Shopping on the frontier:West End or Westfield?
GO LONDON:Seasoned London shoppers ALANNA GALLAGHERin the West End and EIMEAR NOLANat Westfield, Europe’s largest suburban mall, assess each experience before your next London trip
Nothing beats the atmosphere of the West End: the street theatre, the souvenir hawkers, the fashion tourists and the fashionable locals.
If you’re short on time a scout through the West End’s cathedrals of retail, all within a mile of each other, is something a serious shopper can do in a day.
Where else can compete with the shopability of edgy Dover Street Market; the cool and on-trend Topshop Oxford Circus; the wonder of Selfridges; the cutting-edge designers at Browns, South Molton Street; the interior of Liberty; and not to mention Bond Street.
But the West End is so much more than just shopping, it’s about the crowds, the characters that strut the streets hoping to make it into one of cyberspace’s many street style sites. Everyone is better dressed and the people watching and celeb spotting possibilities are endless.
Oxford Street and its arteries remain the heart of the retail quarter. First stop should be Browns of South Molton Street – the must-do independent boutique.
Mrs B, as owner Joan Burnstein is known in fashion pack circles, is credited with discovering such talents as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Commes des Garcons. She has also championed Irish designers, most notably knitwear designer Tim Ryan. Club Monaco, the so-called new J Brand, is a name to buy that won’t break the bank. And Labels For Less, Browns’ outlet store across the street, is also worth a look.
Then there’s Selfridges, a department store that boasts a wonder room and the museum of everything. It is also home to really cool bridge labels, L’Atelier Repetto, and more recently Monki, the new cheap chic brand to covet that is HM’s big sister.
Uniglo is the Japanese purveyor of fast fashion whose style director is Nicola Formichetti, the man responsible for Lady Gaga’s get-ups. Buy Jill Sander’s last +J collection, super cool dark denim and cheap as chips cashmere.
House of Fraser is a department store that is back on the radar because of Mary Portas’ concept shop.
A window dedicated to the new idea is lit with orange neon and filled with mannequins wearing pudding bowl TinTin coloured crops. These are part of what the powerhouse Portas calls her Mary Army. The charm offensive continues inside with a special Mary lift to transport you from the ground floor directly to Mary HQ.
The concept shop rocks. The offer, which is mainly dresses, has most styles going up to a size 18. The staff training makes it stand out from your average too-cool-to-bother concept shop. They eavesdrop on your every comment, confirming a garment is silk unprompted. There’s a rail of samples of forthcoming pieces, a lovely idea that will ensure your return. This is the theatre of retail Portas talks about.
People watching is a big part of the West End offer. So sip a coffee on St Christopher’s Place and drink in well-dressed passers-by. You might even see Lily Cole or Alexa Chung glide by.
It is also the spiritual home of luxe leather goods brand Mulberry. You can eyeball bag ladies worshipping the new It bag, the Fox Lock, inspired by Fantastic Mr Fox.
Nearby Kurt Geiger offers a more affordable and new range of accessories, called Everything But The Dress where the standout piece is an emerald supersize Humbug clutch, price £170 (€198).
Take a trip through Liberty to soak up the atmosphere, passing Swarovski Crystallized en route where high fashion collaborations have resulted in new designs that are light years away from the traditional Swarovski bling. Buy Kenneth Jay Lane’s Empire pendant or Philippe Ferrandis’ Glamour ring.
On Regent’s Street Anthropologie’s home section is a must-do. Meanwhile Church’s new collection of women’s footwear includes the Estella Chelsea boot, quite possibly the most flattering take on the style. Price £310 (€361).
If you’ve any energy left you can hop on a Boris bike and do Dover Street Market where you can order a pair of Dr Martens Bespoke made to your exact specification and shop super smart basics label B Store London.
(1) Sanderson Hotel, 50 Berners St, morganshotelgroup.com.This hotel is near Oxford Street and home to the fashion bike tour. You can zip round the West End on two wheels – the most stylish way to get around. Rooms from £215 (€250).
(2) Have your hair stenciled at Bleach London at Topshop Oxford Circus. Price from £20 (€23). 00-44-20-7927-7844, e-mail email@example.com
(3) Tibits, 12-14 Heddon Street, 00-44-207-758-4110, tibits.co.uk. Super cool vegetarian restaurant off Regent’s Street that also offers cocktails, wine and beer.
(4) Senkai, 65 Regent St, 00-44-207-494-7600, senkairestaurant.com.This is a great place to sip chic cocktails.
CityJet ( cityjet.com)to London City Airport is less fraught an experience than flying to the big hubs of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick.
Westfield Stratford City, the vast new shopping centre on the threshold of the Olympic Village in east London, bears all the hallmarks of generic mall shopping.
At first, the logos of high street chains assault the eyes, and then there’s the food court. Few things are tougher on the soul than a food court, and this one has been dropped in the middle of the thoroughfare, rather unnecessarily considering that Westfield spans some 176,515sq m (1.9m sq ft).
Westfield Stratford is the latest addition to the Westfield Group’s 124-strong portfolio of malls, and the largest urban shopping centre in Europe. There is already one Westfield in London, in Shepherd’s Bush – its spacious layout makes it relatively calm even when packed, and it even manages to feel quite luxurious. Stores range from HM to Prada, as well as the only Butlers coffee shop in London.
Westfield Stratford feels less luxurious. When complete, it will house over 300 stores, a casino and three hotels. Westfield Stratford’s big selling point for now is its position on the Olympic gateway, and it is perfectly poised to catch the spillover tourists from the games and provide them with amusement from morning till night.
However, the Westfield experience is greatly enhanced by the presence of many well designed shops which makes for a more pleasant experience. Some are more spacious than their West End counterparts, and with more choice.
Diminishing returns sets in at some point, and Marks Spencer and John Lewis looked so vast that I baulked, but Reiss and Cos were highly user-friendly.
A badly needed coffee break in Grind offered the fairly unusual experience of an independent coffee shop in London. Outside in The Street, we loved the Getty Photograph Gallery, and back inside El Cantara tapas bar offered delicious Moroccan/Spanish fusion.
For both fashion and food, the centre is chain-heavy. The Great Eastern market, a group of restaurants and food shops, is unique to Westfield, as is the flagship Fashion Rocks store. A huge Apple store is a bonus.
Unlike at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, high-end designer fashion isn’t strongly represented. In terms of the upper middle fashion segment, a large Whistles is in the works, and less mainstream brands like Acne and Carven can be found in Fashion Rocks.
Westfield Stratford wouldn’t be suited to hardcore fashion fans, but it is ideal for teenagers. The high street stores, including Californian favourite Hollister, the bowling alley, the cinema and the food court, all complete the perfect retail formula.
For everyone else, there are certainly lots of amenities. And if it doesn’t feel like a treat, a shopping centre doesn’t necessarily need to. By the time the Olympics begin, the range of restaurants, shops and activities on offer will be more than enough to entertain visitors.
(1) Getty Images Gallery, gettyimagesgallery.com. Chic gallery whose current exhibition is the excellent London Through A Lens. See evocative street scenes of London during the black-out, children raiding a sweet shop at the end of rationing, The Beatles, and Marilyn Monroe in a taxi. A real highlight.
(2) Fashion Rocks Westfield Stratford boasts the flagship store, and the only one in London. Describing itself as a “unique brand that transcends the worlds of fashion and music”, it felt more like a large, vaguely concept-y clothes shop stocking some great brands that aren’t available elsewhere in the centre. It’s a two-storey space outside on The Street, and there are two espresso bars to stave off flagging.
(3) The Cow The only pub at Westfield Stratford, the Cow is a trendy hang-out launched by the founders of the Geronimo Inn pub group. Gastro-pub with a British theme and a DJ on Saturday nights.
The centre is highly accessible. On the Central and Jubilee underground lines, the tube practically takes you inside, and you can also go by train, bus or car. There’s a 5,000 space car park with a service providing free text messages telling you how many spaces are left before you leave home.
* Eimear Nolan works at British Vogue