When Prada presents its spring line, value-conscious fashionistas start combing the racks of the chain stores along the high streets, London's main shopping thoroughfares. Here, Miuccia's newest coat is copied the moment the model steps off the runway, and sold for a small fraction of the original's price. But these shops (think the Gap with a Gucci twist) aren't just nicking designs. They're also keeping on top of the latest in street fashion, and a few smart ones have hired big-name consultants, such as Clements Ribeiro, Hussein Chalayan, and Jasper Conran. Dash to the top three high streets—Oxford Street, Kensington High Street, and Kings Road—where you'll be outfitted in high style.
Jigsaw 65 Kensington High St.; 44-171/937-3573.
Jigsaw embodies minimalism, from its simple, well-tailored clothes to its sleek dressing rooms. Slip into a knee-grazing camel-colored skirt ($80) or dress yourself in a wash of black and gray, the predominant shades in Jigsaw's collections. Like every high street fashion house, it has branches throughout London. Swing by the John Pawson-designed flagship (126-127 New Bond St.; 44-171/491-4484): all concrete and frosted glass. The kids' line downstairs is a most fashionable coming-of-age.
Miss Selfridge 42-44 Kensington High St.; 44-171/938-4182.
If only Miss Selfridge had been around when we were 16, those nerdy teen years wouldn't have been so painful. The store's cosmetics brand, Kiss & Make-Up, includes shimmery hair mascara ($7) and two-tone nail polish ($4). Almost as fabulous are the cotton pajamas, tucked into shiny plastic bags ($40). Groove to CD's in the new chill-out zone, furnished with a slick red couch.
Principles Marble Arch, Oxford St.; 44-171/493-5371.
Things started perking up at frumpy Principles when fashion designer Amanda Wakeley began cutting herringbone shifts ($210), midnight-blue silk skirts ($115), and pink satin-and-velvet dresses ($335) on the bias. Too bad Principles' basic collection isn't as lovely.
Dorothy Perkins 379 Oxford St.; 44-171/495-6181.
Another dowdy duckling has been tarted up, this time with a line by hot design team Clements Ribeiro. Its crocheted rainbow halter ($50) screams Studio 54, while a fringed magenta tank top ($50) goes straight into the 1980's. The navy mid-thigh jacket ($200) propels the classic blue suit into the year 2000.
Topshop 214 Oxford St.; 44-171/636-7700.
Big debate: whether to stop by the in-store henna tattoo station before or after trying on Hussein Chalayan's Op Art T-shirts ($60). Yes, the man who burned up the fashion catwalks a few seasons back is setting Topshop on fire with his range for TS Design, a new in-house label. A massive renovation made room for a hair salon and a café. And just in case you're not sure what's in style, huge banners advise on the essentials you can't live without: SEQUINS, FEELING GLAM, SPARKLY JEWELRY, BOYS, TIARAS.
Warehouse 6367 Kensington High St.; 44-171/938-3550.
Girlie girls go to Warehouse to gear up for a night out. A sedate blue quilted vest ($65) might get you past the doorman at AKA, London's club of the moment. And if the ultra-exclusive K-Bar is on the agenda, Warehouse can supply the necessary glitz. A red satin baby-doll dress ($135) looks all grown-up with a velvet purse ($17) that, were it in the States, could have Kate Spade yelling "copycats." In the lingerie department, there are sweet undershirt-and-knicker sets ($20-$24), trimmed with ribbon or emblazoned with rhinestones.
The Boys' Club
SU214 214 Oxford St.; 44-171/927-0104.
Men not willing to starve just to own a Savile Row bespoke suit should frequent the new SU214. Much mellower than its buzzing women's counterpart, Topshop, the store houses some of London's coolest changing rooms, sculpted out of bronze. Tailor Richard James has lent his sophistication with made-to-measure suits ($500-$675). Hypermod shop assistants will help coordinate a very British look: three-button pin-striped jacket, narrow pants, purple shirt, matching purple tie.
Jigsaw Menswear 126 Kings Rd.; 44-171/823-7304.
White shirts, black leather pants, and moleskin suits are all constructed in the name of Mr. Minimalism. While the collection is mostly understated, there are a few surprises. Wool jumpsuits à la airport workers?And only the bravest American would take the gray flannel kilt home with him.
Reiss 114 Kings Rd.; 44-171/225-4910.
Sportier types gravitate toward this welcome new entry into the spotty but improving high-street men's division. While some may blast Reiss as a poor man's Jigsaw, the hooded pullovers ($75-$125) and ribbed wool turtlenecks ($110) look positively Calvin Klein with sturdy cargo pants ($115).
All Together, Now
Debenhams 334-348 Oxford St.; 44-171/580-3000.
Your British friends will shriek "Naff!" upon mention of Debenhams, the K-mart of British department stores. The laugh's on them when you show up wearing Philip Treacy glittery barrettes ($17), toting an embroidered velvet Lulu Guinness handbag ($60), and hanging on a boyfriend who looks dapper in John Richmond's flat-front trousers ($100) and peacoat ($295). Jasper Conran had a big hand in the new Designers at Debenhams departments for men, women, children, and the home. His name and monogram are scattered across jeans, leather bags, bath-oil bottles, and men's fleece tops.
Marks & Spencer 458 Oxford St.; 44-171/935-7954.
It's no secret that the most fashionable British women buy their undies at "Marks & Sparks," all the while bragging that they do their lingerie shopping only at Agent Provocateur. M&S may have pioneered the high-street designer wave with unmarked merchandise by Paul Smith, but fashionable finds are few and far between. Stick to the lingerie, the cheap cashmere, and the incredible food hall (prepare for unbearable lines).
Muji 157 Kensington High St.; 44-171/323-2208.
Japan's favorite budget emporium has stolen the pared-down hearts of Londoners. Utilitarian shelves are lined with Comme des Garçons-style clothing, raw cardboard notebooks ($1.25-$3.50), mandarin- and grapefruit-scented bath soaps ($4-$6.50), and umbrellas with brushed-aluminum handles ($25-$35). The flatware is a perfect, low-cost Calvin Klein-style design (from $2.50 for a small fork). Everything fits under the heading "simple and functional chic."
Zara 114-118 Regent St.; 44-171/917-9531.
When fashion-editor favorite Zara moved onto Regent Street in November, lines trailed down the block for replicas of an $850 Donna Karan dress (here, a cool $75) and rack upon rack of women's and men's garments that whisper Prada, Marc Jacobs, Trussardi, and Dolce & Gabbana.
Accessorize 123A Kensington High St.; 44-171/937-1433.
Prepare to battle the masses, lunging for some of the best and cheapest evening bags in town. Winter has been all about antique-style beaded and embroidered pouches ($13-$50), while spring promises Indian-inspired bags, made from the same silks used for saris. Diamanté drop earrings ($7), silver glitter mascara ($6), and hologram-flecked nail polish ($5) complete the wardrobe.
Office 43 Kensington High St.; 44-171/937-7022.
Tom Ford must have been miffed when he spotted his steel-heel Gucci stilettos meticulously re-created here for $85. When the fashion pack couldn't get Miu Miu's $280 pony-skin mules last summer, they settled for Office's version ($75). And this was the first place to carry 1998's coveted New Balance suede sneakers ($95) in acid green and neon purple. All the heavy hitters—Patrick Cox, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin—eventually are honored with Office imitations. It's like the Madame Tussaud's of the shoe world.
Laura Begley is a senior editor at Travel & Leisure.