May 08, 2023

Interior reflections: Prada Caffè at Harrods

The new Prada Caffè is the latest trinket adorning the behemoth that is Harrods department store in central London. The Milan-based fashion house has opened a café designed by the brand's in-house team, with its own shopfront and entrance but sitting inside the store's footprint.

Part of a growing trend, it joins other bibelots on the site, such as the Tiffany Blue Box Cafe by London-based architecture and design studio Mark Pinney Associates, which opened in 2020, as fashion houses continue their land grab into interiors.

Prada Caffè faces on to Hans Road, on the southern side of the entire city block that Harrods occupies. It appears slotted into a square opening in the Edwardian terracotta façade, framed by swagged double columns beneath a 1911 decorative frieze.

Its modern, illuminated grid of glazing and latticed shopfrontery in pale pistachio green sits like yet another candied fruit in the already liberally fruited cake that is Harrods.

The store was designed by CW Stephens and completed in 1905. Its Neo-Baroque façade includes various sequencing of bays, a giant pediment and dome in the middle of the Brompton Road stretch, balustrades, grand entrances, curved balconies and turreted corners – all modelled as elements in the continuous decorative treatment of terracotta blocks (meticulously restored by Make Architects in 2019).

Not only is the Prada Caffè itself a jewel in the Harrods crown, it also embraces the abundance of detail that envelopes the bigger building. Perhaps the success of such modern interventions into historic contexts hinges on dealing in the same density of detailing as the larger scheme, even if referencing a different style or era.

The Prada Caffè sits at the bottom of a tower which rises through the façade, featuring a heady Neo-Baroque mix of carved balconies, broken pediments, sculptural crests, three bays of bipartite windows, egg-and-dart cornicing, dentils and carved relief panels. The café looks simultaneously new and almost camouflaged in its surfeit of ornamental detailing with its contemporary façade giving way to an Art Nouveau-meets-Art Deco interior.

Inside is a reproduction of the black-and-white chequered floor of the original Prada boutique on Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, the brand having been founded in 1913, only a few short years after Harrods was completed. A rear room features floral bas-reliefs on the walls and banquette seating with black marble tables under a decorative stucco dome.

The walls, ceilings and velvet-upholstered sofas and armchairs come in varying shades of the benighted green colour of the season.

A large marble service bar runs one side of the café, clad with textured white panels mottled like the grain of leather. The counter, and shelving behind, display Prada-branded haute-patisseries presented akin to fine jewellery and luxury handbags.

A mezzanine balcony, with bellied balustrade, curves across the space supported on decorative columns.

Even the tableware is original and exclusive, selected by Prada to match the surroundings and featuring eau-de-nil Japanese porcelain and blown-glass crystal glassware sporting the signature Prada triangular pattern.

The intricate details of the interior and the cakes themselves nicely complement the decorative context of Harrods. A cohesive surface of ornament holds together as you navigate from street, past the counter, up to the balcony or through the rear room. Everything blends stylistically – when all is ornamental, nothing is.

In the past, luxury fashion approached architecture by commissioning the profession's global stars to design exhibition spaces; witness Prada's own Fondazione in Milan, a gilded OMA creation, or Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris – a bijou in LVMH's collection.

Prada's goal with this project is ‘to add a new dimension to the brand and offer customers a unique experience’. For the person who already has a wardrobe full of Prada? A £6.25 cup of tea, an exclusive cream cake and impossible to get a booking for months. Ornament on ornament, in arguably the country's greatest temple to ornament.

And yet, the café is only here until January 2024. In recent discourse positing what true luxury is, by general agreement the answer partly lies in long-lasting quality. From an architectural standpoint, to create in the anthropocene, the profession finds itself increasingly occupied with questions of lifespan, sustainability, energy efficiency and net zero. If luxury is the ability to create timelessness and trust, it's surely the longevity and efficiency of a project that redeems the damage of construction and operational emissions, leaving the lightest, chicest footprint. The trouble is though, what to send down the catwalk of infinite growth next season?

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Tagscolour and finishes fit-out and interiors harrods London

Fran Williams