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Too Fat For Fashion: London Calling
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Monday, July 30, 2007

London Calling

Your London correspondent apologises for her long absence and begs your forgiveness. And says THANK YOU X 10,000 for everyone who helped me out with my lil' graphics poll. You've totally helped me and hopefully my project will thus be awesome. In exchange I offer you a mini-guide to London's best shopping.

(A very mini guide. London is a shopper's heaven, and there's no possible way to offer a précis to the city -- if you visit with shopping in mind, I'd recommend a specialist guide like Where to Wear. Or emailing me for personalised recommendations. In exchange for coming along with you and pointing at pretty things in the shops and going "ooh!". As such this is just 5 perfect shopping havens. I may have to do a separate department store post to cover the wonders of Fenwicks, Selfridge's, Harvey Nichols and the ultimate in shopping brilliance, Dover Street Market. In fact I think I will.)

Anyway, TFFF founder, moderator and tyrant billionaire Miss J has made up a little cut-out-and-keep guide to the shops I detail below. Here's where I shop:

1. Topshop Flagship
Oxford Circus, London
00 44 (0)845 121 4519

The details on Topshop clothes are above and beyond what I expect from the high street; it's marginally more expensive than H&M but earrings won't turn your ears green and buttons won't fall off. It's great both for basics like wifebeaters, and original designs, via the Unique and Boutique labels. The store features regular designer collaborations to keep things fresh, with hot young things like Christopher Kane and Sophia Kokosolaki taking part.

As of yet there's no plus size range but the flagship store is worth a visit just for the accessories floor. That's right: an entire floor devoted to bags, scarves, jewellery, make-up and hosiery. (Shoes are on another level entirely.) There's also a vintage and designer brands section (you're more likely to find plus sizes down here), a personal shopping service, special events, and a caffeine-laden café. Sizes UK 6 - 16, US 2 - 12. Ships internationally.

2. Liberty
Great Marlborough Street, London
00 44 (0)20 7734 1234

Liberty...ahhhhhhhh. Where to begin, my old friend? Liberty is, hands down, the nicest store in the world. Tucked away behind Oxford Circus, just round the corner from Carnaby Street, its wide wooden staircases and beautiful architecture are a welcome respite from the bustle of central London.

The central atrium unfolds like the layers of a chocolate cake. The wide, square staircase spins up and up on the right, whilst the upper floors are cut away at the centre, leaving a central column of air and nothingness. The ground floor features perfume, handbags, jewellery and make-up, whilst the layers above reveal designer clothing, haberdasheries, furniture and more. The staircase opens out onto the floor and thanks to the cut-away design you're immediately taken to the left or right, following the banisters through room upon room of quiet fashion solitude.

Gift vouchers are offered in the form of gold coins in velvet pouches; purchases come wrapped in delicious purple paper. Not only can nothing bad happen here, but unlike Tiffany's, you can actually have breakfast at Liberty's - the restaurant offers the most divine pancakes. Sells diffusion labels like Marc by Marc and See by Chloe; also a perfumier, accessories lounge, bag department, vintage furniture and a haberdashery. Sizes - vary according to designer. Utter heaven.

3. Bullfrog
The Pavement, London
00 44 (0)20 76274123

The high street! My spiritual home! South London, apart from being a notorious gangsta hotspot these days (my 'hood actually is known as "the Hotspot". According to the hysterical tabloid meeja, anyway), has some quality shopping. Aside from the usual branches of high street chains, there are any number of one-off boutiques or smaller chains, like Sweaty Betty.

Among these smaller chains is Bullfrog, which has branches across south London, but my favourite is the one opposite Clapham Common. Mostly because it's practically next door to Starbucks, so when you've made your purchases you can caffeinate up and sit in the sunshine watching hot boys play football and go jogging and stuff. What other high street shopping experience brings you such depths?!

Shoes are a specialty, with brand names ranging from Hush Puppies to Irregular Choice, plus Bullfrog own designs. There's also a small selection of unique jewellery, bags and accessories, together with an entirely random selection of clothing -- some own-name pieces and selected outfits from French Connection and other high-end high-street names.

The boutiques are tiny and adorable, with the friendliest staff in the world, and they seem to change their stock almost daily. Purchase a silk sack dress and some platforms before relaxing on the common and indulging in aforementioned boy-watching. Shopping bliss. Sizes S, M, L - but cut generously. No online or mail order.

4. Beyond Retro
Soho & Brick Lane
00 44 (0)20 7613 3636

As the Beyond Retro owners say themselves, the new Soho (London) store is "a lush 70s-meets-Victoriana boutique, a heady blend of chandeliers, vintage taxidermy and Hugh Hefner chic". Intrigued (or just nonplussed by that whole 'vintage taxidermy' deal)? The shops stock includes over 10,000 vintage items, sold at wholesale prices, from 1940s pussy-cat bow blouses to 1980s sneakers.

It cannot be described, really. Where the joys of Topshop can be explored online, and Liberty can be happily imagined (I often use Liberty's atrium as a setting when playing a quick game of 'anywhere but here'), Beyond Retro really has to be seen to be believed. It's like an insane wonderland. Sizes: varies from piece to piece. No online or mail order, but worth the price of a plane ticket alone.

5. Browns
South Molton Street
00 44 (0)20 7514 0000

Browns is a London landmark, founded in the 1970s. The flagship branch is on South Molton Street, at the heart of the snooty shopping district (you're a stone's throw from Bond Street and Savile Row. Although if you threw that stone you'd probably hit a billionaire in the eye and be sued). Nearby are the brother and sister stores, Browns Men, Browns Bride, Browns Focus (edgier designers), and Browns Labels For Less, the discount outlet.

Browns though is the original. Not to be confused with the equally wonderful, also 1970s born, restaurant chain Browns, which has a branch on St Martin's Lane near Trafalgar Square, and does the best hamburger in London. Why not theme your day? Start by shopping at Browns, choosing from a selection of hip designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Christopher Kane, Ashish, Lanvin and Chloe, hit up Browns Focus for a few more pieces, have lunch at Browns-the-restaurant, and finish spending what few pennies you have left at Browns Labels For Less. Okay, it's not a great theme, but the clothes are. Sizes: Varies according to designer, XS - XL. Ships internationally.

There you have it. As focussed a list as I can possibly give. In the future I'll try and post recommendations on London's historic department stores - which are the most plus friendly (hint: not Harrods, where they kick you out for wearing jeans, let alone being a pound or two overweight); markets, and Shoreditch shopping.


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