Best of British
Written by Chris Anderson
London resident Chris Anderson says that to discover the best home-grown products on a shopping trip to the capital, just look for the Royal Warrant.
London is a city full of fantastic shopping, with department stores and specialists catering for your every need. But how do you know that what you are buying is of an acceptable standard? If it carries a seal of approval from the Royal Family, then surely it must be good…
My rule for shopping in London is simple: if I want to buy an item of quality and I am prepared to pay for it, then I will head to the areas of Knightsbridge, Bond Street, Savile Row, or Mayfair. It is here that many designer boutiques and upmarket specialists can be found. And often, if I am in a rush, I may go straight to the places that I know are guaranteed to deliver – those that have impressed the toughest reviewers of all: the Royal Family.
It is easy to spot a shop that carries Royal Family approval, as it will display a Royal Warrant – a coat of arms awarded to it by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, or the Prince of Wales. To earn one, a company needs to have been supplying to the Royal Family for five years, and there are strict guidelines to ensure they make the cut. Warrants are often reviewed, so a company must maintain its levels of service, and the very best may even carry more than one. With such high standards involved, the Royal Warrant really is the ultimate seal of approval.
With such an impressive reputation globally, Harrods, located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge – London’s most famous luxury department store – is a good place to start any shopping expedition. Granted the first of its Royal Warrants in 1913, it specialises in a wide range of goods and services, from designer clothing brands to food. I can even book flights and discuss my travel needs there now that Qatar Airways has opened up an office on-site.
Some of the companies supplying their products to Harrods may also carry a warrant themselves, with their own boutiques elsewhere in the city. Burberry, for example, has a new flagship store on Regent Street and is worth experiencing for its interactive qualities, with certain clothes and accessories triggering video displays as you move around – no wonder the British designer has held a Royal Warrant since 1955. The same road also features the city’s biggest Austin Reed store, which provides clothing to both the Queen and Prince Charles.
For something custom-made, the Royal Family will most likely head to Gieves & Hawkes at No. 1 Savile Row. The tailor has been at this prestigious location since 1912, but was in business much earlier, with George III the first monarch to award it a warrant in the early 19th century. Today it holds three, from the Queen, Prince Charles, and Prince Philip, and has even supplied to royalty overseas.
When one looks the part of a royal, then one can eat like a royal. Fortnum & Mason is a huge food department store in Piccadilly, formed in 1707, with warrants dating back 150 years – co-founder William Fortnum was even a footman in Queen Anne’s royal household. The Queen may get most of her food shopping here, but for something special she may visit Prestat, a chocolatier located nearby, established in 1902. The company, also a favourite of author Roald Dahl, sends the Queen a handmade 4lb chocolate Easter egg every year, although its dark chocolate wafers are said to be her favourites – it was granted its warrant by the late Queen Mother in 1999, and was the last one she awarded before her death.
In fact, the royals must spend a lot of time in Piccadilly, as there are other businesses with warrants nearby. For something to read, there is Hatchards, founded in 1767 and the oldest bookstore in the UK, with Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron among its previous customers. Or for sporting goods, head to Lillywhites, with equipment for every conceivable royal pastime, including polo and skiing.
If working up a sweat is called for, then it is wise to have some custom-made scents for the cool-down afterwards. Floris is located on Jermyn Street just a short walk from Piccadilly Circus, and offers a wide selection of perfumes and other products. It received its first warrant in 1800, and some believe that the sealed-off tunnels in its basement may actually lead directly to Buckingham Palace. The Duchess of Cambridge bought some Night Scented Jasmine from the store earlier in the year, while its records show that in 1959 a bottle of its Rose Geranium was sold to Marilyn Monroe.
But the royals never forget their suppliers, and often send the vendors thank-you notes – no doubt written on personalised stationery from Smythson of New Bond Street, established in 1887. It is even possible to picture the Queen writing these, sitting on bespoke furniture created by designer David Linley, son of the late Princess Margaret and photographer Lord Snowden, and who also happens to be her nephew, with a shop in Mayfair. This will be as she peers through spectacles provided by Robert Pope, from its store near Harley Street, granted a warrant in 2006.
Exploring this list of vendors may seem like hard work, but a visit to Jack Barclay London in Mayfair could take some of the strain away. As the world’s oldest and largest Bentley dealership, open since 1927, this is where to get your hands on any of the current offerings from the warrant-equipped car manufacturer, although a replica of the Queen’s State Limousine is probably off-limits. The alternative would be to relax at the Ritz-Carlton in Piccadilly, which became the first hotel to receive a Royal Warrant in 2002, granted by Prince Charles for its banqueting and catering services. If its famous ‘Tea at the Ritz’ is that good, then I know which one I’d be choosing.
I’m British and I adore watches, so for me the Bremont boutique in South Audley Street, Mayfair, is an absolute must. A relatively new brand started by two brothers, Nick and Giles English, it certainly makes me feel patriotic, especially when I see the models on display – current limited editions like the Victory contain oak and copper from the HMS Victory ship, piloted by Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, while the Codebreaker includes metal and wood sourced from Bletchley Park, where German messages were cracked during the Second World War. Combining British ingenuity, manufacturing, and history, for me this would be the ultimate souvenir.
Not far from Heathrow Airport is the town of Windsor – often referred to as Royal Windsor, due to the fact that its centrepiece, Windsor Castle, is over 900 years old, with its continued use by the Royal Family making it the largest inhabited castle in the world. There is also a deeper connection, as the House of Windsor is another name for the royal house of the United Kingdom. With the castle, the town has become a popular tourism spot, with a theatre and numerous hotels and restaurants along the banks of its river. Legoland Windsor is located on the outskirts, with various rides and attractions aimed at children. Windsor is also particularly good when it comes to shopping, with souvenirs, fashion items, and furniture all available here. Peascod Street is the best area for this, which even has its own independent department store, W. J. Daniel & Co, established in 1901.
Distance: 5,219 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Frequency: 6 flights a day