I’ve been reading an informative article on The Business Of Fashion about www.storeadore.com, a US website that combines social networking with shopping reviews. BOF points out that while there are increasing numbers of social shopping sites cropping up, there are too many “whose value propositions are unclear and whose technology is shoddy”. I must admit I’m not really the social-networking type -I prefer my socialising to be of the face-to-face variety – but I have checked out a few of these sites in the past. The most well-known one in the UK is OSOYOU.com and even that hasn’t really made its mark, the site can be difficult to navigate and was so full of technical glitches when it launched, it quite put me off returning. What’s nice about Store Adore is its simplicity. Apparently, the way it works is it handpicks the best fashion shops in a given US area and does a write-up of the store. It then offers the store an opportunity to advertise on the page and that quite often results in a discount voucher which then drives customers to its stores and those customers then add their own reviews. How easy and how clever!
As there isn’t a UK equivalent of Store Adore, I’ve taken it upon myself to do my bit for London retail. These 5 would be in my version of Store Adore:
The Shop At Bluebird, 350 King’s Road, SW3
My favourite ‘destination’ store, I would travel across town to visit The Shop At Bluebird just for the experience. It’s a huge single-floor space, studiously filled with a wish-list mix of labels from the unheard of (Obedient Sons, Nili Lotan) to the roll-call ofubiquitous French-cool labels (APC, Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno, Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, Rue du Mail, Charles Anastase). It’s not all clothing, there’s also a spa and a carefully edited selection of vintage furniture (think 1950s medicine cabinets, cinema chairs and Gulliver-sized mirrors) while their offering of art/photography/fashion books is top notch. Did I mention the staff? These guys get the balance between friendly and helpful but non-harassing just right. When I bought a Helmut Lang blazer there recently they even gave me the name and number of their alterations tailor (www.colpani.com if you’re interested). What I like about The Shop At Bluebird is it feels like a secret shop, despite its size it still has an intimacy you rarely experience in London.
Shop At Maison Bertaux, 27 Greek Street, Basement Premises, W1
Tiny but well-stocked, this is where I go for my fix of Sonia Rykiel socks and APC basics. It’s in a cute little basement underneath a moody French patisserie (don’t try to order a capuccino in there whatever you do!) and if you add yourself to the mailing list, ‘Madame’ will send you email invitations to all sorts of insider shopping shenanigans*. Don’t forget to check out the addictive blog which covers their buying trips as well as nights out with London’s in-crowd.
*Today there is 10% off if you whisper ‘Madame’ at the till!
Couverture and The Garb Store, 188 Kensington Park Road, W11
Retail is suffering at the moment which means stores need to work on the experience and ambience of their set-ups in order to get customers through their doors. New to Notting Hill is Couverture & The Garb Store which I read about last week so decided I had to check out pronto. I love it. On the ground and first floor are womens and childrens clothes as well as hard-to-resist homesy bits like Alexander Girard cushions, vintage wooden toys and other knick knacks. The fashion is on the chi-chi side so not the sort of stuff I’d buy but it’s the kind of shop where your eyes are constantly darting left and right, you just don’t want to miss a thing and it’s all so beautifully presented. The owner is Emily Dyson who is an ex-Paul Smith designer and the daughter of James Dyson the vacuum cleaner guy (why am I even telling you this?). Downstairs is The Garb Store, classic American-influenced utilitarian menswear – Japanese chinos, no-logo grey-marl sweatshirts – mixed in with military blankets, preppie separates, New Balance 576 trainers and Action Man collectables. The whole concept is very ‘lifestyle’ but still with a personal twist that makes you want to move in there and then. I really hope this store is successful as it’s opened during a turbulent time but is such a unique enterprise and clearly a labour of love.
Matches Marylebone, 87 Marylebone High Street, W1
Matches is a funny one. I like the brand in as much as it’s always ahead of the curve and I love its seasonal magazine, not to mention whiling away many hours on its website. But whenever I’ve been into the Westbourne Grove store I’ve felt rather overwhelmed by the designery-ness of the labels. This new branch feels much more tightly edited and user-friendly. It’s way too expensive for me but it still has that magnetic ‘I’ll just pop in for a minute’ lure that I can’t resist. Plus the staff are super-nice, last time I was there I had a very cosy chat with one of the assistants who complimented my ginormous fur hat. If I was ever in the market for some high-end label action I’d definitely come here first.
Clair De Rouen, 125 Charing Cross Road, WC2
Not strictly a fashion store as this is a bookshop but I’ve included it because I literally can’t walk past without a brief stopover. The great thing about bookshops is you can come out having spent £30 and get the same excited buzz you’d get from dropping £500 on a Marc Jacobs coat. Situated on Charing Cross Road above The Soho Originals Bookstore it’s another of those secret hideaway finds that feels so right for London. Claire De Rouen was the manager of cult bookshop Zwemmers further along Charing Cross Road until it became Shipley and she’s one of London’s unsung fashion heroines. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a photography or fashion-obsessed friend you’ll find it in here (not to mention a little something for yourself too).
PIC: Shop at Maison Bertaux customers modelling the new collections