I studied abroad in London for a short time during college. While there, I lived in Kensington, between Gloucester Road and Queen’s Gate. I was in the city to secure an internship, it was my main reason for going. The organization my school worked with placed me at a PR firm, which was terribly uninteresting. I had hoped to intern at a magazine, but instead I found myself running out to buy fruit for clients (I’m looking at you, Mary J Blige) and receiving piles of samples from the couriers who raced between our office and the offices of Cosmo, Elle and Vogue. I hated it, and I managed to talk our program director into letting me quit, opting instead to do research at the V&A for my credits.
I shopped a lot while in London. An obscene amount, in fact. While there I discovered tons of shops that I had never seen in the states, and found that London high street shops were brilliant at interpreting trends for cheap, much more so than American retailers. Since that time (2002), a few European retailers have made their way to the states – H&M, Zara, Mango, Jigsaw, etc. I find myself sad when I read through UK magazines, that I no longer have immediate access to the those great shops. So, I decided to gather some websites together!
A great site for researching London shopping is Street Sensation. In fact, I can recall looking through this site before I even left, years ago. The site actually has live photos of the streets, which has been fun for me in retrospect, as I can virtually walk my old commute from Sloane Square, a mile down King’s Road to my job at Halpern. In fact, you can even see my office!
While in London, I spent the first month hitting the Starbucks by my apartment. The coffee was 10 times more delicious than what they sold in the states. I found out, however, that the reason my mochas were so yummy was because I was not requesting “skinny” drinks, meaning I was getting whole milk. Soon after I swapped to Coffee Republic. Costa Coffee was another favorite.
The first store I hit up was Harrod’s, for obvious reasons. Then came Harvey Nichols. I couldn’t afford to buy much at either store, but the food halls were amazing. Also, I credit the boy at the YSL counter at Harrod’s for introducing me to YSL Touché Eclat and Clarins Beauty Balm, which I still use.
My next stop was the flagship Topshop store on Oxford. I still miss that place. Nearby I would hit up H&M, HMV, Zara and French Connection. I can recall seeing Kylie Minogue’s “Love At First Sight” video while waiting in line at Topshop and I totally fell in love with her. And, my first name starts with a ‘K” and I totally wanted her earring. That song still reminds me of the store.
I would often walk from my apartment to Kensington high street, using the small back streets. It was upscale, with cute shops, and it was quiet. When I’d emerge on the high street I’d hit up shops like Selfridges, Jigsaw, Dune, Muji, Whistles, Monsoon, Oasis and Warehouse. An intersecting street, Church, had a cute shops including Office, Sweaty Betty and a super awesome shoe store.
On the way home, I would often go to Oddbins, which was on the corner of my street. Before leaving abroad, I had read “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” and always wondered what this “Oddbins” she spoke of was about. The guys at the store would always get on my case because I called it a liquor store. “We’re a WINE SHOP.” I’d buy cases of Australian chardonnay, which was delicious and dirt cheap.
Down the street was Boot’s, which essentially filled the same needs as Rite Aid or Long’s back home.
When commuting home from work, I would always shop along King’s Road, which remains one of my favorite streets in the city. There were some great stationery shops, the UK is known for beautiful paper products. Peter Jones was on the corner just outside of my tube stop, although I rarely went in. Other favorites were Joseph and Habitat, where I bought a lot of stuff for my apartment.
Aside from lots of shopping at the Portobello Market and small stores in Notting Hill, I also liked the following stores: