Covent Garden, oft-maligned as an epicenter of touristy chain stores, is reclaiming its place as one of London’s best shopping destinations.
The name Covent Garden may conjure images of My Fair Lady-style cockney flower hawkers, but the market stalls actually moved across the river in 1974. They were replaced mostly by touristy chain stores, but now those too are disappearing, and boutique properties like the glamorous, 18-room Henrietta Hotel (doubles from $325) are moving in.
Residential developments are under way, and a full-time gardener is at work on a neighborhood regreening program. Stylish U.K. companies and cult indie brands have set up flagships in newly refurbished retail spaces, many of them in protected historic buildings.
The Shop at Bluebird
The original Shop at Bluebird in Chelsea is an institution, having drawn design lovers to its King’s Road concept store for more than a decade. Now Carriage Hall, a historic carriage house in what was once Covent Garden’s labyrinthine market center, is one of the neighborhood’s must-visit addresses. In this dazzling new 15,000-square-foot flagship, you’ll find the eclectic selection of apparel (Acne Studios, Marni, Alistair James), beauty (Grown Alchemist, Votary), and homewares (Scandinavian design objects from Hay, Assouline and Phaidon art books) that made the original a London mainstay.
This expansive store from France’s oldest and most prestigious teahouse is a veritable shrine to the U.K.’s national drink. Occupying five floors of a renovated Georgian town house, the Mariage Frères Covent Garden store claims to offer the world’s largest collection of teas, with varieties grown in 36 countries. Book a table at the Salon de Thé for an afternoon brew paired with pastries and petits fours, then visit the second-floor museum, with its collection of antiques, recipes, and paraphernalia from around the world. Afterward, explore the apothecary-like emporium, where almost a thousand blends are for sale, some fetching up to $140 per package.
For Art’s Sake
Founded just two years ago, this London purveyor of handmade, high-design sunglasses has swiftly acquired a committed fan base. Up until now, Londoners had to buy the company’s shades either online or from a booth in Harvey Nichols. But this month, For Art’s Sake will open its first stand-alone store in Covent Garden’s Market Building. In keeping with the brand’s fashionable credentials, the space will be furnished with on-trend architectural brass and marble shelving, and velvet-covered walls that match the cases that come with every purchase. Among the bold styles, you’ll find lenses in rose and lavender; bridges set with tiny pearls; nose pads fashioned from jade; and oversize cat-eye frames made from hand-cut, marbled acetate.
Following up on its serene garden-store-cum-restaurant in the residential district of Richmond, Petersham Nurseries has opened a Covent Garden outpost that is three in one: a florist, selling romantic, rambling arrangements of seasonal British flowers; a delicatessen for artisanal preserves, English cheeses, freshly made pastas, and Italian wines; and a lifestyle shop stocked with home goods, gardening supplies, antique furniture, imported textiles, and indoor plants. Also worth checking out are the two on-site restaurants: the Italian-inspired La Goccia (small plates $7–$19) and the elegant Petersham (entrées $30–$46), which serves fresh Bellinis and egg-yolk ravioli in a plant-filled, almost forested dining room hung with filigreed mirrors and floor-to-ceiling paintings.
Beauty-industry veteran Michelle Feeney named her perfume brand after the road on which Covent Garden’s flower sellers once gathered, having been inspired to launch it while strolling its quaint lanes. Just around the corner on King Street, her small, white-walled shop carries just eight fragrances, all packaged in compostable boxes and sugarcane-based bioplastic bottles. Each is named after a flower, such as the zesty, bright London Poppy and the sultry Black Lotus, and deepened by an entourage of complementary notes. Book an appointment at Feeney’s monthly Scent School to learn more about the science of perfume — glass of champagne in hand.
This Japanese company was the first to import American jeans to Tokyo in the 1940s, but it soon started manufacturing its own — planting the seeds for Japan’s wildly successful denim industry. Edwin is now one of Japan’s premier jeans labels, and its minimalist European flagship store is, as you might expect, dominated by navy and indigo hues. In addition to the raw denim that earned Edwin its devoted following, you’ll find other staples for men such as streetwear-inspired tees and trousers, overdyed flannels, and leather goods.