An insider's guide to the fashion capital London

 

Heading to London Fashion Week? Rachel Marie Walsh has a guide to the coolest offerings in the capital.

Hair by Sam McKnight Exhibition is on at Somerset House at Temple in London; It features Kate Moss by Nick Knight in Vogue UK, September 2000

YOU may not be able to snag tickets to London Fashion Week (only for industry types, sadly) but a city break to satisfy even the most discerning fashionista is easy to plan. 

I fully expect anyone who takes the following route to be travelling on heels rather than hopping on a bike, so do choose a block. 

London pavements, unlike New York sidewalks, are not consistent enough for a day in delicate shoes.

Stay

St Martin’s Lane is difficult to leave. With an Asia de Cuba restaurant, spa and free classes at the Gymbox fitness centre available, doesn’t it make sense to stay in? 

Whimsical Philippe Starck interiors give guests a down-the-rabbit hole feel. This is enhanced by the glow of each bedroom’s interactive light installation, which changes colour to suit your mood. 

Blind Spot, a concealed speak-easy accessed by a gold hand-shaped knocker, hosts live music during the week.

The May Fair Hotel Schiaparelli Suite bedroom.

The May Fair Hotel is the official hotel of London Fashion Week. The bar and restaurant adopt fashion capital-themed menus and international editors take up residence. 

The rooms are colourfully decorated generally but the shocking-pink Schiaparelli Suite is especially cheerful.

But city centre hotels aren’t particularly restful, I think, and so to The Portobello Hotel, which occupies two converted mansions on a quiet Notting Hill street. 

This is a group-sister to L’Hotel (which I would recommend if this guide were for Paris), and as in that left-bank gem each room is uniquely beautiful, with carefully selected antiques and the odd exotic wall mural. 

The Honesty Bar overlooks private gardens and serves locally-brewed spirits and liqueurs.

Eat

Hunger begets choice paralysis: the late and impeccable AA Gill rarely dined outside the M25 for a reason. I love Japanese, so am biased towards Dinings in Marylebone for lunch, Tombo in South Kensington for pitstops and Umu in Mayfair for dinner. 

Dinings’ menu is particularly good for abstemious fashionistas, as it is conceived as a sushi-tapas hybrid. Portions are beautifully presented and made to share. 

Tombo is a matcha bar, offering energy-boosting teas to those who don’t want to sugar crash later (or pretty pastries and green tea ice-cream if you don’t mind). 

Japanophiles who say nowhere on this continent does authentic kaiseki should be taken to Umu and stuffed.

When I heard tell of breakfast at The Wolseley as a kid, I pictured a room full of Mr Banks-types manoeuvring silverware around their moustaches. 

People-spotting there for real turns up lots of journalists and public relations people but don’t let that put you off, this is a lovely place to let breakfast run into brunch. A former car showroom, the brasserie was renovated in 2003 by David Collins Studio. 

The original Venetian arches and lacquered wood installed in the Twenties remain. Fashion people tend not to do viennoiserie but there are plenty of carb-free options.

Meat lovers should save their appetites for the nearest Gaucho in the evening. An Argentine steakhouse chain called Gaucho may not sound stylish but it really is, in a Tom Ford-remakes-Dallas-in-a-club kind of way. 

Black leather, cow skin cushions, chandeliers and unbelievable food. If you have a vegetarian you’d like to turn, this is the spot.

Drink

Londoners are swimming in stylish cocktail bars but for sheer glamour, The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy is hard to beat. Photos do not do this place justice. 

Refurbished from the room where the BBC broadcast the Savoy Hotel Orpheans’ music in the twenties, the interiors are still heavily Art Deco. 

The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy.

The black velvet furnishings and gold leaf-covered walls make it an ideal setting for late night cabaret. A champagne bar sits on the stage where George Gershwin first played Rhapsody in Blue.

When a (very) nice cuppa is all you want, book a Prêt-à-Portea, or afternoon tea, at The Berkeley.

Pastry chef Mourad Khiat does a tower of pastries inspired by contemporary trends that currently includes a Simone Rocha-dress shaped vanilla eclair.

Shop

For a truly London shopping experience, have a wander around the older department stores in W1.

Selfridges will be hosting pop-up store of products by Fashion East designers--including Tipperary native Richard Malone — until the end of March. 

Selfridges host Fashion East.

Fashion East is a non-profit body that supports emerging talent and prices start at £10. 

The Oxford Street store is also the only bricks-and-mortar stockist of Cefinn, Samantha Cameron’s collection of comfy-smart office wear, which landed earlier this month and has a £1-£300 price range.

Liberty has been a London institution for two centuries. Its appeal ought to be a bit dusty but the buyers pack in too many desirables, from the Wild at Heart concession at the entrance to the gorgeous women’s wear collection. 

Liberty prints, for which the store is famous, look a little, um, busy on a shirt but on small accessories and stationary are quite pretty. The beauty rooms, and the Margaret Dabbs Sole Spa in particular, are some of the nicest in the city.

There was a bit of a to-do when Abercrombie and Fitch bought the Grade II-listed building at the corner of Savile Row and Burlington Gardens. There have been others since.

How many ways can a US sportswear giant and its shirtless beefcakes tick off royal tailors? 

Noise pollution, flags bearing pictures of said beefcakes, illegal building works... I really think some kind of Outsiders-style street fight is in order, if only because it would be so much fun to watch. 

Anyway, as the athleisure trend shows no signs of abating and Abercrombie is quite good at tanks, short-shorts, etc, it is worth exploring.

Victoria’s Secret on Bond Street is forever teeming with women. The stock can be dodgy but as a retail experience I can’t fault it. 

The brand’s perfume wafts from every vent, the staff are falling over themselves to... oh, look, I know the VS fashion shows make it seem like every babe in the world is wearing this stuff and fair dues, that is pretty smart staging. But If you truly love lingerie this place is like MacDonald’s with import duty. 

Some fashionistas are loving that but it is just too much polyester for me. Too much, forget the hype, your boobs deserve better.

King’s Road does not generate the fashion buzz it did back when Ossie Clark hung out or even, three decades later, when Galliano pillaged Steinberg and Tolkien for inspiration.

I used to spend a lot of time around here in the late 2000s but many of my favourite multi-brand boutiques shuttered during the recession, their sites snapped up by mid-priced French manufacturers (The Kooples, Sandro, Zadig & Voltaire...), that now neighbour the usual UK high-street suspects. 

If you want to hit all those stores and get some culture, the Saatchi Gallery is currently showing contemporary work by so-called painter’s painters, including ‘Kurt Cobain’s Greenhouse’ by Dexter Dalwood.

See

The Victoria and Albert Museum is almost too obvious a stop to mention. 

Home to the largest and most comprehensive dress collection in the world, you really need several months of Sundays to see it properly. 

Current temporary exhibitions include ‘You Say You Want a Revolution?’, a celebration of late Sixties fashion, film and music. Biba and Bazaar dresses abound.

The Design Museum on Kensington High Street is currently home to ‘The Pan-European Living Room’, a cheering jab at Brexit by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA architectural firm. 

Part of the exhibition ‘Fear and Love — Reactions to a Complex World’, the installation displays items from all 28 EU member states united in a cohesive, attractive living space. 

The view from its window is an image of Rotterdam, where OMA is based, after heavy WWII bombing. Fear and Love also includes contributions from Hussein Chalayan and the super-successful Chinese designer Ma Ke.

Then you’ll want to take the District Line (no cabs, please, the air pollution situation is worse than Beijing’s) to Temple to see Hair by Sam McKnight at Somerset House. 

McKnight was a confidante of Princess Diana’s and has done countless Vogue covers and fashion editorials.

I doubted the potential of an entire exhibition about hair, initially, but it is a fascinating angle on recent fashion history. 

The story of McKnight’s 40-year career, told through client interviews, stunning celebrity images and, well, hairstyles, is not to be missed.

If you see just one thing in London this season, it must be David Hockney at the Tate (until May 29). This is the biggest ever retrospective of the octogenarian’s work and already the fastest-selling event in the museum’s history, so book well ahead.

Hockney was a fashion icon of the ’60s and ’70s and designer testimonials in the January Vogue give some indication of his enduring influence. 

Erdem Moralioglu collects him and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey cites his work and personal style as constant reference points. 

Dreamy LA portraits and Yorkshire landscapes are the perfect way to end the day.



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