Oh, to visit The Paradise and shop for hand-stitched velvet gloves, tea gowns from Paris and the finest perfumes from Morocco!
I truly could not think of any finer way to spend a day. Especially if I was accompanied by a Lord of the Realm to pay for my purchases, an attentive sales assistant at hand to ferry the parcels to my horse and carriage and a flute of champagne to accompany my high-tea as I recovered from the sublime experience.
Anyone who knows me will tell you of my passion for beautiful department stores.
I’ve been on pilgrimages to the world’s loveliest and declared my wish, that when I die I want to find myself resurrected in New York in Barneys’ shoe department during a half-price sale and every shoe on display is size nine.
I do so adore a spot of bonnet acting too.
So when The Paradise landed – a period drama from the BBC set in one of the world’s first department stores in Northern England, 1870… it had me at: “Hello madam and how may I help you?”
The Paradise comes beautifully wrapped in tissue and silk ribbon – but intriguingly, has some very poignant things to say about consumption, business and, yes, women’s rights.
‘There is a weakness in women which we must exploit for the purposes of business,” says the wily owner of The Paradise, proprietor John Moray. His potential financer in plans for the expansion of The Paradise, Lord Glendenning, says: “Who would imagine that shopping for goods would have such an effect upon women?” Indeed.
The theme being played out today in the roll out of mega-malls and the slow death of the independent retailer is here too.
When Edmund Lovett, who owns the humble drapery store across the street from The Paradise, finds his custom for locally-made goods vanishing, Moray says: “The days of the small shop are dying, Edmund.” “The Paradise is no more than a phantom, a day dream that folks will soon wake up from,” Edmund replies.
Of course, more than a century later, we are still in thrall to the alluring promise of retail palaces that grow ever bigger and shinier.
The business practices of department stores so ubiquitous now – store-wide sales, the advent of personal accounts and the high turn-over of cheap goods – are all in their infancy at The Paradise.
“We sell goods cheaper and cheaper and cheaper? Where will it end?” asks a doubtful manager. “With one person serving another,” Moray replies. In another theme that still has purchase today, there is intrigue about Moray and his treatment of the female staff.
“The day will come when Mr Moray calls you into his office. Be ready,” the store comptroller warns the ingénue sales girl, Denise.
Fast forward to the sexual harassment case against retailer David Jones in 2010 brought by Kristy Fraser-Kirk, believed to have been settled for $850,000.
Of course the ladies who serve at The Paradise have no such recourse and their competition for favour from Moray and the back-story of his wife who died in suspicious circumstances bring a whiff of the sinister to the fragrant comings and goings. And then there is Katherine Glendenning, the richest girl in town, Will Moray marry her for her fortune to advance his plans? “The Paradise will conquer this whole City,” he declares.
But, in the finest tradition of period drama, we watch and wait to see who will conquer his heart? Sigh!
The Paradise is an adaptation of the novel Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola. “Intoxicating” is how the series has been described and as the camera lingers on the details of silk-covered buttons, fine embroidery and delicate stitching on exquisite garments, you can almost reach out and touch them.
If only, for just one glorious afternoon, I was let loose in The Paradise with my Amex.
The Paradise available on DVD March 27.
To celebrate the DVD release of The Paradise, BBC is offering Hoopla subscribers the chance to win 1 of 10 copies of The Paradise on DVD.
You can enter HERE.
*This post is sponsored by Roadshow Australia.
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