THE IT: London’s top shops

Hostem and Vintage 123, two stops on London’s amazing Urban Gentry shopping tour.

Story by Sara Graham, a Toronto writer and girl-about-town who recently spent a stylish sojourn in London.

Landing in one of the world’s fashion capitals can be more than a little overwhelming. Just stand on the corner of Oxford Circus for five minutes, as I did recently. It was a tidal wave of fall fashion and I was most definitely caught in the undertow.

It’s impossible not to shop. There are the usual suspects: Topshop, Selfridges, Harrods, and Dover Street Market for those who can afford the edgy couture on offer.

But when it comes to the business of “new” in London, no one quite has their finger on the pulse like Kevin Caruth. He started Urban Gentry tours back in 2007, and, after forging key relationships with hotel concierges—think customized tours for teens, and private sessions for the serious shopper or casual browser—his team is now servicing some of the world’s top fashion journalists. I had to get in on this action.

For my purposes, Kevin suggested that his protégé, Mae Shummo, take me in and around the East End where the business of fashion, art, and all things designer are flourishing at a rapid pace.

On a rainy Tuesday morning, Mae meets me at Old Street tube station. It doesn’t take long to see that Mae not only has in-depth fashion knowledge, she’s also living what’s now (curating a gallery exhibit of street art), and is clearly entrenched in what’s next.

Throughout our 3-hour tour, Mae was more like a close friend who was taking me round to her favourite spots, checking out street art and peppering the conversation with historic details and little anecdotes along the way. She was also chatty with the shopkeepers, and included me in the conversation, so that I really learn about who’s who in the store and neighbourhood.

Here are my highlights on this great insider excursion:

1. Goodhood on Coronet Street with its clean European streetwear and accessories. Here, I bought the most delicate bracelet by a Berlin-based designer Sabrina Dehoff.

2. Vintage 123. Formerly an alleged front for an illegal gun shop, the three floors now house the 123 label that is made from recycled paper and material.

3. no-one. New designers, from Central Saint Martins to obscure labels from the U.S., can always be found here, as well as a variety of young designers who live and work in East London.

4. Hostem. A sweet store stocked with many covetable designers…Swear we spied Alex Wang meeting with buyers here!

5. 11 Boundary is a must-visit stop with the best from labels like Twenty8Twelve, Winter Kate, and American Vintage.

6. White Cube Gallery. This iconic art show space in Hoxton Square is one of 200 in the area and is always filled with expertly curated modern art.

7. Start and Mr. Start on Rivington Street. The former is a gorgeous womenswear boutique, and the latter is a bespoke men’s tailor offering the coolest cuts in shirts, suits and ties. Philip Start is the man behind the institution, and his wife Brix (a former post-punk rock singer and guitarist in the ’80s) launched the women’s shop in 2002. They have since have expanded to four wildly successful boutiques and an online store.

Mae and I part ways at Liverpool Street, and I’m more than satisfied with the time spent exploring shops and galleries. Miles more entertaining and interesting (and frankly less panic-inducing) than any High Street experience.

Below, pics from Start and Mr. Start.

For more on the shopping/foodie/architecture tour service, visit Urban Gentry’s website. Read more of The It here!

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