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The internet has made purchasing food, cars, books, books about cars and sawn off shotguns easier than ever, but it still hasn’t quite been able to replicate the feeling of going into a really good clothes shop. While we love Mr Porter, Matches and Browns for the range, same day delivery and sales, nothing quite beats walking into a real-life, three-dimensional shop made out of bricks, glass and expensive imported wood. With nice staff and interesting things on the walls and maybe, if you’re lucky, a glass of mineral water served to you in a crystal tumbler.
With shopping footfall in London still lurching behind pre-pandemic times, I wanted to take a walking tour of some of my favourite shops - un petit balade - as they come blinking back to business as usual. The obvious and the unorthodox. Places where you can buy a suit, a bag, a trendy Japanese magazine that you can't read (but the pictures look nice) and a fully bespoke wardrobe.
Here is a list of eight really good shops. There are more out there, but I am just one man. Please send me a horrible DM and/or email if you disagree with any of them.
“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.” ― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
“I like my money right where I can see it: hanging in my closet.” — Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
“Our mantra is, ‘by appointment or by chance,’” says Gavan Lee, the manager of P. Johnson’s appropriately sequestered London showroom, a short walk and a world away from Tottenham Court Road. I take a seat on a low slung midcentury leather armchair in the corner of the space, minimalist rails populated with a choice edit of blazers, trousers, utility vests, light knitwear, centred around a long Italian marble counter, while Lee, a former accountant and trained tailor, guides a tall and handsome Australian (core to the P. Johnson clientele) towards a new made-to-order weekend wardrobe finished with one of the brand’s perennially coveted green dad caps. “We get a lot of expats; a lot of weddings and a lot of guys who are just looking to elevate their wardrobe,” says Lee, who is dressed in on-brand soft tailoring and penny loafers with some ankle on show.
Founded in Sydney in 2009 by Patrick Johnson, a gregarious Aussie with a taste for Italian suits, P. Johnson now has outposts in Sydney, Melbourne, New York and London, establishing itself as a proper tailor without any of the dust or fuss of the traditional old school.
“If your smart clothes are not comfortable then you need to make some changes,” says Johnson via email from Australia. “Recently we’ve seen a huge push back to suiting and a more formal approach to the office again. It feels good to get dressed up to go to work. However, our clients are also looking for ‘special’ causal pieces. I guess [our philosophy] is to seek out beauty in all parts of life,” adds Johnson. "To cultivate tastes in others. To live a little slower and die a little older. To do something unique.”
After touching every thread of cashmere, cotton and fine merino in the store, quietly envisaging a life of Sydney North Shore al fresco dinners and a tailor on speed dial, I duck out, and ask Gavan to email me if he gets any more caps in.
Ground Floor, Lower, 31 Percy St, London W1T 2DD, pjt.com
A monochrome totem of old London looming over Regent street, Liberty has been a staple of international retail since 1875, but it’s not really that well known for its menswear. Floral fabric, redolent fragrance and maximalist homeware… yes, but luxury outwear and summer suiting?... less so. If it’s possible for a really famous and popular old shop to be a ‘hidden gem’ then Liberty’s expansive basement-level menswear section fits the bill. “The shop has so much character,” says Laura Robertshaw, the store's menswear buyer, shoppers can while away hours of the day amongst the creaky floorboards. I think with Liberty there is always an element of discovery, where you’re not quite sure what will be lurking around each corner.”
A more relaxed experience than a lot of its department store competitors in the capital, Liberty also boasts a properly desirable coterie of brands: Dries Van Noten, Kapital, Bode, Barena and Acne Studios. “Our Liberty Man is creative, into the arts/music, extremely stylish and would always choose quality and chic dressing over garish logomania,” says Robertshaw (logos in shambles, send condolences) “He does, however, have a flamboyant side and loves colour, fashion fits and interesting items. He isn’t shy when it comes to dressing.” True to her word, there is a lot of summer colour and louche fabrics. I err over a beautiful and expensive Acne tweed coat, a beautiful and expensive Dries silk shirt and a Barena coordinate cord set in soft olive green. A really good shop should make you feel a bit dizzy with desire; pieces that jump out in person. Liberty delivers. I do the mental gymnastics on all three. Can I? What if?.. Will Barclays believe me if I call in a blind panic saying ,“the big black and white shop has infected my mind!! I’m down bad with a chronic case of Nice Shirt Fever, doc! Send help... and loads of money!”
“Logos and heavily branded items will always have their place with a certain audience,” says Robertshaw of where she sees menswear’s next move, “but I think over the next couple of years we will see a big shift towards relaxed, comfortable, minimalist clothing which stand the test of time both in quality and style.”
I emerge blinking into the afternoon sun, silk shirts and Italian workwear doing cartwheels in my melting brain.
Regent St, Carnaby, London W1B 5AH, libertylondon.com
In the shadow of Selfridges there lies a great little accessories, homeware and niche Japanese goods store. It’s owned by Takaharu Osako, a very cool and very friendly man who started off making bags and small leather goods under the (ki:ts) moniker just over a decade ago, before setting up his own shop on a corner of Bond Street in 2019. I find myself there on a rainy Tuesday, past illegally-parked Bentleys and throngs of shiny out of London couples streaming into souvenir shops and restaurants with menus in Centeria Script. Like many independent retailers, the novel COVID-19 virus was suboptimal for business. “I was only open for four months before I had to close, so it was tough after so many months in the making!” says Osako, who goes by the name Taka. “I used the time to evolve and focus on my online business. It’s still very important for me to have a bricks and mortar store so customers can experience the (ki:ts) design ethos, alongside like-minded brands.”
Despite its deserved status as a shopping mecca, London can be a harsh environment for a small business, but Osako is both enthusiastic and brimming with expertise. There are pieces at (ki:ts) that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else on these shores: ultra-light, smart and rain-repellent suits from WWS; graphic tees from Passarella Death Squad and fragrances housed in wabi-sabi glass containers by Neandertal. While other multi-brand retailers tend to pass the same brands between them, (ki:its) revels in the strange and surprising. “The store is a representation of my own experience of being a Japanese national living and working in Britain,” says Osako. “Both cultures play a huge part in my life and work via the aesthetics that I am drawn towards. The product selection is a reflection of my own home; an eclectic mix of both Japanese and British craftsmanship. I like having the opportunity to introduce my customers to aspects of Japanese culture through the brands that I sell.”
I am introduced to a navy WWS suit that fits just right and a small key and trinket tray in clever foldable aluminium by Sumitani Saburo Shoten, a small artisan label from Toyama province that specialises in metalwork. Osako hands me his business card as I go to leave. It is, of course, a thing of simple aesthetic beauty. I write my email address on a scrap of paper, apologising profusely for my lack of aesthetic rigour before ducking into the rain and the crowds. I need some business cards.
31A Duke St, London W1U 1LS, kits-london.com
A haberdashery that sells everything from pick-a-mix coloured linen chore coats to wittily-embroidered caps, beautiful eveningwear and photography books, Drake’s has become synonymous with a certain type of clued up and cultured male aesthetic. It sells clothes to people who drink Negronis, go to the ICA and know what a Norwegian Welt is. With its fun and stylish lookbooks, collabs with the likes of Aimé Leon Dore and regular ‘drops’, it has been able to pivot towards a more digitally fluent audience, but the irl experience, on Savile Row no less, is still essential to the company’s DNA. “We take pride in our website, but ultimately there's only so much you can communicate through a screen,” says creative director, Michael Hill, who appears from his office beneath the shop wearing the brand’s signature broken tailoring: unstructured navy blazer, striped shirt, knitted tie, olive wide-leg chinos and patent leather tasseled loafers.
“Our clothes have to be handled and tried on to be truly appreciated. We've also worked hard to create a particular atmosphere in our stores, one which is friendly, welcoming; full of art and colour. There's no substitute for being in the physical space.” Said space feels like a warm and welcoming clubhouse, but with better suits and ties. There are patterned rugs, chairs and esoteric paintings; the staff are laid back and knowledgable. “A great team, a welcoming atmosphere, art on the walls, rails filled with wonderful products.” says Hill of what makes a great shop great. “That should do the trick.” I decide against a suit… for now, and instead leave with one of the brand’s heavyweight t-shirts in a nice Kelly green.
9 Savile Row, London W1S 3PF, drakes.com
If you are a man who likes clothes and lives in London, then chances are you’ve heard of Trunk Clothiers. A fixture on Chiltern Street - a celebrity hotspot, thanks to the hottest venue of 2013, the oft-mentioned Firehouse – it is also a Menswear Street, thanks to shops like Casely-Hayford (more on that later), Sunspel and John Simons, but it was Trunk that set the precedent. “We're still around, which I think is a great achievement considering how many aren't,” says Mats Klingberg, the straight talking and immaculately turned out founder. “I’ve got an optimistic outlook for the rest of the decade. Many people are talking about the roaring 20s and I very much hope this will be the case.”
Klingberg, a cosmopolitan Swede who had lived in Marylebone since the 2000s, opened his store, specialising in a certain type of Euro-Japanese discernment in muted shades, eleven years ago, before even André Balazs had unlocked the doors to his dimly lit high net worth pleasure palace down the road, drawing Bradley Cooper, Princess Eugene and Lily Allen to once-residential Chiltern street like so many Daily Mail-papped moths to a flame. “If it wasn't for the brick and mortar shops I don't think we would be where we are with online today,” says Klingberg. “We can see this with Switzerland [Trunk Zurich opened in 2018] now being our third biggest online market since we opened a shop there. They very much feed off each other.”
It’s easy to see why this is the case. Trunk is a small temple of good taste, everything from the art, furniture, changing room mirrors and quality of light is just so. I’m shown around by Keita Hiraoka, the shop's buyer, another man of good taste and better trousers. For summer they seem to be targeting man at rest. Upscale resortwear, comfortable, smart essentials and great luggage by Boglioli, Fedeli, Incotex and Ichizawa Hanpu; plus, its own range of in-house designed perennial menswear and bags. It’s a shop where you could go in for a pair of Japanese socks from Tabio and, as if by some linen and soft shouldered magic, leave with an entire wardrobe fit for a Lake Como-based mover, shaker and midday Il Cardinale drinker. Even if you could only get to North Devon this year.
“Comfort is most likely continue to be important throughout the summer months,” adds Klingberh, “but as we approach the autumn and winter season I believe there's going to be a surge in demand for smarter outfits, both for work and for play.”
8 Chiltern St, London W1U 7PU, trunkclothiers.com
Cross the road past the hypebeasts, fuckboys and baffled parents who hold court beneath the apathetic eye of the bomber jacket-clad security guard outside of the Supreme queue in Soho, and you’ll find a soft blue-painted oasis of grownup streetwear calm just around the corner. Très Bien, an outfit that started in Malmö in 2006, opened its second physical outpost on Meard Street in Soho in March of last year (yikes, etc), but has been able to see through the pandemic thanks to its robust online presence and the steady return of life and footfall (in expensive trainers) to London’s streetwear district, with Palace, END and the aforementioned Supreme all within a streetwear branded brick’s throwing distance. I’m met by Sam, a chill Geordie in a big hat with painted nails and a fistful of rings, who also runs his own accessories business, and Gina, a genial model in a cool sweater vest, the two forming a mellow in-shop partnership.
Streetwear can be seen as something of a dirty word in certain circles, but here is evidence that it can be done tastefully. Elevated and combined with aspects of high fashion and the abstract. “A lot of what we bring to the industry table is soft values like taste, curation and a certain style, and that’s really hard to describe without offering a place for our visitors to come and see, touch and smell,” writes Simon Hogeman, Très Bien’s co-founder from his home in Sweden. “Based on cultural, pop cultural, stylistic and aesthetic values, London is without a doubt our city in Europe. There was never really any competition to be honest.”
Minimalist, but still well stocked, the Soho shop has the feel of a gallery where you’re allowed to touch the paintings (in this case, good coats and shoes). Hogeman sees brands like Comme des Garçons, Our Legacy, Nike, Dries Van Noten and Stone Island as core to the TB look and offering, a mix of upscale, street, trainers, terrace and Nineties sport. “Ground rule number one is that we only buy things and brands we’d wear ourselves, so it’s very personal."
Locked down for much of last year, the team began work on its own ‘Ateljé’ range, which launched in spring. There are asymmetrical and oversized dress shirts; voluminous car coats in moss green and knitted sweater vests in pastel yellows. It’s good stuff! “I think the main thing we want to do with our own collections is to clearly pin down our aesthetics and explain what we are,” adds Hogeman. “I think what we’re doing with Ateljé, and will try to do with coming projects, is in some way missing still. A contemporary approach to fashion with a tailor's attention to details.”
23A Meard St, London W1F 0EY, tres-bien.com
Some things that you first notice when meeting Charlie Casely-Hayford are that he is very tall, very nice and very well dressed. A certain ease in the way he talks, moves and offers you a glass of mineral water in a thick glass tumbler. He greets me at the glossy dark green door of his Chiltern Street boutique and tailors in custom navy seersucker shawl collar tailoring. I’d never seen that mix of lapel style and fabric together before, but now I would like to own one.
His wife, an interior designer, oversaw the look of the space and everything is for sale. Even the chairs? I ask. “Even the chairs,” he replies, “although I’d rather not have to find new ones.” The shop opened in 2018, with Casely-Hayford reducing his wholesale accounts and moving towards a formula that he calls a “bespoke wardrobe service.” Not a traditional tailor; not a shop, but something that takes the best bits from both.
“We'll go through a guy’s wardrobe with them,” he says, reclining in a patterned armchair in the yellow-painted fitting room. “Ask them where the gaps are. We get to understand their style and their lives and build that out with them. We’re developing the relationship and then building up their future wardrobe. We retain all those notes and can either send suggestion with each season, or be ready to go when they get in touch.”
This means that if you’re off to the Seychelles and need just the right floral camp collar shirt; a bomber for the weekend or a plain white t-shirt that needs to go with a summer suit (maybe navy seersucker with a shawl collar?), Casely-Hayford and his team will be on call with just the piece(s). “We’ll send sketches and ideas out; it’s a really fluid process. We have guys in Singapore, the US and all over the world. We’ve got their measurements, so it can be this wonderful exchange. We could be doing a trench, a suit and a pair of shorts at the same time and it all fits together.”
“We’re a small, independent brand,” he adds, stretching out a leg in cropped trousers and heavy black derbies, a personal style signature of his, surrounded by black and white photos of famous artists and other pop culture figures, “it allows us to retain that human touch, but it also brings back the currency of clothing, because people then respect their clothes a little bit more, because they've been through a process with them.
“I think there's a value in that.”
3 Chiltern St, London W1U 7PB, casely-hayford.com
I’m way out West, except on this frontier the prairies, plains and dusty prospectors are replaced by £6 million houses spilling with wisteria; prams, Pelotons, turquoise Porsches and a Gail’s on every corner. At a white-cloth Italian restaurant a bored teenager vapes across from her mother, who is wearing massive sunglasses. It’s also next door to one of London’s best menswear stores.
Garbstore sells new clothes with a slouchy, Japan-inflected sensibility: Nanamica, Needles, Engineered Garments; wavy and sustainable shirts from Story MFG and bags from Porter Yoshida. Its own label, Home Party, has trenches, tailoring, elasticated trousers and work jackets made from Japanese fabric; soft and sturdy to the touch. Nice! There’s also an impressive home goods section, which feels essential in the intersectional world of modern male style. Incense holder, ceramic cups, water bottles and magazines, like the influential Tokyo style publication, Popeye.
“Since re-opening in April, we’ve seen both footfall and sales higher than ever,” says Carin Nakanish, head of Garbstore. It seems a whole year of online shopping has made people really value the physical. As much as technology has progressed, there’s nothing that can replace the touch and feel of the garment in hand. Casualwear, sweatshirts and oversized tees have all bee especially popular "but", adds Nakanish, "I think a return to more formal or preppy shirting is due a comeback, but in super oversized styles. Think Popeye (an influential Tokyo fashion magazine) dressing. I hope the loud and out-there style continues post-COVID! Think it has acted as a nice lift of positivity in the way we go about our days. The louder, the better!”
Despite its boujee location, Garbstore is low-key and welcoming. Buy a nylon Japanese tote bag; buy a patchwork Needles shirt; buy a Gaijin Made smiley face signet ring; buy a whole new wardrobe! Then go next door to Osteria Napoletana and buy a carbonara and derisively smoke a passion fruit Juul in front of your mum. What a day out!
188 Kensington Park Rd, London W11 2ES, couvertureandthegarbstore.com
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