Nick Carvell - Associate Style Editor British GQ
I often think the thing that separates London from many of its cosmopolitan counterparts around the world is that it’s still very much a city of villages. In contrast to Manhattan or Madrid, both of which I love but both of which seem to be becoming ever-more homogenised in their shop offerings every time I visit, London’s historic shopping districts continue to retain their characters in spite of the encroachment of powerful chain stores and an ever-multiplying froth of Costa Coffee shops. However, this doesn’t mean these districts are relics of some former time populated by dusty, unfrequented outposts - far from it. These areas survive because they change with the times while still remembering the businesses and crafts that got people flocking to them in the first place. And there are few finer examples of this than St James’s.
Famously home to Beau Brummell and his dandy set of fashionably dressed followers back in the Regency period - who set up home here to be near the local society hang-out, the royal court at St James’s Palace - the area became populated by stores to cater to men who were serious about their menswear.
Today, this is still the home of British menswear in the capital. And while some of the companies you’ll find are those that Brummell himself might have recognised (Lock & Co, for example, which has been making hats here since the 17th century), many newer shops have slipped into this scene nicely, catering to a modern man’s wardrobe requirements. Norwegian Rain, for example, up on Piccadilly, which crafts beautifully minimal (and downright practical given the UK climate right now) wet weather coats, and John Smedley or N.Peal, both of which provide sleek, sophisticated knitwear - not to mention Sunspel’s too-good-to-wear-under-a-sweater T-shirts and New & Lingwood’s suit-friendly trainers.
And it’s not just in the traditional menswear streets you’ll find this. Of course, you’ve got relative newcomers like the superb tailor Emma Willis joining the ranks on London’s historic home of shirting Jermyn Street, but venture further afield and you’ll discover brands diversifying the area’s traditionally formal menswear offering, whether that’s Tiger of Sweden bringing slick Scandi tailoring to Piccadilly or Jigsaw’s latest outpost in the curvaceous new St James’s Market development across Regent Street (which also features aquatic Italian label Paul & Shark’s first standalone store, as well as one of my favourite breakfasts in the capital at Swedish-inspired restaurant, Aquavit). And that’s before we get to grooming outposts such as Floris (where scent-obsessives you can craft their own fragrance from scratch) or the iconic department store Fortnum & Mason with its recently renovated and rejuvenated men’s floor.
In short, with so many shops to visit, you could spend days pounding St James’s historic streets. And while this would be a great way to max out a credit card on an entirely new wardrobe, you can actually abridge the whole process with St James’s upcoming show at London Fashion Week: Men’s.
Now in its third year, this event sees Jermyn Street become a giant open-air catwalk showcasing looks from the area’s most exciting men’s brands - all expertly styled-up by menswear master and GQ Fashion Editor Grace Gilfeather. And the best thing is you don’t need to be a member of the press to watch - you can be right there beside the catwalk. To be a part of it, apply for tickets on site now (they’re free - meaning you’ve got even more excuse to go and stock up on the new season items you’ve just seen immediately afterwards in the surrounding shops).
See you there, menswear fans.