London for Fashionistas

The ever-stylish city is a living runway of fashion’s latest and greatest.

By: By Fran Golden

The Details

Urban Gentry 

The London-based tour operator specializes in private, tailor-made tours of the city.

Commission: 10-15 percent.

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Sometimes, as a fashionista, you want to look, even when you can’t afford to buy. That was the mood I was in on a recent visit to London, when I set out with Afira, a leggy guide from Urban Gentry, a tour operator specializing in London fashion and design tours. 

High fashion, London style. // (C) 2010 V&A

High fashion, London style. // (C) 2010 V&A

Nearly everyone who comes to London browses Harrods and Burberry. I, however, wanted to see more, but I was going to try to resist setting my credit cards on fire in the process.

Dressed in tight jeans, high boots and a stylish blue nylon belted raincoat, Afira, a fledgling fashion designer herself, met me under the elegant arcade arches of The Ritz Hotel, London, and led me onto the rainy back streets of Mayfair in the heart of London’s West End.

Our first target was Dover Street Market, six floors of what the creators admit is “beautiful chaos.” Envision a street market setup — except one operated by Japanese label Comme des Garcons. If you want to play Indiana Jones seeking British fashion treasures, this is the place. Digging through the racks, I found a flowing silk dress by British design icon Zandra Rhodes — and that was just in the basement. Heading to the third floor, we spotted the work of media darling Christopher Kane, the 2007 New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. The very wearable black and gold collection of Anne Valerie Hash caught my eye, especially a short-sleeved dress with gold silk top and black skirt, but Afira urged me onward. We had places to go and fashion to see.

We walked a few blocks to Bond Street — actually called Old Bond Street in the southern portion and New Bond Street to the north. This has been a fashionable place to shop since the 18th century. Here, we stopped in at the shop of British fashion favorite Alexander McQueen, because you never know when you might need a $1,000 skull-print halter top or $8,000 haute-couture cocktail dress for that matter.

Afira steered me toward a new addition, British shoe designer Georgina Goodman’s shop, where I spent several minutes drooling over her handcrafted shoes, including a leopard-printed leather high heel. I seriously considered handing my credit cards to Afira for safekeeping — shoes are one thing I find hard to resist.

Afira urged me around the corner to Savile Row, a street famous for traditional tailored menswear, but also now home to B Store, surely the coolest West End shop. Here you’ll find up-and-coming British designers in men’s and women’s fashion, and they certainly look like they’re having fun. Danish-born Jens Laugesen served up his new takes on tailoring including a sleeveless black tuxedo dress and Canadian-born Michelle Lowe-Holder offered quirky dresses, some decorated with big beads. It’s not surprising that B Store’s fans include Kate Moss, David Bowie and others. This is definitely the place for emerging talent.

Designers who have made it can be found at Browns, our next stop. On the way, Afira walked me quickly through the boutiques of British punk fashion goddess Vivienne Westwood and the 2008 British Designer of the Year Stella McCartney. Arriving at Browns, expect to spend as much as $10,000 on a beaded gown or $400 on a simple cotton dress. There, I drooled over the cropped cashmere tops of Kane, a young Scot who has paired with none other than Manolo Blahnik for his fashion shows.

By day’s end, Afira and I had walked more than 20 blocks, and my feet were beginning to hurt but, thankfully, my credit cards behaved. I did, however, learn an important lesson — fashion with a British accent is fashion worth discovering.