food concessions like this incredible frozen ice lolly stall.
It is VERY popular and by mid morning, is extremely busy. (Apparently it attracts over 6 million visitors every year, which is on a par with Buckingham Palace). The coaches are lined up in the car park disgorging hordes of national and international tourists and within the hour, they are disporting eye watering numbers of Gucci and Prada carrier bags. By noon, there are actually queues to enter these stores. Queues! I have never had to queue to go into a clothes shop, ( and I wasn’t going to start today) but it amazed me that a store has so much of a pull that people are prepared to wait patiently outside until allowed to go in.
There are certainly genuine bargains to be had, with bags, clothes, sunglasses, jewellery and homeware at half or less of their retail value on the high street. It is of course, a very individual thing about what constitutes a “bargain” – a blouse that was once £2200 and is now £1100 may not seem that much of a catch to you. (Or me)
My daughter bought a Kate Spade handbag that had retailed for £300 for just under £90, (she is absolutely delighted with it), and I bought some Versace sunglasses that were £320 for £140. There were however, plenty of people spending a LOT more than that; I saw quite a few people struggling back to their cars swamped with bags, only to drop them in the boot and return to the village! I tried to google how much Bicester turns over in a year, but wasn’t able to come up with a reliable figure.
Are these labels worth their inflated price tags? What are we actually paying for? By buying them are we accepting their value at this price tag? It surely cannot be purely about quality – how expensive can quality be? Perhaps it’s more about exclusivity; is it the notion of owning something that sends out signals to those around us that we are so successful that we can afford a bag/jacket/watch the equivalent price of a small car? I saw some tea lights advertised in one shop for £90 each. A tea light for £90? Blimey!
Here I am in Kate Spade clutching some potential purchases.
If you have read my Mulberry blog, you will know that I have a number of Mulberry bags and I take great joy in them. Have I bought them because I want people to think I can afford them and therefore have a certain lifestyle? I’m not sure, I know when people do compliment me on a Mulberry, I will usually say something like “ Oh, I bought it in the sale/eBay/outlet store” as if justifying my purchase, which doesn’t make sense if I want everyone to think I’m earning loads of cash and can afford loads of designer bags ( I don’t and can’t)
In Dolce and Gabanna, I came across these slippers, I suppose they are slippers, (I can’t imagine anyone wearing them down the street), they reminded me of our cat Buffy and were selling for £260, (reduced from £509). I didn’t buy them.
Andy’s view is that ‘designer’ does not always mean quality, for example, some ‘designer’ shirts, (he mentioned a brand, but I won’t, ) sometimes appear to be mass produced in a factory (bad stitching etc) rather than being ‘handmade’ as advertised. He believes that the value of anything is enhanced by the amount of time someone has spent creating it.
My view is that I like a bargain. I don’t think I would get nearly as much pleasure from a Mulberry bag I paid full price for. I do believe that some high end products I have bought last longer. That may be because I think I take MORE care of them as they are so expensive. (My Mulberry’s get treated with leather care products and are kept in dust bags when not being used.)
I tend to spend more on trousers as the cut is usually better but when it comes to dresses and skirts, I love an H&M dress as much as a Cos one. I bought a bright flowery dress for £17.99 a couple of months ago and have lived in it this summer.
There is nothing wrong with a Primark top (I’ve got quite a few) but yes it’s nice occasionally to treat yourself to a designer watch. Just be sure that you are aware what you are paying for and WHY. 😍
*All the pictures featured, were taken by me at Bicester yesterday.