Off Beat Stores

Those Hidden Gems

One of my hobbies is discovering cool, one-off boutiques both in London and when I'm visiting other places.  I have a growing Evernote list and several business cards from various places I've collected over the years.  I thought that for today's blog I'd go beyond the monthly 'Favourite Store' series and share some of my little gems with you.  These stores all had a few key ingredients in common; friendly and passionate sales staff, unique and intriguing products, interesting store concepts and fantastic product displays.  Product is always going to be of high importance but I believe great retail is about the holistic experience and that's what these places offer in spades.  


For Vintage Treasures

W. Armstrong & Sons, Edinburgh

81-83 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HJ (0131 220 555)

A friend who was studying Costume Design at Edinburgh School of Art introduced me to Armstrongs over 15 years ago.  He found it a great source of inspiration as well as a place he could buy clothing and accessories to dress himself.  I love vintage stores and have shopped in many in the UK and a few in Europe but none quite like this.  There are three stores but my most favourite is the Grassmarket store.  It's a genuine treasure trove of amazing menswear, womenswear, costumes, handbags and gorgeous accessories, some retro-inspired and most genuine vintage.  Over the years I've found a cropped 1940s military jacket, a 1960s mini dress, a 1970s maxi dress, vintage Levis, several bejewelled clutches and evening bags and a few pieces of fancy dress.  They have a website that gives you an overview and you can buy some pieces from their eBay store as well as a small selection in Topshop's Edinburgh store.  My advice is to head to their store and enjoy the rummage!  Check it their website here for more information.


For Creative Concept

Colette Paris

213 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France(+33 1 55 35 33 90)

I discovered this on my first visit to Paris in 2003 thanks to my university tutor who found it in a very cool city guide she'd been given by one of the trend agencies.  It's the most amazing places filled with the best examples of  curated product you could hope to find from a Marc Jacobs glow in the dark condom (yep!) to a one-off Commes de Garcon suit.  The store is split in 4 levels and houses beauty, books, tech, magazines, music, trainers and shoes, womenswear, menswear, art and special pieces - anything that's Parisian 'cool' basically.  The ground floor is probably the most shopped because it's got a range of pick up items (stationery, phone covers, magazines, LPs, candles etc) as well as the ever-popular sneakers section.  From here you can head down to the "Water Bar" in-house cafe for some light refreshments and major people watching!  Upstairs on the first floor is womenswear and it's pretty amazing.  Mannequins dominate the space and collections are merchandised by trend with the best edits from each carefully selected designer.  Menswear on the top floor has the same flavour as womenswear and is a strategic mix of uber fashion, urban trend and special accessories.  Just go and you'll get why I'm so obsessed!  Their website is pretty cool too (check out their music station) - have a little browse by clicking here...


For a Great Fashion Edit

Duke Street Emporium

55 Duke St, Mayfair, London W1K (020 7042 2770)

Located in a chic side street, just off Oxford Street on the way to Mayfair you'll find this little gem from Jigsaw and Shop at the Bluebird founders, John and Belle Robinson.  Housed in a lovely 19th Century redbrick townhouse, this is a little gem of a place and a true haven to visit and browse.  There's a magazine and beauty section with comfy seats, a branch of the infamous London bistro, Fernandez and Wells plus lovely friendly staff waiting to help you find that perfect piece before letting you take your time trying things on in the luxurious fitting rooms.  Both men and women are catered for here so it's a good place to drag the partner without getting the bored huffiness!  In terms of fashion I feel they have the cream of the Jigsaw collections paired with small edits from brands that fit in with the customer's aesthetic.  Find out more by checking out the Shop at the Bluebird's website here.


For Sneakers and More

Pam Pam

129 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 7DG (020 3601 7860)

What a little find this place is.  A sneaker and urban lifestyle store for girls and girls only!  What I love is they have managed to make it feel quite grown up and sophisticated so I feel right at home instead of feeling like I'm trapped at a teen hangout.  Their collections are great with lots of special pieces that are hard to track down elsewhere.  Trainers wise expect lovely ranges from Adidas, Converse, New Balance and Nike mixed in with the less well-known Garment Project, Novesta and Spring Court collections.  Fashion wise it's all quite chilled with denims, easy to wear dresses, throw-on tops and loungewear.  They also have some lovely bags from Sandqvist, ceramics from Woolenmilk and a cleverly edited beauty range from Herbivore Botanicals, Maak Lab and Montamonta.  The girls in store were so lovely and I'll definitely be back for an indulgent browse soon.  Their website can be found here...


For Shoes with a Twist

Peponita Shoes & Coffee

95 Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG (07773 080337)

I literally stumbled across Peponita last Sunday when I  was visiting the famous Columbia Road Flower Market.  We entered the market from the Old Street side so came out this end with arms full of flowers and trying to balance a fresh juice.  This shop is so adorable that I downed the juice to have a free hand to browse!  Their slogan is 'Shoes to Walk, Work and Dance' in and I can personally affirm they do this very well.  I found some gorgeous off-beat brogues in bright summer colours (check out the 'Rogue Tutti Fruitti'), very cute flats (particularly the 'Shoreditch Grey') and some lovely summer sandals and slippers (loved the 'Susy Greyhound').  The staff were just adorable and although chilled, really happy to show you around the ranges with lots of product knowledge, yet no pressure.  After admiring several pieces and spending hundreds of pounds in my head I was delighted to discover a small coffee booth on the way out!  Yep, these guys get retail!  Find out more on their website here.


When Your Wardrobe is Crying Out for Something Different

Pope London

125 Brick Ln, London E1 6SB (020 7059 0811)

This boutique is the creation of talented designer, Katie Pope who's craft with geometric shapes cut from blended multicoloured chiffon offer her customers something truly different.  Her London store is on Brick Lane amongst the fashion stores, art galleries, food markets and jewellery stalls.  I was down here on a busy Sunday and was stopped in my tracks by the window display.  For those of you that know how hectic Brick Lane is, it takes something pretty special to grab attention!  In terms of the key pieces I was really taken by the multi-tonal chiffon dresses, perfect for something different for a wedding or a day at the races.  I also liked the collar detail on the blouses for more laid back days.  They haven't yet developed a website but you can find them on Facebook here.