Shopping in London
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As befits one of the great trading capitals of the world, London's shops have been known to boast, "You name it, we sell it." Finding and buying "it" can be a delight (the private fitting rooms at couturier Vivienne Westwood) or a trial (mobbed Oxford Street sales on a Saturday morning). No matter where you end up, you'll find plenty to tempt you. You can shop like royalty at Her Majesty's lingerie supplier, track down a leather-bound copy of Wuthering Heights at a Charing Cross bookseller, or find flea-market goodies on Portobello Road. Whether you're out for fun—there's nothing like the size, variety, and sheer street theater of the markets to stimulate the acquisitive instinct—or for fashion, London can be the most rewarding of hunting grounds.
Although it's impossible to pin down one particular look that defines the city, London style tends to fall into two camps: one is the quirky, individualistic, somewhat romantic look that draws on the city's Punk, Mod, and Boho heritage, exemplified by homegrown designers like Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson, Liberty, and Temperley. The other reflects Britain's celebrated tradition of highly tailored classics, with labels like Mulberry, Paul Smith, and Burberry giving them a modern twist. The real thing can be found in the menswear stores of Jermyn Street and Savile Row—there's no better place in the city to buy custom-made shirts and suits. If your budget can't stretch to Savile Row, no problem; the city's chain stores like Topshop, Warehouse, Reiss, and Zara are excellent places to pick up designs copied straight from the catwalk, at a fraction of the price.
For buzzy fashionistas, the trick to smart shopping is to sniff out the most fashion-forward, on-trend places. Amazingly, the very designers that have revived London's Cool Britannia fashion luster—Beatle progeny Stella McCartney, mad hatter Philip Treacy, and local genius Alexander McQueen—are the ones that have updated the fashion mojo of the new generation of royal Windsors. For her go-to brands, Kate—the new Duchess of Cambridge—likes various High Street stores: Zara, Reiss, L.K. Bennett, and Whistles. But when nearly 2 billion pairs of eyes are watching, the future queen needs a headline-making wedding gown and for that she had the foresight to head to the House of McQueen.
The genius of the late, much-lamented designer was to take a St. Martin's art school foundation and use that skill-set to become a phenomenal dress designer. In December 2011, this truth was spectacularly dramatized in a window of McQueen's Mayfair couture salon (where Kate's bridal gown was created by Sarah Burton) showcasing a ball gown made of white tulle and topped with a bustier composed of a mosaic of real Victorian-pattern pottery, cracked into a hundred tiny pieces. Fashion as fine art. The lucky lady who bagged this paralyzingly high priced number probably exclaimed "I've been framed!"
Apart from bankrupting yourself, the only problem you may encounter is exhaustion. London's shopping districts are spread out all over the city, so do as savvy locals do: plan your excursion with military precision, taking in only one or two areas in a day, and stop for a lunch with a glass of wine or a pint at a pub. If not, there's a good chance you'll wind up losing a few pounds while you race across the city shedding a goodly number of pounds sterling buying up a storm.
Browse London Shopping
- Department Stores
- Food / Candy
- Household Items / Furniture
- Jewelry / Accessories
- Music Stores
- Outdoor / Flea / Green Markets
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