Oh Christmas. There’s no escaping it. From Michael Bublé’s annual resurgence to the battle of which supermarket does the best mince pies (M&S if you’re asking), it’s a funny old time of year. Even as an adult it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve in anticipation for the Big Day. Yet, aside from the hygge of a season that brings mulled wine, fluffy socks, and discovering just how many pubs have open fireplaces, it can also be a time of stress for the unprepared amongst us. I’m talking about shopping.
Although present buying is not a necessity for a great Christmas, for those that do like to indulge in the fine art – but might have left it a little late – we have curated a list of independent shops to visit for some inspiration. Good luck, and may your bank balance be with you.
The largest museum dedicated to decorative art and design in the world (the permanent collection is made up of over 2.3 million objects alone), the Victoria and Albert Museum has been a Mecca for art lovers since it opened in 1852. Within 145 galleries 5,000 years of art and design are celebrated, incorporating textiles, photography, glass, ceramics, costume, prints, furniture, and jewellery. Inspired by the collection are items in the V&A shop: from William Morris prints on a variety of home décor to vintage-inspired textiles (think silk scarves, embroidered brooches, and neck ties), if there’s a culture vulture in the family who is notoriously difficult to buy for, you’ll find something here. Wanting something a bit more bespoke? They also offer a service to have a favourite artwork from the museum’s collection printed and framed in whatever size you wish.
Everyone loves a cheese board at Christmas, so why not buy the foodie in your life a hamper of cheese and associated goodies? If you can drag yourself away from the amazing pubs up Greenwich’s Royal Hill (The Prince of Greenwich and Richard I are among the favourites), sniff out The Cheeseboard, artisanal cheesemongers. They have over 150 hand-selected cheeses at any one time, as well as a variety of complimentary goods such as chutneys and fruits, pâté, antipasti, honey, and olive oils. Pair up fig puree with goat’s cheese, pickled pairs with Camembert, or wild thyme honey with creamy Le Sounal. Can’t decide / ate all the cheese on the way home? You can also buy a membership to their Cheese Club where the lucky recipient will be sent 5 specially chosen cheeses and cheese biscuits a month.
Designed by Spanish architects SelgasCano, just shopping in Libreria is a gift in itself. Books fill every available space and cover every surface, presented in themed sections such as ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Enchantment for Disenchanted’, and ‘Mothers, Madonnas, and Whores’ to help discover the perfect title. Pick a pile and read the blurbs in one of the special reading nooks built into the shelving. This isn’t a typical East London bookshop filled with laptops and lattés; in fact, phones are banned (as is all tech) so focus remains fully on the books allowing for hours of perusing and peaceful wandering. For something a bit more special, there is a risograph printer in the basement where bespoke cards can be printed in one of their workshops, or bought alongside their books and machine printed ‘zines. You can also buy a subscription where books tailored to your tastes are delivered to your door every month! Inspiration for the shop was taken from Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges who once quipped, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Libreria isn’t far off. Time your visit just right and you might find yourself at one of their Cultural Programme events.
This is a true fashion emporium: over 250,000 handpicked vintage items of clothing and accessories are arranged over three storeys of an old Victorian warehouse just off Brick Lane. Mooch through racks of leather gloves and fabulous coats, handily all arranged by trend from the late 70’s to early 00’s. Go treasure hunting for vintage Barbour and Burberry, or find something truly special such as mid-century Japanese kimonos. The shop also provides a platform for up and coming brands, as well as offering in-house manicures by former WAH girl, Izabelle Bellamy. They recently launched ATIKA Studio also, producing limited edition pieces from reworked vintage garments and fabrics.
Established in 1853, Stanfords is iconic. The world’s biggest map and travel bookshop, they have supplied cartography not only for the British Army, but for numerous James Bond films too. In fact, by just shopping here you can walk in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest adventurers such as Ernest Shackleton, David Livingstone, Ranulph Fiennes and Amy Johnson. There are maps, globes, books, and travel accessories everywhere, perfect for adventurers and armchair travellers alike. Who doesn’t need a Sextant in their life?!
Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on a brightly coloured ukulele to sing along to a bit of George Formby? You can’t help but smile when walking into Duke of Uke. The walls are lined with a myriad ukulele’s ranging from beginner to concert level. The shop also stocks sheet music, amps, and FX equipment so you can get fully kitted out. If a beginner they also have the School of Uke where you can learn how to play or just improve your skills. They also host a variety of live performances too – including the recent Guinness World Record winning longest ever ukulele performance, lasting for 30hrs 2mins. Start a band and invest in one of their harmonicas and banjos too.
We’ve all got that friend or family member who is just a little bit…odd. But we love them for it, and to be honest, they are the most fun people to buy for. Established in a cloud of mystery in 1818, Hoxton Street Monster Supplies are purveyors of the weird and the wonderful – which means they sell some pretty great stocking fillers; expect jars of ‘A Vague Sense of Unease’, packets of ‘Cubed Earwax’, tubs of ‘Daylight’, and even ‘Fang Floss.’ Not only will you be buying a great present, but you’ll be supporting the Ministry of Stories to whom all profits go; a volunteering organisation, the Ministry of Stories inspires and helps young people to write through workshops and mentoring.