You don't need a fat wallet to get something out of London's coolest shops. Bold design concepts, one-off pieces and some of the city's best people-watching mean even browsers ought to take a tour. Although we should point out that if you do end up blowing your savings on a vintage Gucci cocktail dress that's been untouched since the 60s, it's not our fault.
Ten years on, this ground-breaking six storey space from Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo’s continues to combine the edgy energy of London’s indoor markets – concrete floors, tills house in corrugated-iron shacks, Portaloo dressing rooms – with rarefied labels. All 14 of the Comme collections are here, alongside exclusive lines such as Lanvin, Givenchy and Azzedine Alaïa. Dover Street’s biannual ‘Tachiagari’ event sees the store close while designers make changes to their concessions, ensuring the space is constantly evolving. There’s a Chalayan area with exclusive pieces, as well as areas devoted to Celine, McQueen and Rick Owens to name a few. Pieces by edgy jewellery designer Noguchi, as well as Azature, Waris and Repossi, are available on the ground floor. Once you’ve taken it all in, have a sit-down in the Rose Bakery on the top floor.
Opening Ceremony, one of the world’s most eagerly watched, tastemaking brands, arrived in London with great fanfare in 2012. Founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have stuck to the template that has worked so well in LA, Tokyo and New York, presenting small runs of unique apparel that they've co-designed with big labels, sourced from young, emerging designers or chosen from cult streetwear labels. It means you might come across a moss green Proenza Schouler handbag at £1,500, or a design by long-time collaborator Chloë Sevigny’s – perhaps a beautiful fluffy cardigan in pink leopard, with a price tag of £340. A collection of new, cutting-edge brands are presented alongside OC’s own in-house label, and its many collaborations with classic brands like Keds, Gitman Brothers and Pendleton. While many brands rely on trend-prediction agencies, a team of buyers and a sideways glance at what’s happening on each other’s catwalks, Opening Ceremony goes on its founders’ own ability to spot the next big fashion thing. If they think it’s cool, it most definitely will be.
It’s not often that you have to book an appointment for the privilege of entering a shop, but then LN-CC is no ordinary boutique. The jaw-dropping interior, which is somewhere between the set of Red Dwarf and a futuristic tree house, is located underneath a drab office block, which you enter via a very ordinary side door. Inside, the avant-garde designer stock is creatively merchandised and separated into themed zones by art director Gary Card and brands include Balenciaga, Haider Ackermann, and Dries Van Noten. There’s also a record and book store, and an in-house disco with the odd event (invitation-only, naturally) taking place for the privileged few.
Stock for this boutique-like store is selected by streetwear obsessives/owners Kyle and Jo with items weighted towards Japanese independent labels. Knits and T-shirts from Australia’s Rittenhouse are particularly strong, while other hot picks from the well-edited selection include shirts and tops for men from Norse Projects, womenswear from APC Madras, and supremely covetable pieces for both men and women from Peter Jensen and Wood Wood. A cabinet full of reasonably priced watches, sunglasses and jewellery makes this a great place for pressies for hard-to-please hipster boyfriends and girlfriends, while the limited-edition Vans will have trainer nerds frothing at the mouth. The store is due to relocate to Shoreditch high street later this month.
Henry and George Graham, owners of eclectic Notting Hill boutique Wolf and Badger, have opened a new central London flagship. The spacious, two floored new premises will shift the focus of the original store to tiny, undiscovered labels- allowing the new boutique to showcase more established labels from the NEWGEN stable- think Bora Aksu,Mark Fast J JS Lee and Jasper Garvida. The boutique is elegant but unintimidating; all black walls, artfully placed designer lights and backlit contemporary jewellery. There is a great menswear offering, with a good mix of relaxed tailoring, swimwear, and bow ties in graphic prints by the likes of Drake. In contrast, the basement (which has its own street entrance) has retained the original white walls and floor, and will continue to be used as a gallery space. Expect pop ups and installations from Wolf and Badger's favourite designers in here, as well as evening launches celebrating the frequent arrival of new labels and collections.
With Kate Moss parading around in its tough-ass boots and every rocker worth their salt (The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Ramones, Iggy Pop) having worn its biker jackets, Lewis Leathers is a true Brit heritage brand. Reopening in January 2010 a stone’s throw away from its old Great Portland Street site, which stood from 1892 until 1993 (and still using the same phone number it had in the 1930s), this icon of bikerwear cool is back with a fashion vengeance. Despite its cult Tokyo following and recent collaboration with Comme des Garçons, Lewis has left high-tech wizardry at the door at this made-to-measure shop selling 15 classic vintage designs from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s not cheap – the top selling Roadmaster jacket is £700 – but if it ain’t broke… Lewis Leathers is number 57 in our list of the 100 best shops in London.
This vast fashion store and holistic treatment centre is a dreamy place. Founder Tena Strok admits that, with its focus on pure living and elegant style brands, it's more the sort of boutique you'd see in West London - but, as she points out, 'Shoreditch is the new Meatpacking district', and it's easy to see female advertising creatives and designers coming in here to drop their pay packets on edgy designers and a back rub. Strok is a former stylist, and rather than fill her shop with sure-fire sellers like Mulberry bags, she has sourced interesting labels from Paris, London and Scandinavia, hoping that her own taste chimes with her customers'. It certainly chimes with us - on our visit, the shelves were stocked with London's finest, from techy shoe designer Joanne Stoker to IT designer of the minute JW Anderson. The earthy store design and capacious shopping space gives browsing a relaxed pace, and when the basement is ready it will house pop-up events, treatment rooms and even fashion-focused book groups for those that take good living seriously.
The shop formerly known as Digitaria, and formerly located on Berwick street, is having a third bite of the Soho retail apple with a new store on Brewer Street. Soho's edgier outfitters have struggled of late, and the area has seen the lamentable disappearance of some of our favourites like the Pineal Eye. So it's good to see Stavros Karelis taking a gamble with another new shop, and one that doesn't shy away from the harder sells, like punky Louise Gray and conceptual neoprene from newbie RCA graduate Peiran Gong. Machine-A is now one of London's most must-visit independent boutiques for those who know their fashion- one of the few places you can find urban luxury labels like Christopher Raeburn and Ashley Williams. But will it survive? We hope so. The new store benefits from a lot more fashiony footfall (it's just down the road from a buzzy and busy frozen yoghurt bar, which might help) than its predecessor, and the more peculliar pieces sit amongst wearable ones, which serves to make the offering palatable to the every day consumer. Not in the market for a superb studded and monogrammed rucksack by MCM, practical but pricey at around £1200? Then you can bag a pair of supercool printed Tabio socks by irreverent fashion duo Agi and Sam, or a Keeley Hunter x Fred Butler beenie hat.
The London outpost of New York's legendary skate shop brings together the cult brand's skatewear including apparel, accessories and decks. Ongoing collaborations with musicians, artists and designers ensures Supreme maintains the edgy style it originally made its name with back in 1994.
Like its sister store in W11, the newest addition to the RT stable welcomes live performers of pretty much every persuasion but this easterly offshoot boasts not only vastly more space and a café, but also – far more importantly – a purpose-built stage, with standing room in front sensibly factored into the planning. Gigs happen early in the evening (usually 7pm) and admission is free, by previously obtained wrist band. Sets are shorter than a regular gig and there can be long queues for bigger named acts, but then, who wouldn't queue to see free sets from the diverse likes of Blur, Marianne Faithful and Vampire Weekend? Rough Trade East is number 4 in our list of the 100 best shops in London.
Store owners Eddie Prendergast and Steve Davies are founders of men’s mega-brand Duffer of St George, but don’t hold that against them. Present’s bright white, clinical interior houses labels from streetwear Billionaire Boys Club and Japanese Haversack to Raf by Raf Simons and the odd polka-dotted pair of socks. With Eddie and Steve’s collection of knits and T-shirts already on the rails, the pair plans to roll out collaborations and limited edition pieces. Present is number 17 in our list of the 100 best shops in London.
This local record store attracts crate diggers from across London. It's where a discerning selection of new and used vinyl across all genres (including some hard to find gems) meets books and ephemera. Kristina will also buy or exchange single records or collections. Kristina Records is number 56 in our list of the 100 best shops in London.
It's understandable to expect great things from the first stand alone shop from the shoe designer championed by Isabella Blow and Philip Treacy - whose heels are worn by fashion's most adventurous elite- and you're unlikely to be disappointed. The store, in salubrious Mayfair, showcases his award-winning, architectural designs in a gallery like space- all white walls and angular lighting, with shoes 'floating' in stylish space. Rotations of around three months see new installations in the building, so it merits repeat visits. The studio is above the shop so particularly keen beans can look out for the designer himself.
While not everyone is at ease strolling into a Chanel fashion boutique, the pop-up make-up store is designed to be a fun, accessible and fully immersive experience. First opening in July 2012 as a temporary venture, it shows no signs of clearing out. Indeed, the whole place is being given a make-over for 2013. Not only has the imaginative Chanel creative director designed exclusive studio products for the project, like a new double ended lip colour for summer, but nail art chieftains Marian Newman and Sophy Robson will be coming up with avant-garde catwalk creations with a large dose of subcultural inspiration, running workshops offering quirky on-brand activities. These vary from week to week, having featured camelia drawing classes in the past, and now promising in-store Chanel calligraphy. Pretty much every big name in make-up and nails is expected to give masterclasses (£25, redeemable against product) with the likes of Kay Montano, Florrie White, Mary Greenwell, Lisa Eldridge, and Sharon Dowsett hosting in-store sessions. As well as the UK's first Chanel nail bar, where customers can book in for manis at £25 (redeemable against product), there are now make-up sessions for six girls at a time, a flower stall linking with all the Chanel fragrances and, in autumn, a vending machine for nail polishes. Keep checking in for news of a BIG facialist joining the store later this month.
Blitz opened in 2011, and instantly put the other vintage shops in the capital to shame. This is a vintage department store, covering all floors of a glorious old furniture factory. The building itself is jaw-dropping, and has been renovated beautifully by the Blitz team. Floors are clearly merchandised with a furniture selection from Broadway Market’s The Dog & Wardrobe, an accessories floor, a book collection and rails and rails of neatly presented fashion. Buyers Jan Skinners and John Howlin look to nearby Brick Lane for their inspiration, buying immaculate seersucker blazers, coloured denim, brogues and silk kimonos for their fashion focused clientele. The selection is all killer and no filler – and cleaned, steamed and folded before it hits the shop floor. To see our video of Blitz, go to www.timeout.com/blitz
In an airy art deco garage on the King’s Road you’ll find this chic lifestyle boutique. Owners John and Belle Robinson (the people behind womenswear chain Jigsaw) may cite European concept stores such as Colette in Paris as inspiration, but there’s none of the froideur associated with such temples to avant-garde design. On display in the 10,000sq ft space is a broad selection of designer clothing, shoes, accessories, books, music (both CDs and vinyl) and the odd piece of furniture. The shop also boasts a spa offering shoppers the chance to unwind with a variety of treatments. There’s also a slew of hard-to-find niche skincare brands, including New York’s Bigelow, Ole Henriksen, DCL and Kaeline. Fashion is wide-ranging; London-based designers Emma Cook and Peter Jensen are to be found here, as are US faves Alexander Wang and Marc by Marc Jacobs and Japanese heavyweights Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garçons. Look out for lesser-known labels as well, such as the rock-inspired Rika and Isabel Marant, and vintage-inspired eyewear from hip label Prism. Cool denim brands also feature heavily, and there’s a trendy range of prints, coffee-table books and CDs.
The Old Shoreditch Station (the artist formerly known as No-one) is the retail wing of the Jaguar Shoes collective which encompasses Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes (the arty bar over the road), Seventeen Gallery (a few doors up), and The Old Shoreditch Station Cafe. This was one of the first boutiques in Shoreditch, and its stark, arty aesthetic fits in perfectly with the rough-around-the-edges Kingsland Road. Owner Teresa Letchford (a former style editor) has a good eye for new fashions, the store was the first in London to stock the now ubiquitous Cheap Monday and Swedish Hasbeens. The Old Shoreditch Station is now stocking a great mix of London designers and global indies: from Hackney-based jeweller Noemi Klein (think beautifully crafted antler rings, £130) to American ethical urban espadrille brand Toms (£40). A must for the visitor seeking a slice of east London style to take home with them.
100 best shops in London
We've managed to whittle the list of thousands down to the 100 best shops in London. There's something to please every taste and budget, including a selection of the best department stores, quaint little boutiques, cavernous thrift stores, chic homeware outlets and designer fashion shops.
The Painted Lady
Located on a street that boasts APC and a Conran Hotel as neighbours, the Painted Lady could be forgiven for going a bit upmarket. However, this gently lit, cute little salon is much more interested than what was going on in 1950s hairdressing than the contemporary Shoreditch scene. As well as contemporary cuts and colour, the stylists at TPL specialise in screen-siren up-dos (£40) like Marilyn waves or Hepburn rolls. They even dispense lessons for groups in retro styling, so you can recreate the magic of the salon in your own bedroom.
Venue says: “Book in for a complimentary mini Olaplex treatment (worth £20) with your cut and finish. Mention code 'Love My Hair' when you book.”