Expressions of love – flowers, gifts and fancy meals – are mainstays of Valentine’s Day but, Claire Smith finds, casserole pans and pants will also be important tomorrow as the economy gets a massive mid-February boost
AT ROGUE FLOWERS, a florist in the West End of Edinburgh, Jackie Hutchinson and Caroline Hepburn-Scott have spent the whole morning taking thorns off armfuls of long-stemmed Naomi roses. Bouquets containing a dozen of the red, heavily scented blooms sell for £75 and there is already a row of ready-wrapped bunches filling the shop with their heady perfume.
Owner Alice Shaw is expecting another delivery from Holland and says she and her staff may be working until 3am to put together the last-minute orders for Valentine’s Day. “Probably because it’s men it will all be a bit last-minute. We tend to get a lot of orders the day before and on the day itself.”
It may have obscure origins in the life of an early Christian martyr but Valentine’s Day has been a time for romantic cards and presents since the Victorian era. But it is an unpredictable feast. Shaw says: “Christmas and Mother’s Day are also very busy for us, but with them you have a lot of advance warning. With Valentine’s Day you never know, it’ll be quiet, then all of a sudden there will be a rush of people.”
The florist has ordered hundreds of extra flowers from her suppliers and expects sales of bouquets of roses and other flowers to triple or even quadruple tomorrow. “Last Valentine’s Day we had an order for a hundred roses. It was a proposal, but we don’t know what the outcome was.”
For vendors of chocolates, cards, underwear and roses, the 14th of February is a welcome filip in the retail calendar. Seven years ago, at the height of the economic boom, the British Retail Consortium calculated Valentine’s Day brought an extra £1.3bn in sales to retailers in the UK. The BRC no longer produces Valentine’s Day figures – but spokesman Richard Dodd says it continues to be a significant day for business.
“Valentine’s Day gives an important post-Christmas boost to retailers in a number of sectors. It is good for sales of cards, flowers, chocolates and all kinds of gifts. Any boost at what would be a quiet time of year is pretty welcome.”
This year Marks & Spencer have chosen Valentine’s Day to launch their new range of Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) – which allows £22 bouquets of red roses to be transported without water. M&S flower expert Charlotte Curtis says the water-free packaging is more environmentally friendly: “It means that 25 per cent less lorries will be needed to deliver these bouquets.
“We plan to sell 17,000 bouquets in MAP this Valentine’s Day and eventually with all flowers sold online.”
Although men are more likely to buy traditional gifts of flowers and chocolates, women often splash out on a set of new underwear for themselves as a special Valentine’s Day treat. Sales of lingerie in Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols were up 145 per cent last week.
Gemma Hare, marketing manager of Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh, says: “We have seen a real increase in the amount of lingerie sold in the last two weeks and a lot of the time it has been women buying for themselves for Valentine’s Day.”
She says Stella McCartney and Aubade sets have been particularly popular. “We had one woman in last week who spent £500 on herself. A lot of women are buying something for a special occasion.”
Debenhams report an increase in bodyshaping underwear, with sales up 125 per cent in the past two weeks. Sharon Webb, head of lingerie buying and design, says new sexy designs have revolutionised shapewear. “These days it’s more Bridget Bardot than Bridget Jones. In fact, gone are the days that shapewear is regarded as a faux pas and it’s no longer a negative thing for a man to buy it for a woman. It’s all about sexy shapewear now.”
Lots of couples make a special effort to go out on Valentine’s Day and Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles has been fully booked for months. One table is booked for six – with three couples who celebrate together every year. Manager Dale Dewsbury says: “It is one of those strange dates in the restaurant calendar because you tend to get a lot of couples. We used to do a themed menu but we decided that was a bit cheesy. What people want to come here for is a really nice meal for a special occasion rather than to eat something like a heart shaped dessert.”
Meanwhile, other Valentines prefer to celebrate at home. Online homeware company Wayfair reports a leap in the numbers of people buying Le Creuset casserole dishes. Managing director Joel Stevenson says that research carried out by the company suggests many people buy new cookware to prepare a special Valentine’s Day meal at home: “Unlike any other time of the year, kitchenware consistently out-sells all other homeware items in the run-up to Valentine’s Day… Do British couples prefer giving and receiving practical gifts versus traditional flowers and chocolates? The findings may also mean more couples are choosing to save money by cooking their loved ones a romantic meal at home rather than dine out.”
Being short of money is no excuse this Valentine’s Day, as many supermarkets have launched bargain ranges. Tesco has roses for £1, while a bunch of 12 from Lidl costs just £3. Tesco, Asda and Morrisons are offering a dozen for a fiver, while £10 will buy you a bottle of Asda’s Louvel Fontaine Champagne.
And despite the ubiquity of e-mail and social networks it seems people still like to send cards through the post in the time-honoured fashion.
According to research from the Royal Mail, Glasgow is the most romantic city in Scotland – with Glaswegians sending 11.7 per cent more mail on 13 February. Relationship expert Sarah Abell says: “When it comes to expressing your love in words nothing comes close to a handwritten card. Valentine’s texts, Facebook messages or e-cards just don’t compare.”
Lord Provost of Glasgow Sadie Docherty says she is not surprised by the research – especially because remains kept at St John Duns Scotus church in the Gorbals are said to be those of St Valentine. In recognition of this, Glasgow Council has suggested Glasgow should be rebranded the City of Love.
She says: “This St Valentine’s tale simply proves that the people of Glasgow aren’t afraid to express their passions. Our reputation for romance is well known and with the remains of St Valentine resting in our city we continue to be proud of our association with the patron saint of love.”