The British high street is great, bringing affordable fashion to the masses, etc, etc, but it’s not the shops on your average British high street that I’m talking about. Don’t worry, I’m hardly about to sit here and slate the shopping mecca that is Topshop (although not all it’s items are particularly well made and I wouldn’t exactly call it’s prices affordable per se). But in all honesty, I think that London’s real shopping gems are those that don’t crop up on every high street from Guildford to Skegness.
So here are a few of my personal recommendations if you too like me are tired of turning up to an event in the same LBD as half the room.
Firstly, Aime is on a beautiful leafy side road in my favourite part of London, Westbourne Grove – it is in Notting Hill and therefore gorgeous, suitably pleased with its self and within seconds of excellent cafes and boutiques, and also near enough to Portabello and Ladbroke Grove to remain vaguely cool and not totally reek of middle aged sloaney-ness – So the shop holds an immediate appeal for me. But Aime has so much more going for it than just the perfection of its location. It is a beautiful boutique that stocks a range of to-die-for labels such as APC ( their trademark tees greatly appeal to me for obvious breton stripe-related reasons), Isabel Marant, Forte forte, St James, Madras and Repetto. Ok so it’s not cheap, but my fashion philosophy is that it is always, always better to buy fewer really good quality items than lots of tat that you will wear once before discarding. And if that doesn’t convince you to pop along and bankrupt yourself then one look at these pictures of Aime’s clothes rails just might…
Another thing that I love about Aime, is it’s sister shop next door, Petite Aime.
Petite Aime is a children’s designer boutique stocking labels such as Bonton, Hollys, Zef and Maan (nope I’d never heard of them before either). Not even the most petite and determined of fashionistas would have a hope in hell of squeezing themselves into any of their sizes, but it’s still fun to browse Petite Aime.
The clothes are just so adorable it almost (emphasis on the ALMOST) makes you want to reproduce immediately purely to have an excuse to buy them.
I can imagine that the Aime/Petite Aime situation is just perfect for the ladies who lunch of the Notting Hill and Kensington area… After spending the morning working up an appetite in Aime, the style savvy yummy mummy can enjoy a delicious lunch in the Daylesford Organic Cafe just across the road, before popping back to kit out their little darlings in their very own miniature designer ensemble.
I stumbled across this fantastic little shop a couple of weeks ago after taking a couple of wrong turnings en route to the Alliance Francaise, needless to say I missed most of the mornings lesson. Catwalk’s isn’t the easiest shop to find as it is tucked away off Marelybone High street. I imagine it is the kind of place whose clientele are either dedicated vintage shoppers (I would love to include myself in this category but in all honesty I will never have the patience to be a true vintage girl) and those lucky enough to find it by chance.
It is tiny inside, with clothes appearing to be draped or hung from every inch of wall and piled up in every corner. I found this quite appealing having spent so much time being virtually chased out of shops by overly organised shop attendants for messing up the odd pile of t-shirts in search of a different size. Anyway, if your willing to have a good old rummage around then you will find that it is true what it says on the front of the shop: there are TONS of ‘nearly new’, and very reasonably priced designer clothes to be found.
I thought that my purchase for the day was pretty restrained… a cute patterned Marc Jacobs scarf (below)… but I’m not denying that I was very tempted by a classic red DVF number, and I may still return to claim it as my own…
Don’t let it’s slightly scruffy appearance fool you, Retrowoman is not the kind of vintage shop that would appeal to the fashionista on a budget. If its bargains your after, give Retrowoman a miss and head down Portabello road to the market. Here the rails are always bursting with vintage pieces by all the high-end labels from Chanel to Gucci. (I am personally lusting over a pair of AMAZING McQueen platforms that I spotted in the window the other day). But don’t be put off by some of the prices scribbled on endearingly tatty paper tags, the clothes really are worth it. Retrowoman is an emporium of beautiful vintage dresses, coats, shoes, bags and more. I think it’s like the most wonderful mini museum. Even if your not necessarily going to splash out on a floor sweeping Missioni number, it’s worth making the trip to Notting Hill gate purely to worship at the altar of vintage couture.
I must have walked past The Exchange hundreds of times on my travels without ever going inside. I foolishly assumed that it was just one of those random ’boutiques’ (as if they even qualify to bear the name!) one finds in a non-shopping area that caters solely for those with too much money and too little taste. But when I finally did go in I felt pretty stupid as I was immediately faced with rows upon well-organised rows of stunning, supposedly second-hand pieces, so beautifully presented that I can’t imagine them ever having left the showroom.
Like Retrowoman, The Exchange boasts an impressive selection of high-end designer pieces (although not all strictly ‘vintage’ as many of the pieces are only a few seasons old) but unlike Retrowoman, I cannot imagine that this tastefully decorated, spacious shop resembles something of a cross between a mosh pit and a jumble sale every saturday morning.
To me it just seems so much more appealing to invest in a vintage Chanel 2.5 in a shop where you don’t have to fight your way through hoards of other customers and look at your reflection in a grubby piece of glass propped against a wall. But then again, that’s probably why I’ll never be the worlds best vintage shopper and why I find the Oxford St Topshop mildly traumatic. Its just so much more enjoyable to shop in a calmer space with a bit of room to manoeuvre. Anyway, The Exchange is definitely worth visiting as it has some really lovely clothes and tons of jewellery and accessories. Plus the sales assistants were so friendly and didn’t look at me like some sort of madwoman when I asked to take a few photos of the clothes, always a good start to the vital shop/shopper/shop assistant relationship.
Just look at these classic Chanel pieces, each is practically crying out to be paired with well-cut jeans to create an elegant look with a modern twist…
I fell in love with this beautiful silk dress (now THAT’S what I call an LBD!) and nearly fainted when I realised it was by Erdem.
I am obsessed with Erdem, specifically the joyous floral prints that featured in his Spring/Summer 2010 collection.
This black dress dress may be lacking in colourful patterns, but it still has the beautiful tailoring and expert craftsmanship of the designer’s newer and more widely acclaimed collections. Possibly giving it a certain mystery that the bolder floral numbers lack. Anyway, after seeing this little beauty, it is certainly no longer just a summer dress by Erdem that I aspire to own.
Well that was just a very petite selection of the hundreds of unique, one-off shops that can be found all over London. One day I will visit (and hopefully buy from) them all. The next time your off on a shopping spree, or just out and about and feel like playing with pretty clothes, I strongly recommend checking them out. I wonder how Paris will compare…
Love Ella. X