London has a well-earned reputation as one of the world’s greatest style capitals and, in particular, a leader in street fashion
However great your aversion to mass market shops, you can’t visit London without stopping off at Oxford Circus, where all the UK’s major chain stores have berthed their flagships. So start from here and work your way outwards.
Top Shop Oxford Circus is the only chain store worth spending some time in. And it has to be the Oxford Circus store, not any other branch, as in addition to all the standard Top Shop-branded stock, you’ll find collections from young designers and a fantastic range of shoes and accessories.
Leave the store through the Miss Selfridge exit on to Great Portland Street and just to your left on the opposite side of the street is Arrogant Cat. It’s not cheap, but it’s great for subtly sexy feminine pieces; a must-visit if a party dress is on your shopping list.
From here, cross Oxford Street and head for Carnaby Street. While a few multiples such as American Apparel and Levi's have taken root here, there are dozens of great one-offs, such as Dahlia, where striking fabrics work with strong but flirty cuts. Kingly Court, at the far end, offers three floors of mainly young designer boutiques opening out on to a courtyard. Look out for William and George, which specialises in well-cut men’s bespoke and ready-to-wear shirts in an array of colours and patterns, and Nikita Sablier with its wonderful corsets and vintage-inspired women’s clothing.
The little streets off Carnaby are also worth mooching around. Joie, on the corner of Marshall Street, is great for cute, highly individual pieces for girls and Concrete, a few doors away, holds an eclectic mix of cool menswear, womenswear and homewares.
Once you’ve done this area, cross Regents Street into Mayfair and make for COMME des GARÇONS' Dover Street Market at 17-18 Dover Street. Not only do COMME des GARÇONS showcase their own work here, but they have also created a marketplace of some of the most creative minds in fashion.
From here, it’s worth going down to Marylebone High Street; it’s a nice 30-minute walk, or you can hop on a bus going in that direction. There are quite a few high-street staples here, but dotted in between and off this street are some real gems. If you are into customising your clothes, VV Rouleaux on Marylebone Lane is a must. It’s a pick-and-mix shop of ribbons, trimmings and tassels in every colour of the rainbow. Just up the road, KJ's Laundry has beautifully displayed up-and-coming and established designer labels from across the world. And one to look out for is soon-to-open Apartment C, billing itself as a ‘totally unique lingerie and life-style store.’
Next stop: Covent Garden. Style-seekers could easily be disappointed with this area if they follow the crowds straight down towards the site of the old flower market. You can find some nice bits on the market stalls here, but the majority of the shops you would have seen before on your travels. Head instead up Neal Street and explore the streets leading to and around the Seven Dials junction. If you’re up for a rummage you can sometimes find some funky bargains at Appletree on Neal Street. Miss Lala’s Boudoir on Monmouth Street has the most adorable lingerie. And whether you are up for a splurge or just some inspiration, Koh Samui further along this street offers a wonderful mix of established and new designers.
If you’re in town on a Sunday morning, you must make for Spitalfields on the edge of the City of London. The recently renovated covered market area houses over 100 stalls of contemporary and vintage fashion, accessories, music, toys and interiors. Although the stalls are also open Tuesday to Friday, Sunday is the busiest day. Some of London’s top designer’s wares have started out being sold here. The market is bordered by a ring of independent shops. Oscar Milo is good for stylish male and female tailoring. The Sunday Upmarket at the Old Truman Brewery on nearby Brick Lane is also an exciting place for unearthing new fashion talent.
All the places mentioned are close to tube and train stations or bus stops. Covent Garden, Soho, Mayfair and Marylebone are all within walking distance of each other, but if you try to do all of this in one day you’re going to have covered quite a few miles. Your best bet is to get a travelcard and hop on and off public transport. Taxis are also easy to hire from all locations mentioned.
Where to stay
In Covent Garden, the place to see and be seen is the Covent Garden Hotel.
To be close to the shops of Soho, Carnaby and Mayfair, check in to the Courthouse Hotel.
A short distance from Spitalfields is the cool and reasonably priced Hoxton Hotel.
Where to eat
There are dozens of food stalls to choose from in Spitalfields market or go to Leon, in Spitalfields, for fresh seasonal fast food (there are also branches close to Carnaby Street).
Canela’s two branches in Soho and Covent Garden offer tasty snacky food with Portuguese and Brazilian influences in venues that ooze understated sophistication.
For a special treat, the Michelin-starred Orrery on Marylebone Lane is yummy.