One of the oldest and most celebrated shopping arcades in the world, The Burlington Arcade is a striking example of the London shopping scene from years gone by.
Being the go-to for the affluent Victorian population, the arcade is steeped in a varied and rich history, and, as the first shopping arcade to have a covered roof, is thought to be the predecessor to the likes of The Passage in St Petersburg, the first of Europe’s grand arcades, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan and Saint-Hubert Gallery in Brussels.
Running behind Bond Street, from Piccadilly through to Burlington Gardens, the beautiful arcade, complete with its archway entrances and curved shopfronts is pure old-school glamour. It was designed by its creator Lord George Cavendish to house beautiful jewellery and fashion, and opened on 20 March 1819 with 72 small two-storey units – a number that has since been reduced to about 40 stores. It boasts its own police force, the Beadles responsible for upholding the Arcade’s strict codes of conduct for centuries – who still wear the traditional top hats and frockcoats of their predecessors, and prevent shoppers from such infractions as whistling, humming, running or riding bikes. The Beadles even run the renowned Burlington Arcade tours, acting as informative historical guides.
THE BIG NAMES
While some of the stores here are modern names at the cutting-edge of contemporary style, the Arcade still has an air of heritage and understated style, and many of the shopfronts bear the original signage from the Arcade’s early days. Today, its vintage windows are dressed to the nines with everything from brogues and bags to candles and cashmere, but especially with beautiful timepieces, with the likes of The Vintage Watch Company, La Perla, Carat, Michael Rose, Bell & Ross and David Duggan all in attendance.
For footwear Manolo Blahnik, Harry’s of London and Church’s lead the charge, while beauty and fragrance stores include Penhaligons, Roja Parfums, Frederic Malle and True Grace. A store absolutely not to be missed would be N.Peal – a British brand which provides the highest quality cashmere and has the ability to trace its cashmere back to the individual herders who tend their goats on the vast steppes of Mongolia. Daniel Craig has sported N.Peal in the last two James Bond movies, Skyfall and Spectre. The brand was commissioned to make a roll neck for Spectre which featured in the nail biting chess scene and James Bond was wearing the turtle neck in the Spectre teaser poster.
Also worth a special visit is Roja, the perfume store at number 51. Buying scents in here is an unmissable experience. Owned by the eccentric Mr Roja, the design of the shop is flamboyant and quirky, and all perfume bottles are made of beautiful Swarovski glass. The bespoke services are exquisite but incredibly special – to make your own completely unique scent will set you back £45,000. All the ingredients that go into your scent are pure, and he promises that you will never use a chemical filled department store perfume again. Of course, perhaps one of the Burlington Arcade’s most famed stores is the small but perfectly-formed Ladurée, at the entrance to the Arcade. An exquisite experience in sweet treats, it is decorated like a golden grotto with an array of rainbow coloured macaroons covering every surface.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Burlington Arcade is in many ways as special on a quiet Monday morning as it is just days before Christmas, its heritage charm in evidence all year round – but for a quieter shopping experience, pick the morning, as the busiest time here is late afternoon. Shops close relatively early though, at 5.30pm, so the weekends are also a more peaceful time. At Christmas the Arcade feels like winter wonderland, beautifully lit-up trees line the covered and marbled avenue, while all the shops offer their own carefully-curated take on the festive theme. Running until November, as part of Mayfair Art weekend, French artist Mathilda Nivet has created a flock of origami paper birds that span the ceiling of the arcade. This is the first time that Nivet has exhibited in the Arcade, and the birds are representative of the people passing through London. Nivet – who has designed window displays for Hermès, Bulgari and Chanel – has handmade all 300 birds, in various stages of flight, and the effects are quite stunning, their individual paper feathers re-creating the natural movement of birds.
Whenever you decide to shop here, take the time to make the most of the intimate, warm atmosphere. Stores have chosen this location because of their commitment to customer service and it shows throughout the Arcade – from the helpful Beadles at the entrances to all the shop owners and staff, who will want to spend the time helping and advising you on purchases. They are passionate about their brands and will help you have the best possible experience and find something truly unique. They will share exactly the process by which the items are made and even the stories behind them and the shop.
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