New York City’s FAO Schwartz may be the best America has to offer, but we are still lacking when it comes to the progressive design and over-the-top fun factor Harrods’ new Toy Kingdom offers shoppers. Especially when the holidays are slowly creeping towards us and consumers are being increasingly more particular when it comes to where and how they spend their money.
Opening last week, Toy Kingdom was revamped by Singapore and London based design firm Shed Design, who created the 26,000 square foot space as a “retail theatre” organized by themes rather than sex. Using lighting and atmospheric music to transition from one area to the next, shoppers can wander from The Big Top, where a candy-striped carousel stage will showcase children’s entertainers and authors, to the the twinkling fairy noises and dappled light of the Enchanted Forest to the Odyssey, an area where a gigantic space rocket crashed through the floor and a huge sun bursts through the wall in front of an Area 51-inspired space and gadget zone, complete with alien space pods and limited-edition pieces. All though Britain’s oldest toy store Hamley’s removed their gender specific signage, Harrod’s has taken it a million steps further by revamping their whole shopping experience by catering to parents who want to shop for toys based on play value rather than gender.
Not only does the new space sell every toy imaginable, but there is a reading room with cubbies where children can crawl in and hear snippets from beloved children’s books, as well as a giant candy shop where kids can select everything from candy building blocks to gigantic larger than life lollipops. I love the idea of a toy store being a “4-D” shopping experience where selecting a toy is transformed into an event, and it seems like the idea of just visiting there would be a special experience compared to what most parents are subjected to: the overcrowded aisles and harsh lights of places like Walmart and Toys-R-Us. Judging from the photographs, Harrods has created a place where imagination is ignited and kids feel like they are transformed into a magical place just for them. Sure, the end game of any retailer is making a profit off the items they sell. But wouldn’t you rather spend your money at a place that recognizes that not all kids need to have their trucks and dolls segregated into areas marked “Toys For Boys” and “Toys For Girls?” The only issue addressed thus far is the complaint that the store employees have pink and blue t-shirts as uniforms, and yeah you guessed it, pink for women and blue for men.
When questioned about this decision, David Miller, director of Harrods’ Home, replied:
“We are not stopping our female members of staff wearing a boy T-shirt, should they want to,” he said, adding: “Although they are a different cut.” So there were no gender connotations whatsoever in the choice? “No, none at all.”
Despite the staff uniforms, it sounds like Toy Kingdom is the type of destination shopping experience most parents can get behind: a gender neutral wonderland that captures the magic of childhood. Where stopping in to buy a book or toy should be special, a treat, rather than a bribe a lot of us parents resort to while picking up detergent and breakfast cereal.