Sunday, 10 January 2010

Independent shopping - Islington

As I have mentioned here before, I am becoming more and more frustrated by the homogenised nature of the British high street. British consumer choices and trends has been a special interest of mine ever since my MA thesis; a comparitive study of teenage girls' consumption choices in the 1970s and the noughties. Praised throughout the world for the mass availability of high trend, low priced fashion, I nevertheless find our standardised town centres and shopping malls increasingly repetitive and boring. The long term sustainability concerns of such consumerism is another factor in my turning away from most of our well known stores.
With all that in mind and before I get too preachy, self righteous and hypocritcal (I still can't resist a cheap copy from Topshop, so long as I know I will wear said bargain loads!), I am going on a bit of a treasure hunt around London to see if I can root out some truly unique and interesting independent boutiques and I thought I would share my findings here.
As it is a bit chilly at the mo, for my first trip, I did not wander far but stuck with what I know - the Angel, Islington. Seeing as there are so many great independant stores here, I am going to blog in two parts and will hopefully keep you waiting with bated breath for the next installment!! Part one covers make do and mend, with vintage and craft stores.
It seemed logical to begin in Islington, seeing as I spend a lot of time in one of the best independent stores in London, Loop, which is situated in the fabulous Cross Street. Walking down this little road makes me feel I am as close as I can get to what London used to be like in the past, with its cobbled alleyways, terraced houses and colourful shop fronts. I don't need to tell you much about Loop as I mention it here so often, but if you are a craft addict, its rainbow of tactile yarns are a temptation too strong to ignore. Buying yarn to knit my own bespoke garments also ticks all the boxes in my desire for unique and interesting fashion. There is even the handy sewing shop Sew Fantastic round the corner, and The Make Lounge up the road on Barnsbury Street, making Islington a handy crafty hub.
While we are here, Cross street also has Wild Swans, which is one of a small chain of boutiques offering desirably subtle and sophisticated Scanadinavian brands, the sensuously pretty lingerie store Tallulah and a smattering of other interior shops and galleries.
Since Loop opened almost five years ago, the street has seen quite a few small businesses come and go, a sad sign of how hard it is to stay afloat in the tough and expensive capital.
Another sad tale is of the vintage and antique stalls and shops in and around Camden Passage, which used to be much more extensive. Now there are fewer, while in their place are a few more well known stores from the high street. However, many are still going strong, and the market on a Saturday and Wednesday morning are worth a trip. Here, Annie's is my favourite shop, a treasure trove of vintage clothes and textiles. On my latest visit, I could not resist some beautiful hand worked Victorian lace trim. Just over the road, Cloud Cuckoo Land comes a close second, with more affordable yet just as high quality vintage pieces.

While on the subject of second hand stores, the Essex Road is home to the one store I can never walk past and one I rarely leave without a purchase: Past Caring. It sells anything from the tiniest buttons to huge sideboards and just about everything in between. On this weekend's visit I coveted a retro 60s olive glass pulldown light, a Star Trek annual from 1975, some brightly coloured assorted glass objects and the fabulously kitsch horse and sultry lady paintings. Ah, such bliss. If only I had the space for yet more clutter...

A store which encompasses a little of all the shops I love to frequent is My Sugarland, which stocks a little bit of vintage, a little bit of contemporary fashion and a little bit of hand made, all packaged in a stylish, yet effortless way. They also host yoga and craft classes and exciting events such as wedding and styling evenings.
Phew! As you can see, there is a lot of shopping to be done around here, which is possibly why I was out all day on Saturday! Next up, the quirky contemporary fashion stores, some less ubiquitous high street shops and my tips for where to grab tea, lunch or something a little stronger!

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