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London: Best Shopping in the World's Shopping Capital



London is expensive, sprawling and crowded. Many of the high streets across the capital can look like identikit retail experiences rolled out to order. But despite all of this, it is still voted amongst the best, if not the best, shopping city in the world, which comes down to one thing: it simply has everything you could want.

 

The Globe Shopper City Index notes that London outstrips all other European cities in terms of the quality of the shops and the availability of international and local brands. Whether you go to one of the many excellent department stores (in this, London really excels) or hit up the high streets (Oxford Street and High Street Kensington are the most famous), it’s unlikely there’s a global brand you can’t find.

 

As with any major capital, shopping here is an opportunity to be steeped in the city’s history, whether it’s the arcades of famous Covent Garden, with Eliza Doolittle singing prettily in your head, or the swinging sixties headquarters of Carnaby Street.

 

But London’s best treasures are its most esoteric: the multicultural local markets in every corner of the city and the backstreet one-off boutiques. This list covers the full range of shopping experiences available in London, from mainstream to independent.

 


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Carnaby Street

This was the epicentre of London's swinging sixties fashion, with designers such as Mary Quant opening up boutiques here and bands like the Who and the Rolling Stones hanging out and performing at nearby music venues. While for many years it became better known as a tourist destination with groups posing under the famous arches, recent revitalisation, including pedestrianising the area, has brought it back to the shopping forefront. Carnaby Street has a range of global brands (American Apparel, Miss Sixty, Jack Wills), as well as independent stores, which are concentrated in the arcades of Kingly Court including vintage Stronboli's Circus, women's boutique Birdcage and crafts at Buffy's Beads.




Located inside a nondescript warehouse building in Dalston, the interiors of this absurdly trendy store are described as 'red dwarf sci fi meets art exhibition'. Set designer and art director Gary Card is to thank for those, but people would come here for the fashion forward collections regardless. There are three product rooms, with carefully curated collections ranging from the contemporary leading designers (Rick Owens, Comme Des Garcons, Acne etc) to the more unusual. Styling is hard, edgy, masculine - you don' t come here for pretty and predictable. They also have a library, a record store and a club space for private events (again by invitation only) where DJs play using their custom built vintage sound system.




The Oxford Circus flagship Topshop is one of the largest high street shops in the world. There are five floors in this sartorial goliath, including men and women's fashion and accessories, a Wah Nails bar, tailoring service, hair salon, EAT cafe and a personal shopping service. More than 30,000 shoppers traipse through here everyday, so expect crowds at almost any time. A British staple, Topshop offers affordably priced catwalk-inspired fashion with constantly refreshed collections, as well as celebrity designed ranges by the likes of Kate Moss. Early morning is when to find it at it's most serene (if that word can ever be applied).


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The Old Truman Brewery is at the heart of Brick Lane life. Once one of the largest brewers in the world, it closed in 1989 and the original site was bought up by developers. Back then Brick Lane was still a rough and ready place, where many Londoners wouldn't think of going, with the art scene just starting their. They transformed acres of vacant and derelict buildings into office spaces for media savvy companies, bars, restaurants, shops and the now famous markets, as artists and creative types took over the area. While most the venues here from All Star Lanes to Rough Trade rent space from them, the Old Truman Brewery is most commonly known for their markets from the Sunday Upmarket, boasting 200 stalls, to the Backyard Market with its kitsch arts and crafts. These have made the area a mecca for fashion students from around the globe, and now tons of tourists.


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East End


Any music lover should pay homage to the legendary Rough Trade. They have been supporting independent music since 1976, when they championed new genres like punk, reggae and new wave. They went on to launch a record label, and signed the likes of The Smiths and The Libertines. Ignoring the commercialised mass music market, they stick to their guns to bring real music to the people. The flagship Notting Hill store is quite small, but offers the quintessential eighties, indie record store experience, with posters on the walls to prove it. Rough Trade East is bigger, with an in store coffee shop, picnic tables and a peerless collection of records.




It began with Shoreditch House, East London's branch of international media hub Soho House, opening up around the corner, followed by Sir Terence Conran's Boundary hotel, restaurant and cafe, and quickly the fashion world started paying attention to this little lane. There aren't a huge number of shops or big name brands - you come here for the interesting independent stores, the low key atmosphere and unique products. For fashion, head to super cool Parisian APC or hip menswear boutiques Hostem and Sunspel. The area really excels in interesting homewares such as retro Labour & Wait, opulent Maison Trois Garcons (owned by the adjacent restaurant) and Caravan, one of the original shops before the area's gentrification, offering handmade gifts. Beauty can be procured from Aesop, the brand's first stand alone store, or try Murdock Shoreditch, for traditional men's grooming.




Such has been the success of Selfridges & Co., you can now find them in Birmingham and Manchester, but the flagship London store is by far the most impressive when it comes to content. Housed in a grand building opened in 1909, the experience is a barrage of luxury, and from the get go they focused on near theatrical displays. Begin with the swathes of designer handbags and cosmetics on the ground floors. Head upstairs for the most high end of high end fashion, with a section of more accessible, young labels. This is ten acres and six floors of indulgence from the Cow Shed Spa for on site pampering to the Food Hall, famous for its Christmas fare.




Combine London's love of markets with a cutting edge aesthetic and luxury fashion, and you'll come close to Dover Street Market. In simple terms DSM is a six floor, 1200 square metres department store in Mayfair, with Mayfair prices to match. But the carefully curated fashion and Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo's warehouse chic design make it stand out from any other luxury shopping destination. The minimalist interiors have stark steel beams, bare brick walls and portaloos for changing rooms. The 50 designers stocked adapt to their surroundings with Lanvin and Givenchy pieces displayed against corrugated iron, salvaged wood and contemporary art. Every six months they undergo 'tachiagri,' meaning new beginnings, when the store will be closed as designers reconfigure the space, so don't be surprised if it looks different every time you visit.


Three times a week, Portobello Road becomes packed with market traders selling everything from 19th century silver candelabras to retro seventies platforms, or first edition Charles Dickens tomes to cheaply made logo tees. Starting at the intersection with Chepstow Villas, the world famous and historic market runs for over a mile right up to Golborne Road. The more southern section has higher quality antiques and is home to the antiques covered arcade while the further north you go, the less expensive. Under the Westway you'll find the greatest concentration of vintage fashion, and beyond that a number of bric-a-brac street sellers, which often harbour great finds. The full market runs on Friday, Saturday and Wednesday, the latter being the quietest day to explore.


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Regent Street


The distinctive timbered façade of Liberty has fooled many visitors thinking the building is far older, but the Tudor Revival style was popular in 1920s Britain. This historic department store was started by entrepreneur Arthur Liberty in 1875, and went on to become the most prestigious in London, rivalling Paris with its fashions. To this day, Liberty is known for its luxury fashion, cosmetics, accessories and gifts. But despite its long history, it's far from stuffy or old fashioned with designers such as A.P.C., Christopher Kane and Acne, as well as the more traditional Barbour or Grenson. But they are most famous for the distinctive Liberty print fabric, available in swathes in the haberdashery or as scarves, ties, diaries and other accessories.


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Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler

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