You now have to live in London to keep on the pulse of high life; there is something to fill every 24 hours. A younger generation is now setting the pace; they want choice, the best quality and modernity wherever it comes from.
My mission was to seek what’s hot and where it’s all happening. One part is easy as every major international brand is in London but just about every capital city has them too. The other part is to seek out the new, the revived and the next generation. In other words, the new vogue and, by the way, it has to be fun.
Central London has numerous large parks; Hyde Park was a former royal hunting ground. Riding there has continued for hundreds of years but now there are only two mews stables remaining. The cobbled Bathurst Mews was built around 150 years ago to accommodate horses and carriages with servants living above, in order to serve the grand houses, however most mews now serve as chic hideaway houses.
Hyde Park Stables usually keep half their horses at the mews, the others are ‘on holiday’ in the countryside. Riders, both locals and visitors, can hire horses to ride in the park on the famous ‘Rotten Row’ as well as receive tuition.
“You can buy it in London” every major global brand is present, but it is the individual character of shops that provides something extra. It was a revelation to find I could appear slimmer, taller and much smarter without any physical intervention when I visited the Royal Warrant Holder Henry Poole and Company founded in 1805; the oldest established tailors belonging to the Savile Row Bespoke Association. It is still a welcoming family firm where measuring, cutting and stitching are carried out in the workshops below the shop. They need to know all about your style of life to advise on so many elements, there are over 5,000 cloths for a start and no detail is too small. Whether it is a traditional or modern style, the quality and fit is absolute perfection after three fittings and about six weeks work.
There is a surprising similarity between Henry Poole and James Purdey the gun and rifle maker; both require numerous details as making bespoke guns involves many of the same measurements as for jacket fitting. Again the choices are seemingly endless with weights, balances, barrel characteristics, stock length, choice of walnut for the stock, etc. But they share the same immaculate standards; the perfect fit for a perfect product. Traditionally apprenticed craftsmen work in their London factory but the latest CAD/CAM and CNC technology is now used on the basic processes, so the time-consuming hand finishing of the guns may be continued.
Nearby leading off Piccadilly is the Burlington Arcade, an elegant but tiny Regency shopping experience with a difference starting with the ‘Beadles’ – guardians/guides in gold braided top hats. From numerous small shops you can buy more precious, intriguing and varied presents to fit in your case than possibly anywhere else.
Harrods has changed but should still be visited if only for the pleasure of seeing the magnificent tiled food halls. However, for a complete sensory experience Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly has retained a discreet, unhurried and elegant style. Established in 1707 as a grocer’s shop the store expanded into a beautiful department store. Try to arrive on the hour when their elaborate clock chimes 18th century music whilst delightful mechanical figures parade to and fro. Quite charming. Fortnum’s is also one of the top places for afternoon teas.
Groceries, many exotic, are still sold here but differently; deep pile carpets with the assistants wearing traditional tailcoat jackets. The store’s hampers are legendary and sold worldwide together with festive treats. Fortnum and Mason epitomises everything that is quintessentially British.
Throughout the year, a great variety of events are staged, the whole spectrum of arts (including music) and crafts, both modern and antique are well provided for. Events span the new Masterpiece, Collect, Frieze plus other art fairs to graduate shows for spotting the future masters.
Beautiful and elegant gardens feature in two shows for exotic cars, classic and new; Salon Privé at Syon House and Chelsea Auto Legends at the historic Royal Hospital.
A place to stay that says London in great style is the very individual, boutique 5 Milestone Hotel, situated facing Hyde Park nearby Kensington Palace Gardens so it is convenient for both Kensington and Knightsbridge. The hotel is more a ‘Gentleman’s London Residence’ redolent of the golden Georgian era and is run like a fully staffed grand house, which incidentally has won Travel and Leisure’s “No1 in the world for service”.
The dining room is intimate and compares very favourably with ‘trophy’ restaurants; room service ensures effectively anything at any time is available for guests. There are flowers aplenty both in the public rooms and bedrooms, the latter are all different but all have fabric wall linings and every modern convenience including I-pads and other “boys’ toys”. There is a smaller sister hotel nearby; Egerton House which is less formal and could be his elegant house in a fashionable resort. A little story; a godmother was staying in Egerton House and saw her godson enter the lounge, instead of the expected greeting, she said indignantly “what are you doing in my secret London retreat”. That says it all; these hotels are everyone’s precious havens.
I asked the concierge for the most intriguing museum in London. The two hundred year old Sir John Soane Museum was mentioned, it turned out to be a great recommendation. Once the home of a great Georgian architect it is the U.K’s smallest national museum. It is literally full with numerous collections many related to architecture and the arts, how they all fit in is part of the intrigue.
London’s Goldsmith’s livery company was granted the authority to hallmark precious metals some 800 years ago; it has since assisted and promoted the interests of gold and silversmiths. Britain has become an international centre for bespoke jewellers and a high point in the jewellery year is the annual Goldsmiths Fair. This is a fabulous showcase for leading edge designer makers to sell their latest pieces as well as take clients’ commissions. At every Fair there are usually many new and outstanding exhibits offering a dearth of choice in style. (Tim Stevens)