The Hammerson’s luxury retail destinations are key tourist attractions of the Yorkshire city, with the £165m development of Victoria Gate in 2016 being named the Best Shopping Centre at the MIPIM Awards 2017 at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes. It features impressive diamond-shaped latticeworks and diagonal struts of etched concrete, polished off with curving glass shop fronts and a roof of knitted steel and glass that floods natural light ubiquitously. Not only does it stand as the home for the five-floored flagship John Lewis store, but for a dozen other premium outlets including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein as well as a twenty-four seven casino.
Across the road from such a lavish build stands the monumental Victoria Quarter. Originally assembled in around 1900 and designed by the theatre architect Frank Matcham, the arcades contain various mosaics and marvellous marble structures dotted around. A striking stained glass roof glosses as its sky, projecting a prismatic kaleidoscopic of colours. It works as the perfect blend between its artistically rich heritage and the modern-day palatial of the designer brands embedded within its marmoreal arches. Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton, Hobbs, Oliver Sweeney and Coach are a few eminent house labels, in addition to countless jewellers with their diamond collections shimmering like summer’s smile upon the seas – and ignoring not the Tesla flagship premium saloon whom are seldom shy of presenting their Model X cars, parked proudly by the fountains. And word of mouth is never coy from spewing recommendations and fervour over Harvey Nichols’s four floored luxury experience, complete with its legendary top-hat-wearing doorman and his rosy cheeked smile. The Victoria Quarter captures an essence of pure awe, the proof being the never-ending wave of visitors desperate to snap a photograph of the traditional affluence encased between its piazzas.
But that grand taste of the lavish emporium heightens to create a banquet of fine dining in the form of the Victoria Late Night Shopping Evenings. Reopening the arcades at 6pm, the shopping malls transform, encompassing the chosen theme of the night. Previous years have hosted an array of motifs including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, inspiring whimsical decors of giant sweet treats and candy stripes and New York Night Life which showcased a signature yellow taxi cab, American style food stalls and a Frank Sinatra imitator who harmonized brilliantly with a large jazz band. Other memorable moments came from Movie Night – complimented with infamous film soundtracks, an adorable popcorn stand and a giant gold Oscar statue perfect for a photo op, and Disco Deluxe with show stopping mirrored balls, rotating a spectacular spectrum of colour, whilst the electronic synthesizers of the 70’s inspired band spewed out Abba classics.
Whilst an uncommon sight placed elsewhere, it is no rarity to feast one’s eyes upon alluring stilt performers, glittery faced dancers, a suited-and-booted chorus of sensational singers or carnival-clad entertainers. The Victoria Quarter truly spares no expense in providing a remarkable evening, the evidence being the growing crowds that gather at the gates impatient, all wanting a slice of the Hollywood glamour provided in the midst of the nightlife of Leeds. Most come dressed to the nines, as though Fashion Week itself was being hosted through County Arcade, with patent purses in hand. A real Sex and the City vibe comes to mind. Store fronts are laced with thin necked glasses of champagne and plentiful plates arranged neatly with cakes and confection, for the Victoria Late Night Shopping Event is a fantastic opportunity to snag a bargain. All participating stores offer a substantial discount, goodie bags or a gift with purchase that is ordinarily unavailable outside of the event.
Whilst the themes are rolled out, a sense of excitement flutters in clients and store staff alike – a feeling comparable to awaiting the perfect time to unravel a wrapped gift. And this autumn was no exception. The fifth of October boasted its most breath-taking after-hours event yet. Headlining the shopping affair were special guests former Strictly Come Dancing professionals Ola and James Jordan. Ola sported a vibrant purple and green feathered dress, perfectly swaying as she swirled, and later having a swift wardrobe change to a skimpy magenta number. The married duo dominated and dazzled with their moves all in favour of the La La Land inspired motif. The hit movie won every category for which it was nominated at the Golden Globes earlier this year, and thus it aligned perfectly with the prestigious ideology the Victoria Quarter sought after. Emma Stone’s character portrayal of Mia in the musical masterpiece was incorporated through an ocean of yellow dresses sported on several dancers and information guides.
Fancy food was in no short supply, with Amorino domineering palates across the event with their delicious offerings of sweet gelato desserts and warm Italian coffee. Their signature gelato flower proved a popular fan favourite, with customers taking pictures for their friends to admire before having the first lick. Their counters were devilishly tempting with an assortment of colourful macarons, waffles and chocolate drizzled crepes.
Taking to the polished twinkling blue lit stage, the audience was treated to a performance by the Lollipops, a vintage vocal quartet who delightfully sang a broad range of music in their unique angelic style. Their outfits were just as noteworthy – retro 50’s inspired dresses of pistachio green, velvet red and happy yellow with white frilled gloves to match, like they had been styled straight out of Grease. West 4 Jazz – a highly talented group of musicians entertained crowds with their lively swing tunes, whilst a roaming brass band blasted out some familiar songs in plummy spirit. Slowing down the pace, a classical pianist gifted ears with some beautiful melodies. Meanwhile, over at Victoria Gate, live portrait drawings were designed by Buttercrumble (a local graphic design and illustrations company), whom created memento portraits for guests. Aspinal of London also partook in a contest in which one lucky winner was selected to receive their £700 ‘Hepburn’ Bag.
The Coach store saw a bustling evening, with customers queuing up to steal a glance at the latest range of leather goods produced and fronted by singing siren Selena Gomez. Molton Brown also held a highly occupied night with champagne service and a great gift with purchase, consisting of their trademark Christmas baubles. Opposite to the bath, body & beauty connoisseurs is Shade Station, the UK’s largest accessory retailer. Their flagship store holds an impressive selection of sunglasses from brand royalty Chanel, Prada, Gucci and timepieces from Emporio Armani, Versace and Hugo Boss. But it was the latest ‘Moody’ range launched by Welder that had people flocking in for their out-of-this-world photochromic glass that changes appearance according to the angle of light or colour of your outfit.
The dancing carried on late into the night, but came to its close when the gleaming star projections from County Arcade’s bridges switched off. Another year, another fabulous jam-packed evening presented by Victoria Leeds. But even with exhausted arms bundled with luxury goods and tired feet from all the exploring, the burning question on everyone’s lips is this – what will the next theme be? Bigger and better – and that is a promise. The countdown to the spring’s shopping affair is officially on.
As they say in tinsel town, there is no business like show business, but the Victoria Shopping Affair can beg to differ.