Shopping — Jermyn Street havens by Chris Long

Time & Tide — May 1979

Jermyn Street is still one of London's most exclusive and unique shopping areas. Surrounded by gentlemen's clubs and famous for its long history as a fashionable location for its 'gentlemen's chambers' or apartments where men of substance kept up a bachelor existence, it remains a very masculine atmosphere, dominated by some of London's best-known shirt-makers, outfitters and tobacconists.

By Christopher Long

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Shops that offer you quality

This is not a street that ladies need fear to tread as I discovered when I set off to equip myself, optimistically, for an English summer and buy a few presents with ladies in mind. For, running parallel with Piccadilly between St James's Street and South Regent Street, Jermyn Street is still a quiet haven for men and women looking for the best in English quality and service.

My first stop was The Jermyn Street Shirtmakers, a branch of Gieves and Hawkes who have a wide range of more conservative clothes for men backed by silk ties in classic printed designs from £6.95 to £10.50. With ladies once more entering the glamour stakes, I played safe and particularly liked a light-weight, light brown over-check suit which Mr Pointer showed me in the spacious suit department downstairs.

With two buttons and side vents it looked as if it would do me for town or country and had the great advantage that it would cover formal or casual needs! Specialising in more conservative and classic suits, prices range from £95 to £225. My choice was the all-wool Chester Barrie at £205.

Valentino's shirtmaker

For shirts, the august Turnbull & Asser is known worldwide but my choice is Harvie & Hudson. With two shops in the street, co-founder Mr George Hudson runs one of the most delightful shops at the main branch, No. 77, where the window is still filled with the famous broad striped shirts that made their name.

Perhaps London's best shirtmakers, Harvie & Hudson learnt their trade making shirts for Rudolph Valentino and cutting uniforms in World War 1. Now they continue to make shirts to measure – minimum order is three and seven weeks delivery – although 70 per cent of their sales are from stock.

I particularly liked Mr Hudson's latest designs which combine pale and bright stripes of colour with narrow black lines in bands, due out for May or June this year. Pink should be popular again, he thinks.

I couldn't resist the famous broad blue-on-white and red-on-white striped shirts that may soon be the rage in Beverley Hills where Harvie & Hudson open a branch in Irving & Wernick's this year.

The Jermyn Street shop is worth a visit for its atmosphere and courteous service alone – let alone the fact that 76-year-old Mr Hudson claims to have London's best shirt-cutter in the room at the back. Shirts from stock £21.50 and adjusted £23.50.

Hats, they tell me, are back! And if it's hats you want then hats are what you'll get from floor to ceiling in the unique, Dickensian shop at No. 21a, Bates (Hatters). I doubt if anything has changed there since the present Mr Bates's uncle first opened the shop eighty years ago.

Specialising in finest Scottish, Irish and English tweed caps and hats, Mr Bates and his son reckon to be able to supply almost any hat you can think of, not that you'd doubt it from the vast assortment crammed into this tiny shop.

And ladies are buying there a lot too, it seems – squashy, shapeless tweed hats that can be pushed into a pocket or into a variety of shapes to suit the mood.

There is growing interest too in the spy type hats of the '20s and '30s for men. Made of brown felt with varying sizes of brim, men will not be 'bah t'hat' for long now that the '30s are with us again. To go with my town and country suit, I thought the well-made flat caps at £8-£10, and cloth or tweed hats at £10-£15 a bargain.

The Bogey look costs around £20 and, for optimists with summer in mind, Panama hats are from £18.

Shoes, too, are a Jermyn Street speciality. Trickers at No. 67 are masters of art with 35 per cent of their sales being made-to-measure from top-quality French calf leather. This is another shop that, like Bates the hatters, can have changed very little over the years, although young Peter Barltrop who is the fifth generation to run this family business has plans to smarten it up 'without changing the place too much'.

With an old-world atmosphere of pride and courtesy, he and his assistants maintain a well-balanced stock of solid hand-made shoes combined with a selection of more fashionable Italian imports. The bias, though, is conservative with an emphasis on sturdy country walking shoes and the traditional black city shoe that will last.

I fell, inevitably, for the famous Tricker's Tramper at around £49 which is an ideal country shoe though quite fashionable now with its slightly 'punk' look. Well-made Trickers slip-on shoes were good value at £39 – like the excellent Italian moccasins at £35.

I visited Racson's at No. 108, where beautiful cashmere knitwear for men and women is a speciality. In a simple and very unassuming shop, Mr Racson has just received a totally unexpected official award for quality and good service.

Discriminating Italian buyers, he told me, tend to choose natural camel-coloured cashmere 'because it is easily recognisable as the real thing'.

With my wife in mind I was careful and took his advice, choosing a polo-necked pullover by Barrie at £32, but was tempted by the wide range of styles with subtle, multi-coloured geometric designs in browns and brighter colours from Barrie, Braemar and Alan Paine ranging from £30.

Miss Nightingale's choice

Floris too is, of course, a must for all visitors to Jermyn Street. After 250 years it is one of the oldest established shops in London, and famous the world over for perfumes, bath essences, toilet waters and soap - all served from behind the magnificent mahogany showcases acquired from the Great Exhibition of 1851.

If awards for courtesy and good service are being handed out, then Peter Bicknell who runs the shop at No. 89 where it's been since 1730 should certainly be in the running. I was particularly interested in the highly concentrated Bath Essences. A drop or two is all it takes to brighten up bath-time in a range of fragrances that include Jasmine, Lily of the Valley, Rose Geranium and Stephanotis at £2.75 for a small bottle to £5.65, £10.25 and £21.50 for larger sizes. Perhaps best known are Floris's bone china pomanders in a variety of designs and filled with pot pourri flowers at around £4.35.

Floris is worth a visit for anyone who loves a little old-fashioned service in what must be one of London's most beautiful and historic shops. Even Florence Nightingale was impressed and a letter of commendation from her is on the wall.

Finally, Astleys and Ekstein are always worth a visit. Ekstein for a treasure trove of Russian, Continental and English objets d'art – Fabergé, ivory, silver, gold and beautiful chess sets – while Astleys, world famous for pipes and smokers' 'requisites', always to try to have a selection of amber necklaces from about £50 to over £100. Standard briar pipes are from £13.50 to £35 and straight grains from £45.

To relax, I recommend a visit to Franks Restaurant at No. 63. There a light Italian lunch for about £5 a head gives one an opportunity to learn a lot more about Jermyn Street from Frank himself who after 32 years knows it as well as anyone.

In 2012 Anthony Adolph's excellent book The King’s Henchman. Henry Jermyn: Stuart Spymaster and Architect of the British Empire was published by Gibson Square – offering a fascinating account of the man who gave his name to Jermyn Street in St James's, London.

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© (1979) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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