I LIKE to get round London by Boris Bike because it’s quick. simple and cheap – but it brings me an additional pleasure. Given the distribution and popularity of bike stops, when I come west from the City I always park in St James’s Square and walk up along Jermyn Street. And it’s such a joy.
There is, in my opinion, no better street for men in London. Savile Row gets all the attention, but it’s not actually good for shopping. It’s good for a gawp in the windows, but you hardly pop in to half a dozen tailors to see what’s new for this season.
No, Jermyn Street is the male destination. Clifford Street, with Drake’s and now Anderson & Sheppard, is coming along, and there is something beautifully laid back about Mount Street. But Jermyn Street, built in 1664 on a parallel to Piccadilly, and with its famous statue of the original sartorialist, Beau Brummell, still casting his eye over the scene, is special. It has by far the biggest collection of men’s requisites, from shoes to shirts, razors to cigars, anywhere in London.
It is most well-known, of course, for shirtmakers. Many of these have long gone, and a few who continue to use the Jermyn Street name make all their produce overseas and have no connection to the street. But famous Turnbull & Asser remains, as do Harvie & Hudson, the ever-stylish Robert Emmett and the ever-gorgeous Emma Willis. Most of England’s best shoemakers are here, including the two best: Edward Green and John Lobb. And then there’s Davidoff (cigars), Bate’s (hats), Tricker’s (bespoke shoes), New & Lingwood (shoes and shirts). The list runs on.
As the editor of a style website, one of the questions I am regularly asked is which shops people of a sartorial persuasion should visit in London (I particularly get asked this by Americans). My reply is often tinged with sadness: there are few great shops, I explain, certainly not to compare with Paris, Rome or Naples. London is dominated by fashion brands and department stores.
Earlier in the year I was chastised for this response by one chap called Steve. “Don’t you dare, ever, talk down your wonderful city again,” he said. “I spent five hours in a wonderful place called Jermyn Street today, going in every single store. It was one of the most inspiring mornings of my life. I’m going back to nowhere, Indiana tomorrow. You will still be here.”
Every time I get off my Boris Bike and begin that pleasant perambulation, I think of Steve. He’s right – we really are lucky to have Jermyn Street.
● Simon Crompton edits the men’s style website www.permanentstyle.co.uk
Essential shops to visit on Jermyn Street
Turnbull & Asser
One of the most famous bespoke shirtmakers in London and still among the best value. An old-fashioned English emporium of gentleman’s clothing and accessories, all in the identifiable bright T&A colours and patterns, and staffed by knowledgeable dandies.
It’s not until you walk the full length of Jermyn Street that you realise quite how many shoemakers there are. The Edward Green shop at number 75, the English maker’s only store in the world, is a definite highlight. Small and unassuming, its lines of classical styles has recently grown to encompass a far greater range of subtle colours and adventurous models.
Shirtmaker Emma Willis opened her bright, beautiful shop in 1999. The colour begins with the knitted shooting socks, hanging nonchalantly out of a wicker basket. Then there are the dressing gowns, the Gatsby-worthy shirts and the effervescent ties, before we really get into trouble and start looking at the gorgeous shirt cloths.
New & Lingwood
Pure English eccentricity. The best department store you’ve ever been into, squeezed into one-and-a-half small shops: New & Lingwood manages to carry almost everything a man could need. It is one of only a handful of places left in London to sell starched collars for evening shirts; its partner shop across the arcade survives almost exclusively on selling dramatic dressing gowns.
Paxton & Whitfield
There is a cheese shop on Jermyn Street. And to survive on a street so dominated by menswear, it must be quite a cheese shop. Paxton & Whitfield lives up to that billing, being the oldest established cheese shop in the country, with Royal Warrants it still holds.