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London as a Style Magnet

Good for Window Shopping Too

Until a few years ago, understatement was the hallmark of Bond Street in London’s Mayfair.  This corner of central London, by the east edge of Hyde Park, holds the  highest concentration of shops with Royal Warrants (issued to suppliers of goods or services to the royal family);“no splash; no glitter’ was how Virginia Woolf’s described Bond Street’s shops in “Mrs. Dalloway’.

It all began to change is 2010 when Louis Vuitton moved to Bond Street.  Numerous international fashion houses have planted their flags in Mayfair since then. According to the New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers in the area, this square mile now has the highest proportion of ‘haute couture’ stores in the world.

As Mayfair has become a magnet for stylish British ( some say ‘footballers and their friends)’and  the worlds’ wealthiest tourists, splash and glitter has become more the rule than the exception.  Chanel’s Bond Street boutique features a strand of ‘pearls’ three stories long. Belstaff’- whose biker jackets are worn by Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp-  closed Bond Street for a motorbike parade to mark the opening of its Mayfair superstore. Alexander McQueen’s shop is decorated with elaborate plaster panels incorporating seashells, wings  and skulls, the house motif. It all makes for great shopping ‘theatre’.  The venerable jeweller, Asprey’s, on Bond Street since1847 survives as a reminder of what Bond Street used to be.

Tradition lives too, for the moment, on nearby Savile Row the very name of which is synonymous with the best in British tailoring. A number of bespoke tailors have shops on this street; a hand tailored made to measure- bespoke – suit takes two to three months to make, requires 50 hours of hand work and several fittings, costs around £3,000  but is typically worn for decades. A few steps away on Old Burlington street, near enough to make Savile Row merchants fall on their shears, is Abercrombie and Fitch. Their bid to open a children’s shop at No. 30 Savile Row faced serious opposition and though they won they were prohibited from staging one of their signature launch parties.

Fitting in less controversially is Dover Street Market a few blocks from Bond Street  Part department store, part museum, part ‘happening’, it’s four floors of fashion for men and women plus a tranquil coffee shop on the top floor. The creation of Rei Kawakubo, the Dover Street Market showcases her own fashions – Comme des Garcons – as well as that of like-minded designers. In her own words, it’s ‘a market where various creators encounter each other in an ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos’.

The Burlington Arcade links Bond Street with Piccadilly. Opened in 1819, the covered arcade was built by Lord George Cavendish for the employment of ‘industrious females’. Members of his family regiment, the 10th Hussars, were recruited to serve as a private security force- the elaborately costumed Beadles. Beadles still patrol the Arcade enforcing Lord Cavendish’s code of behaviour :no whistling, singing, playing of musical instruments, running, carrying of large parcels or opening of umbrellas and no babies’ prams. The Queen’s own nephew, son of the late Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden,  has a shop at no. 41 where the magnificently crafted furniture and objects Viscount Linley produces are sold under the name David Linley. Linley is also responsible for the design of the Arcade’s new carpet.  The 180- metre long, grey and white design celebrates 92 of the world’s most celebrated buildings.

 

 Royally Fashionable Frocks

From the Burlington Arcade it’s a five-minute taxi ride to Kensington Palace and the exhibition, ‘Fashion Rules’, an opportunity for a close-up look at twenty-one royal frocks:  the 1950s haute couture of Queen Elizabeth, the more daring 60s and 70s costumes of Princess Margaret and the sometimes over the top choices of Diana, Princess of Wales. Many of the dresses are familiar from photographs, some are shown for the first time. Photographs, film footage and music set the scene.

‘Rules of Fashion’ for royalty were strictest for the HRH Queen Elizabeth II.  In order for her to stand out from the crowd (and to photograph more clearly in the black and white film of the 1950s) her costumes were always in light colours. Trim and embroidery referenced the flag or symbols of the country she was visiting.  Bodices were usually decorated only on the back, allowing for ribbons and medals to be displayed on the front. Princess Margaret the Queen’s younger sister, enjoyed the freedom to collaborate with the house of Dior and indulge her penchant for jewel colours. Diana had the stylistic misfortune to live in the ‘Dynasty’ age of shoulder pads and frills although an exception was the simple sheath she wore in Japan echoing the pink of cherry blossoms.

Coincidentally, Britain’s current style icon, the Duchess of Cambridge, lives in Kensington Palace a few paces away from the exhibition. She, her husband Prince William and their son Prince George occupy the four floors of apartment 1A which once housed Princess Margaret.

Fashion Rules is at Kensington Palace until July 2015. Open daily 10-18. Last admission 17.00  www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace

 

More fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Until March 2015, an exhibition traces the development of the white wedding dress over the last two centuries.The V and A is open 10.00-17.45 daily and until 22.00 Friday. www.vam.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

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