NFT London Shopping

London / Shopping

So are we still in the Recession? Who knows? Who cares? We're getting used to this boom and bust cycle but we've cut up all our credit cards. When it comes to retail, people will always spend whether money or no (that's how we got in this fine mess remember Stanley?), it's just that with little of the stuff about, people are more discerning about what they spend their hard earned cash/State Benefits on. And of course if we didn't spend we would never collectively crawl out of this endless dirge of gloom. As the well-observed slogan on the reusable eco-shopping bag from Modern Toss (available at Magma, Maps 5, 12) says, "Buy More Shit Or We're All Fucked". Indeed. But if the economic crisis is teaching us anything it's to be more picky about what we purchase and for retailers not just to deliver the goods but also all the extras that we, as polite English people, so foolishly see as just "extras". Primarily what we mean is, that intangible thing that contributes to a satisfying shopping experience and brings a customer back to the same store again and again: excellent service -- helpfulness, genuine smiles and interest in the product and the customer. Beautiful packaging, loyalty cards, discounts, samples, invites to in-store events all help, too. In an adverse way, consumers have never had more power than now to demand what they want or -- as important -- don't want. So just make sure you buy more cool shit as opposed to any old shit.

The British High Street is certainly changing and support for independent shops is growing. A leaning towards handmade items and crafts which support local designers and artisans -- Columbia Road and Cheshire Street are hotspots for this kind of thing. Yes there are a lot of these shops cropping up that purely sell "beautiful things" like Of Cabbages And Kings (Map 64) and (if it's a beauty of a decaying kind you're looking for) Viktor Wynd's Shop of Horrors (Map 87) to name just a couple (and we like them). But when it comes to fashion we also like to know that a little bit of love has been sprinkled into the making of an item. Special mention here must go to Amy Anderson of Comfort Station (Map 91) who produces the most thoughtful and whimsical pieces of jewellery and Vivien of Holloway (Map 74) who has built a real niche following but whose fabulous 1950s tailoring would make any gal feel like a doll. Both have gorgeous, well-fitted, unique shop spaces, too. For blokes, Folk (Map 5) are renowned for their limited collections, particularly shoes which are hand-stitched (hence the price tag).

Part of this trend is Pop-Up Shops which are installed for a few months at a time sometimes displaying the work of a single designer/company or else a co-operative of independent designers. Not only is this a thrifty way of setting up shop in these uncertain times, it also provides a showcase for new young things so always worth a look. These tend to appear around Carnaby Street and Spitalfields, especially in the summer.

The Big Boys
When it comes to department stores, Selfridges (Map 2) is without a doubt the daddy of them all -- arguably, (and the emphasis is on that word depending on your budget) you can just get everything you need from here but if you're strapped, at least go and marvel at the window displays. Harvey Nics (Map 37) and Harrods (Map 37) are very much for ladies who lunch, and the Knightsbridge set use them like corner shops -- that's not to say they don't have their uses. For a more personal touch, Fenwick (Map 2) and Liberty (Map 10) are wonderful British institutions which take you far from the madding crowd. If all these close-quarters encounters get up your nose head to Whiteleys (Map 30) or the Behemoth that is Westfield Shopping Centre (Map 33).

Haute et High Street
For flexing that plastic, Bond Street has always been the place to spend but Bruton Street, which branches off the main drag, is setting quite a precedent with Matthew Williamson (Map 9), Stella McCartney (Map 9) and Diane Von Furstenburg (Map 9) all in residence. Always one to mix things up and throw us off track, Marc Jacobs' (Map 9) London store is to be found on Mount Street -- check out the Marc for Marc Jacobs range for affordable designer garb -- by which we mean £3 and upwards. Yes, really. If you want to feel like Alice down the rabbit hole, make a trip to Dover Street Market (Map 9), owned by Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garçons -- a real experience even if you're not buying. Throwing down the gauntlet when it comes to experiential retail is LN-CC (Map 86). For those of us in the real world, Topshop (Map 3) is the grand kahuna of high street shopping -- seventh heaven on three floors for fashionistas. For super-slick, sharp ready-to-wear you can't beat Spanish stores, Zara (Map 2) and Mango (Map 3) which both do high street with an edge and turnover is pretty quick to ensure their stock remains covetable. New contenders for higher end high-street include Cos (Map 10) and Hoss Intropia (Map 10), and let's not forget our Stateside cousins who have sent ripples of excitement through the fash pack by opening flagship stores of Anthropologie, Banana Republic, and Abercrombie & Fitch (Map 10) all in the big smoke. There are also little shopping oases to be found in the capital. St Christopher's Place is hidden behind the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and houses cool European brands like Marimekko (Map 2) alongside more familiar fare. Kingly Court (behind Carnaby Street -- itself a great shopping spot for trend-led labels) has independent boutiques. The area around Seven Dials in Covent Garden which includes Neal's Yard is eclectic with high-end boutiques like Orla Kiely (Map 13) on Monmouth and skatewear at Slam City Skates (Map 13) and Superdry (Map 13) on Earlham. Edgy fashion abounds out East: head to Good Hood (Map 84) to start your shopping crawl.

Back To The Future
'Vintage' seems to be the term for anything over five years old nowadays but London's vintage (and secondhand) scene is thriving. Some of the best-known, best-loved shops include Rellik (Map 25) in Portobello, Annie's (Map 80) in Islington (a favourite of La Moss), and Beyond Retro (Map 91) and Absolute Vintage (Map 91) in Shoreditch (famous hunting ground for stylists). If you want to hear what the young, stylish and clueless get up to head to Rokit (Maps 13, 71) and eavesdrop on the staff's mindnumbing conversations. For genuine thrift, the turnover of goods in our charity shops is mind-boggling. Oxfam Dalston (Map 86) is renowned for being a good rummage: it's hit and miss but then that's the nature of the thrifting beast. Most hardy shoppers will happily tread the city twice over for good charity shop finds but if you want some certainty of finding designer threads you can't beat the British Red Cross (Map 45) where you will discover the likes of Ralph Lauren, Armani and pairs of Manolos amongst the usual flotsam and jetsam. The Octavia Foundation Charity Shop (Map 35) is also a reliable source of local celebrities' cast-offs from like, yesterday. For all you true vintage fashion fiends who want to mingle with like-minded souls and find genuine vintage togs (i.e. pre-1980s) the Frock Me! Vintage Fashion Fair (Map 45) and Anita's Vintage Fashion Fair (Map 135) are unequalled for choice and variety. Wake up and smell the mould.

Keep On Running, Cycling, Skating etc.
Lillywhite's (Map 10) is the obvious place to go for cheap sportswear -- it has earned a bit of a bargain basement tag where once it was prestigious (the Lillywhites were instrumental in the game of cricket during the 19th century) but it doesn't stop the shoppers pouring in, and tourists buying their favourite London football team shirts. A good indie chain is Runners Need (Map 20). If it's sweatshop-made kit you're after head to Niketown (Map 2), which is as scary as the name suggests. Though we're no Amsterdam, the economic shitstorm has inspired many Londoners to don skintight clothes and take to two wheels. If you're after a battered old charmer of a bike, Recycling (Map 112) does a fab job at selling secondhand wheels. If you've had your designer bike nicked, head down to Brick Lane at the weekend and buy it off some dodgy geezer. Slam City Skates (Map 13) is the only dedicated place for Southbank skaters to get their duds.

Home Sweet Home
John Lewis (Map 2) is a British standard (read: very sensible) and has been the store of choice for middle-class couples' wedding lists for decades. With fantastic staff (who all get a share of the profits) and well-made stuff, their maxim is "never knowingly undersold." Twentytwentyone (Map 80) is a designer's wet dream selling originals as well as new items. So impressive is their collection that they often lend out furniture to film companies who want the authentic look of an era on set. SCP (Maps 30, 84) is perfect for unnecessary-yet-tasteful knick-knacks. The wonderfully named Timorous Beasties (Map 6) make wickedly amusing wallpapers -- their most famous being a toile de jouy design for modern days (spot the alcopop-drinking chavs and the Gherkin in the background). Labour and Wait (Map 91) does the retro home stuff better than most. If you want personable, "Where can I find one of these?" type of service try Russell's Hardware & DIY (Map 151) in Tooting or KTS The Corner (Map 86) in Dalston.

Electricity For You And Me
Apple have done a very good job at monopolising our lives and getting everyone to 'Think Different,' so why you'd need to go anywhere other than the Apple Store (Map 10) we're not sure. However, traditionally, Tottenham Court Road is the hideout for the anally retentive hi-fi nut and the nerdoid pirate radio enthusiast a-like. The area positively thrums with electricity. In all cases it's best to shop around, play prices against each other and barter until you get the lowest price -- often cash payment will get you well below the RRP. Computer Exchange (Map 3) is the one-stop shop for gaming, DVDs, computing and phones, which -- as the name suggests -- will part-exchange and knock money off for cash transactions. For audiovisual, Richer Sounds (Map 106) is a trusted chain, and if we're talking electronics in the purist sense, Maplin (Map 3) is geek central. Whether you'll get anyone who knows what they're talking about is another matter. Photography enthusiasts should check out the London Camera Exchange (Map 24) for old-school SLRs and digital cameras and Red Dot Cameras for Leicas (Map 7).

Food For Thought
We like our food in London and the more diverse the better. Whether it's chowing down on burgers from Lucky Chip and Vietnamese baguettes from Banh Mi 11 down Broadway Market (Map 89) or fresh scallops and some raclette down Borough Market (Map 106) before moseying on down to Maltby Street Market (Map 107) for gelato, we're not afraid to say, "Please Sir, I want some more" (mainly because we're paying for it). Whitecross Street (Map 7) also has an impressive selection of foodie stalls. We have New York (and in particular, the Magnolia Bakery) to thank for the invasion of cupcake stores but the original and best is the Hummingbird Bakery (Maps 29, 45) which makes Red Velvet cupcakes that taste like little pieces of baked orgasm. Just try and restrain yourself from licking the last morsels of frosting from the paper. Nostalgia for old style sweetie shops can be bought at Mrs. Kibble's Olde Sweet Shop (Map 10) whether your fetish is for cola cubes, sherbet flying saucers or Wham bars. Numerous Italian delis can be found around the city selling cured meats, buffalo mozzarella, biscotti and everything else that Mama used to make -- I Camisa & Son (Map 11) is small but crammed full of delicacies, while Spiazzo (Map 53) is bigger and sparklier. Organic freaks can bypass the rather average Whole Foods chain and head to local independent places like The Grocery (Map 91) or Mother Earth (Map 75). For the cheapest and best coffee-to-go in Soho try the Algerian Coffee Stores (Map 11). Looking for Unicum? Look no further than Gerry's Spirits Shop (Map 11) where you can find obscure liquors like Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka and good quality Cachaça.

Art and Craft Supplies
Crafty types and closet Van Goghs can pick up supplies at Cass Art's (Map 80) three-storey flagship store in Islington. There's everything here for aspiring Manga cartoonists and weekend watercolourists alike, and lots of fun bits and pieces for school holiday/rainy day projects in the basement. Much of the high quality stock can be found at cut-price throughout the year -- stock up on Moleskine note and sketchbooks which are frequently marked down. The London Graphic Centre (Map 13) has more design-led stock as well as fine art material attracting architects and graphic designers. Known for its greeting cards and stationery, Paperchase (Map 3) on Tottenham Court Road also has -- true to its name -- an astonishing array of handmade papers on its top floor -- from flocked designs to fibrous papers made with dried flowers. You've got to love Blade Rubber (Map 4) just for its name, and for keeping sketches, photos, and memories intact. Wyvern Bindery (Map 6) is one of few of its kind to offer book-making services.

Axes, Saxes, Drums, Strums...
Traditionally, Tin Pan Alley (real name: Denmark Street) has always been the hub of musical creativity in the city. Back in the day when rents were affordable, a community grew up around this little side street which went on to see Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles record in the basements, and a young Elton John sitting on the rooftops penning "Your Song". Nowadays you may spot Jack White trying out a Digitech Whammy or Jonny Greenwood looking for some new toy to replace his Marshall Shred Master. If we had to choose a couple, we'd bug Macari's (Map 12) for cheapness and Wunjos (Map 12) for friendliness. There are plenty of independent music stores to be found in London's boroughs, and often they are specialists, happy to have a natter about what exactly it is that you're looking for and what the weather's like. Try Top Wind (Map 104) for all your flute needs, Duke of Uke (Map 91) for banjo and ukulele-lovers, though the staff are a little arsey, and Phil Parker (Map 1) for all you jazz cats needing a hand with your brass. For the medieval troubadour in your life, Hobgoblin (Map 3) has its own luthier who makes lutes. Try Ray Man (Map 71) in Camden for unusual ethnic instruments and drone boxes. For the largest collection of sheet music in Europe, Chappell of Bond Street (Map 11) (now on Wardour Street but they've kept the name) is your destination. One thing though, will you instrument shop assistants please stop jamming while you're talking to us?

Music Non Stop
The slow, painful death of the CD can be seen in almost every indie music store in London, and it coincides with the financial doom and gloom that has befallen Virgin Records, Zavvi and Sanctuary (thankfully we still have one branch of Fopp (Map 12) left). Bizarrely, the death march of the traditional record shop has become a moonwalk: more and more boutique record shops are springing up selling new and used wax. The Berwick Street vinyl epicenter may have been drained of late, but other parts of London have become haunts for us of haunched posture and good taste. Sister Ray (Map 11) is forever teetering on the edge, but Reckless Records (Map 11) seems here to stay. If you find yourself on the Essex Road, have a gander at Flashback (Maps 53, 83) and Haggle Vinyl (Map 83): you're sure to find something to please and appeal in the former and appall in the latter. The Music & Video Exchange (Map 29) in Notting Hill was way ahead of its time and has been the swapshop of choice for years, it's still the king as far as we're concerned. When south of the river, do as Camberwellians do and drop in at Rat Records (Map 121). To guarantee a withering look from a record shop lifer go and discuss the use of naivety in Legowelt's output at Phonica (Map 10) in Soho. Many a muso's all-round fave, Sounds of the Universe (Map 11) is owned by the Soul Jazz label.

Antiques And Bric-A-Brac, Flea Markets And Stalls
There may have been a time, dear reader, when markets sold fleas. And brics and bracs. Perhaps we used to know what these elusive words meant. Frankly, we numbskulls at NFT don't care about etymology unless it's secondhand and collectable. First stop on many shoppers' lists -- both serious collectors and weekend browsers -- are Alfie's Antique Market (Map 76) and Gray's Antique Market (Map 2). Here you'll find art, antiques, jewellery, vintage clothing and rare books all housed under one roof.

Once the centre of the Britpop phenomenon in the '90s and a thriving mini-metropolis for vintage and antique stalls, Camden is now rather anaesthetised, but packs of German and French kids on school trips still rifle through the emo and goth gear that overfloweth. There is some gold to be found in shops like Episode (Map 71) and Rokit (Map 71), and Aldo Liquidation (Map 71) is good for a bargain (or practising your rugby tackle). Certainly the place still has atmosphere.

Well-known to scavengers, Camden Passage (Map 80) in Angel rather confusingly, is a welcome retreat from the mallrat-filled N1 centre across the road in Islington. The Mall and also Pierrepoint Arcade (tucked away behind the passage) offer a cornucopia of clothing, jewelry, military paraphernalia, homewares, prints, and a host of other bits and bobs. On Saturdays, market stalls set up in the street and surprises like original Givenchy earrings from 1978 (4 quid!) can be salvaged from amongst the knick-knacks. This is another brilliant little vintage bazaar continually threatened by chains and redevelopment. Go protest by buying any old crap.

Brick Lane (Map 91) also opens up on Sunday and in the summer there is a real carnival feel with fruit and veg, plumbing and DIY bits and pieces, electricals, toiletries, furniture (dentist's chair anyone?), clothes, DVDs lining the lane and spilling into Sclater Street. Watch your bags and all the silly haircuts. Brick Lane also has the added advantage of having many a watering hole and curry house where you can stop and people-watch if it all makes you want to go all 'Falling Down' on their asses. If that's not your thing, (Up)Market is held in the Truman Brewery (Map 91) every Sunday and showcases new designers as well as housing some vinyl, vintage and gourmet street food. Spitalfields Market (Map 91) has been tarted up to be a sanitized precinct of chain stores but there are still some unusual boutiques and independent shops.

The triumvirate of hipster markets consists of Columbia Road Market (Map 91), Broadway Market (Map 89), and Chatsworth Road Market (just north of Map 90). Also in the East is Roman Road Market (Map 94). It's proper gorblimey, lor' love a duck cockerney territory but you may find yourself soaking up the atmosphere more than finding anything of real interest. If Lady Luck is stroking your inner thigh you get some great bargains Sarf of the river at Deptford Market (Map 119).

Though certainly not as bountiful in treasure as the car boot sales of other parts of the country, London does have some. The best in Zone 2 is definitely the Battersea Car Boot Sale (Map 141), a sprawling mess that kicks off around midday is a godsend to all us alcoholics and narcoleptics.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Total Chi Yoga Bar
You'd think that a yoga class would be relaxing, invigorating maybe, but definitely a mindful experience. Yet so many classes today are crammed full, with little one-on-one attention to make sure you're not doing yourself damage, and of course, always that girl (or guy). You know the one, clad in Lululemon, effortlessly weaving her limbs into binds which make the rest of us want to give up. We know, we should be focusing inwardly and not comparing ourselves to the rest of the class, but it happens. Total Chi is not one of those places. Classes contain no more than six people so you get the sense of actually being tutored and the two small studios are wonderfully light and warm (another bugbear of mine -- freezing cold community halls). I had an incredibly reaffirming yin yoga session, frequently and wrongly identified as "the more relaxing one" -- holding those postures is tough! But even though I hadn't attended a class in some months, my teacher Fern Ross guided me through with humour and gentle strength, getting my muscles supple so I felt safe with my practice whilst also getting lost in the flow. I left feeling suitably stretched but lighter on my feet. Oh, and it's called a yoga bar because you can pick up a delicious smoothie/coffee/kombucha upstairs on your way out.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Postcard Teas
There is nothing more of an affront to your status as a Londoner than knowing about a place but never having been there. Postcard Teas is one of those places for me. It's been around about as long as I've lived here and I've heard it referred to in hushed tones amongst those in the know but didn't even realise it was an actual shop (you can order teas online too). In fact, this is one of those shops that people travel specifically to London to visit. It's not on a street that you may walk through regularly so stumbling across it as you search for a less congested route through the city (as I did on a wretched tube strike day) gives it an added aura of magic. It had actually started to tip it down as I arrived in what looks like a gallery space. The shopkeeper, taking pity, offered to make me a brew so I could sample my selected tea until the rain had passed. I've recently developed quite a taste for Pu-erh tea and discovered that trading in these leaves is a little bit like being part of a secret society. They come in different vintages according to age but for my entry level tastebuds I bought a caddy of Mr Liu's Nannuo Shan Cooked Pu-erh. Now you know about it--go visit.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Tatty Devine
When I first moved to London, Tatty Devine jewellery seemed to symbolise everything that was attractive about the city: shiny, colourful and witty. Ten years on and I'm not sure I still think of London being those things (maybe something else rhyming with 'witty'? I'm kidding!) but Tatty Devine certainly still has it's allure. It's a wonder then that the Tatty Devine workshop is only just now offering jewellery-making parties as it seems an obvious choice for such a playful brand. This week I sampled the joys of making one of their bunting necklaces at a breakfast workshop and I can't tell you how cute and fun it was. Playing with the colours and coming up with my own design was almost meditative and the TD girls were on hand to give helpful tips and make sure we didn't bodge things up. Even better was the sense of achievement I felt when people said, "Love the necklace," and I could respond, "Yeah, made it this morning." The party package includes material for 8-12 people to make a necklace or charm bracelet, Fentimans drinks or prosecco (depending on which package you choose), popcorn, sweet treats, and 15% off jewellery on the day plus you can make your own playlist to groove along to. I'd get your mates on board and organise a party even if it's no-one's birthday or hen.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Scandinavian Kitchen
If you're a lover of the Swedish cinnamon bun or have graduated to the cardamom bun, then the semla (or semlor in the plural) will blow your mind. A cardamom bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream, the semla was traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday. Back in the day, it was a humble bread bun served in hot milk but at some point, like everyone else, the Swedes got fed up with this ascetic regime and the semla as we now know it was born. This pimping of the tradition proved too delicious and semlor became available every Tuesday until Easter. Then they started popping up soon after Christmas--not unlike the Cadbury's cream egg. Let's be honest, Mardi Gras is pretty much the stretch from Christmas through to Easter: after that the days start to get longer and we become aware of our less-than-svelte figures. I can't think of a better place to exercise winter eating than The Scandinavian Kitchen. With its open sandwiches, buns and cakes, and the stash of imported goodies at the back of the café (they have Smash! from Norway! Only the best salty-sweet chocolate hit EVER!), I'll happily take a 'tretar' (translates literally as 'threefill' or third cup) of Monmouth coffee.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Eat 17
Not so long ago, there was a definition being bandied about by the press: "Andism." It was being applied to the likes of cafes which were also bike repair shops, and boutiques that were also bars. Well, Eat 17 is beyond Andism: it's a convenience store, burger bar, restaurant, florist, bakery, off licence, and many other things due to the ingenious housing of numerous local brands and suppliers under one roof. A bit like a farmers' market but you don't have to wait for the weekend and you can also enjoy the Art Deco-influenced dining room upstairs. It's brilliant and that's from someone who doesn't easily buy things. That's right, despite my forays into marketing (or maybe because of them), I am very hard to convince. No Jordan Belfort, I do not want your pen, I would rather carve words into my forearm with my housekey than allow a cretin like you the satisfaction of a sale. Anyway. The original Eat 17 is in Walthamstow and off the back of its success, this one opened in the summer. Oh, and the people behind it also created Bacon Jam--yes, Bacon Jam. And I guarantee you'll have an East 17 song in your head as you wander the aisles (mine was Deep) and perhaps chuckle to yourself as you remember Brian Harvey's baked potato accident. Just go.

See all London / Shopping Radars...

NFT Top Picks:
Powered By Subgurim( Maps ASP.NET

Algerian Coffee Store
AP Fitzpatrick Fine Art Materials
Bangla City
Beyond Retro
Borough Market
Camden Passage
Comfort Station
Dalston Mill Fabrics
Daunt Books
Design Museum Shop
East End Thrift Store
Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
I Knit London
I. Camisa & Son
Luna and Curious
M. Moen & Sons
Mac's Cameras
Maroush Deli
Metal Crumble
Music & Video Exchange
Neal's Yard Dairy
Negozio Classica
Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates
Paul Smith
Paul Smith
Porchester Gate Spa
Portobello Road Market
Primrose Hill Books
Ridley Road Market
Stoke Newington Bookshop
Taylor Taylor
Thai Smile
The Ginger Pig
The Hummingbird Bakery
The Pet Shop
What Katie Did
Wild Guitars