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.

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LETTER FROM…London

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

In London, Harvey Nichols has got to be tops when it comes to the business of department store window dressing. The sets installed for the autumn season are genius. Books, cassette tapes, pegs, pencils, nails, and about a million puzzle pieces were used to create a magical series of scenes that even impressed my 12-year-old nephew. Now that’s a job well done!

Click through for more pics!

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LETTER FROM…Sri Lanka

Story by Jordan Porter, a Toronto fashion writer, who is on a year-long trip around the world.

I just got back from one of the best experiences of my life. For the past 30 years, Sri Lanka has had more than its share of strife. With a brutal and bloody war that finally ended in early 2009, and a hard hit from the tsunami in 2004, this incredibly beautiful country has unfortunately been a “no-go” zone for far too long.

Despite these hardships, on my recent roadtrip across Sri Lanka, I encountered some of the smiliest and friendliest people, the cleanest cities in all of Asia, and the most amazing and diverse landscape I have ever seen.

In just eight days I went from the ancient cave temples of Dambulla, to the tea plantations of Hatton at 4,000 feet, where I stayed at a beautifully restored colonial plantation house and filled my belly with melt in your mouth scones and tea sammies all day long, back down to a tropical climate of palm trees in the quaint seaside town, and former Dutch Colony, of Galle.

Saving the best for last, my trip ended with a visit to Minneriya and Yala National Parks, where I called on Leopard Safaris to take me on the adventure of a lifetime.

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LETTER FROM…London

Story and photography by Grace Carroll, a Toronto fashion writer who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star BF.

It’s mid-August and I’m standing outside of one of London’s hottest fashion parties of the summer: Wolf & Badger’s Summertime Party in Notting Hill.

As I contemplate how to navigate my way through the crowd to reach the guest-list girl, I smirk at the thought of gelato being served to guests outside. Considering, of course, that the blustering winds and sudden low-temperature has me shivering profusely despite wearing a long-sleeved silk blouse and trousers in what should be the summer’s hottest month.

I slip through the door with my friend Becca in tow just as it begins to pour down outside. Everyone is packed into the boutique, and the claustrophobic environment creates a comforting coziness, sheltering us from the nasty storm that has erupted outside. We weave through the crowd until we discover the bar and each pick up a glass of Pimms (the only drink available) before tucking into a corner to catch up on our latest gossip. ‘Where is the vodka?’ I wonder. ‘I thought this was a fashion party…’

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LETTER FROM…London

Grace Carroll, a regular contributor to The Style Notebook, is a Toronto fashion writer who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star BF.

My flat has become the crash pad of choice for friends and family making pit stops in London-town this summer. Just days after my brother finally packed up and headed to Florence, my dear friend Brian Cleaver shows up on my doorstep.

A Toronto native who is now a full-time New Yorker, Brian is an exciting young photographer who glamorously crossed the pond for the weekend to celebrate his friend’s Marie Antoinette-themed B-day bash in Kent. As the spectacular soiree is not until Saturday night, I’ve got exactly one day to play host and show him a good time in the big smoke.

Brian meets me after work in Shoreditch and I drag him along to my meeting at Blackall Studios, a great gallery space just a couple of blocks away. Angel McKenzie, a former reality TV Big Brother star, is inside taking down her artworks that had been on display over the past week.

I was familiar with her show, thanks to the personal tour she gave me during the opening the weekend before. “It’s all about nudes, nudity and for me it’s what the future will look like—we’re all going to walk naked because of heat (…) and global warming” she tells me. With her use of bright colours and use of neon fur trim to frame her canvases, I find her work quite humorous although it’s hard to tell if that’s the intended reaction.

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LETTER FROM…London

Grace Carroll, our girl in London, takes a trip to Oxford with her brother, Jackson, for some old-fashioned fun. A regular contributor to The Style Notebook, Grace is a Toronto fashion writer who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star BF.

Hot weather and extra sweaty tubes have hit London—a getaway to the lovely English countryside is calling. I don’t really care that it’s only my brother Jackson’s second day in London. When I say it’s time to go, we go.

I’ve arranged for us to take a day trip to Oxford and visit my friend Neil, one half of Toronto’s fantastic duo, The Carps. Currently completing his last year at the prestigious university, he is a musician with style, looks and brains (p.s. girls, he’s single!). We take the Oxford Tube, a modern double-decker bus equipped with AC and WiFi for the 90-minute journey. Conveniently, it picks up and drops off passengers at a number of central London spots every 15 minutes and allows you to purchase tickets upon boarding. At £15 a pop per round trip, it’s one of my favourite ways to get out of the city on a whim.

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LETTER FROM…Edinburgh

The shifting moods of Edinburgh. Story and photography by Charlotte Herrold, a Toronto writer who is pursuing a Master’s in creative writing at the University of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a moody place. One minute the sun is out and the sky is as blue as The Saltire flag; blink and the city is shrouded in fog so thick you can’t see five feet in front of you. As I type this letter, the view from my window—usually composed of spires and turrets and tiny chimneys (and if I lean far enough to the right, in the distance, the Castle!)—is a blanket of white, like someone has pulled the cable out of my TV and the screen has gone blank.

It’s really no surprise that this is the city that inspired the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Was Stevenson not simply personifying the schizophrenic weather? Or was he writing about the Janus-faced layout of the city itself, divided into the Gothic Old Town and the Georgian New Town? Edinburgh is a city rife with such juxtapositions of old and new: vendors on the Royal Mile sell clan tartans in every form from traditional kilts to cell phone holders; one of the longest surviving pubs in the city centre (dating from the sixteenth century) sits next to a French restaurant that boasts “Established 1998.”

It’s this very duality, this changeability that can make the city look unfamiliar on an evening walk down the same streets I’ve wandered for the past 10 months.

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LETTER FROM…Rishikesh, India

The author (and BF, in sunglasses) making an offering to Hindu deities. Story by Jordan Porter, a Toronto fashion writer, who is on a year-long trip around the world.

While travelling in India, the Boyfriend and I decided we couldn’t miss out on the famous Ganga—no, not that kind of ganga, naughty readers—so we packed for a trip on the Rishikesh Express and headed to the Land of Aummm to experience the sacred river in all its glory.

Set along its banks, in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a holy city, home to many a saffron-robed monk. As it’s the “World Capital of Yoga,” you can tap into your cosmic consciousness through the teachings of Vedanta at the Ashram Brahmavidyapeetham, or find a little inner peace in one of the many yogic retreats dotted along the river’s banks, as The Beatles famously did in 1968, penning over 40 songs during their stay.

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LETTER FROM…London

Meet Grace Carroll, a Toronto fashion writer, who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star boyfriend. She’s smart, super stylish, and just a bit cheeky. We love her. You will too.

My younger brother, Jackson, has popped in to visit me in the big smoke for a week (or two, as he slyly mentions upon arrival) in the midst of his month-long summer Euro tour. I’m his second, earlier-than-expected stop after a romantic rendezvous in Paris with his long-distance lover went sour. In a bid to help him forget about his first nasty break-up, I do what any good older sister would do: ply him with alcohol, feed him vast amounts of artery-clogging foods, and promise him that he will soon stumble upon a dapper Englishman who will sweep him off his feet.

Recovering from the previous night’s arrival/forget-him celebration, Jackson and I warily gather ourselves mid-day to head into east London for a late lunch. Attempting to impress him with my-so-called “Fashionable London Life” we pop into 11 Boundary Boutique in Shoreditch, where I kiss-kiss with the shop girl (my friend Dana) before whisking him away to experience my favourite meal in the city.

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LETTER FROM…Udaipur

The author in India’s most romantic city. Story by Jordan Porter, a Toronto fashion writer, who is on a year-long trip around the world.

After a whirlwind tour of India’s crowded Kolkata streets, Pink City in Jaipur, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and everything in between, I was short-circuiting from a complete sensory overload. So I headed, quite literally, for the hills. Nestled in the Aravalli Mountain ranges in the state of Rajasthan, I took shelter in Udaipur for a much-needed escape.

Touted as the “Venice of the East,” Udaipur sits on the shores of Lake Pichola, and is India’s most romantic city. Unfortunately the lake was begging for monsoon season during my stay and resembled more of a pond, but nonetheless the romance, beauty, and the regal Rajasthani style were abundant.

Strolls down the narrow crooked lanes revealed tiny jewellery shops stocked to the ceiling with beautiful bangles and women wrapped in saris of bright fuchsia, lemon yellow, and turquoise.

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