Like most people, I’m increasingly aware of the need to buy responsibly. That means making intelligent investment purchases that have a rightful place in my wardrobe whether through practicality or beauty of design. A friend once told me they had a new ‘Hell yeah!’ attitude to socialising: if that wasn’t their response to an invitation, then their answer would be no. I’m now taking a similar approach to retail decision-making.
We’ve all got to be a bit more cut throat with our shopping habits. We need to feel that definitive Marie Kondo joy when purchasing. This shouldn’t lead to a rail of couture because you can get as much of a buzz from a problem-solving, luxe basic as a high-octane party dress. But it’s all too easy after a late-night online blitz to settle for mediocre on delivery. We’re time poor, even the easiest return policy is an addition to the to-do list, and we don’t want to give up that ‘newness’ high (something I am definitely guilty of).
As we take this more considered approach to retail, our need for the independent boutique will grow – particularly in mid-market, affordable luxury where less obvious brands are championed and the quality of everyday pieces elevated. These boutiques can also help us ditch the devices, stop the obsessive browsing (also guilty) and reintroduce ourselves to the notion of a physical retail space where advice is on tap, options and sizes plentiful, and we might just find something unique that isn’t all over Instagram.
Where better to find these carefully curated houses of style than this amazing city of ours? I picked three of my favourites and set off to reintroduce myself to the notion of the changing room…
For Everyday Chic: KJ’S LAUNDRY
This low-key gem is my Marylebone go-to for effortless, easy-to-wear separates. Scandi in design with white-washed floorboards and a lit candle on the go, the shop feels like home. It’s all super wearable, carefully edited and tonally merchandised on metre-long rails (it’s all looking rich and autumnal at the moment) so creating a coordinated look is easy. Ulla Johnson is as expensive as it gets but there’s also a good selection of the Danish brand Second Female which is surprisingly affordable.
I definitely have a thing for tweed at the moment and immediately gravitated towards Masscob. KJ’s has a brilliant edit of this Spanish brand. A coat with modern sloping shoulders, large lapel and high side slits is an absolute winner, and will go with everything from jeans to winter knits. I love a subtle print clash, so honed in on a heritage vibe and paired it with a pair of neatly tailored tweed trousers (that felt sexy rather than country) from Sessun, and a gorgeous blouson-sleeved checked blouse from Second Female that I now can’t stop thinking about.
Simple Black Basics
KJ’s also does its own range of tops. This one has gently puffed sleeves and pin-tuck detailing to give it a subtle Victorian feel. I immediately bought these trousers from Ulla. Quite expensive, but the shape is so modern and wearable: high tie-waisted, super-flattering back pockets and tapered ankles. They are the perfect pair to wear with a tucked-in blouse. An everyday keeper.
I’m not normally a checked trouser girl – because of the Rupert Bear connotations – but this Souer pair are heaven. You could tell by the way they hung on the rail they were going to look good; the fabric is fluid but heavy. A blend of khaki, navy and grey check, they are so versatile tonally and chic side buttons mean the front of the trousers are fuss-free and sit flat. Another subtle print clash with a midnight-blue printed Sessun blouse with blouson sleeves gives the look a feminine tilt. For daytime, I’d wear this with flats (probably brogues) in a modern-day Katharine Hepburn way (great workwear) and dress up with large statement earrings and an eclectic fur for night. It’ll also be gorgeous with a cable-knit jumper for weekends.
You can’t go wrong with an Ulla Johnson dress. She’s done this dress in a few colourways, but I love this nearly teal blue and rich plum print; up close it has metallic thread running through it. Layer up in colder weather with a roll neck and long boots (great with navy, grey and plum) or give it a boho luxe vibe with a bit of leopard print. It has a tie waist so it can be belted or worn A-line. A perfect day-to-night transition piece. The leopard-print coat from Bellerose is great quality and one of the nicest versions I’ve seen.
From Soeur, this has to be one of the chicest Christmas knits I’ve come across. The perfect rich shade of mid grey is gorgeous with its silver detailing. I love it with this full-checked flannel skirt from BSBEE though it’s equally great with black leather and a white Peter Pan-collared blouse. The coat from Second Female is a steal – super thick and luxurious – and such a useful rich, neutral shade for a winter wardrobe. This look is perfect country chic with wellies, but I’d also wear it to run around town with trainers or chunky black boots.
For Contemporary Cool: KOIBIRD
This themed concept store and destination spot is worth visiting for the superb interior alone. It’s a revolving retail experience and every season sees a new Koibird world emerge. California and ski have been and gone; now it’s Korea’s turn in the spotlight. This means undiscovered and lesser-known Asian brands that are contemporary and seriously lust-worthy. Owner Belma Gaudio has seriously sophisticated, high-fashion taste and every item in this boutique has an originality and unique design detail.
This asymmetric jacket from Le 17 Septembre is the dream. I can’t express how great this felt on. Its dramatic funnel neck (which I left loose for a more low-key look) and wide sleeves look contemporary and super chic. It’s a ‘where did you get that?’ item that’s so beautifully cut and would go with so much. Not cheap, but it’s an investment piece to live in. I always adore a combination of animal print with beige or camel, and these snake trousers from We11 Done had just the right flared kick. They’re just a little cropped so they’d give a chunky knit some Brigitte Bardot appeal. Shoes from Reike Nen were the perfect, barely-there mules and went with everything, adding a nice pop of colour with their burnt orange soul.
I keep thinking about this shirt. It’s all in the detail: a double asymmetric collar and wide sleeves with cuff belts give it a kind of trenchcoat appeal. It worked equally well with the snake trousers but I tucked it in here to these drawstring numbers (from Le 17 Septembre) that take the paper-bag look to a whole new level. I love the minor contrast in safari tones between the two pieces. As a girl for whom comfort with a bit of edge is everything, this ticks a major box.
I’m loving leather at the moment, and this We11 Done faux shirt delivers a stylish look. It’s on the more expensive side but has the most luxurious finish and unique design detailing - the caramel shade is perfect and it has a sexy low open back too. You could easily take this up a gear by wearing your hair up for evening to really show off this surprise feature. They also sell the oversized blazer as perfect outerwear for this look – on the edgy side but I love the overall effect.
I love this trouser shape at the moment – perfect with mules or long boots underneath. What makes this pair from Demoo special is their charcoal and white side detailing and impeccable cut. I love the contrast of texture with this fab faux-python skin blouse (again from We11 Done), but they’d be a great wardrobe hero piece, good with a chunky black roll neck or simple white shirt.
You must also check out Koibird for its unique accessories. I found a fab pair of narrow sunglasses that felt wearably on trend from Project Produkt, chic tweed hairbands that always seem to add the finishing touch to a look from Lele Sadoughi, pretty perfect pink velvet shoes from Yuul Yie and lust-worthy quilted bags from Benedetta Bruzziches.
For Effortless Statement: COUVERTURE & THE GARBSTORE
This Notting Hill institution is a bit of a fashion tardis. You need a little bit of time to do it justice. What looks like a cosy local boutique opens up inside into a three-floor, open-plan period townhouse – a sophisticated but seriously accessible marketplace of wearable fashion and swoon-worthy homewear. My favourite brands are Closed, Rejina Pyo and Rachel Comey. It feels eclectic, has a softly vintage twist and you know you’re going to walk out of there with something a little different. I ended up gravitating towards a bit of a New York look, a high/low edit of knitwear and sequins – the ideal Christmas wardrobe.
Over the years I’ve forged a real love for this shade – it’s just so flattering. I found this gorgeous green sequin skirt from Bellerose (with all important elasticated waist) and styled it with a khaki roll neck and double-breasted coat from Closed. These sequins could be dressed down with trainers and an oversized pale-pink jumper or taken over to the wild side with a bit of leopard. They are a super chic (more wearable) alternative to festive red.
There is nothing more sophisticated than an all-cream look. Winter white has immediate chic appeal. Stand has a deserved reputation for affordable luxury and this coat ticks that box in abundance: glamorous, cosy and it isn’t going to blow your season’s budget. I wore it long and lean with this (not very practical but beyond dreamy) skirt from Mara Hoffman. Wearing it low slung felt glorious in its heavy textured fabric. Only the softest jersey will do and this t-shirt from Danish brand Baserange – a specialist in elevated basics – was the ideal match. Just add a cream roll neck and long boots for colder days.
Another sequinned skirt, this time full length, streamlined and with heavenly fringing from Rachel Comey. This could easily be dressed up with a tuxedo jacket, or puffed sleeved blouse, or majorly downplayed with a slogan sweat. I chose to give it an effortless look with the softest grey knit from Closed – exactly the kind of outfit (dressed-down statement) I’d wear to a chic Christmas dinner party.
This look is all about easy, everyday winter style. I love plaid at this time of year, particularly with classic cord to really play on rich, seasonal textures. Apiece Apart always uses gorgeous fabrics and this checked flannel is nicely elevated with a touch of lurex thread. Closed is masterful at understated, contemporary separates; a high waist, tapered leg and pin-tuck detailing set these apart from your average cords. Wear with a chunky cardigan and layer with a black roll neck underneath to channel a bit of Ali MacGraw.
Finally, look out for fab studded flat boots from Rachel Comey (expensive but on my Christmas wishlist), equally fab fur clogs from Bosabo, and oh-so-pretty deep turquoise blue Mary Jane flats from Caron Callahan.
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