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Best of London Shopping

HIGH-END VINTAGE My heart quickens whenever I visit Virginia (98 Portland Rd.; 44-207/727-9908), a vintage clothing shop in Holland Park. And I am not alone in my bedazzlement—John Galliano and a roster of actresses and models also rely on Virginia's practiced eye. The shop, a fantasia of silk and satin, looks like the bedroom of a princess; the lower level, with bowers of lace everywhere, is full of heavily embroidered lingerie, fragile camisoles, and gossamer tea dresses.

One hundred years of fashion fill Steinberg and Tolkien (193 King's Rd.; 44-207/376-3660), so that along with the Clara Bow-worthy frocks and broad-shouldered 1940's-style suits, you might just turn up a Mary Quant mini or rare 1970's Ossie Clark ensemble. (His recent retrospective at the Victoria & Albert was a huge smash.)

FAB FOOTWEAR The London shoe scene doesn't begin and end with Jimmy Choo. At Emma Hope (53 Sloane Square; 44-207/259-9566), kitten-heeled court pumps ($550) come in a wide range of hues and fabrics (velvet, brocade, suede); perhaps the most fetching is a muted gray-beige, the color of a Cotswold Hills cottage.

The floral Wellingtons match the ultra-feminine wallpaper at Poste Mistress (61-63 Monmouth St.; 44-207/379-4040); if those don't suit, there are also silver Birkenstocks, cleft-toed sneakers, and Pucci-print stilettos.

Don't be intimidated by the lack of signage at the Old Curiosity Shop (13-14 Portsmouth St.; 44-207/405-9891); a gentle knock will gain you entrance to the building said to have inspired Dickens's tale. Daita Kimura, a young Japanese cobbler, has taken over the low-ceilinged premises; among his creations are rough-hewn wide-toed pumps ($300) and elfish, orange-suede boots that are a brilliant mélange of 18th-century shoemaking and avant-garde style.

The sales staff at Georgina Goodman (12-14 Shepherd St.; 44-207/499-8599) in Mayfair describe their shoes as"couture semi-bespoke,"by which they mean made to measure and crafted from a single piece of buttery leather. Select from 20 different styles and a myriad of colors and decorations—my preference was for buff ballet flats ($1,000) hand-painted with uneven black stripes."Most people spend about two hours making their selections,"said a patient clerk. There's also a ready-to-wear line from about $350.

HANDBAGS Anya Hindmarch (15-17 Pont St.; 44-207/501-0177) is renowned for her photo-printed bags, which last winter featured a vintage picture of a family of skiers wearing bathing suits. The shop also offers a bespoke service: you supply the photo, they create a highly personal evening bag, tote, or even Rollaboard (from $800).

In lieu of a carpet, visitors tread on vintage pages of French Vogue preserved under clear plastic at Lulu Guinness (3 Ellis St.; 44-207/823-4828), who first made a splash with her whimsical flowerpot bag (the blossom-bedecked lid lifts off). Other favorites include a bag shaped like the Guinness shop itself and a Dial M for Murder tote that recalls a rotary phone.

If that's a bit jeune fille for your taste, the 150-year-old house of Tanner Krolle (5 Sloane St.; 44-207/823-1688) offers sophisticated but completely unstuffy purses. A pink calfskin satchel ($700) has a silver snaffle bit and a brilliant red lining; if you have to have it in, say, sky blue crocodile, a bespoke service is available.

The mood at Bracher Emden (46 Monmouth St.; 44-207/379-0202) is strictly rocker chick. The two designers play with Swarovski crystals and brightly hued snakeskins, lacing purses as if they were motorcycle jackets. The free-spirited results start at about $500.

A rare and fascinating collection of antique and vintage satchels is stacked almost to the ceiling at X.S. Baggage (Antiquarius Antiques Center, 131-141 King's Rd.; 44-207/376-8781). You'll find everything from a 1920's alligator gladstone to a massive Louis Vuitton trunk, fully restored to a glossy sheen.

SWEATERS Alas, with each passing year, that English staple the idiosyncratic hand-knit becomes harder to track down. (Remember Shy Di's fuzzy sheep pullover?) At Patricia Roberts's small shop (60 Kinnerton St.; 44-207/235-4742), near the Berkeley Hotel, everything is still handmade. Roberts gives her imagination free range and employs a universe of stitches: on my last visit I was captivated by a pale azure cardigan with white angora bubbles that looked liked clouds. Along with the sweaters (from $500), there are gloves, hats, and heart-melting accessories for babies.

For cashmere with style (no gold-buttoned twinsets, please), hip Londoners head to Brora (81 Marylebone High St.; 44-207/736-9944), which has exceptionally reasonable prices and styles that run to pale-blue ballerina wrap sweaters and periwinkle hoodies perfect for a jog around Hyde Park.

The cardigans, pullovers, and dresses (from $440) at Eskandar (134 Lots Rd.; 44-207/351-7333) look as if they've been sized for Jumbo the Elephant, but all that droopy softness, falling in elegant ripples, has a flattering effect on even the slightest woman. The shopfeels like a farmhouse with its bleached-white walls and plank floors.

HATS AND SCARVES Near Buckingham Palace, the world-famous mad hatter Philip Treacy (69 Elizabeth St.; 44-207/ 730-3992) has a small shop with blue Italian marble floors, along with an undulating golden showcase. Treacy's loyal fans include Marilyn Manson, Isabella Blow, and the royal family. A tiny chapeau ($9,100) has been crowned with bird of paradise plumes, but not to worry: according to the saleswoman,"The feathers are vintage; we try not to use the real thing now."


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