For me, one of the best shopping locations in the entire world is the area of St James’s in London. Situated right in the centre of some of the most visited spots in the city, it packs a really stylish punch and maintains all of the Great British charm and character that you’d expect from somewhere within spitting distance of Buckingham Palace (although I strongly advise that you don’t actually spit in the direction of her Majesty).
From Piccadilly Circus, across to Trafalgar Square, St James’s Park by way of The Mall, over to Green Park, and back to where you just started, it’s one of the most densely packed areas of luxurious shopping, dining and entertainment London has to offer. Museums, galleries, theatres and cinemas will keep you amused, whilst places to eat ranging from casual bars to The Ritz will satisfy your appetite. When it comes to fashion, there’s a very strong presence of some of the oldest and greatest British brands with stores like Hackett, dunhill and Sunspel to name just a few.
There’s so much history in St James’ that my tiny mind struggles to comprehend the time that’s passed since some of the stores, still around today, were founded. In the 1660’s, hat makers, Lock & Co. set up shop. Since then their products have adorned the heads of some of the most well-known figures the world has witnessed. They made Lord Admiral Nelson’s iconic Bicorne, Winston Churchill’s top hat (as well as Sooty’s from Sooty and Sweep) and even re-sized the Queen’s crown for her coronation. In years past and still to this day, Jermyn street is the place to get your shirts made. Royalty, celebrities and many-a James Bond still visit Turnbull & Asser to get measured up. I’ve even been there myself.
Many of the establishments have equally as rich and deep lineage dating back hundreds of years and you’d be forgiven for thinking that such a place would be set in its ways, reluctant to move with the times. But you’d be wrong. The world of fashion has moved incredibly quickly and St James’ has been hot on its heels. They’ve embraced social media and play a key part in London Fashion Week Men’s. Last season Jermyn Street hosted a sophisticated event that included a fashion show which showed off all of the best that St James’s has to offer. Using current stock available to buy now, it made the show shop-able: you could watch the models on the catwalk, then nip directly to one of the stores and purchase what had just been so expertly displayed.
Although many of the stores are ancient, there is something in them for all generations. On my recommendation, my wife and I took her Dad around for Father’s Day where he picked up a pair of shoes from Crockett & Jones and hat from Lock & Co, whilst I did the same. From there we went on to Fortnum and Mason (birthplace of the Scotch Egg) where my wife and her Mum perused the womenswear, confectionary, grocery floor and picked up a champagne ice lolly. In the end it was much less of a Father’s Day trip and much more of a ‘Jim’s Day’ one as I ended up buying some knitwear from John Smedley, and two t-shirts from Tiger of Sweden to go with my hat and shoes.
The people who work in the shops are experts in their crafts and truly care about what they make and sell. When I went for a shirt fitting in Turnbull and Asser, the gentleman who measured me up told me that despite having served a twenty year spell, he was still a newbie and loved his job just as much as the day he started. And I could really tell that he meant it. He had so much energy and knowledge and seemed to find my measurements particularly fascinating. There is something engrossing about the place, you feel like you’re part of history, and as such, many employees stay in their roles for multiple decades, honing their skills and learning all there is to know about shoes, or shirts, or dressing gowns, or ties.
The moral of this story is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but you absolutely must move with the times. Having history and expertise can only come with time, dedication and passion for your craft, but the world is moving fast and the risk is that your clientele will literally die out. With so many options out there, traditional word of mouth doesn’t seem to have the same effect it once did. It’s never been more important to engage with the public and look to social media in order to garner a fresh audience and if it weren't for the fore-site of areas such as St James’s, so much of that history could be lost.