Yesterday, London’s New West End Company (a business advocacy group) published a report forecasting that London will soon overtake New York as the city with “the largest concentration of international retail brands in the world.”
Naturally, UK media outlets quickly positioned the report as yet another London versus New York showdown—and this time, it’s about shopping.
“In some ways the West End already outstrips Fifth Avenue, for example in terms of edgy fashion,” Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, New West End’s chairwoman., told the Evening Standard, contrasting New York’s 194 chain flagship stores to London’s fast-growing 179.
Having landed back in London after a week in New York just this morning (my luggage, apparently, would prefer to stay in Manhattan), Jonas’ comparison struck me as something of a brow wrinkler.
The difference isn’t in number of stores--it’s in legend. Oxford Street signifies Debenhams and Starbucks ad nauseam; Fifth Avenue means Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Regent Street boasts the original Topshop flagship; Madison Avenue the perennial delight of the Barneys New York window displays. (Bring Simon Doonan to John Lewis, and then we’ll talk.)
This isn’t another Big Apple/Big Smoke duel—it’s simply a matter of atmosphere.
Beyond the landmarks, though, what’s startling is how similar the roster of stores on the big streets looks. Oxford/Regent Street and Fifth/Madison Ave are both home to the Disney Store, Apple, Banana Republic, Zara, H&M, and multiple Gaps.
Truth is, the most exciting shopping in either city no longer dwells on these major thoroughfares. They lack the magic of unearthing a 1960s Roberta di Camerino handbag at the Brooklyn Flea, or discovering perfect vintage wedding dresses at Kingly Court’s Fur Coat No Knickers. Relative backwaters like London’s St. Christopher’s Place and Columbia Road, and New York’s Freeman’s Alley, all make the shopping scene more special and locally distinctive than the main drags might suggest.
So get out there—wherever your "there" may be.
(Photo via Bryanboy.)