Regent Street : My Secret Love Affair with Eternal Glamour By Journalist Alison Jane Reid
Dear Readers, It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve written an ode to one of my favourite heritage hotspots in London, The Mile of Style.
I adore London’s Regent Street the way I like a man who makes my heart do flippy little somersaults. It is a grand, dizzying passion that never, ever stands still.
I have interviewed, kissed, shopped, dined, flirted (in Tower Records), grazed, skipped, dashed and fallen in love on this extraordinary street throughout the ebb and flow of my grown up life – and I never want it to end. My mother took me to Regent Street as child to buy my first special, party dress – a sublime scarlet creation in velvet corduroy; with a contrast paisley bodice and delicate lacing, that started my giddy, life-long love affair with being a la mode. Reader, I practically slept in that dress for weeks!
As a writer I live in my imagination and John Nash’s metropolitan 1811 masterpiece is my eternal playground. My Versailles in the city. I am drawn to ‘The Mile of Style’s’ bustling, twinkling, elegant, showy charms. For the giddy possibility of finding the one! Oh, I know you understand perfectly well- the dream of a dress, princess coat or mile high, goddess heels that we just have to make our own. Can you close your eyes and imagine that now?
(Alison Jane’s favourite department store, Liberty London)
After an absence of more than a week, I start to long for her company. Yes, she has to be a she! The moment I come up from the tube at Piccadilly and embrace Nash’s sensuous ‘Curve’ – I smile, and think, ‘there you are, I am home.’ I often daydream that home is a jewel box pied a terre in the gods… and that I can be found strolling home, baguette in hand from Fortnum’s in my marvellous impulse buy Aquascutum dress, all froth and monochrome, Dioresque drama, at 9.00am, just as the first shoppers arrive on the street. Nothing feels more decadent and truly glamorous than walking around in an exclamation mark gown the morning after the night before, spent kissing, talking and feasting on piscatorial delicacies at Bentley’s, the perfect, romantic tryst supper hangout on Swallow Street. Then, skipping across the street to the reincarnated chic Café Royal with its gleaming, magical golden doors, hinting at untold glamour within.
(Alison Jane wearing that Aquascutum Dress! At the EH Organic and Local Fashion Tea Party – May 2013)
Photograph By Jo Monck – jo-monck-photography.co.uk
Regent Street is such a clever, chameleon street. It manages to be both alluring and practical. All the places I want to gravitate too can easily be negotiated down her ancient cut-throughs and alley ways that lead in and out of its wide, magnificent thoroughfare to Piccadilly and Green Park and Soho to the east. Life is like the Frank Sinatra song – It’s Witchcraft – and the living is swell on Regent Street.
Who couldn’t fail to be astonished by the grandeur, vision and optimism of the Prince Regent and his architects? Two hundred years after Regent Street first transformed the heart of London’s West End, it is still the Queen of Shopping Streets – The Mile of Style – an exclamation mark to mercantile dreams and aspirations. But reader it is so much more than that.
Don’t just admire the swell boutiques of Burberry and Guess. Look up and admire Lions rampant and oriental arches that are straight out of The House of Flying Daggers. Be curious, like a cat and get lost down the interesting alleyways and side streets, which hint at all manner of secrets and special places, away from the hoi polloi.
Who would know that Heddon Street is a secret playground, just a minute from the hurly burley of one of London’s busiest streets? Walk straight to No 23 Heddon Street – now a place of international pilgrimage with a shiny new plaque dedicated to David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust. When you have celebrated your inner Bowie, discover a chic, metropolitan oasis, with independent shops and the kind of French café and brasserie that is hard to find outside of Paris – wear your very best dress and head to Aubaine for marvellous, impossibly dainty, ladylike cakes and proper tea. Anyone from carrot cake infused with lavender?
Many iconic fashion names come and go, so I love the quirky emporiums that have been Regent Street stalwarts for decades. The cashmere shop is brilliant for glam capes and throws, and the idea that pom poms really are forever in fashion. Nor could I resist the temptation to try every aromatic blend of Rainforest Alliance coffee in the Nespresso store and wonder what has Amal got that I haven’t to offer the world’s most eligible hunk, George Clooney? Then, naughtily posing next to his super smooth image, with my accomplice, hot couturier, Lucy Tammam at Atelier Tammam.
I’ve sat in the elegant drawing room at No 100, Regent Street, home to Aquascutum and imagined Cary Grant popping in for tea, to pick up an elegant new suit and fallen very hard indeed for a sublime air force blue military coat with gold epaulettes that required a mortgaged sized investment. No reader, I lost that fashion battle and I am still pining! Now, Aquascutum has moved to a new home, on Great Marlborough Street and Austin Reed, king of tailoring and chic workwear has taken up residence with the sublime staircase and fabulous loo!
Oh and do make a beeline for Jaeger, and take the swish lift to the top floor and discover a boutique within a boutique. Yes, not only can you find the perfect, ladylike coat or witty day dress – Jaeger now cleverly incubates the hottest new stars of Brit fashion. If you want a dress that will stop the traffic, this is the place to know.
The truly brilliant thing about Regent Street is how all the little arteries that feed off the street are a haven for independent talent. Skip down Beak Street and you will discover quirky art galleries and café society. If I want to feast on superfoods and do a super healthy shop, I go to Wholefoods at the Piccadilly end of Regent Street and marvel that organic chocolate is now a bone fide super food, and stock up on raw chocolate bars from Pulsin, baby sardines, Higgeldy Piggeldy, multi-coloured quiche slices and a vegan, blueberry pudding from Inspiral – for a guilt free treat. You also have to get to know the natural beauty and health bar on the first floor – I’ve had some very helpful advice form their trained, holistic health whiz kids.
And when I am done tearing about, and I just absolutely need a kir royale and my own clever James Bond to kiss and share my day with – I skip across Piccadilly to meet him in the pretty Harp Room at the swish Sofitel Hotel, at the very beginning of Regent Street.
Somehow, it seems fitting that my day begins and ends on London’s greatest street. Then, as we go out into the night, in search of supper, in one of her secret, marvellous hot spots, I smile knowing I will work hard and play hard again on The Mile of Style – maybe tomorrow, or the next day, but most decidely very soon.
Alison Jane Reid Copyright February 2016 Please note. This piece is not sponsored by Regent Street or any of the featured businesses.
Alison Jane is available for commissions and to tell the story of your iconic brand – email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to AJ EthicalHedonit @AlisonJaneReid
For more information on Regent Street go to www.regentstreetonline.com
The memorable places mentioned on the iconic Regent Street:
Fortnum and Mason: 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER
0845 300 1707
Bentley’s: 11 Swallow St, London. 020 7734 4756
Café Royal: 68 Regent St, London W1B 4DY
020 7406 3333
Burberry: 121 Regent St. 020 7806 8904
Guess: 160 Regent St. 020 7292 2830
Aubaine: 4 Heddon St, London. 020 7440 2510
Oxfords Cashmere: 143 Regent St. 020 7287 0535
Nespresso: 54 Regent St. 0800 442 442
Austin Reed: 103-113 Regent St. 020 7734 6789
Jaeger: 200 Regent St. 020 7979 1100
Wholefoods: 20 Glasshouse St, London. 020 7406 3100
Sofitel St James Hotel London: 6 Waterloo Place, London. 020 7747 2200