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The Times Shopper

Catching the Famous London Sales

January 12, 1986|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer.

The Christmas lights still outline Harrods famous silhouette, but caroling mannequins and toy displays have been removed from store windows, now filled with bargains.

When Harrods doors opened at 9 a.m. on Jan. 8th, a stampede of savvy shoppers, eager to get their first pick of Harrods' sale merchandise, surged through the selling floors. The annual sale has become a part of English holiday tradition, and one of the premiere shopping events of the world.

Shoppers line up outside several days in advance to secure an advantageous place. There are even professional queuers, many of whom stand in line for charity.

The buys are that good. This year Harrods offered a Russian sable coat, regularly around $50,000, for about $15,000. The problem with that sort of high visibility item is that frequently it is one of a kind. But such spectacular, attention-getting bargains are backed up with substantial supplies of merchandise, ranging from the practical to the sublime.

Harrods is one of the world's best-stocked department stores and the sale is storewide. In addition to regular merchandise, Harrods also stocks special purchases for the sale. Millions of dollars worth of goods are reduced as much as 50%. And for Americans, the savings are even greater because purchases qualify for the Value Added Tax refund (usually about 16%) when merchandise is exported.

Holds Merchandise

Don't worry if you weren't there for the first day of the sale. Harrods holds merchandise for release throughout the sale, which, like other London post-holiday sales, lasts through January. It's a good idea to plan what you'd like to buy, so you can cut through the crowds to the right counter or boutique.

Sale merchandise varies from year to year, depending upon certain seasonal factors. If, for example, the London winter has been mild, you can count on uncovering a large assortment of cover-ups, ranging from sweaters to coats. If the winter has been severe, largest stocks might be in the china department.

This year, women's cashmere coats are selling for $220 (less than half price), cashmere pullovers are $85, silk blouses are $58, silk dresses are $120, silk robes are $31. For men, full-length lambskin coats are half priced at $588 and the Matinique collection of trousers, jackets and sweaters is all half price.

For the man who has everything, Sheaffer's 18-carat solid gold pen set is reduced from $5,400 to $2,700.

In the household department you'll find Orrefors Swedish crystal goblets for $24 and Haviland's 29-piece China dinner set, in the Florence pattern, reduced 33% to $246. Harrods stainless steel knives at $15. From the famous Food Halls you'll get cheeses to cut for half price, as well as biscuits, teas, sweets and other comestibles.

Harrods' sales are legendary, but it's not the only game in town. Fortnum & Mason (181 Picadilly, S.W.), the bastion of conservative good taste and social graces, does not call its annual clearance a sale. It does not stock additional supplies for the event, nor does it encourage huge crowds of shoppers. All of the sale merchandise is on the selling floors from the first day, Jan. 2. There are selected items of regular stock, many exclusive, some that are being discontinued, in all departments.

This year, women will find Jaeger clothing reduced by one-third, Casadel shoes for $90, Christian Dior silk scarfs for $41. Men will find Tommy Nutter off-the-peg suits at half price, as well as one-third off cotton business shirts and casual wear. Cotton pajamas cost $50.

For the home, Richard Ginori Pink Ribbon dinner service for six is selling for $1,382, coffee bean roasters are $33, Copco saucepans $14. Selected leather luggage, overnight cases and handbags are one-third off, ranging from $96 to $170. Fortnum & Mason foodstuffs are not reduced, but there's an attractive sale on selected wines, by the case.

Signaled by Chimes

Selfridges' (Oxford Street) sale started Dec. 27. A 10-piece brass band lifted the spirits of shoppers as they waited in line for the 9 a.m. opening, signaled by the chimes of Selfridges' famous Queen of Time clock. The store stays open late during the sale, and keeps the event fresh by releasing additional merchandise periodically.

Women will find 10% off Burberry fashions, Norbert Nel cashmere coats for $325, cashmere sweaters cost $93, lambswool sweaters are $39, Parigi dresses from $45 to $60, silk dresses are $155. Valentino mink coats are reduced from $11,025 to $5,590. Cojana Italian two-piece knit suits are $147.

Men's Christian Dior suits are half price, Chester Barrie suits 20% off, Saint-Laurent and Ungaro silk ties are half price, Van Heusen cotton shirts cost $22, Bolero fancy boxer shorts $8, plus other reductions in shoes, accessories, casual wear for men and women.

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