Thursday, November 02, 2006

London Calling...

Sorry for being away so long, darlings! I just returned from a lengthy whirlwind tour of the international shopping circuit - I mean my honeymoon. After an energetic run through the retail extravaganza that was Rome, Florence, Venice, and London, I have happily depleted my budget for the rest of the year. But what fabulous finds! The Europeans still know how to make a girl look like a million (though in London, it might cost you a million with the outrageous exchange rate). So much femininity, so much creativity. It's tough to be the top diva in Italy with so much talented competition fighting for the limelight. I will fill you in on the treasures of Italy in another post. But first, a recap of London.

It used to be that London produced good tea and crumpets, decent stage actors, and a lot of ale stout and Beef Wellington. Now, some of London's best exports are its fashion designers. No longer satisfied with outfitting dowdy chintz-overrun country matrons and their style-deficient white-wigged barrister husbands, jolly old England is definitely on the world's fashion forefront. While retaining the great tradition of quality tailoring (God bless them!) and loads of ladylike class, many stylish Brits have gone on to reinvent the English gentry look using flattering new cuts, smartly patterned fabrics, and very pretty details. Whether you fancy rebel-yell streetwear, highbrow haute couture, haughty Hyde Park princess, or dressage diva, you can find it in London. But get ready to pony up your pocketbook (and maybe pawn a few crown jewels). The price of London fashion can stop you in your well-bred riding boot tracks. With the exchange rate fluctuating between 1.75 to 1.85 British Pounds for every measley U.S. Dollar, you might want to make friends with some influential folks at #10 Downing Street.

Shopping in London is a full-time activity. There are endless attractive storefronts that beckon you with their tastefully paired monocromatic and smartly patterned threads, all displayed on perfectly ladylike mannequins and finished with the proper accessories. Graceful, refined sophistication meets chic urban style, with the season's top trends making an appearance in just the right doses. In London, the chain stores are called "high street" and their attire can be just as beautifully crafted as that of the upper-tier houses. Some of my favorite high street brands that won't hang you out to dry by your cashmere Burberry scarf are Whistles, Monsoon, Mango, LK Bennett, Coast, and the ever-elegant Hobbs (pictured left and above) and Karen Millen.

The undisputed royalty of English department store is Harrods, where you can take your time and stroll from department to department on 7 levels of shopping heaven. Even the food halls here are royally outfitted. Located prominently in a historic building in Knightsbridge, Harrods has still got it after 171 years of operation. Their motto, Omnia Omnibus Ubique -- All things, for all people, everywhere -- lives up to their reputation. From highbrow to high street to home goods, they've got enough floor space to house to a small city. They even sell toys, sports equipment, and things for your pet. After you're done with a day's worth of shopping, you can feast on the many delicacies in the cafeterias, have tea in the restaurants, or go across the street to purchase groceries at Harrods own gourmet mini supermarket.

Despite the international renown that Harrods receives, however, the hipper place for a girl to shop is up the street at the intersections of Knightsbridge Road, Sloan Street, and Brompton Road. Harvey Nichols, or Harvey Nick's as the locals call it, is where all the hot action is, and has been since the 1880s. If you have a high credit limit, you'll feel right at home in the expensive (but worth it!) couture boutiques right inside the store such as Burberry, Alexander McQueen (pictured right), Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Dolce and Gabanna, Lanvin, and Prada. Younger and sassier, Harvey Nichols also offers racks and racks of contemporary homegrown, American, and European brands like Theory, Armani Collezione, Nicole Farhi, Jean Muir, Cacharel, Alice Temperley, Matthew Williamson, Goldsign, MaxMara (one of my Italian favorites), and Joseph (one of my Brit favorties). It compares to Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. The best all-around department store is Selfridges, which is more like Bloomingdales in terms of selection. Not only is Selfridges more accessible location-wise and pricewise to greater segments of the population, and it also offers a nice range of classic as well as trendy labels. Some high street fashions can also be found here.

And speaking of Burberry, the iconic London house, which was for a while stuck in a humdrum nova-check hell, has returned to its glorious 1856 British roots and whipped up some brilliant traditionally tailored outerwear and deliciously upper-crusty separates (see top group photo), not to mention ravishing leather handbags. As you might imagine, they come with a matching upper-crusty price tag, which is made absurd by the current exchange rate. The base model Burberry raincoat starts at roughly $960, and the coat pictured (left) will set you back almost $2000. My heavens!

So where do you go if you absolutely must have the well-bred English manor look for less? Do you dream of a life filled with polo matches and steeplechases but live in a shoebox flat in town? Or, do you insist on channeling posh Knightsbridge society princess but are resigned to a working-class East End existence? Don't get your knickers in a twist, dear. You can satisfy your aristocratic, equestrian, and urbane urges all at the same time at the same place: Ralph Lauren, the pre-eminent (affordable) outfitter of the great American leisure circle. The beauty of this brand is that it contains several different brands under one umbrella, the better to serve all your moods (and spending categories) with. The best part? There's a big sale going on now. Hurry before these fetching fineries run out in your size!

Here are some of my picks from Ralph Lauren that could easily get you into the London society pages but won't force you to become a charity case:

Lauren by Ralph Lauren Wade Shawl Collar Tweed Jacket, was $250, now $189.90
Dara Tweed Skirt, was $159, now $119.90

Lauren by Ralph Lauren Tessa Hacking Jacket, was $260, now $194.99
Tanya Velour Pant, $89.50

Lauren by Ralph Lauren Allan Houndstooth Coat, $499

Lauren by Ralph Lauren Sherwood Fur Collar Houndstooth Jacket, $279
Gerardo Tweed Slim Skirt, $159

Ralph Lauren Blue Label Henning Leather Jacket, was $1498, now $899

Lauren by Ralph Lauren Maleah Fur Collar Cardigan, was $199, now $99.99
Heidi Straight-Leg Wool Pant, $129

Polo Jeans Co. by Ralph Lauren Hayden Moleskin Trench, $198

I went out to dinner with my mum Saturday night in Tysons Corner and saw, to my great surprise, that there is now a Karen Millen right in Tysons Galleria! I can save myself a trip to London for at least one store. And, it's just steps from the Burberry store, which is quite an impressive one I must say, especially for a mall. Honestly, Tysons is just getting better and better each month with all the fabulous new stores! It's truly becoming Rodeo Drive. Anyway, I drooled appropriately while admiring both storefront windows, since everything was closed. Naturally, this warrants another trip...


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