London

The keyword of London shopping has always been "individuality," whether expressed in the superb custom tailoring of Savile Row, the nonconformist punk roots of quintessential British designer Vivienne Westwood, or the unique small stores that purvey their owners' private passions—be they paper theaters, toy soldiers, or buttons. This tradition is under threat from the influx of chains (global luxury, domestic mid-market, and international youth), but the distinctively British mix of quality and originality, tradition, and character remains.

You can try on underwear fit for a queen at Her Majesty's lingerie supplier, track down a leather-bound Brontë classic at an antiquarian bookseller, or find a bargain antique on Portobello Road. Whether you’re just browsing—there's nothing like the size, variety, and sheer theater of London’s street markets to stimulate the acquisitive instinct—or on a fashion-seeking mission, London shopping offers something for all tastes and budgets.

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, somewhat romantic look exemplified by homegrown designers like Matthew Williamson, Jenny Packham, Vivienne Westwood, and Lulu Guinness; the other reflects Britain’s celebrated tradition of classic knitwear and suiting, with labels like Jaeger, Pringle, and Brora, while Oswald Boateng, Paul Smith, and Richard James take tradition and give it a very modern twist. Traditional bespoke men's tailoring can be found in the upscale gentlemen's shops of Jermyn Street and Savile Row—there's no better place in the city to buy custom-made shirts and suits—while the handbags at Mulberry, Asprey, and Anya Hindmarch are pure classic quality. If your budget can't stretch that far, no problem; the city's chain stores like Topshop, Zara, and H&M, aimed at the younger end of the market, are excellent places to pick up designs copied straight from the catwalk at a fraction of the price, while mid-market chains like Reiss, Jigsaw, and L.K. Bennett offer smart design and better quality for the more sophisticated shopper.

If there’s anything that unites London’s designers, it’s a commitment to creativity and originality, underpinned by a strong sense of heritage. This combination of posh and rock 'n' roll sensibilities turns up in everyone from Terence Conran, who revolutionized product and houseware design in the ’60s (and is still going strong), to Alexander McQueen, who combined the punk aesthetic with the rigor of couture. You'll see it in fanciful millinery creations by Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones, and in the work of imaginative shoemakers Nicholas Kirkwood, United Nude, and Terry de Havilland—and it keeps going, right through to current hot designers Erdem, Christopher Kane, Victoria Beckham, and up-and-coming names like Shrimps, Duro Olowu, and Molly Goddard.

One reason for London’s design supremacy is the strength of local fashion college Central St. Martin’s, whose graduates include Conran, Kane, McQueen, his successor at his eponymous label—and designer of the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress—Sarah Burton, and Stella McCartney’s equally acclaimed successor at Céline, Phoebe Philo.

To find the McQueens and McCartneys of tomorrow, head for the independent boutiques of the East End and Bermondsey. If anything, London is even better known for its vibrant street fashion than for its high-end designers. Stock up from the stalls at Portobello, Camden, and Spitalfields markets.

Aside from bankrupting yourself, the only problem you may encounter is exhaustion. London's shopping districts are spread out 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 stopping for lunch with a glass of wine or for a pint at a pub.

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  • 1. Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop

    Covent Garden | Toys

    This landmark shop still carries on the tradition of its founder, who sold miniature theater stages made from richly detailed paper from the...Read More

  • 2. Foyles

    Soho | Books/Stationery

    Founded in 1903 by the Foyle brothers after they failed the Civil Service exams, this family-owned bookstore is in a 1930s art deco building...Read More

  • 3. Liberty

    Soho | Department Stores

    The wonderful black-and-white mock-Tudor facade, created from the timbers of two Royal Navy ships, reflects this store's origins in the late...Read More

  • 4. Paul Smith

    Covent Garden | Clothing

    British classics with an irreverent twist define Paul Smith's collections for women, men, and children. Beautifully tailored suits for men and...Read More

  • 5. Stanfords

    Covent Garden | Specialty Stores

    When it comes to encyclopedic coverage, there is simply no better map and travel shop on the planet. Trading in Covent Garden since 1853, Stanfords...Read More

  • 6. Agent Provocateur

    Soho | Clothing

    Created by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood's son and daughter-in-law, this line of lingerie in gorgeous fabrics, silks, latex, and lace tends...Read More

  • 7. Floris

    St. James's | Perfume/Cosmetics

    What did Queen Victoria, Mary Shelley, and Marilyn Monroe have in common? They all used products from Floris, one of the most beautiful shops...Read More

  • 8. Peckham Rye

    Soho | Clothing

    On the small cobblestone streets leading off Carnaby Street, among other little specialty shops, the family-run Peckham Rye sells heritage-style...Read More

  • 9. The Vintage House

    Soho | Wine/Spirits

    If whiskey is more to your taste than wine, visit the family-run Vintage House, which has the country's largest selection of single malts (more...Read More

  • 10. Wolsey

    Soho | Clothing

    Specializing in men's knitwear since 1755, this long-established company now sells rugged but stylish outerwear, sweaters, shirts, hats, scarves...Read More

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