They say that Paris and Milan are the shopping capitals of the world, especially when it comes to fashion. But I have to disagree. For this lover of all things elegant and divine, London simply has the best shopping in the world. Everywhere you turn there is one gorgeous store after another.
Someone once asked me my favorite place to shop in London, and I replied “Any place with a cash register.” I I just love to shop and I am not in the least bit snobby about where. Whether you like flea markets or department stores, London has it all.
The British invented the department store, so you have plenty of opportunities to part with your pounds. Here are my favorites.
Selfridges & Co., 400 Oxford Street. This huge department store has every brand imaginable as well as many emerging British designers. The men’s floor alone seems several football fields large, with dress shirts by Eton, a great shoe shop and a very inspiring “super brands” area with lots of Dior, Comme des Garçons, Lanvin and the like.
Harvey Nichols, 109 – 125 Knightsbridge. Imagine a Barneys with all the glam goods and then an amazing food emporium on the top level. You can get the best beef and Balenciaga all under one roof. Sign me up.
Liberty, 210 Regent Street. This warren of rooms with their creaky wooden floors brims with famous Liberty print fabrics, clothing, housewares and flowers. It’s a truly unique store that I adore.
Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly. I love the food offered here. All sorts of gourmet jams and chocolates are some of their best offerings. The men’s floor has all manner of gentlemanly goods, laid out on handsome wooden tables. I’m sure this must be where HRH the Prince of Wales gets his shoe horns and umbrellas.
London is famous for its open-air markets. One of the best of the best is the Portobello Market, adjacent to the yummy enclave of Notting Hill. On Saturdays, get there early. The street vendors set up blocks of stands selling all manner of antiques–mostly bric-a-brac and lots of silver and art. Prices are somewhat high but, then again, so is the quality. In addition to the Saturday-only street vendors, tons of permanent stores line both sides of the street.
While on Portobello Road, I like to stop in at Gails (138 Portobello Road). It’s a tony coffee shop (think Starbucks but glamorous in the understated British way) It has the most divine homemade pastries and fabulous sandwiches, not surprising, considering this is the land of the Earl of Sandwich.
You’ll find the Bermondsey Square flea market on the corner of Bermondsey Street and Long Lane. It’s located in the central square of a hip new residential and commercial complex of wood and steel that would look more at home in Sydney or Los Angeles than London. Vendors have little gypsy carts showcasing antique wares (mostly silver and china). On a recent visit, I scored a tiny sterling silver salt cellar (yes I AM a ninety year old woman at heart!)
Anyone who doesn’t associate London with style hasn’t visited some the city’s more cutting-edge shops. Check these out.
Dover Street Market, 15-17 Dover St. Fashion insiders tout this as the coolest clothing store in London. Housed in a multi-story commercial building, this bastion of chic is owned by the Comme des Garçons design family and features a multitude of the brand. It also offers other very high-end and artsy designers. If you’ve been to LA’s Fred Segal or Maxfields, it is very similar. Although a bit too expensive and esoteric for me, the clothes are gorgeous and showcased in an art gallery-like setting. The tiny café on the top floor is a pleasant reward after shopping here.
Paul Smith No. 9, 9 Albemarle Street. This quirky British designer is known mostly for his menswear that combines traditional Saville Row tailoring with a cheeky twist and sense of humor. This store features mainly postwar-era art, antiques and furniture. Its kitschy and super-fun collection of oddities (Looking for a pair of 1960s Italian art glass sconces?) make for a fun shopping expedition that truly reflects the Paul Smith lifestyle. The staff is cute and the prices are surprisingly affordable.
No matter what your taste--trendy or traditional, outrageous or safe--the city on the Thames has it all. So next time you look through your closet and complain you have nothing to wear, stop everything and jet on over to London. Take it from Carson. You’ll love it.
All photos were provided by @BritainOnView. Image of Harvey Nichols by Martin Brent. Image of Portobello Road by Ingrid Rasmussen. Image of London on the Thames by James McCormick.