London Flaneuse (1): St James

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Where is good to go in London right now? With this question in mind, here is a selection of London itineraries mainly aimed at the visitor to the capital who has an interest in fashion.  Most are based on my own wanderings, lucky finds and old favourites.  They will appear in a series of posts, with places grouped into a walkable itinerary around a specific area of the city recommending sources of culture, food and retail therapy.  Here we start with a suitably Dickensian zone: St James, the area between Piccadilly and St James Park in the W1 postcode.

This is London clubland, most originally for gentlemen only and the area reflects this with its wealth of gentlemen’s outfitters along Jermyn Street, Piccadilly and the arcades that run between them.  Always a lover of masculine style, pairing tweeds and paisleys and other prints, I find these fascinating and inspiring.

Start your journey at the eastern end of Jermyn Street where it branches off Haymarket and walk west. Though it runs parallel with Piccadilly, it is a much quieter street and features some legendary names of English menswear: Hilditch and Key, Pink, Turnbull and Asser for shirts; Church, Lobb and Trickers for the most luxurious handmade shoes and boots.

20150919_111055I could wander up and down this street for an age, but about halfway down it, stroll down one of the arcades leading north onto Piccadilly to check out two really exceptional bookshops.  First there is the Rizzoli bookshop with its floor-to-ceiling racks of the most gorgeous picture books and accessories.  If, like me, you just want to soak up some of the atmosphere, there’s a café-bar where you can order a coffee or a glass of champagne to accompany your browsing.

More traditional is Hatchards, a historic bookshop that is all woodpanelling and slightly wonky stairs.  Check out the author signings they have planned – many of the most famous authors will appear there.

Next door is Fortnum and Mason, probably the most beautifully quaint department store in London.  Though it is famous for food (and deservedly so), check out the ladieswear before you leave – they often stock lesser known artisan labels and always have a beautiful selection of hats and other accessories as well as a temptingly presented array of scents.

Almost opposite F&M, across Piccadilly, is Burlington Arcade, home of some of the most fabulous jewels in London.  Don’t leave without sauntering through it, checking out the shop windows, each one more tempting than the last.

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A little further along Piccadilly a right turn will take you into Dover Street, home of the Dover Street Market where you will find an eclectic selection of fashion, including Comme des Garcons, Celine and Sacai.  This is not the home of the traditional and it makes an interesting contrast in this otherwise classic area.

Heading back South towards Piccadilly, you will find yourself facing the Ritz hotel.  You may well be tempted to go in – don’t fight it.  There is one more corner of St James to explore though, if you can manage to suppress the urge to collapse with a glass of champagne and this is St James Street itself, running from Piccadilly at its northern end to the Mall at its southern.  Here you will find Lock & Co – a hat shop with a wonderful selection of both the classic and the fashion-conscious.  The staff know their business and here you can be measured up for your topper, whether you are looking for an off-the-peg or a bespoke hat.

Next door is the equally atmospheric Berry Bros and Rudd, a wine shop like no other.  The tiny, creaking, wood-and-claret scented warren of a shop sits above miles of cellars housing thousands of wines. Despite this plenitude, the staff can advise on them all, whatever you are looking for.

Close by, in Duke Street, you will find culture of a different kind in the many private art galleries.  My favourite is MCA Gray, specialists in fashion illustration.  Last September their Irwin Crosthwaite show was a revelation and next year they are planning a show of Rene Bouche 14-20 September 2016, timed to coincide with London Fashion Week.  It promises to be a feast for the eyes.

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Speaking of which, you will need to re-fuel if you managed to resist the temptations of the Ritz. For an informal meal thoroughly in keeping with the atmosphere of the area, you cannot beat Davy’s Wine Bar, underground in what appear to be caves, under King’s Street.  For a more formal or a celebration meal, there is only one place to go: Le Caprice in Arlington Street.  It is discreet, elegant, welcoming and always of an assuringly consistent quality.  If you have completed this walk you surely deserve a suitable reward?

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