Gifts, homewares, food and fashion; London's department stores are where your wildest retail fantasies come true. But where to head first? Here's our pick of the city's very best one-stop shops.
Liberty was founded in 1875, but the present Marlborough Street site, with its ships’ timbers and leaded windows, was built in the 1920s. The interconnecting jumble of rooms, with the odd fireplace and cushioned window seat, makes for an intimate feel – as if you’ve strayed into a private room in a stately home. Although Liberty trades well on its history, it constantly squeezes innovation into its wood-panelled rooms.
Selfridges celebrated its centenary in 2009. With its concession boutiques, store-wide themed events and collections from the hottest new brands, it's a first port-of-call for stylish one-stop shopping, while useful floor plans make navigating the store easy-peasy. There are plenty of concessions worthy of note, plus a winning combination of new talent, hip and edgy labels, smarter high street labels and mid and high end brands on the fashion floors.
Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo’s ground-breaking six-storey space combines 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.
The results of F&M’s £24 million, two-year revamp (revealed in 2007, 300 years after its opening in 1707) were stunning: the store retains all that was marvellous about its Georgian past while changing just enough to position itself as a 21st-century shopping experience. A sweeping spiral staircase soars through the four-storey building, while light floods down from a central glass dome.
There is a reason why John Lewis is one of the most respected and liked shops in Britain, and it’s not a complicated one – John Lewis sells good products, in a pleasant environment, served by knowledgeable and amicable staff. This large store offers a broad sweep of electricals, homeware, fashion (with some exclusives like Pistol Panties lingerie) gifts, furniture and leather goods, each coming with the reassurance of JL’s nonpareil ‘never knowingly undersold’ guarantee and lenient returns policy.
Harrods’ distinctive terracotta façade with dark-green awnings stirs up mixed emotions. For every tourist who yearns for a Harrods teddy, there’s a Londoner who sniffs at its vulgarity. But for all the marble and glitz, the store that boasts of selling everything is working hard to inject its image with ever more style: always strong on fashion, Harrods offers women a 10,000sq ft Designer Studio with a host of British designer launches.
Compared to some of the incredible refurbs that rival emporia have indulged in, Harvey Nics feels like it’s coasting a little. That said, you’ll still find a worthy clutch of unique brands over its eight floors of beauty, fashion, food and home. In beauty, there’s skin-firming Rodial, La Prairie Platinum and Bed of Nails pillows and mats, with slick Gentlemen’s Tonic for men, as well as beauty services that include Beyond MediSpa, with a team of doctors and medical ‘aestheticians’, and the Daniel Hersheson hair salon.
If Harrods is the elder statesman of department store shopping, Fenwick is the eccentric aunt. The ground floor is stuffed with slightly antiquated accessories like headscarves and fascinators, and one of the best hat and hosiery selections in London. In Fenwick, you can be sure to find a good range of offbeat, slightly bohemian British design ranging from Orla Kiely accessories to Tallulah and Hope kaftans.
The London flagship branch of this reliably good department store chain has had a revamp of late with a mighty 12,500 square foot new shoe department in the basement. HOF is the only stockist of the re-launched Biba line, including its lovely new lingerie line and has recently added The Kooples, Mulberry and New and Lingwood to the mix. But arguably the jewel in the HOF crown is the Mary store – a wonderful shopping experience designed by retail guru Mary Portas to target the needs of the forty something stylish shopper.
This accessible store is designed to bring fashion shopping to the every day customer – it is known for inviting fashion designers like Matthew Williamson, House of Holland and John Rocha to do cheaper collections in store. While it lacks the luxurious feel of shopping at John Lewis or Selfridges, Debenhams has a loyal fanbase and prides itself on being an affordable one-stop shop covering all retail needs from fashion and beauty to homeware and electricals.
Scala, Milan and the English National Opera in London? Then have a look round Liberation, the flagship store for rubber innovators Libidex. The shop carries a wide range of off-the-peg clothing for women and men that’s ready to wear if you’re ready to dare, or commission something custom-made after trying on items to see what flatters and flaunts. Celebrity customers include Julian Clary and Lady Gaga, and Libidex have also worked with fashion houses including Vivienne Westwood, Dolce & Gabbana and the late Alexander McQueen, although they greet everyone who walks through their doors with open arms and a welcome warmer than the inside of a freshly grilled cheese toastie. Libidex is a particularly good label to check out if you’re after rubber tights, stockings, socks, or leggings; they were the original pioneers of new ways of tailoring latex legwear that have now become industry benchmarks, and the fit around the legs and feet of their garments is still exemplary. Don’t bother checking out hose in every area code – just head to Covent Garden and make your stems stunning at Liberation.
Venue says: “Liberation - the Libidex fetish shop in London’s Covent Garden”