I work in the heart of London’s retail district, and it’s a wonder I don’t spend my entire month’s wages on clothes, accessories and anything else I can get my hands on before I pay my rent and bills. With the 2012 Olympic Games beginning this Friday, the fashion and shopping options in London have gone through the proverbial roof. While battling the throngs of shoppers on Regent and Oxford Streets requires Herculean effort on any regular day, to help you stay ahead of the game and take home fashion gold here’s Part II of my list of top 10 must-hit London fashion destinations. And if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to check out Part I, covering off the categories of vintage, quintessentially British, one-of-a-kind and couture!
HIGH STREET: Primark
Crashing down from haute couture, Primark couldn’t be farther from the lofty heights of one of London’s greatest fashion icons. But, if you don’t have a Queen’s ransom to spend on clothing, this place is a good bet to bag some of the latest fashion trends. Opening up a new store just in time for the Olympics this month, Primark sells the latest catwalk creations for women, men and children, as well as homewear, at a fraction of the cost and reasonable quality (assuming you’re only going to be wearing Primark’s clothes for one season). Though hailing from Dublin, Primark’s presence in Great Britain dates back to the early ’70s when the company opened four out-of-town stores and its first high street stores in Derby and Bristol. The brand now has locations all over London but if you want the real Primark “experience” (i.e. queuing to get in, fighting for a change room and waiting days in the queue at the till — OK, it’s not that bad, but best to be mentally prepared), you should head to the original Oxford Street location near Marble Arch.
Celeb spotting: While I’m sure most British celebs would never need to set foot in Primark (let alone be seen wearing the label), Pete Doherty, co-frontman of The Libertines and friend of the late Amy Winehouse, is immortalized on a currently-in-stock Harry Jo & Co T-shirt (pictured; £4) that features an NME cover with him and his bandmates.
For the ultimate in women’s luxury handbags, Mulberry is your one-stop-shop. The home-grown British brand put itself on the map 41 years ago with now-famous quilted fishing bags, poacher bags and jackets inspired by countryside pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing. Mulberry’s latest and greatest claim to fame is the Bayswater handbag (pictured, in chocolate natural leather; £695), which has undergone various reincarnations throughout the years but still manages to retain a classic British look, featuring Mulberry’s signature Postman’s Lock and soft, brushed leather exterior.
Celeb spotting: Alexa Chung, the British television presenter, model and contributing editor at Vogue, remains Mulberry’s perfect poster girl, having her very own Mulberry bag (called “Alexa”) created a few years ago.
SHOES & ACCESSORIES: L.K. Bennett
Founded in 1990, L.K. Bennett is a classic British footwear label that also carries bags, accessories and clothes. L.K. Bennett’s claim to fame is its court shoes, which come in eternal hues such as nude(!), black and red and evoke simplicity and femininity. While a pair of L.K. Bennett shoes is no mere drop in the budget bucket, it won’t break the bank and will always remain timeless in your wardrobe. The super-elegant Sledge Shoe (pictured, in black patent leather; £195) was featured recently in The Guardian newspaper.
Celeb spotting: During her tour of Canada with Prince William last year, Kate Middleton’s footwear immediately caught the eye of the Canadian press. Middleton is such a fan of L.K. Bennett that she wore two pairs of shoes from one of her favourite high street stores in the same night.
HATS: Philip Treacy
A London where-to-shop (or, window shop) top 10 list wouldn’t be complete without the crowning glory of Englishness: the fascinator. Philip Treacy’s creations are often out on display, at weddings, on the Royal ascot, and beyond. Originally hailing from County Galway Ireland, Treacy has created some of the best-known and most imaginative haute couture and ready-to-wear hat collections of any milliner. His collection can be found at Fenwicks department store on Bond Street. Even if you’ll never be able to afford one of his pieces in your lifetime, going there just to look is well worth it.
Celeb spotting: Philip Treacy’s creation worn by Princess Beatrice of York (pictured, via FashionBITE) for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton caused a less-than-favourable stir in the British tabloids, with the hat being compared to a Turkey Twizzler, a lavatory seat and a pretzel. Following the wedding last year, the much-talked-about fascinator reportedly sold on eBay for a staggering £81,100.01, with the proceeds going to charities UNICEF and Children in Crisis.
TEEN/YOUNG ADULT: Jack Wills
Dubbing itself the “original University Outfitters,” Jack Wills sells British heritage–inspired goods aimed at late teen/early 20-something ladies and gents. Using high quality materials and combining old with new styles, Jack Wills epitomizes what it means to be young and “Fabulously British” (per the label’s tagline). In central London, you’ll have no trouble finding one of their stores; one is located near Carnaby Street just off of Regent Street, and another in the heart of Covent Garden on Long Acre. Jack Wills has also collaborated with many well-established London fashion labels, including outfitter to the British gentry Cordings of Piccadilly, Fox Brothers (known for its handmade wool cloth) and NPS Shoes Ltd. Pictured here is the Caldbeck Tee (£24).
Celeb spotting: The boys of One Direction have been spotted in Jack Wills clothing, as have Emma Roberts, Cher Lloyd and Pixie Lott.
What are your must-visit London fashion destinations? Tell us in the Comments!
Sarah Lysecki is a freelance journalist based in London, UK, where she has written for Cosmetic News Weekly and Cosmetics International. She has also contributed to Economist Intelligence Unit, ITBusiness.ca, and Foodnetwork.ca. She is currently is in a very happy relationship with a dandy of an English gent.