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The third of our Fashion Week glamour gang guest posts comes from Kristin Knox of The Clothes Whisperer. As a New Yorker living in London, Kristin has the perfect mix of insider knowledge and outsider curiosity when it comes to the UK capital. Here she gives us her unique lowdown on two contrasting sides of a city; their chic boutiques and markets, their most fashionable dining and drinking spots and more…
"London town, unlike many of its European neighbours, is a city whose heart beats not in one centralised location, but is more akin to a unified nation of villages. The key differences that make the East so different from the West, North from South, are part of London's inherent charm, making the city such a joy to visit. A trip to London strategically planned can actually pan out to be more like a sweep of multiple cities and bring you a myriad of contrasting experiences. The two main polar opposites, which exert a force upon London and Londoners, defining them by their location, are East and West.
West, as those who reside on the occidental side of Oxford Circus love to claim, is best. For my part, I've always been a west Londoner; I spent my first two years here in Notting Hill and am now a proud resident of Holland Park. West London is known for its whitewashed Victorian townhouses, pristine parks and private gardens and smattering of local (read: gastro) pubs offering the finest in traditional ales and gourmet-style pub food with the utmost of English charm. Here's a selection of some of my top spots dotted about west London, with an emphasis on my old neighbourhood, Notting Hill.
The Commander Porterhouse and Oyster Bar, just off Westbourne Grove is everything an American like myself is looking for in a traditional 'pub' experience. Minus the football watching and endless ale swilling, the Commander retains the classic pub-infrastructure, adding an upscale twist. The nibbles are exceedingly tasty, the beer and wine options vast. In the middle of the pub stands a refurbished art deco bar, its statement piece, there's also an adjoining organic deli and in winter a real wood-burning fire.
The Dock Kitchen: Situated in an almost secret location, tucked away and perched atop Portobello Dock, this eatery has become a hot-spot with west London fashion set. For an older, more refined clientele, the Dock is perfect, with a vibrant menu that is ever-changing, depending on the whims of the chef and seasonal/market availability. The brunch is much-talked about and the patio area is the most coveted spot.
It doesn't get more English than high tea at The Wolseley. London's famous spot for scones and a steaming cuppa, the Wolseley is a favourite among the fash pack for business lunches, breakfasts and afternoon teas; you'll spot many a PR working their charm on local editors if you drop by on a weekday. Don't hold back at the Wolesley, go for the full blown afternoon tea, finger sandwiches and all. Go on, if the fashion crowd can make the dietary exception, you know the sweets must be that good.
Portobello Market: The one, the only. A Saturday spent perusing the stalls is a day in west London well spent. Avoid the stalls near the top of the road and never venture into the so-called 'antique shops' lining the walkway, they can and will rip you off. Instead, head down the small lane leading out to Ladbroke Grove just before the causeway that signifies the start of Portobello Green. This narrow corridor of stalls holds the hidden treasures amongst the tourist traps. Look out for Decadent's stall near the Ladbroke Grove Tube Station end - those ladies are the sole suppliers of vintage for Topshop and sell the same stuff at the market for half the price.
Wolf & Badger: Lauded by the London fashionistas, this is a unique lifestyle boutique that opened about a year ago just off Westbourne Grove. Wolf & Badger provides a platform for new generation designers to actually sell their product - no easy feat in this overly saturated market. All aspects of retailing such as staffing, sales, insurance, security and stock management are included in a simple licence fee, starting from just £55 per week. As a result, the shop is full of special goods, spanning fashion, accessories, jewellery and homeware that simply can't be found anywhere else.
The East End: land of the proverbial hipsters and home to those neighbourhoods like Shoreditch, Hackney and Hoxton that are just out of reach of the Underground lines – it's a another land entirely. Herein live the young designers, photographers and creatives of every sort imaginable, making it the beating heart of 'cool' London.
Albion, created by Terence and Vicki Conran, is a stone’s throw from Shoreditch House, London's premier member's club, where the cool kids play. The restaurant, a British exercise in organic chic, is made up of a bakery/grocers shop towards the front and a low-key shared-table style eatery in the rear.
The decor is a mix of traditional English farm style married with the sleek and organic shabby chic which has become synonymous with trendy-brunch spots in cities like New York. The menu updates classic British comfort foods (English breakfast, bangers and mash) with more wholesome ingredients. A popular locale for the fashion crowd's breakfast meetings, the Albion is also the perfect place to recover after a long night out in Shoreditch.
Guts for Garters: OK, so it's located in the North, but for a West London gal, Camden is pretty much the same thing as Shoreditch. Guts for Garters is an incredibly cool concept boutique/gallery. Selling antique and contemporary art, interiors and contemporary fashion and costume, the shop curates 'Buying Exhibitions' which are open for six weeks at a time. Run and curated like a gallery, it aims to bring together the most avant-garde of fashion, art, furniture and design blended with work by established artists, vintage clothing and objet d’art either already in existence or especially commissioned.
From taxidermy goats to the hair of a death row inmate suspended in a resin pendant to Victorian beds, Guts for Garters is a truly unique retail experience of the sort that can only be found in the bizarre recesses of the London creative scene. The current exhibition is entitled 'The Royal We' and focuses on iconography of the British royals (until June 1st).
London's premier contemporary art gallery, a trek to East wouldn't be complete without a stop off at the White Cube. Based in Hoxton Square, it represents many of the titans of recent British modern art, including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
While Shoreditch House is without a doubt the place to see and be seen in East London, it is, alas, a members only establishment. So for those of you visiting, Beach Blanket Babylon (known to locals as BBB) provides a lovely alternative and a compelling glimpse into London's underground drag and club kid scene. Famous for its unique interior design blending Boho Chic, French Country Style Chateau, the Baroque and Rococo and the High Maximalist, BBB Shoreditch often hosts dress-up party nights and truly espouses that sentiment of unbridled decadence which characterises the East End disposition towards fun. (For those staying West, the original BBB is in Notting Hill.)
The 40 Winks Hotel is a concept-driven establishment and brainchild of celebrated interior designer David Carter, who converted his four story Queen Anne townhouse built in 1717 into a hotel. For years, Carter's home had been a popular location for countless fashion and celebrity photoshoots, but with two rarely used guest bedrooms, he launched 40 Winks to help give photographers, stylists, art directors, designers, buyers, models and anyone in the creative and fashion industries somewhere fun and different to stay when they're in London for work or pleasure. While rooms are limited, prices are affordable and the experience is one of unequivocal Englishness. You may as well check into Wonderland."
What do you think of Kristin's hot-spot selection? Are you an ardent acolyte of the East End or wowed by the West? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the author: andrewAndrew Bowman
Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.