Only in one exclusive London district will you find high fashion and designer stores side-by-side with private members clubs, a jeweller to the stars and the Queen of England’s gun and rifle maker! Dawn Gibson and Nicholas Chrisostomou take a stroll through upmarket Mayfair, which is still a refreshingly eccentric British blend of old and new.
Writer Samuel Johnson observed that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. His words seem especially appropriate to the select and fashionable district of Mayfair, one of the most exclusive addresses anywhere in the world. Despite the increasing prominence of other London neighbourhoods – not least affluent Knightsbridge and the cinematically appealing Notting Hill – Mayfair has a special leafy charm borne out of centuries of class and style, making it tailor-made for a stylish weekend break. Whether taking tea at The Ritz, shopping the new season collections by the world’s top designers, walking the back streets looking for hidden treasures, or sipping a cocktail at a fashionable restaurant, a few days and nights can easily be spent in and around this most traditional yet cutting-edge part of London.
Bordered by the bustle and buzz of Piccadilly, Oxford and Regent Streets, as well as the bucolic green expanse of Hyde Park, there are few locations to rival Mayfair for luxury retail therapy. Pivotal to Mayfair’s shopping crown is New Bond Street, arguably the most famous luxury shopping destination in the country, and the world’s fourth most expensive shopping location ranked by prime rental value, behind New York’s Fifth Avenue, Causeway Bay in Hong Kong and Paris’s prestigious Champs-Élysées. However, whilst New Bond Street is the most pricey place to shop in the U.K., it is along its many side streets where the real retail therapy happens, since here the slightly lower rents attract independent boutiques and up-and-coming designers. But where to start?!
If you have already visited many of London’s landmark stores close by – namely Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Liberty – then it’s time for a self-guided walking tour to take in everything from the most prestigious international design houses to quirky little specialist boutiques. The perfect starting point is the exquisitely stylish and oh-so-very London Burlington Arcade, a covered promenade of small, exclusive shops that was one of the first shopping arcades in England when it opened in 1819. Dubbed “an iconic runway uniting Piccadilly and Bond Street”, the arcade runs from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens, and every frontage is a visual delight designed to turn fashion conscious heads.
You can’t help but be enchanted by Penhaligon’s, a London fragrance house established in 1870 and a veritable treasure trove of gift ideas (16-17 Burlington Arcade www.penhaligons.com). At no. 24, The Vintage Watch Company boasts a collection of some of the rarest vintage Rolex watches in the world (www.vintagewatchcompany.com), whilst a few doors away at no. 43, family-run Armour-Winston has been dealing in fine pre-owned watches and jewellery for more than sixty years (www.armourwinston.co.uk).
Those of you with a sweet tooth will find it nigh on impossible to pass Ladurée at no. 71-72 without nipping in for a divine French macaron or two (laduree.co.uk), or if you fancy nibbling on high quality traditional confectionary produced by chocolatier to the Queen, a few minutes away in St. James’s you will find Prestat, where you can get your hands on handcrafted truffles packaged in gorgeously vibrant boxes. (www.prestat.co.uk)
Once you emerge from the arcade, set off on Old Bond Street, from the corner of Piccadilly, to experience one of the best luxury shopping streets in the world, where the crème of international and British designers vie for your attention, and your wallet. Start with the flagship London store of Alexander McQueen, the late British genius and award-winning designer, who originally trained on nearby Savile Row and was renowned for pushing fashion boundaries.
After perusing covetable tailored separates and ladylike party pieces at McQueen, saunter next door to Dolce & Gabbana for some Italian high fashion, then cross the road to dip into Cartier and Valentino. Keep walking and you will come across Gucci, Saint Laurent, Prada, Rolex, Tiffany & Co., Chanel (which has both a fine jewellery store and an apparel store on New Bond Street), Asprey, Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Burberry, Miu Miu, Jimmy Choo and many more. The displays are so artfully arranged, it is worth the walk for the window shopping alone.
A stroll along Mount Street, from Park Lane, is also a Mayfair shopping expedition must. Originally built in the 1700s, the street’s name comes from Mount Field, which included Oliver’s Mount, the remains of fortifications erected during the English civil war. When many leases were approaching expiry in the late 1800s, the first Duke rebuilt the street with the beautifully detailed Queen Anne revival style of architecture that can still be seen today.
Whilst Mount Street was once the preserve of art dealers, aristocratic ladies who lunch and gentlemen with a penchant for rifles and cigars (you can still buy both here), these days you don’t need to be sporting a pearl necklace to browse this upscale locale. Since the arrival of the Marc Jacobs store in 2007, Mount Street has become a veritable fashion hub. Where Jacobs goes others usually follow, and so now, a decade later, fashion plays a vital role in the distinctive character of 21st century Mayfair.
Whether you stick to the main drag’s designer boutiques, or venture down the side streets in search of something a little more unique, be warned, you will almost certainly find yourself tempted to stretch the plastic here! Fashion houses Balenciaga, Céline and Oscar de la Renta sit side-by-side with jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge, watchmaker Richard Mille, gunmaker James Purdey, iconic seafood restaurant Scott’s, and Allen’s, one of London’s best-known butchers. This combination of newer brands sitting alongside long-established quintessentially English retailers has ensured the survival of Mount Street’s distinctive character well into the next decade.
In the very heart of Mayfair Village and amidst all this retail royalty, you will find The Connaught, a grand, genteel 119-room Edwardian hotel much loved by visiting Americans. If you plan to spend the weekend in Mayfair this is the place to rest your head, but be sure to request one of the 30 rooms in the new wing, where the luxe contemporary accommodations ooze a gentle Oriental feel, and include mini bars housed within Chinese armoires and dazzling white Thassos marble bathrooms (www.the-connaught.co.uk).
On the foodie front, there are now two restaurants at The Connaught which are worthy of a blow-out. At the recently opened Jean-Georges at The Connaught – which overlooks Mount Street and is helmed by the world-renowned Alsatian-American chef – Jean-Georges Vongerichten marries classic French and Asian flavours like no one else (www.jean-georges.com). Meanwhile, lunching at Hélène Darroze’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, set within a historic dining room complete with beautiful wood panelling and floral plasterwork ceiling is a veritable gastronomic treat (www.helenedarroze.com).
It was thanks to The Connaught that the small plaza in front of the hotel was transformed by world-renowned Japanese artist Tadao Ando’s remarkable sculptural water feature, ‘Silence’, positioned just where Mount Street passes Carlos Place. Do stop here to appreciate this delightful piece of urban art, which was jointly commissioned by Grosvenor Estates and the hotel. The unveiling of ‘Silence’ marked the completion of Grosvenor’s public space improvement works on Mount Street and ushered in a whole new era for this chic shopping jewel of central London.
Another Mayfair retail hub not to be missed is South Audley Street, which runs north to south from the southwest corner of Grosvenor Square to Curzon Street. Amongst other retailers, Marc Jacobs’s less expensive diffusion line can be found here at no. 56, plus Canadian born Turkish fashion designer Erdem Moralıoğlu’ two-storey London flagship store at no. 70.
If you want some expert tips, London Shopping Tours offer a range of experiences to suit different budgets, from a group tour centred on the Oxford Street area which includes Mayfair, Piccadilly and Marylebone, to personalised tours that can go anywhere you like, and may even include exclusive access to sample and VIP sales (londonshoppingtours.co.uk). Bespoke shopping tours and stylist sessions are also offered by The Fashion Service, founded by Lucinda Cook after more than a decade of working with a variety of high-end glossies, including British and American Vogue (www.thefashionservice.com).
Regardless of whether you take a tour or simply amble around its gorgeous streets at your own pace, spending any amount of time Mayfair is guaranteed to provide a heady combination of retail temptation and luxe lifestyle possibilities. At the very least you will pick up some extremely stylish souvenirs plus some gifts for forever grateful friends, but don’t be too surprised if you end up going home with enough booty for a whole new look. You’d better warn your bank manager in advance!