Like a magpie, you are lured to the cozy shop windows, gleaming with their glittering goods. On Bell & Ross, rows of shiny clocks are lined up as soldiers on parade while on Fiona Fleur Studio – a boutique florist – the most delicate and Palestinian peach peonies open their petals for all to see. On Manolo Blahnik, the brand’s famous satin Hangisi slippers tempt you with their rainbow of jewel colors while on N.Peal, the candy-colored cashmere looks so soft you’d dive right into it.
The iconic destination in London Burlington Arcade has its roots in original stores that sold trinkets and fripperies, and at first glance, it seems that not much has changed over the last 200 years. If you’ve ever taken a stroll down the exquisite street, you may feel like you’ve arrived at one of London’s most traditional and typical British destinations, and you’re both right and wrong. While this covered shopping street, just off Piccadilly, dates back to 1819 and is the oldest shopping street of its kind, it has always had an avant-garde ethos and the reason perhaps – in normal times at least – four million visitors arrive here every year.
It was originally built by Lord Cavendish on land that was part of his huge estate, to appease Lady Cavendish. At the time, the streets of London were dirty and dangerous, and this area adjacent to Old Bond Street was no exception, as many game holes were found around the mansion. As a consequence, Lady Cavendish was dissatisfied with the amount of waste – namely oyster shells – that was often thrown over the walls of the plot. The result was a clearing of the ground and the construction of a covered arcade, the first of its kind that housed small shops to entertain and delight. Special policeman, called Beadles, was recruited from Lord Cavendish’s regiment The 10th Hussars to keep order.
Beadles – now the oldest and smallest private police force in the world – still exist today and are easy to see, dressed in their chic uniforms of Regency-inspired coat coats and gold-braided top hats.
Head Beadle Mark Lord has worked at Burlington Arcade for almost 20 years and says: “On the one hand, not much has changed here over the years. We still have some of the original arbitrary rules in place – such as no whistles. It’s still not allowed and goes back to when pick-pocketers used to signal to each other by whistling (Paul McCartney is the only exception!). On the other hand, this is also a place that really reflects the diversity of modern London – it’s a real microcosm of the city. People are often surprised – we have at least 30 different nationalities working here in 45 different stores. ”
“Some of the history of the arcade is nonetheless fascinating and shows where the destination was prior to its time when it was built,” he continues. “For example, every store front was designed to be different. The idea is that each one is of interest in itself, so people will slow down to look and therefore be more tempted to walk into a store. It’s like the architectural click bait of its time. Many of the original merchants were also women – which was revolutionary at the time. They were widows of soldiers from Lord Cavendish’s regiment, and running one of the shops provided them with a valuable income at a time when there was no pension for the remaining relatives of soldiers who had died in battle. ”
While some stores, such as N.Peal, who has been at Burlington Arcade for over 85 years, and The Vintage Watch Company, which has been trading on the street for about 25 years and has the largest collection of pre-owned Rolex watches in the world, is one of the most solid destinations, Burlington Arcade has also welcomed a portfolio of new and emerging brands. They are all associated with their shared passion for crafts.
Sneaker and clothing store Kick Game has the ultimate cool appeal with its limited edition collections exclusive to Burlington Arcade, including the largest Air DIOR collection in the UK, sale Supreme x Louis Vuitton footwear, the famous Air Jordan Satin Bread (there are only 501 pieces in the world) and Jordan Banned AirShip Pro. Meanwhile, luxury luggage specialist Globetrotter, which has just opened its new store in Burlington Arcade, is celebrating its arrival with a new ‘Burlington Special Edition’ collection of luggage, inspired by the uniform from the arcade’s Beadles.
“Shopping here is more about the whole retail experience than just buying something,” says Mark Lord. And he’s right. On Roja Parfums – owned by the famous and respected nose ‘Roja Dove – you can create your own bespoke fragrance. The famous British perfume works with rare and coveted ingredients including Rose de Mai, Jasmine de Grasse and natural Ambergris. The tailor-made service consists of several consultations with Roja Dove in the private salon on the first floor of the arcade, where a unique fragrance is tailored just for them.
On Code 8 – a cult cosmetics brand known for its high-performance, long-lasting formulas – you can create your own bespoke lipstick. Sit in the Color ID Lab and get involved. Whether you want a neutral pink or scarlet – you choose an unlikely mix of primary colors to end up with your perfect shade. Once you are satisfied, the formula is heated and frozen until the perfect lipstick is created just for you.
While you wait for 30 minutes until it is ready, go to the store to get a new experience at The duration. The French patisserie will entice you with its display of pastel-colored macaroons and real gold leaf adorned windows.
It has also aligned itself with the trend of collaboration by joining the Milan-based home brand LaDoubleJ to launch the most beautiful ever afternoon tea found in London. It’s British with a twist.