London's Greatest Shopping Streets
Oxford Street is officially Europe’s busiest shopping street. Londoners have a love-hate relationship with the road, but what it does better than anywhere else is give you a mile-and-a-half-long supply of high-street stores, many of which offer catwalk-inspired pieces at affordable prices. You have reliable brands, from H&M to Marks & Spencer, as well as all-purpose department stores. Department stores in the UK are long-standing establishments: Debenhams underwent a £25 million refurbishment in time for its 200th anniversary in 2013, and John Lewis celebrated its 150th birthday last year. Selfridges has top designer names, the world’s largest denim department and is the only store in the world to have its own cinema. Popular stores include fast-fashion brand Primark, which has two stores on the street; HMV, one of the few places where you can still buy CDs; and the Disney Store, a paradise for children.
Surely 200 million visitors a year can’t be wrong?
A stroll down Regent Street can feel like you’re name checking some of the biggest brands in the world. While the north end of the street includes icons such as John Nash’s All Souls Church and the BBC’s Broadcasting House, it’s the south end, running from Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, which is the stuff that luxury dreams are made of. Thanks to its curved layout, listed buildings and Art Deco designs, Regent Street makes for a pleasant walk. Its oldest stores include Liberty and Hamleys. It’s easy to spot Liberty with its mock-Tudor building. Founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875, it’s famous for its stationery, scarves and haberdashery – all of which feature Liberty’s unique and eccentric prints. Originally called Noah’s Ark and located in Holborn, Hamleys set up shop in Regent Street in 1881. Hamleys’ bear, complete with a bow and logo, is one of its most popular items. Regent Street is also home to heritage brands. Burberry’s flagship, which is the largest in the world, is more than just a fashion store – it screens catwalk shows and live concerts, and has a café, Thomas’s at Burberry. It’s not just about the old, though. Karl Lagerfeld and J Crew both chose to open shops on the street, and there is even a huge Apple store, too. Proving that this street knows how to welcome visitors, there is the new DropIt service, which delivers your shopping bags to your hotel.
When James Bond needs a new suit, there’s only one place he goes to: Savile Row. The street has dressed discerning gentlemen for more than 200 years. The founder of Gieves & Hawkes (1 Savile Row) worked for the tailors who made Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar uniform. So synonymous is the street with quality suits that the Japanese word for the garment is a ‘Sabiro’. The word ‘bespoke’, meaning ‘made to order’, originated in Savile Row, and to become a member of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, a tailor must put at least 50 hours of hand labour into each two-piece suit.
Savile Row has changed with the times. In 1865, the famous Henry Poole & Co-invented the tuxedo after lopping off the tails of the Prince of Wales’s tailcoat. The Beatles’ Apple office was located at No 3 in the 1960s, and it’s on its roof that they performed their Let It Be gig. Hardy Amies, at No 8, designed clothes for films including 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as for the Queen. In the 1990’s a new generation of tailors introduced a more youthful style, dressing musicians and film stars: Ozwald Boateng, at No 30, Richard James, at No 29, and Timothy Everest, now on nearby Bruton Place, were featured together in Vanity Fair in 1997. That quality also extends beyond clothes and into the nearby areas. The world’s oldest hatters, Lock & Co Hatters (founded in 1676), which created the famous bowler hat and supplied hat-lovers Charlie Chaplin and Sir Winston Churchill, can be found on St James’s Street.
THE KING'S ROAD
Walk down the King’s Road and it’s hard to believe it was once the centre of not one, but several, fashion revolutions. In the 1960s, Chelsea was a bohemian haunt of musicians, writers and artists, and Mary Quant, inspired to create the mini skirt by King’s Road girls, had a shop here. In the 1970s, it was the centre of punk with the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX. Westwood’s shop still stands at No 430, now named World’s End. Little else of its bohemian past survives, but it is still a great shopping street. There is the Peter Jones department store, high-class kids’ stores such as Trotters, Jacadi and Petit Bateau, as well as one for pampered dogs, Purplebone. There are places for interiors: Anthropologie, Lema and India Jane, and chains Habitat and Heal’s. Pop into the vast Saatchi Gallery, where you can see modern art for free, and visit its great gift shop which sells art-related merchandise by the likes of Damien Hirst and David Shrigley.
Carnaby Street swung during the 1960s. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix all shopped here, and it is where comedian Mike Myers located Austin Powers’ 1969 ‘pad’ in the spy spoof. The street was pedestrianised in 1973, and was associated with the Mod revival of The Jam in the late 1970s. Today, fashion and beauty shops co-exist with boutiques and skate style, alongside colourful murals. There are shoe shops, too: the tough and rebellious Dr. Martens; and wild styles from Irregular Choice that have to be seen to be believed. Youthful British fashion can be found in Pretty Green, founded by Oasis’s lead singer Liam Gallagher; and Ben Sherman, still fresh after five decades. There’s casual Italian fashion at Lambretta and Replay; Scandinavian style from Cheap Monday and Monki; the flagship stores of Dutch SuperTrash, Spanish Lavand, and rock-star-friendly French labels Eleven Paris and The Kooples.
There’s speciality shops, too: colourful homeware in Pylones and trendy souvenirs in We Built This City.
All this in a small street just four blocks long!