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The sale of Harrods, announced today, signals the end of an era—not just in the simple transference of property, but in the reign of former owner Mohamed Al Fayed, along with all the obsessions, fantasies, neuroses, and ideas that made the legendary department store what it is today.
"Harrods itself is a temple to Al Fayed's ego," writes WWD. "There’s the eerily lifelike wax sculpture of the man in his signature double-breasted suit on the men’s wear floor; the glitzy Egyptian Hall and escalator more suited to Disney World than Knightsbridge, and the multiple in-house monuments to the death of his son Dodi and Princess Diana in 1997. Last month, he told The Sunday Times of London that he wanted to be entombed in a mausoleum on the roof of the store—a dream he expressed almost from the moment he bought it."
Al Fayed was always neurotic about safety, say insiders. The famously state-of-the-art security system in the store comprises 500 CCTV cameras, bugged telephones, and barriers to block cell phone waves. In September, 2007, a real live cobra snake was installed in front of a pair of Rene Caovilla shoes to protect them.
Other idiosyncrasies that developed under Al Fayed's ownership include charging customers $1.50 to use the toilets (a short-lived policy) and banning backpacks (worn on two straps—backpacks could be brought in if worn only on one shoulder).
· Mohamed Al Fayed: A Wild and Crazy Guy [WWD]