This is going to sound like a strange admission but up until yesterday, I had never stepped foot in Brompton Cross, the area where in quick succession has seen some key fashion store openings. For Navaz of Disney Rollergirl, this very posh and well-to-do part of SW London tucked behind South Kensington, is back on her radar. For me, it was never on the radar. I ain’t gonna lie. I grew up being far more familiar with the other “B” Cross – Brent Cross Shopping Centre – ah, so many listless hours frittered away there buying sickly lipglosses from the Bodyshop and training bras at C&A. The only reason I ever had to go anywhere near Brompton Cross was to pass by the family-owned Chinese restaurant on King’s Road or to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum. No use in trying to “posh” it up and pretend I know what Brompton Cross is all about – I don’t – other than I’ve always been in awe of the art deco/nouveau hybrid Michelin building. As a fashion destination, it has never occurred to me to go either. Up until a few months ago, everything this quaint design intersection had to offer in terms of clothes shopping could be found in the West End. However, in recent months, both Carven and 3.1 Phillip Lim have opened up their first UK stores on Pelham Street, running off the Brompton Cross intersection, joining Acne, which opened up its second UK store back in August. J. Crew’s more premium collection also has a store on , albeit operating in a quieter fashion than its Regent Street counterpart.
Therefore inspired by Navaz’s post, instead of turning towards the V&A from the South Kensington tube, I thought I’d go the other way and head towards Brompton Cross and go and be a tourist in my own city.
Pelham Street is now effectively now a one-stop drop for “contemporary” go-to labels (still need to work on finding a better word to describe this supposedly “accessible” raft of fashion). Just add Kenzo into the mix of Carven, Acne and 3.1 Phillip Lim and you’ve got yourself a street to get kitted out in all the cool kids’ duds you could want. Except that the surprising thing about the customers frequenting these stores have mostly been local residents, who tend to be older (and obviously wealthier) than the target market that we’d associate with these brands. Carven was looking quite grown-up, prim and proper with their Christmas window of resort satin frocks in addition to the last vestiges of their A/W “Deer Caught In the Headlights” collection. I’ve loved the swerve of direction that Guillaume Henry has been taking the brand starting with that altogether more “toughened” up collection although judging by the wall of Carven collars, the brand is still definitely doing brisk business trading on the girly codes that Henry has had such success with. You’ll find Carven in abundance in other stores in London but here, the most complete selection of both its womenswear and menswear does make the Brompton Cross trek more than worthwhile.
The same can be said for 3.1 Phillip Lim next door. Both Carven and 3.1 Phillip Lim are stores operated in partnership with Club 21 UK and they sit complimenting each other. The space is bigger than Carven and takes advantage of the high ceilinged space at the back, with industrial windows overlooking the train lines. The airiness suits 3.1 Phillip Lim’s sense of ease. “Everyday classics accented with a sense of madness” is exactly how I’d describe the fabric flower embroidered bomber jackets that caught my eye in the store as well as the crystal adorned black patent slip-on loafers. A wall of Lim’s anchor bag, the Pashli will definitely pull in the accessories-loving foreign super rich crowd, that is flooding into London, spending perhaps only a portion of their time in the city.
Acne started the Brompton Cross shift earlier in the year as they opened their second UK store here. It’s a vastly different store from the Dover Street branch. You’re unexpectedly plunged into a dramatically industrial space clad in brushed steel, lit up by neon tubes and LED screens. It’s definitely in stark contrast to the gentile and quant feeling of the area. I asked the manager if the selection was any different from the Dover Street store and interestingly he said that they would strive to get unique colour ways exclusively for the Pelham Street store as the customer demanded special pieces, which sits in the tradition of an area once known for cutting edge design, namely from the Conran Shop and Joseph.
A quick peek at J. Crew on Draycott Avenue and I already prefer the more intimate vibe of this store in comparison with the Regent Street Behemoth. Maybe it’s because I’m at the age when Regent Street generally does my head in.
Stella McCartney is a seasoned Brompton Cross resident but special mention goes out to their Christmas lights. I love how they dance around the borders of tackiness – it’s like they’re competing with Crimbo-obsessed people in this documentary King of Christmas Lights. Funnily enough, I never feel like it’s properly Christmas until I drive past that one wacked-out house in Neasden, near Wembley Ikea, that always goes all out with its Christmas lights.
Another reason to do the Brompton Cross walkabout at the moment is to pop into Christie’s on Old Brompton Road to see Fashion Illustration Gallery’s exhibition, which opened last night with a discussion about the merits of fashion illustration with Tim Blanks, David Downton and editor of Christie’s magazine Meredith Etherington-Smith. Some interesting topics arose, concerning the need to consider fashion illustrators as fashion artists and the ways in which fashion illustration could and should be commissioned by editors today. The exhibition showcases great examples of both the established – Downton, Cecil Beaton, Richard Gray and Antonio Lopez for example, and the up and coming – Zoe Taylor and Ricardo Fumanal. I found myself doing something else I’ve never really done before, which was to consider actually purchasing a piece of art from a gallery. That would have probably been one too many firsts in a day, so I resisted but Fumanal’s delicate draughtsmanship is certainly lingering on the brain.
As a staunch North London girl, I suffer, like most other Londoners, a severe case of inverse postcode snobbery. Some places are always going to frighten me off with their very very posh surroundings and potential awkward encounters with shop assistants where I look down on the floor feeling like a small speck of dust because that’s part and parcel of having had a frugal upbringing. That said, times are a-changing and if there’s to be more interesting brand openings to come to Brompton Cross, it will always be worth taking the detour from South Kensington station.