Whether you favour fashion or desire designer, have a penchant for prints or an appetite for antiques, there are shops and markets in London to suit every taste and budget.
From the famous large department stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Liberty and Fortnum and Mason, to boutiques run by Britain’s favourite fashion designers such as Paul Smith, Stella McCartney and Philip Treacy. From street markets selling antiques and vintage clothes, to top-notch international auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, you can make sure you go home with something unique. However, it can be a bit tricky to know where to go for what, so I caught up with David Leppan, author of the new Hunt Guide to London, to see if he could share some tips.
Leppan began buying and selling antiques when he was 20 years old. Today he calls himself a “self-confessed addict of beautiful and unusual products made by craftsmen and artisans, as well as those made by their predecessors”. He tells me his favourite stomping ground is St James and Mayfair, perhaps the oldest shopping area in the city.
“When you shop in these areas you are walking on the same streets as Henry VIII. There are so many quirky streets and hidden cul-de-sacs,” Leppan explained. “But it’s very much the shops steeped in history that make it so different to most other cities. Whether it’s Berry Bros & Rudd, who have been wine purveyors since 1698, or Paxton & Whitfield, cheesemongers since 1797 or Paul Smith. Or any of the fabulous art galleries and dealers like Philip Mould on Dover Street or The Weiss Gallery on Jermyn St. It’s a part of the city so steeped in history and yet so bustling and happening.”
While researching the guide Leppan visited parts of the city he hadn’t been to since his student days. He was hunting for independent boutiques and locally established businesses to feature in his guide.
“I wanted to choose places that have made a unique contribution to the spirit of the city. I wanted to choose places that I love,” he enthused.
It is not hard to find independent stores in London, a city that seems to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship despite the high rents. Some of the businesses that have made it into his guide include:
● The world’s oldest hat shop – Lock and Co hatters on St James St, which has been in business, and in the same family, for 300 years
● The Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, which houses dozens of British and international interior decor shops, with an enormous range of wallpapers, fabrics, light fittings and other furnishings
● Honey Jam, an old-fashioned toy store in Blenheim Crescent
● Rellik on Goldborne Road, which Leppan describes as “the ultimate dressing-up-box of a shop…rails of fabulous clothing ranging from lesser-known brands to the likes of Dior, Westwood, Gucii and YSL”.
● Daunt Books on Marleybone High Street “where the shelves are as lovely as the books on them”.
My own favourite hunting ground is the area around Brick Lane and Spitalfields market, where I’ve been known to pick up a horn from an old motor car, Victorian postcards of pillow fights and an entire wardrobe of vintage dresses.
I asked David what his most memorable London purchase was. He didn’t hesitate to name the engagement ring he proposed to his former wife with, which he bought in the antique market in Covent Garden.
“I could hardly guarantee I’d make the rent, but I had to find something knowing full well it would never be representative of what I felt she deserved,” he explained. “Thankfully years later I was able to improve on it. It looks fabulous on her and even though we are no longer together I love the fact she still wears it frequently.”
And for a man obsessed with finding “the true soul of a city”, where does Leppan make sure to visit when in London?
“I will stay at my home in Kensington and have lunch plans with an old friend of mine, Patric at Scotts on Mount St, and dinner plans with a very well-known film director friend of mine at 34 (sister restaurant to Scotts) on South Audley St. I need to pick up some biscuits for my youngest at Whole Foods and chocolate from William Curley. Of course, I can never go there without dropping in next door to Paolo Moschino to see what gems they have. Or picking up a spectacular bouquet from Wild at Heart.”