Christmas Shoppingby Burlington Bertie
London's Holiday Season shopping spree is in full swing. Top department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly, Liberty's in Regent Street, Selfridges in Oxford Street and Peter Jones in Sloane Square are the honeypots that bring the swarming crowds to a West End transformed into a winter wonderland of festive lights.
The exclusive fashion and jewelry boutiques of Sloane Street and Mayfair's Bond Street are oases of luxurious calm in this seasonal rush, their solicitous doorman ushering well-heeled shoppers through their portals to choose expensive delights.
My own favorite gift shopping venues however are London's historic arcades; Victorian precursors of today's modern shopping centers.
My favourite stop is the Burlington Arcade, adjacent to the Royal Academy on the north side of Piccadilly. This architectural and stylish masterpiece with Dickensian décor and atmosphere was opened in 1819, the year or Queen Victoria's birth, to sell "jewelry and fancy articles of fashionable demand for the gratification of the public". Little has changed since then in this arcaded street which is guarded and patrolled by a top hatted Beadle in Edwardian uniform to maintain appropriate decorum.
The arcade houses some 40 boutiques. They sell everything from a diamond encrusted tiara or multiple-stringed necklace of pearls that once graced the head of a Russian Tsarina or the neck of a Duchess, (price on application if you have that sort of money and chauffeured car to match), to a more affordable bling brooch of faux diamonds set in enameled white metal, or elegant silk and leather accessories.
Opposite Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly's south side is the 'new' Piccadilly Arcade. This quiet venue was only 'recently' opened in 1910, at the height of the Edwardian era, when Europe was still governed by inter-related imperial families scheming dynastic marriages and territorial expansion from their palaces in London, Berlin, Vienna and St. Petersburg. If you are looking for a handmade gentleman's shirt, silk tie, footwear or a similar quality present for the man in your life, one of the specialist shops for men here may be your destination of choice.
Just a short walk into Mayfair from Burlington Arcade's northern exit is my other favourite 'arcadian' hunting ground; the Royal Arcade, leading from 28 Old Bond Street into 12 Albermarle Street. I am a regular visitor to this charming arcade of 16 shops opened in 1879, the year Edison patented the incandescent electric lamp. Having given up smoking, I have discovered the euphoric delights of dark chocolate. You will probably see me once a week at No.1 Royal Arcade buying goodies at Charbonnel et Walker, the long established chocolatier and royal warrant holder. I do occasionally buy a gift there for a favoured friend but it's a toss up whether it will reach its intended destination!
Useful links and online orders
Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge
Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly
Selfridges, Oxford Street
Liberty, Regent Street
Peter Jones, Sloane Square
Charbonnel et Walker, Mayfair
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