If you are seeking a quintessentially British retail experience in London, the choice of where to start can be bewildering. From one end of Oxford Street to the other you can experience every high street shop in the land. If it's designer labels that are calling you, then take the first taxi to Knightsbridge. If however it is authenticity you are looking for, then confine yourself to what has to be the most densely packed historic shopping district in London, that is St James.
Since Charles II gave permission to build around the royal palace of St James's in the 17th century the area became one of London's grandest, a magnet for fashion and high society. A surprising number of shops remain unchanged since those days.
Around this crosshatched layout of ancient streets in London's SW1 postcode is a concentration of some of the most authentic retailers in Great Britain. These shops are some of the great success stories of British retail that have stood the test of time, many over more than a century since they were first established, and often on the same locations where they first set up. The heritage and quality appeal of their products combines with the unique experience visiting their premises, whether a multi-floored emporium or a single unit shop.
You can congratulate yourself on having such exquisite taste since many of the retailers here can boast the patronage of at least one member of the Royal Family. The granting of Royal Warrants of Appointment to retailers that supply the Royal Households is a powerful credential, signifying a standard of quality and service given consistently over a period of years. You will find an 'Appointment' is almost standard amongst the shopkeepers of St James Street, Jermyn Street and the Princes and Piccadilly Arcades that both link Jermyn Street to Piccadilly. The proximity to the red brick Tudor style St James's Palace complex lends this atmospheric area a further Royal boost, being official London residence for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Plenty of international brands have a presence here, but when in London, one should really seek out the exclusive quality products of Great British provenance so look out for purveyors of traditional apparel and accessories as well as british foods and toiletries. You can spot some of the most charming and renowned shops if you take yourself on a walking tour.
To be found all in a row at the bottom of St James Street are Berry Brothers & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant, Lock & Co the renowned hat shop and the bespoke shoemaker John Lobb. Further up, take in the historic DR Harris apothecary before heading along Jermyn Street for Floris, the oldest English retailer of fragrance and toiletries and Paxton & Whitfield, the oldest cheesemaker in England. Nip over to Cordings on Piccadilly for traditional his and hers countryside clothing and back via Charbonnel et Walker to pick up some luxury hand-made chocolates before a browse in Hatchards, London's oldest bookshop and finally have a meander around the beautifully dressed department store, Fortnum & Mason.
A visit to some of these shops is an exclusive lifestyle experience of its own where bespoke tailoring, shoe fitting and even toiletry and fragrance selection is assisted by expert knowledge and generations of experience.
Of course every shopping tour must have a refreshment break and close at hand are several destination eateries that complement the authentic experience of St James's perfectly. Perhaps Afternoon Tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon in Fortnum & Mason, or maybe something from the eclectic menu at The Wolseley.