Some very smart businesses now operate in Covent Garden, and it feels once more like a bit of a destination. Back in the ’90s it seemed to be going the way of Camden Town – ‘London’ for people that don’t live here. It’s always been a pretty part of the capital, as it has all those cobbles and alleyways, and is pleasantly low-rise and small scale. It’s gorgeous in the winter and Christmas lights make the most of its village-y charms.
It was bound to have a slump in the ’90s, as it was so hyped in the ’80s. In the days of my youth, everyone went there. I mooched around Flip (rarely buying), very occasionally had coffee at Freud’s, avoided everyone that told me I should eat at Cranks, bought tarot cards at Mysteries and once got stuck in a pair of zip-up boots at Office, and (apart from the boots) most of my friends did the same.
For a brief and glorious couple of years Covent Garden participated in a wonderful initiative called Shop Assistance Day. Celebrities would stand behind various counters and serve the general public/stalkers. I have wonderful memories of attending that in the company of a Ruggedly Handsome Male. We whooped and screamed as Sinitta waved at us on Endell Street, we fawned and scraped over Emma Ridley so that she would give us free chocolates, and we admired the beauty of Sarah Stockbridge as she dispensed stretch tights in Pineapple. And my friend had one of the most erotic experiences of his life at the hands of a celeb in a sheltered doorway … ah, but enough of temps perdu. Let’s talk about now.
So what’s in Covent Garden that draws me now as the PX shop did back then?
Well, there’s the CHANEL Pop-Up, on the corner of the Piazza opposite the Apple Shop. Always worth a visit to chat with the lovely staff, and admire the beautiful fittings. Oh, and you can play with the wonderful products too. Or have your nails painted or your face done (cost fully redeemable against purchase). There are CHANEL cosmetic concessions in all the big London department stores, but it’s the Pop-Up which is adding a playful informality to the brand. If it becomes no longer Pop, but permanent (something to wish for on any passing shooting star) perhaps they’ll have to rename. In my head it’s been CHANEL Covent Garden for quite a while now. I’ve mused on it’s glories before, so click the ‘CHANEL’ category if you’d like to read more about it, otherwise just feast your peepers on this delightful snow globe (to the left). It’s battery-operated. You don’t even have to shake it. Truly, CHANEL have luxury – and detail – covered like no-one else.
Let’s drop into one of my other favourite London shopping destinations: Agnès B on Floral Street.
There are three reasons why this is one of my favourite shops in London, not just in Covent Garden. There’s the clobber. It’s always a covetable mix of classics (like the famous snap-button cardigan) and new stuff that you never knew you wanted until it was there before your eyes. Then you realise you want it VERY MUCH.
But it’s not just the fashions, it’s also the fabulous staff. Funny, friendly, passionate about the products and extremely knowledgable: it’s this that makes every visit to Agnès B a pleasure.
Joseph very kindly held up this skirt and top combo for me to photograph. I suspect he was secretly relieved that he didn’t have to hold me up, as I swear my legs went weak and my vision swam when confronted with a photo print of the roof of Galeries Lafayette. If I reach 100 years of age, as Galeries Lafayette did this year, I hope someone makes a photo-print of me and puts it on a dress.
So what’s the third thing that draws me to Agnès B? It’s the building itself. Large and airy, it is such a comfortable floor-space to wander, and has a gorgeous little terrace out the back.This is what it looked like in the summer, but it’s getting even more love and attention as we speak. The other good thing about the building is that it’s very handily placed near to the back door of H&M – so you can gallop through H&M and out via the front doors onto Long Acre, avoiding any altercations with moving statues and exchange students on the main drag.
Have you come with me onto Long Acre? Good! Let’s go to The Garden Pharmacy. I’ve mentioned them before too, but have I ever shown you this? It’s my Loyalty Card. One of my favourite phrases, along with ‘fully redeemable against product’ and ‘soldes’. The Garden Pharmacy is small but perfectly stocked, and lends itself to browsing. I had failed to realise that there is a very comfortable treatment area downstairs, where you can indulge in all manner of things at the hands of their skilled beauty therapists. I had a shape and paint there 10 days ago. It lasted more than a week without chipping – the way I treat my nails, I’d have said that was impossible. I tried essie’s Blanc on the whole nail, as I’m a little tired of colour and effects, and craving something clean and surprising. Whilst I was having this done, the Belle of Brockley was enjoying a hand treatment with Clarins hand-cream and oil. I can report that her paws were soft as satin afterwards, and smelt heavenly.
Still with me? Let’s wander into St Martin’s Courtyard and visit Melvita. Melvita opened here just two years ago, but it’s the leader in organic beauty in France, where it was founded 22 years ago. I am completely neutral where organic beauty products are concerned – I am seldom perturbed by scare stories like the Daily Mail’s recent ‘What’s in Your Lipstick?” offering. Their answer, by the way, was lead. Wow, scary. Or maybe it would be if I didn’t live in inner London, where car-drivers ensure that everyone gets a good dose of bracing pollution every day.
However, Melvita offered myself and the Belle of Brockley a herbal tea the moment we came in from the biting cold. To my surprise, it was really good – the Belle has far more experience of herbal potions than me, and she confirmed that it was unusually delicious. Warmed from the inside, we had a look around, and did an exhaustive amount of sniffing and testing. The sales staff were attentive but never pushy or intrusive, and able to answer every question we had – even the nosey ones like “Which company owns Melvita?” (The answer is l’Occitane.)
As you can see, the shop is bright and welcoming, the product display is strong, and they stock the most delicious toothpaste I have ever tasted: Dentifrice dents blanches arome de mandarine. It’s just the right shape to slide into a stocking, but if you’re shopping for a bigger gift there will be something in Melvita to suit everyone. The range is not so large that it’s overwhelming, but just large enough that you can get excited when you discover products based on honeysuckle, or cornflower alongside staples like orange blossom or rose. The beautifully packaged ‘Rose Discovery Gift Set‘ retails at £14 and you’d have to be an absolute curmudgeon not to be thrilled by it.
So there you have it: four reasons to hit Covent Garden again if you haven’t been for a while, and there are plenty more places to enjoy that space doesn’t allow me to mention. To get you in the mood for a visit, read Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch: it’s a bit gruesome in parts, but also quick and funny.
‘We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…’