Monday, October 20, 2008

Westfield London. I shop, therefore I am.

In 10 days Westfield London, Europe's new biggest shopping mall, opens its doors. On launch day the usual circus of events, celebrities and media will herald the opening of 265 retailers and 50 restaurants all under one stunning glass roof. And with a dedicated concierge service, a mix of both high-end luxury and highstreet staples, and a McBan on the usual dire food offer, Westfield looks set to knock the socks off its rivals Bluewater and Brent Cross.

But there is a huge pink elephant standing in the middle of the central atrium, and Banksy has stenciled 'RECESSION' on its rump. Can a credit crunched London handle a shopping mall of this ilk right now? Westfield has been a building site for the past 12 years, so they weren't to know of the economic situation come opening day, but this month has been the tipping point for a downturn that is making everyone hold on to their pennies.

Retail analysts are right - during hard times, people need cheering up and transporting to a fantasy world. And where better to do that at Westfield, where many of the retailers have made flagships of their stores, and where a combination of shops, restaurants and, in 2009, cinemas and spas, will create a full day out? In a few months, this opportunity for escapism will bring thousands to the centre. But this month, of all months, I fear that escapism is barely an option as we look reality straight in the face.

I'd be nervous if I was opening the doors to the public at Westfield next week, but I'm sure by Christmas this new wonder mall is really going to be giving Oxford Street - just minutes away on the Central Line - a real run for its money.

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