London

The keyword of London shopping has always been "individuality," whether expressed in the superb custom tailoring of Savile Row, the nonconformist punk roots of quintessential British designer Vivienne Westwood, or the unique small stores that purvey their owners' private passions—be they paper theaters, toy soldiers, or buttons. This tradition is under threat from the influx of chains (global luxury, domestic mid-market, and international youth), but the distinctively British mix of quality and originality, tradition, and character remains.

You can try on underwear fit for a queen at Her Majesty's lingerie supplier, track down a leather-bound Brontë classic at an antiquarian bookseller, or find a bargain antique on Portobello Road. Whether you’re just browsing—there's nothing like the size, variety, and sheer theater of London’s street markets to stimulate the acquisitive instinct—or on a fashion-seeking mission, London shopping offers something for all tastes and budgets.

Although it's impossible to pin down one particular look that defines the city, London style tends to fall into two camps: one is the quirky, somewhat romantic look exemplified by homegrown designers like Matthew Williamson, Jenny Packham, Vivienne Westwood, and Lulu Guinness; the other reflects Britain’s celebrated tradition of classic knitwear and suiting, with labels like Jaeger, Pringle, and Brora, while Oswald Boateng, Paul Smith, and Richard James take tradition and give it a very modern twist. Traditional bespoke men's tailoring can be found in the upscale gentlemen's shops of Jermyn Street and Savile Row—there's no better place in the city to buy custom-made shirts and suits—while the handbags at Mulberry, Asprey, and Anya Hindmarch are pure classic quality. If your budget can't stretch that far, no problem; the city's chain stores like Topshop, Zara, and H&M, aimed at the younger end of the market, are excellent places to pick up designs copied straight from the catwalk at a fraction of the price, while mid-market chains like Reiss, Jigsaw, and L.K. Bennett offer smart design and better quality for the more sophisticated shopper.

If there’s anything that unites London’s designers, it’s a commitment to creativity and originality, underpinned by a strong sense of heritage. This combination of posh and rock 'n' roll sensibilities turns up in everyone from Terence Conran, who revolutionized product and houseware design in the ’60s (and is still going strong), to Alexander McQueen, who combined the punk aesthetic with the rigor of couture. You'll see it in fanciful millinery creations by Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones, and in the work of imaginative shoemakers Nicholas Kirkwood, United Nude, and Terry de Havilland—and it keeps going, right through to current hot designers Erdem, Christopher Kane, Victoria Beckham, and up-and-coming names like Shrimps, Duro Olowu, and Molly Goddard.

One reason for London’s design supremacy is the strength of local fashion college Central St. Martin’s, whose graduates include Conran, Kane, McQueen, his successor at his eponymous label—and designer of the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress—Sarah Burton, and Stella McCartney’s equally acclaimed successor at Céline, Phoebe Philo.

To find the McQueens and McCartneys of tomorrow, head for the independent boutiques of the East End and Bermondsey. If anything, London is even better known for its vibrant street fashion than for its high-end designers. Stock up from the stalls at Portobello, Camden, and Spitalfields markets.

Aside from bankrupting yourself, the only problem you may encounter is exhaustion. London's shopping districts are spread out over the city, so do as savvy locals do: plan your excursion with military precision, taking in only one or two areas in a day, and stopping for lunch with a glass of wine or for a pint at a pub.

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  • 1. Fenwick

    Mayfair

    A manageably sized department store, Fenwick is a welcome haven of affordability in a shopping area where stratospheric prices are the norm. The store is...Read More

  • 2. Heywood Hill

    Mayfair

    Open since 1936, this is considered by some to be the best small bookstore in the English-speaking world—John Le Carré, who set a scene in...Read More

  • 3. Alexander McQueen

    Mayfair

    Since the legendary designer's untimely death in 2010, his right-hand woman, Sarah Burton, has been at the helm, receiving raves for continuing his tradition of...Read More

  • 4. Alfred Dunhill

    Mayfair

    For more than 100 years, Dunhill has been synonymous with the most luxurious and sophisticated men's goods, including accessories, briefcases, and superbly tailored clothes. This...Read More

  • 5. Asprey

    Mayfair

    The company's "global flagship" store displays exquisite jewelry—as well as silver and leather goods, watches, china, and crystal—in a discreet, very British setting that epitomizes...Read More

  • 6. Belstaff

    Mayfair

    For years the purveyors of Britain's coolest motorcycle leathers, Belstaff has expanded into dresses, skirts, and handbags, as well as knitwear, boots, tops, and trousers...Read More

  • 7. Browns

    Mayfair

    A trendsetting boutique since it opened in the 1970s, this shop occupying interconnecting town houses has been reinvigorated after a purchase by luxury e-tailer Farfetch.com....Read More

  • 8. Burberry

    Mayfair

    Known for its trademark tartan, this company has cultivated an edgy, high-fashion image in recent years, and creative director and former Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci...Read More

  • 9. Charbonnel et Walker

    Mayfair

    Established in 1875, this master chocolatier's Mayfair shop specializes in traditional handmade chocolates (rose-petal creams and champagne truffles, for example) and has been creating these...Read More

  • 10. Garrard

    Mayfair

    The oldest jewelry house in the world, Garrard has been in business since 1735. Between 1843 and 2007, the company was responsible for the upkeep...Read More

  • 11. Gieves & Hawkes

    Mayfair

    One of the grand men's tailoring houses of Savile Row, this company made its name outfitting British royals who served as officers in the armed...Read More

  • 12. Grays Antique Centre

    Mayfair

    There are approximately 200 dealers here, specializing in everything from Bakelite items to Mughal art. The majority focus on jewelry, ranging from contemporary to antique....Read More

  • 13. Isabel Marant London

    Mayfair

    The first London store from Marant, a favorite of French fashion editors, this airy skylit space is full of her signature slim-cut pants, slouchy knits,...Read More

  • 14. Matches Fashion

    Mayfair

    Housed within a beautiful six-story Mayfair town house, Matches Fashion's flagship store is so much more than just a retail destination. Designed to create a...Read More

  • 15. Mulberry

    Mayfair

    Staying true to its rural Somerset roots, this luxury goods company epitomizes le style anglais, a sophisticated take on the earth tones and practicality of...Read More

  • 16. Ozwald Boateng

    Mayfair

    The dapper menswear by Ozwald Boateng (pronounced bwa-teng) combines contemporary funky style with traditional Savile Row quality. His made-to-measure suits have been worn by the...Read More

  • 17. Rupert Sanderson

    Mayfair

    Designed in London and made in Italy, Sanderson's elegant shoes have been a huge hit in fashion circles with their lavish ornamentation on heels and...Read More

  • 18. Smythson of Bond Street

    Mayfair

    No hostess of any standing would consider having a leather-bound guest book made by anyone besides this elegant stationer, and the shop's social stationery and...Read More

  • 19. Sophia Webster

    Mayfair

    Gorgeous, fanciful shoes embellished with jeweled flowers, sequins, butterflies, and trademark wings at the heel fill Webster's first stand-alone boutique. This stylists' favorite is best...Read More

  • 20. Stella McCartney

    Mayfair

    It's not easy emerging from the shadow of a Beatle father, but Stella McCartney is a major force in fashion in her own right. Her...Read More

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