THIRTY years ago, in March 1988, the celebrated London fashion designer Katharine Hamnett spoke of her plans for her new Glasgow shop, in the about-to-open Princes Square.

She said that the environment for women who were shopping for clothes had to be seductive. Not for her the “cold, high-tech” approach used in some shops, which, she said, merely succeeded in intimidating them. So for her Glasgow shop she had asked the architect to “create the kind of warm, subtly decorative, post-Gaudi ambience where people walk in and say, ‘Oh God, I wish I lived here.’ I want them to browse, and I want to have a bookcase or two where men will find something interesting to read while they sit and wait.”

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Hamnett’s words give a measure of the expectations that surrounded Princes Square in 1988. A print advert for the shopping centre said it was intended as a “celebration of all that is good about modern design and specialist retailing”; its first shops included Hamnett, Whistles, Viyella, Entice, Different Things, Nancy Smillie and Ted Baker, to say nothing of various restaurants.

The centre’s strikingly elegant, glass-roofed interior, the work of Hugh Martin & Partners, was something else, too. To quote from the book Scotstyle: 100 Years of Scottish Architecture (edited by Neil Baxter and Fiona Sinclair): “The combination of the symmetrical criss-cross escalators, spiral staircases and towering vertical white pillars creates a most enjoyable experience. The glass roof allows daylight to penetrate the vast internal atrium ... “ As for the giant metal peacock that dominates the Buchanan Street frontage, it is in sharp contrast to the “restrained and elegant building ...Indeed, it begins the exciting and unexpected Art Nouveau theme that continues inside.”

The centre was officially opened by Prince Charles on Friday, April 29, 1988, after he and the Princess of Wales had performed the royal opening of the Glasgow Garden Festival. Charles, who never carried money, had to borrow £1 in order to use a shoe-shine stand within the centre. A Glasgow Herald editorial the following morning described Princes Square as “surely one of the finest of its kind in Europe and a great achievement by all who have helped create it.”

The original buildings that house the Square were made up of a four-storey merchant square built in yellow sandstone and completed in 1841 by James Campbell. Campbell was knighted by Queen Victoria and later became Lord Provost of Glasgow. He marked the birth of the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII, by naming his new building Princes Square.

READ MORE: Memories of the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival

Glasgow-based freelance journalist, tour guide and travel writer Andrea Pearson is highly familiar with the history of Princes Square, having staged walking tours that delve deep into its past. “Apparently Campbell was the first merchant to actually put a price on goods,” she says. “Up until that point, people used to haggle. Today, when you go to certain places abroad, and have to haggle, you think it’s very archaic, but it’s not that long ago that we were doing exactly the same thing in this country. Campbell was the first to say, ‘I’m not going to do that, I’m going to stick a price on things’, and that’s what led to his success. People didn’t want to waste time haggling.”

Pearson, who was born in Glasgow but was raised in Kent, returned to the city in 1988. “I had just assumed that [Princes Square] was normal back then, and it’s only now, when you look back, that you realise how completely different it was, and how there hasn’t really been anything to match it since.

“The masterstroke was doing that huge glass ceiling, which is unbelievable. No-one else has really done that. When you go into other places, where they have tried to put roofs on things, it’s dark, and it’s often a quite oppressive environment.

“Princes Square has been able to react to things quite quickly,” Pearson continues. “It’s like a town in microcosm. So now, whereas they would once have envisaged the terraces in the square as spaces where you could relax amongst some greenery, as some of the original architect’s drawings had it, the terraces have become like an Italian piazza. It’s where people can sit and relax; there’s all that natural light flooding in through the roof, so it feels very pleasant.

“And when you go in in summer or winter, the temperature is always nice, so it does have that holiday feel. By contrast, although the city has taken to eating and drinking outside, with the best will in the world, if you’re sitting under canvas with a wee heater blasting away, it feels like a nightmare holiday from the seventies.”

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Like many others, Pearson believes that the design of Princes Square is “mind-blowing”, and one that has not, moreover, dated. “It looks modern and has been beautifully maintained. It’s like when you go into Cafe Gandolfi - that hasn’t changed either, but it still looks very modern.”

Two years ago Princes Square was named as Scotland’s Favourite Building in a public vote held by the Royal Incorporation of Architects as part of its Festival of Architecture.

The centre has recently announced a new , distinctly cultural, addition. The independent Everyman Cinemas chain is to open its first Scottish cinema there, in a large unit vacated by the Dwell modern-furniture shop, next to the D’Arcy’s, Il Pavone and Pizza Express restaurants. The cinema will have three intimate auditoriums, seating 95, 74 and 36 customers respectively, and is expected to open in the autumn. It is part of a move, observes Pearson, to “much more of a night-time economy, and with many more bars and restaurants than there used to be.”

Andrew Foulds, Portfolio Director for Redevco, the owners of Princes Square, said the new cinema would add a leisure dimension to its “premium retail and restaurant mix”: Princes Square had “prided itself on leading the retail and leisure environment in Glasgow’s vibrant city centre for 30 years and brands like Belstaff, Vivienne Westwood, Space NK, Karen Millen and COS already bring a unique retail environment to the city.” Redevco had purchased the centre in 2007 in a £107 million deal that also included a nearby office development.

The Katherine Hamnett store, however, left in early 1998; a report in The Herald quoted a spokeswoman as saying that the mix of shops in Princes Square was changing” and that it appeared that the centre’s then-new proprietors “want to attract more affordable High Street clothing names as opposed to designer names. It is important for us to be somewhere where the mix is right.’’

READ MORE: Memories of the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival

The Hamnett unit is now occupied by The Pen Store. The shop first opened at Princes Square in December 1988, in a smaller unit on the floor below its current one. “This is the best site, I think, in the centre,” says Mags Fenlon, the manager, and she may well be right. She began working in the shop as a Saturday worker, 28 years ago, when she was a student. “My mother had worked in the Pen Shop back then and she got me in as a Saturday girl,” she says. “I then did full-time over the summer, and they went to open a few more stores and they asked me if I would like to manage one of them. It’s been great to have worked here for so long,” she adds.

“It’s such a lovely centre, and it has always kept up its appearances. It has changed owners a few times but it has been maintained really well. It has had some great shops in it over the years - shops that you don’t always get in the High Street, either.” Her colleague, Geraldine Mason, used to do promotional work for various companies. The year after Princes Square opened, she was asked to do work for Sheaffer, the pen company, and that led to a job in the Pen Shop. Both women are particularly taken with the Square’s Christmas displays. “Even if you don’t shop in Princes Square, you come here to the tree and all the lovely decorations and the reindeer parade. Christmas is a really special time here. People come from all over to see it.”

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The Pen Shop (, then, is one of a select handful of stores that have been in the Square since 1988. “Crabtree & Evelyn has always been here,” says Mason. “Ted Baker too.” Says Fenlon: “Even though it might be thought that people aren’t writing as much as they used to, and are more and more digital, that has never affected us. There are so many special occasions throughout the year when people buy pens as special gifts.” Well-known customers have included Billy Connolly (“he was here last Wednesday”), Derren Brown, Rangers and Celtic players and managers, actors, and one Nicola Sturgeon. “We treat them like everybody else, though,” says Geraldine.

For Andrea Pearson, being able to lean on the Princes Square balustrade and take in the surroundings is a simple pleasure in itself. She was in the centre last Sunday and spotted a man doing just that, gazing out from a balustrade, lost in a day-dream. “There was a woman in one of the clothes shops,” she says. “She was knocking on the window to get his attention; she didn’t want to come out in her dress and bare feet. So I had to go and tap him on his shoulder and tell him.”