Detailfilter: early 90s London and Paris
January 24, 2017 11:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a story with scenes set in London and Paris in 1993-ish and would like some help with what it was like back then. Snowflakes inside.

My story (eh, who am I kidding, it's Harry Potter fanfic) is set mostly in the magical world, with the exception of two scenes: one in which four characters (two familiar with the Muggle world, two not) go shopping in Muggle London, and another where a group of characters (most of whom have never been to Paris before, a couple of whom speak French, and one a native French person - no, not Fleur :D) spend a day in Eurodisney and Muggle Paris. Since I would have been five at the time, and also in India, I'd like some advice on how to make sure there aren't any glaring anachronisms.

- The London trip will mostly centre around Charing Cross Road and Harrods. What would have been a good place to take (needing to present reasonably upper-class) teenage girls shopping for clothes and shoes?

- They have dinner in Muggle London. While I'm tempted to just feed them fish and chips and call it a day, I also like the idea of suggesting they go somewhere reasonably fancy.

- As for Eurodisney, I know Space Mountain wasn't installed until 1995, so would there have been much to surprise and delight purebloods before then, especially ones with little to no knowledge of the Muggle world?

- I've been to Paris, but only very recently, so I'm not sure what a bunch of older teens in the 1990s would have been into doing. The museums will probably rate a trip of their own; this time I'd probably focus on clothes, pretty things in general, and a good meal.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Tamanna to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It depends who is doing the taking, I think. Are the kids picking these destinations themselves, or is someone who knows London doing the taking?

1/ Selfridges or Harvey Nichols (affectionately known as Harvey Nicks.) Selfridges had the Miss Selfridge concessions in 1995, so your characters would be shopping popular high street teenage girl clothing within a posh department store. I can't remember what concessions were at Harvey Nichols.

2/ Maybe Rules (the ghosts would be amazing, and there is huge round wheeled around on carts.) Or if you want something less formal, Wagamama was around; it has always appealed to teenagers, and the eating from long communal tables has Hogwarts echos.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:22 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

seconding Harvey Nicks for posh gal shoppage in London, without question. French Connection would have been big around that time, but I can't remember whether it had a concession there in '93; Nicole Farhi certainly would have done, and posh English gals wouldn't be shopping high street brands other than if they were specifically approved within their social circle.

Central Paris is remarkably constant in many ways, especially to people who have never been before. I'd have them traipse the Champs-Elysées, gawp through the windows at the designer boutiques on the Avenue Montaigne and Faubourg St-Honoré and so forth, but dive into the Virgin Megastore for music, and be tempted by McDonalds.
posted by holgate at 12:57 AM on January 25, 2017

Interesting! I would have thought Harrod's for sure (I know M&S and Debenhams skew older.) It's not the girls making the choices, but a 20-something Old Money type. Would that make a difference? They basically need somewhere to go to get a small-but-complete Muggle wardrobe, and For Reasons it needs to be Posh, it's okay if it's not super fashionable, but it does need to look nice.
posted by Tamanna at 1:18 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

It'd be helpful if you clarified posh, I think. If you can watch 4oD, Grayson Perry's In the Best Possible Taste would help sort out the posh/Old Money vs Nice Upper Middle Class thing.

I lived in London in 1994. Definitely Harvey Nicks & Miss Selfridges. Peter Jones & the whole Sloane Square area would also be a possibility for Old Money. Harrod's even then had a whiff of wealth tourism and Nouveau Riche (this is set before the whole Diana/Dodi thing).

I don't remember Charing Cross Road as being particularly upmarket (I mainly remember some huge bargain bookshops) apart from Foyles and the bit by the Galleries.
posted by kariebookish at 2:38 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Harrods has had an image of being touristy, stuffy, self-important, and trading more on its name than its actual quality for a long time. They used to used to turn away people wearing jeans, and would occasionally get in the papers after refusing service to a film star (I seem to remember Kate Winslet?). So if your old money 20-something is a Londoner, I don’t think it’s the natural choice.

Having said that, it would have been a perfectly sensible place to go and buy some muggle outfits if it happened to be convenient, it just had a slightly naff image even then.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:48 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would have thought Harrod's for sure (I know M&S and Debenhams skew older.)

Please be seated while I share an explanation that makes me sound like a complete asshole.

It's not a question of age, it's a question of class. M&S and Debenhams are B list, mass market department stores. Harrods is for tourists and new money, except for cosmetics and the food hall. Once they sold out their hair salon to a concession, the last of the old money left for less dé classé pastures.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:33 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Maybe they could eat at Aux Charpentiers in Paris. To me, the decor there has a lot of magic, with models and drawings of spires of cathedrals. Otherwise I agree that not much has changed.
I went to eurodisney with my girls about 2000, and it was horrible because of the lines which were literally endless. My kids were small, I think teenagers would have preferred walking around in Paris, looking at shops, sitting at cafés.
posted by mumimor at 5:33 AM on January 25, 2017

I think it depends on whether your coterie are tourists who want to focus on tourist things and their native pals are just babysitting them and keeping them from trouble, or if the dynamic is flipped and the local kids are pulling their friends into a deep dive and wanting to show them the "Real Paris." If you're more into writing the former, then do Virgin Megastore, tea and macaroons at Laduree, and boutiques on the Champs Elysee and call it done. For the latter, a native Parisian teenager would be hanging out in the FNAC in Les Halles over the Virgin Megastore at the Champs Elysee.

If they're hip or slumming, and starting to dip their toe into the burgeoning alternative music scene (the early 90s were a big period for the explosion of indie and dance music in the UK) then they're not only trawling FNAC for new music picks but they also have caught on to the fact that concert and nightclub promoters liked to slip flyers for their next event into the CD and cassette racks for different bands.

They'd also be trawling through the 11th ... Avenue Ledru-Rollin, Roquette, Charonne. all of those little side streets used to be chock a block with anime stores, bohemian clothing boutiques, comics shops, and indie record places. 18 year old me loved hitting up those places in '93. Also, if they're nerdy/bookish, maybe have them wander into Shakespear & Co and discover some hidden room behind a secret bookcase. If there's a bookstore in Paris that would have a secret passage, it's Shakespear & Co.

Similarly, if you want to push your teenagers into more of the quasi-rebellious / "exploring punk because leather jackets and Doc Martens are cool but you don't know if you're angry enough for it" thing then Camden Market and Covent Garden over Harvey Nicks and Selfridges.

Regardless, other things to emphasize -- London and Paris had fewer chains dominating their shopping areas back then. Maybe there's a Benetton and Virgin, but the rest of the cities are dominated by independent shops. Starbucks had not yet begun its quest of world domination, but there were cafes in London that were starting to aim for the Seattle/Pacific Northwest style of espresso bar. Parisian cafes were and are still Parisian cafes. If they're staying in a hotel or other lodging with a TV, they're probably fixed to a channel of music videos that alternates between Europop, dance reggae, Madchester, and the beginnings of what will eventually become EDM
posted by bl1nk at 5:44 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Similarly, if you want to push your teenagers into more of the quasi-rebellious / "exploring punk because leather jackets and Doc Martens are cool but you don't know if you're angry enough for it" thing then Camden Market and Covent Garden over Harvey Nicks and Selfridges.

When I was a teenager in London in 1994, it was Camden Market & Kensington Market for me (*happy memories*).
posted by kariebookish at 5:58 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yes, Charing Cross Road was notably bookshops. Oxford Street is where the big clothing chains are.

Old Bond Street shops?

Actual posh shops would be boutiques in... and there my memory fails me. I know Princess Di favoured the small shops just around the corner from Harrods (but I can't remember the name of the street, darn it!) Take a Streetview trip around Kensington and Chelsea, maybe. Old money types might go to Harvey Nichols or Liberty, but would be more likely to go for tailors/dressmakers/bespoke (the male equivalent would be Savile Row).

See if you can find a copy of Peter York's Sloane Rangers' Handbook, from the mid 80s. He goes into all that stuff in a lot of detail as far as I can remember.

(I loved Wagamama when it first opened, and there was just one of them, near the British Museum - the chain we have now is a pale tenth-generation photocopy of the original. They had a policy of hiring waiting staff who were edgy Far Eastern students, with piercings if possible, mostly likely studying at SOAS, which is nearby. In retrospect, of course, it's deep racist, but there was a cool, orientalist cyberpunk chic to it. And the food tasted great. Though the Tokyo Diner was always more authentic, and is still there, and you can take a Japanese person there without them inevitably rolling their eyes at the crassness of it).
posted by Grangousier at 6:13 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Foyles bookstore was impossible to navigate until they had competition from the now defunct Borders across the street.
posted by brujita at 7:27 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think one of the problems with Harrods as a destination is that it was a huge tourist draw. Not the sort of place that feels super cool when you're a teenager. Also there were some weird, debatably racist British resentments about the ownership of Harrods and the way it was being expanded. (I was a teenage American employed at Harrods in 1994, ask me anything.)
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:52 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Foyles was amazing.

1. It was the only shop in Britain that used the Soviet method for selling, viz: you took your books to one desk. They gave you a ticket. You took the ticket to another desk to pay. Having paid, you took your receipt back to the first desk to collect your books.

2. It was insanely welcoming to shoplifters, many of them the staff. It was rumoured they'd employ pretty much anybody who looked middle-class enough to work in a bookshop (the corollary of this was that they fired people more or less on a whim). The turnover of staff was almost as rapid as the turnover of customers. One of the perks of the job was known to be the ability to walk out with large numbers of books (I was told by people whose first jobs were working there, and who had amassed libraries from it).

3. Yes, it was chaos. Or rather, books were filed by publisher, which was fine if you were looking for something that was definitely from Calder Press, less so if it was a book that could have been Penguin, or maybe Picador or perhaps Macmillan.

It wasn't so much the competition as the fact that the eccentric owner Christina Foyle died.

If you want a detail from Charing Cross Road that would fit in a fantasy story (and you didn't say that you did, but you might) - In one of the second hand book shops (which is a cake shop now), the books that had just come in were in the front of the shop. They were then filed in the back room. Then, if they'd not been bought, they were moved downstairs, at reduced prices. Then the price dropped again, and they moved to a further room downstairs. And again to a further room. Anything that didn't sell after that was moved to a room deep in the bowels of the earth and the price dropped precipitously, although there was literally nothing there that anyone might want to buy, even for ironic reasons. Here the books seemed to be disintegrating into their component molecules, some kind of primordial literary slime. In any case, the smell was extraordinary.

(That's how I remember it, anyway, which is at least as good as Real Life.)
posted by Grangousier at 10:21 AM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

Also, if they're nerdy/bookish, maybe have them wander into Shakespear & Co and discover some hidden room behind a secret bookcase.

I remember Shakespeare & Co. in 1992, and it was exactly like the documentary Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, with random student-age aspiring bohemians emerging from random nooks, and George Whitman unmistakeably himself.
posted by holgate at 2:44 PM on January 25, 2017

In 1992 I was 20 and living in London. I spent a month in Paris with a friend whose family owned the brasserie at (IIRC) this location on Blvd Haussmann. It's not the most unlikely place to end up as it's close to the Opera and other well known locations, but at the time the patronage was totally local so I don't think anyone would have expectations about what it was like. I spent a few minutes looking at maps and street views and that area looks pretty much the same to me now as it did then. The same is true of the brasserie, although it seems minorly refreshed and I suspect there are new owners. You'd only have to erase the nearby Apple Store and Chipotle, I think. Madame G. was in her 40s, average height, trim but strong. She had a slightly broad face, pretty and lovely thick wavy hair that was black with a little gray. Her husband was a little taller than average, thinning fair hair he kept closely cropped. He had a fair complexion and looked like a person who worked hard. I think he managed the kitchen and she ran front of house with maybe a staff of 8-10 total. My friend, their son, looked like Lucky Luke and was very funny.
posted by putzface_dickman at 8:44 PM on January 25, 2017

Oh, wow, thank you so much for all the detailed answers!

If anyone's still reading... the native Frenchwoman and the people taking the girls around London are all Old Money, and so is one of the girls going shopping. She basically needs clothes that won't look out of place visiting grandma - nice and preferably fashionable, but above all Quality.
posted by Tamanna at 10:41 PM on January 25, 2017

Sloane Square / South Ken was and is Sloane Ranger central. There's a list of places where Princess Diana shopped that feels right, though some of it is more 80s than 90s. (Benetton on Ken High St shows up, which would have been the sort of place where Nice Upper Middle and Nice Lower Upper gals shopped; it's the other side of the coin to Laura Ashley.)

That said, Old Money Sloane tends towards functional rather than fashion. Nice little boutiques on Beauchamp Place. Floral skirts, ideally Liberty prints, pastel cardies, Hobbs boots; Hunter wellies, Barbour jackets and padded gilets for the country. As Hadley Freeman writes, it was middle-aged clothes for young people, equal parts girly and mumsy and androgynous (the blouse-jumper combo). The social diary pages of Tatler and Harpers & Queen from that period would tell the tale.

Oh, Monsoon. That had sort of crossed the class divide by the early 90s.
posted by holgate at 11:22 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

In Potter terms, I think what people are trying to express is the class difference between the Malfoys (Old Money), the Potters (Upper Middle Class, though it's most debatable one), the Grangers (Nice Middle Class) and the Weasleys (White Collar Working Class).

AJ Hall's excellent Lust Over Pendle is very, very good on this class distinction. Draco and Hermione have to pretend to be engaged Muggles in order to impress a visiting CEO (just go with it). She pulls up in a fancy Land Rover with a brand-new Barbour jacket and shiny wellies. He walks about in an old jacket from the 1920s.

""Anyway, even if you don't wear this, you can't possibly meet the Patullos in that decrepit tweed object. It looks as though it's been slept in for the last ten years."

"It was you who said 'Emphasise the English aristocrat bit.' (..) I inherited his entire Muggle wardrobe, which he had precision engineered for him in Savile Row at a cost approximately equivalent to the gross national product of Belgium. By some freak of inheritance they happen to fit me perfectly, and if the choice is between wearing them and - and - that, I'm not going to let the minor fact that they're nearly forty years old stop me. "

The class distinction is immediately obvious to everyone.
posted by kariebookish at 3:49 AM on January 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

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