Shopping in most cities is pretty boring. Have you noticed how the high streets look pretty much the same everywhere? Whether you’re shopping in London, Barcelona, New York or Rome you will find find the same brands everywhere: H&M, Zara, The Body Shop, The Apple Store, Karen Millen, Lush and McDonald’s. Snoozzz…
But not all hope is lost. London is full of wonderful quirky brands that are hiding amongst the megabrands. You just need to take a side-step from the high street and you will find some truly amazing, unique brands with shops that are real works of art. To find them, head towards Carnaby Street.
I first visited Carnaby Street in the 90’s when it was a faded shadow of it’s hip heritage. If Carnaby Street was the home of the coolest brands of The Swinging London in the 60’s, in the 90’s it was nothing but a dirty collection of tourist traps. That’s why it’s wonderful to see that Carnaby Street has been revived as the home of cool brands and their unusual shops.
Carnaby Street is located just a short walk from Oxford Street. Get off the tube at Oxford Circus, and walk down Argyll Street towards Liberty department store. Then walk around the left side of Liberty and you will find the pedestrians-only Carnaby Street starting right around the corner.
So, here are my top tips for shopping in London:
It’s chocolate, but really it’s art. The Choccywoccydoodah shop is filled with the weirdest, most amazing sculptures made of chocolate. I’m not sure any of it is really meant for eating, but I don’t care. The display of flowers, angels, sculls and unicorns is breath-taking. Dimly lit and decadently painted in red and black, this chocolate shop looks more like a naughty adult’s fantasy shop. (They do sell some naughtily shaped chocolates too, but maybe those were available behind the counter only). You can amaze at the beautiful works of cake and chocolate art downstairs, and if you fancy trying a bite for yourself, there is a cafe upstairs.
One of my favourite shoe brands Irregular Choice has only two flagship stores – one in their hometown Brighton and one on Carnaby Street. Although Irregular Choice is nowadays quite widely available – mostly through the Shuh stores – it is quite another thing to visit their own store, which is stocked to the brim with their wackiest designs. Irregular Choice doesn’t only do shoes. Their shop has many weird and wonderful handbags, jewellery and accessories, too.
I also love the space-themed carpet, sparkly red plastic couch and unicorn-themed wallpaper, which you might know from some of their shoebox designs. There is too much of everything, and it’s just fabulous.
I’ve been a fan of Johnny Cupcakes for a while now, even though their clothes are not really for me anymore. Had I discovered this brand during my rock-band years, I probably would’ve been an avid user of their quirky cupcake designs. Johnny Cupcakes has a truly iconic logo of cupcakes and crossbones, which they are not ashamed to exploit to the max. Their designs have brought together the attitude of badass skater brands while still kinda taking the mickey of it all at the same time.
The entire shop has a bakery theme. The shirts are placed in glass displays like in a bakery. The walls are decorated with rolling pins and egg cartons. The founder Johnny Earle has said that many people think that the store is an actual bakery. Indeed, when I visited the shop, an old lady stumbled in asking for cupcakes.
There are not many items on show, and that is because all Johnny Cupcakes designs are limited edition. There are some classic designs which seem to pop back regularly, but most designs are unique and often refer to some current topic. I visited the store around Halloween, and as expected, there were many Halloween themed designs.
I had to include Tatty Devine to this list. Their flagship store is actually located on Brick Lane in East London, but they have two other outlets near Carnaby Street, one in Covent Garden and one in Selfridges.
Tatty Devine is probably best known for their custom laser cut perspex necklaces. You can have your own name cut out of a wide selection of colours and finishes, topped up with quirky charms. My favourites are their big statement necklaces such as the Jurassic and Aargh.
There are many pieces made from more traditional materials such as gold and silver, but they all have those trademark bold designs.
What are your favourite brands and where can you find them? Please share in the comments or tweet me!