10 of London's most interesting shops
London is known for two opposite extremes of shopping -- the highly traditional Saville Row look and ultra individualistic "street" style.
Having spawned both the incredible strictures of the tailored suit and the absolute anarchy of the punk in safety pins, London lets you shop like an aristocrat or an alternative style warrior.
As with all things London, there's no single style or form: shopping here is a glorious mishmash where you can buy everything from precious antiques through bric-a-brac and reclaimed trash to a designer one-off.
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James Smith & Sons
Anyone with even the most glancing command of British culture will know that umbrellas are an important feature of life on these isles.
The umbrellas at James Smith & Sons are to rain protection what the Rolls Royce is to driving.
In business since 1830, this beautiful old shop is packed to the rafters with walking sticks and umbrellas of every shape, size and color. Treat yourself. Just don’t leave it in the pub.
Choice item: A custom-made umbrella with a carved wooden animal head handle (£225/US$364).
53 New Oxford St., WC1A 1BL; +44 020 7836 4731; james-smith.co.uk
The latest British heritage brand to reinvent itself, Sunspel had a little help from agent 007.
In the nineteenth century, Sunspel had a reputation supplying the Empire with high quality cotton undergarments. That reputation was in decline until 2008, when Academy Award-winning costume designer, Lindy Hemming, invited the shop to design a polo shirt to be worn by Daniel Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale.
Since then the shop has supplied all his tighty-whities and T-shirts in which Hemming says he looks “sexy and happy.”
Sea Island cotton underpants start at (£85/US$138).
Choice item: Riviera Polo shirt (£75/US$121).
40 Old Compton St., W1, 7 Redchurch St., E2 7DJ; www.sunspel.com
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Truefitt and Hill
At first glance this shopfront appears to be a museum of shaving brushes.
It is, however, much much more than that -- it's one of the world’s foremost masculine perfumers and hairdressers, and listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s first barber.
You can pick up a bottle of its West Indian Limes Cologne for £40 (US$65) or an antique silver shaving set with badger brush for £200 (US$324) depending on the depth of your pockets and level of grooming need.
Choice item: Traditional shaving soap in wooden bowl (£16.50/US$27).
71 St. James St., SW1A 1PH; +44 020 7493 8496; www.truefittandhill.co.uk
The Old Shoreditch Station
This unisex fashion and lifestyle store is at the heart of what is inevitably called the “Shoreditch hipster heartland," but don’t let that put you off.
It houses a fantastically eclectic collection of mostly homegrown designers of fashion, homeware and gifts, including Hackney-based jeweler Noemi Klein’s beautiful antler rings, sexy librarian sunglasses from Black Eyewear, hip silk scarves from the Jaguarshoes Collective and quirky designer knitwear from Electronic Sheep.
Choice item: Desert boots designed and made in collaboration with Clarks Originals in soft navy suede that come with an artist designed pair of socks (£89/US$144).
1 Kingsland Road, E2 8AA
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Neal’s Yard Dairy
What links the Stinking Bishop to Stichelton and the Lincolnshire Poacher?
Not characters in a lost work by Conan Doyle, but British cheeses and the main feature in this temple to cheese.
Every single great wheel or little mound of cheese that sits atop wooden shelf or marble counter in this store was made in the British Isles. Oddly, the first customer to the original shop in Covent Garden was Monty Python’s John Cleese.
He was sent away with yogurt as that was all they’d managed to muster that day.
Choice item: A whole Colston Bassett Stilton, eight kilos (£120/US$194), or a quarter weighing just under two kilos, (£36/US$58).
6 Park St., SE1 9AB; +44 0207 367 0798; www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk
Dover Street Market
Dover Street Market exemplifies both the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover” and the heady culture clash that is London shopping.
It is, on the outside, an exquisitely elegant Georgian townhouse and, on the inside, six floors of stripped-down industrial space.
The brainchild of Comme des Garçons designer, Rei Kawakubo, Dover Street Market is an art installation masquerading as boutique. Packed with fashion, books, art and jewelry, it showcases the brightest talents from around the world.
Choice item: Comme des Garçons Bright Star wallet (£122/US$198).
17-18 Dover St., W1S 4LT; +44 0207 518 0680; www.doverstreetmarket.com
Are all hatters mad? Or just the English ones?
These are imponderable questions, but eccentricity certainly seems a snug fit with the UK’s millinery world.
Bernstock Speirs have been selling witty headgear to the beau monde for the past 30 years. The shop has collaborated on collections with Richard Nicoll, Emma Cook, Agnes B and Jean-Paul Gaultier, and customers include Tilda Swinton, Kirsten Dunst, Kylie Minogue, Marion Cotillard, Karl Lagerfeld, Victoria Beckham, Sharon Stone and Julie Christie.
Proof perhaps of that old advertising slogan: “You’ve got to get a hat to get ahead.”
Choice item: Veil beanie (£70/US$113).
234 Brick Lane, E2 7EB; +44 020 7739 7385; www.bernstockspeirs.com
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The Society Club
This archetypal eccentric English bookshop and gallery is set in a slightly louche Bohemian sitting room.
It stocks an eclectic range of books from rare signed first editions to the latest London novels. Set among the stripclubs of Soho, it also specializes in vintage erotica, along with Bloomsbury set literature, Charles Bukowski and Rupert Brooke.
There will probably be a dog or two asleep in the corner, a hot new exhibition on the walls and artists and writers discussing their life and times. If you can, arrive at cocktail o’clock when staff get out the pink gin and host salons, openings, events and readings.
Choice item: The Society Club has just published a limited edition of its first book, “Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pickpockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks” by Leee Black Childers (£100/US$162).
The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place Soho, W1F 0JF; +44 020 7437 1433, www.thesocietyclub.com
Also known as the less snappy but more explanatory "The London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company," this vast emporium is set in an eighteenth-century mansion in Vauxhall just across the river from the Houses of Parliament.
You could buy yourself some of the wooden trimmings that once furnished parliament or a table that once stood in the British library reading rooms.
It's particularly good for fireplaces and chandeliers, but also has plenty of beautiful features that would fit in hand luggage.
Choice item: Massive brass lion doorknocker (£950/US$1,540); south Persian tribal rug (£235/US$380).
Brunswick House, 30 Wandsworth Road, SW8; +44 020 7394 2100; www.lassco.co.uk
Persiflage, Alfies Antique Market
London is vintage heaven -- East End vintage stores are full of fashion students picking over lost styles for inspiration; Camden market shops are more for the fun retro seeker; stores within Alfie’s Antique Market are for the serious and discerning shopper in search of designer gems from years gone by.
Persiflage has been going for 25 years and has an amazing mix of quality pieces from the 1920s through to the 1980s.
Choice item: 1970s black Jean Varon black and silver long dress (£75/US$122).
Persiflage, Alfie’s Antique Market, 13-25 Church St., NW8 8DT
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