As a design major, my addiction to clothing … and shoes … and bags … and jewelry … is somewhat inevitable. So, leaving Ithaca — where I am sure you have noticed the most frequented store in our shopping mall is Target — to spend a semester in the fashion mecca that is London has been a bit like a fairytale. What is unfortunate is that so many American students seem to stick to what they know, never venturing beyond the familiar names of H&M, TopShop, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. Yes, American Apparel. I mean, really? The absurdity of leaving America and travelling to Europe simply to purchase clothing that is produced in America still perplexes me. Yet I assure you I’ve seen it happen incredibly often in my two months here. In an effort to prevent this blasphemous behavior, I have come up with my five favorite places to peruse in London:
1. Tucked away in the ritzy area of Mayfair, Dover Street Market is a high fashion retail store concept developed by Rei Kawakubo of the renowned Comme des Garcons label. Although rather intimidating to enter, just consider the judgmental stares you might endure from the staff as part of the experience. The venue stocks a painstakingly-curated collection of avant-garde designer clothing and accessories. And the good are arranged in stunning, museum-worthy displays that shriek “Look, Don’t Touch!” (I touched, they dealt with it.)
2. Selfridges is an Oxford Street landmark with its very own bus stop. Renowned for its quirky-cool and ever-changing window displays, the store is filled with a diverse array of designer, brand name merchandise and a lust-worthy floor filled with shoes. Perhaps my favorite part, though, is the area on the lower level that consists the classiest food court I have ever seen — from a sushi bar to cupcake bakery to champagne and oyster bar to fresh deli meat. Not to mention it currently possesses the only Pinkberry in Europe!
3. You might be familiar with Liberty’s of London because of its iconic floral prints. But you could never imagine the marvelously enchanting character of this department store without visiting it in person. The shop is set in Arthur Liberty’s own Tudor Revival home where he originally exhibited and sold just a small selection of ornaments, eastern art, and his famous floral fabrics. The fantastically constructed mansion now possesses an enviable inventory of designer merchandise along with beautiful stationary, decorative arts and haberdashery sections. With its vaulted ceilings, dark wood panels, and fresh flower filled entry hall, the store is a pleasure to spend hours exploring.
4. Some people will tell you that Camden Lock Market is too touristy, but I think it’s too much fun to give up. Camden itself is just filled with the most strangely peculiar individuals who provide the best people watching in London. Brimming with eccentric costume stores, quirky trinket stands, secondhand shops, and hundreds of food vendors from Polish to Mexican to Chinese. My favorite part, though, is the Cyberdog store — a space-themed, three-level depot where at 11am you can find salespeople dressed like otherworldy creatures. Gogo dancers bust moves on the balconies. Loud electronic music blasting from surround sound speakers. And the merchandise is glow-in-the-dark or metallic for a space age rave.
5. Brick Lane will out-vintage you. Guaranteed. I don’t care how much you say you love the Fifties or wish you were born during the Prohibition. After a Sunday spent shopping on this narrow Shoreditch street, you won’t want to hear “vintage” for at least another month. But it’s so worth it. Start at Spitafields Market, where the hundreds of booths abandoned on a Saturday are stocked with hand knitted scarves, homemade jewelry, and small time clothing and accessories designers. Once you’ve exhausted that, make your way to the Up Market on Brick Lane to old records, tea sets, and all sorts of novelties. Not to mention a mouthwatering assortment of food stands. But with no seating, be prepared to sophisticatedly dine on the curb outside. Finally, take a stroll down Brick Lane for delicious Indian curries and an endless supply of vintage.
Anu Lingala is a junior in the College of Human Ecology and studied abroad in London last semester. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notes from Abroad: Best Of appears on Fridays.