It was in 2014 that I had the pleasure of meeting bespoke tailor Joshua Kane. I had seen a larger than life image of him skateboarding at an exhibit hosted by the Somerset House, eventually making my way to his showroom to purchase one of his signature necklaces called “The Shear”. Since then, I’ve followed the daring designer’s career, as he moved from his old showroom to the new Fitzrovia location, launched a women’s line of bespoke suits, and most recently, breaking records at London’s Fashion Week with his well-attended show “Journey” at the iconic London Palladium.
Joshua Kane’s journey weaves design schooling at Kingston University, where he graduated with Honours, formal fashion experience at varied design houses like Burberry, Jaeger, and Paul Smith, and an entrepreneurial spirit that had him designing bespoke suits out of his small flat not long ago. Fully enveloping the motto, “Blood, Sweat, and Shears”, Joshua’s path is his ethos. His undying passion is evident as he shares what “bespoke” means to him. “Bespoke comes from Latin, ‘to speak for’, and that’s what we’re doing here. Each conversation, as well as each product, needs to be personal to our clients.”
As with all serendipitous journeys, Joshua’s recent Autumn/Winter show broke fashion week records, showcasing a joint men’s and women’s collection. The show entranced the audience with an opening fit for the opera house. As a pair of ballet dancers twirled and swayed across the stage, a string quartet playing Adagio for Strings enveloped the crowd. Drawn in by the duo’s symphonic energy, Joshua’s show began and his perfectly tailored looks were shown to all. It was a show like no other. It wasn’t just a catwalk of the latest fashions; it was an absolute sensory journey.
His bespoke fittings follow suit. “After the client walks away from showroom, I want them to love it because of the experience they’ve had”, the designer imparted. As we moved through his showroom, I asked Joshua what inspires him. “Skateboarding, because when you think about it, the movement, it’s quite like a dance, really.” Just like the dance that closed the show at Fashion Week – inspiring to all of us who sat there in awe.
One of my favorite things about traveling is partaking in local customs and learning a bit about the culture in the process. The art of afternoon tea is definitely one of those British customs you’ll have to enjoy while in London. But don’t settle for just any tea service. The high tea at The Berkeley is high fashion and a nod to tailor-made design.
The Berkeley’s “Prêt-a-Portea” experience changes seasons, just like the fashions on the runway. Executive Pastry Chef Mourad Khiat draws upon the latest season’s designs to inspire his menu of bakes and biscuits. Baking expertise runs in Khiat’s family, where he learned this difficult art from his father, also a pastry chef. Eventually honing his skills at culinary school and abroad, Chef Khiat finally brought his eye for delicious and delicate detail to The Berkeley.
Having just celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2016, The Berkeley compiled a cookbook featuring Khiat’s signature recipes. The perfect souvenir for any baker, confectioner, or aspiring pastry chef, this recipe book is filled with encouraging quotes from Khiat, “Showcase your icing and styling skills with this chocolate butterfly fascinator”, exquisite photos, and of course, templates for you to attempt these beauties at home.
Browsing through the book, I sampled on sumptuous tea sandwiches, a bite size spinach and feta muffin, and my favorite – scorched tuna in a horseradish beurre blanc. Absolutely mouthwatering! Sitting in a room flooded with natural light, I perused the selection of teas that would accompany my sweets still yet to come.
Before heading to London, I came across the beautiful and beguiling Instagram of Luna Mae London. Luckily, I secured an appointment with founder and bespoke lingerie designer Claudia Lambeth, given that her calendar was full with Valentine’s Day and Fashion Week related deadlines. Claudia’s infectious energy was a pleasant surprise as I arrived at her showroom. Eager to share the story behind her exclusive brand, Claudia welcomed me to her Mayfair location, where she conducts private bespoke fittings.
While catching up on all things underpinnings, Claudia shared a bit of her design philosophy. “At Luna Mae London, ‘Bespoke’ means two things. Firstly, we pride ourselves on the fact that each Bespoke piece is made to measure and handcrafted in Britain, supporting British craftsmanship. Secondly, alongside the beautifully made bespoke garments we create a truly bespoke customer service, whereby a client is guided through each step of the bespoke process and their unique needs and desires are catered to.”
It’s evident from first touch that her pieces are not only unique, but crafted from the highest quality material. Her silk, a triple A grade satin silk, is sourced from Como, Italy, while the Italian macramé embroidering and beaded detailing is exclusively designed for Luna Mae London. No detail is left to chance: solid eighteen carat gold fittings are individually hand-cast in London’s Hatton Garden and beautiful monogramming is applied to each bespoke piece. As she showed me some of her bespoke lingerie, which has over 40 structured pieces, as compared to the average 5 that a mass-produced bra entails, Claudia talked about her artistic muses. “Alexander McQueen is a major inspiration to me. I am also greatly inspired by beautiful photography. In particular, I admire the work of Helmut Newton and Sam Haskins.”
Both being women who travel quite a bit, we compared notes on what’s always in our carry-on. Whether it’s to visit international clients or to promote the Luna Mae London brand, Claudia always takes her Luna Mae London loungewear: a silk slip, kimono, and eye mask. “The eye mask in particular is a lovely essential that I always use on the flight,” she added as I mentioned my nagging jet lag. As I wrapped up my appointment, Claudia and I talked about changing trends in lingerie, some of our favorite hosiery brands, and what else to see in London.
Leaving the Luna Mae studio, I made my way to the pop-up shop for Fine Cell Work. This London-based organization offers rehabilitation programs to prisoners, who are trained in the art of fine needlepoint and embroidery. Marveling at the elaborate designs, I learned a bit about the organization’s origins from Dr. Katy Emck, Fine Cell Work’s Founding Director. “Our founder, Lady Anne Tree, the daughter of the former owner of Colefax & Fowler, Nancy Lancaster, was a regular visitor to HMP Holloway women’s prison in the 1960s, and our first needlework commissions were sewn for the Colefaxes in the 1970s, by life-serving prisoners at that prison. These were two large intricate needlepoint carpets, drawn up by the Royal School of Needlework and sold for £10,000 apiece.”
Surrounded by everything from lavender sachets, decorative pillows, and holiday ornaments, Dr. Emck continued with the founder’s story. “Early on, Lady Anne had the idea that prisoners would make beautiful things at the highest level they could be truly proud of, and have the chance to earn and save a nest egg for their release, so they could escape the cycle of poverty and crime.” As with most worthwhile ventures, there was a bit of a challenge to this model since prisoners weren’t legally able to be paid for work which they were completing in their cells. But Lady Anne persisted, lobbied, and eventually the law changed, and in 1995 Fine Cell Work was officially registered as a charity.
As I walked through the shop, at Pimlico Road until early July, I thought about the fine tailoring of Joshua’s bespoke suits, Claudia’s intricate stitching on her bespoke lingerie, and was grateful that this organization gave citizens a chance to contribute their own handmade pieces of art. When I asked Dr. Emck how she defined “bespoke”, her response seemed to embody what is truly special about commissioned pieces. “Hand stitching is inherently unique, as each item differs from the other slightly depending on the stitcher. Many, often hundreds, of hours of work have gone into the pieces. The pleasure of understanding the provenance of the piece, as well the joy of knowing it was made especially for you, and only one exists in time, is endless.”
Purchasing a few souvenirs for friends and family back home, I looked at the special designs and bespoke pieces on the shelves. Thinking about this calming past-time, I wondered how many of the prisoners transferred this skill to life outside. Dr. Emck enlightened me, sharing some of the success stories and recent commissions by the V&A Museum, Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens. “The sense of pride in hand-crafting a stunning piece of work, which you then get paid for and that somebody wants to buy and put in their home is a significant achievement for our stitchers. It gives them work skills and it gives them experience of success. It also enables them to be part of a community that is not about crime.”
Upon parting, Dr. Emck and I traded stories of our experiences on boards for non-profits, the value of helping those in your local community, and the trend in pop-up shops. Grateful for such a meaningful visit, I wandered up the street, feeling lucky for the freedom to experience the multi-faceted city that is London.
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One doesn’t normally think of using a cookbook for a travel guide, but there’s always an exception. My recent purchase, Rio De Janeiro: The Cookbook, was a welcome addition to my already bursting cookbook collection. I picked up this gem at my favorite neighborhood bookstore, and after flipping through the pages, I was delighted to find that the recipes came with “dicas”, or tips, on everything from where to find a feijoada feast for a weekend brunch to a recipe for creamy coconut cake to a list of local farmers’ markets. Using Chef Leticia’s cookbook as a guide, I quickly charted a map that included some of her recommendations.
Reading more about Chef Leticia in her book, I knew that we’d become instant friends. We both loved travel, indulged in languages and word games as children, and of course shared a love for Rio. When we spoke, Leticia credited her “carioca” heritage as a large influence on her culinary development. “Going to the farmers’ markets here in Rio and talking to the street vendors where they taught you about the different fruits and vegetables had a huge influence on me.”
Inspired by her local surroundings, other culinary creatives in Brasil like Chef Claude Troisgros, and publications like Gula and Food & Wine, Leticia created a cookbook that guides its readers through a tasty tour of Rio’s diverse neighborhoods. When I asked Leticia about her opinion of Rio cuisine, she said it highlights the influence of Portuguese culture in the diaspora of African, Indian, and European history that is Brazil. “You can see it in people’s faces, in the botequins, the architecture, and of course in the food.”
And so my food tour commenced in downtown Rio, known as Centro to locals. I headed to Confeitaria Colombo, a Rio institution and landmark. Confeitaria Colombo is a marvelous mixture of café, bakery, restaurant, and bar, with an emphasis on the bakery part. Upon entering this downtown destination, I quickly understood why this place was on Haute Living’s list of “Top 10 Most Beautiful Cafes in the World.” With stiff competition from mostly European listings, Confeitaria Colombo rightfully deserves its place on the list with its gilded interiors.
Over a bountiful Brazilian breakfast of cakes, cookies, cheese, and of course, coffee, I spoke with head Chef Thiago about the historic guestlist of Confeitaria Colombo, dating back to the time when Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil. This historic café received presidents from all over the globe and Thiago mentioned a recent visit by the Royal family and the Queen of England as his personal highlight.
As I marveled at the decor, Chef Thiago told the story of the cafe’s founders. “The story started with two Portuguese men – pioneers that had their mind set on creating the best pastry shop in Brazil. They brought with them the best tiles from Europe, mirrors from Belgium, and of course, pastry chefs from France.”
Surrounded by so many delicious desserts must be daunting for anyone’s diet, so I had to ask Chef Thiago what was his favorite. With a gleam in his eye, he instantly said “pastel de nata”, a traditional Portuguese dessert that has a light custard in delicate crusted cups. Having never sampled this sweet, I made a note to try it on my next visit. He went on to share how he looks forward to Christmas here at the café, when droves of families line up to take home these scrumptious sweets to share with their families.
Eager to walk off my hearty breakfast, I made my way to the National Library. Situated in the heart of Centro, with the Theatro Municipal and the National Museum of Fine Arts as its neighbors, this Library is a national treasure. Established by Dom João Pedro, who sits at the base of the stairwell, the library held more than 60,000 books at its inception, a rare case for any library, since most build their collections over time. In fact, as my guide Max pointed out, it was in the Peace Treaty of 1825 that the Portuguese Royal family sold the vast literary collection to Brazil, giving this historic site its rightful place as UNESCO’s 8th biggest national library in the world, now with over 20 million pieces.
As the collection grew over the years, the Library relocated to many homes throughout Rio before finally settling on its current location in 1910. Max, a human library himself, reflected on the library’s historic importance. “It’s a building that reminds us cariocas of a period of great change here in the city center because in the beginning of the 20th century Rio was the capital of Brazil and the main goal of the mayor was to make Rio similar to a European city. He used as his inspiration the Belle Epoque in Paris and French architecture. Examples of this are the Municipal Theater, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and other buildings along Rio Branco Avenue.”
The magnificent interior of the Library is a testament to this European influence, with structural details like Neoclassical arcs at the entrance, Corinthian columns, a stairwell imported from Germany, and French glass ceilings. Behind these architectural displays are housed a phenomenal rare books collection, whose importance goes beyond Brazil. The original printed edition of Luís de Camões’ Os Lusíadas, sits in the collection, much to the disdain of many Portuguese, Max noted with a grin. “This masterpiece is as important to the Portuguese language as Shakespeare to English, Cervantes to Spanish, or Goethe to German.”
Also housed here are original legal documents like the Lei Áurea, which abolished slavery in Brazil and was ushered into proclamation by Princess Isabel in the late 1800s, a multitude of dictionaries, including those of indigenous Brazilian languages, like Tupi-Guarani, and Yorubá, the African language that Max mentioned is very present in Brazilian Portuguese.
Wandering through the halls of the library and an exhibit of Antônio Houaiss’ contributions to the Portuguese language, I thought about the fascinating fusion of cultures that is ever-present here in Brazil. While Rio is definitely an epicenter for Brazilian culture, this large country has a vast landscape that cannot be covered in one trip. Luckily, my visa is good for a few more years.
When mentioning to Max that I had just come from the famous café, he pointed out that the same jacaranda wood that was used to make the desks and interiors of the Library was used on the mirrors of the Confeitaria Colombo. He also said, in a secretive tone that the Library houses some of the rare recipes from Portugal, which he whispered “us Brazilians are always trying to replicate in our bakeries.” When I mentioned Chef Thiago’s favorite, pastel de nata, Max gave me some more insight. “There is a patent on the name of that dessert. If it is made there in Belem, in that region, it’s called ‘pastel de Belem’. Anywhere else, it’s ‘pastel de nata’. Kind of like French champagne.” He gave a knowing smile and led me through the halls tiled with mosaics from Morocco, while we chatted about the library decor, philosophy, and Brazilian politics. We eventually agreed that no matter where you are from in the world, we are definitely living in a climate of change, and hopefully for the better.
Walking up Avenida Presidente Antonio Vargas, I stopped in the Palácio Tiradentes. A royal looking piece of architecture with its sprawling entrance, I entered not knowing anything about the place. As my guide led me through the halls, I learned that this building was originally the site of the first Republic of Brazil, back during Rio’s time as the country’s capital. Along the walls, the mosaic tiles, and in the etchings of the chairs and pillars are coffee leaves. These details, as my guide shared, were a homage to Brazil’s early ruling class, many of whom were coffee farmers.
Upon entering the main hall where current state laws are reviewed, I was immediately struck by the immense murals around the perimeter and along the ceiling. Showing different scenes from Brazil’s beginnings, my guide highlighted Pedro Álvarez Cabral, the Portuguese bandeirantes, and the French Marianne waving the flag of liberty. She poignantly pointed out that these images were a “romantic vision of Brazil’s history. It looks very peaceful, but in fact it was not.” Of course this made me think of romanticized versions of America’s pilgrims and their settling along the eastern seaboard, giving way to our Thanksgiving holiday. I guess, as Oscar Wilde wrote, sometimes art doesn’t always imitate life.
Back in Zona Sul, I was eagerly looking forward to my visit at design marvel, Fasano Hotel in Ipanema. Meeting with the hotel’s communications and marketing department for the ideally situated Rio location of this iconic hotel, I learned more about the history of designer Philippe Starck’s first project here in Brazil. Sitting poolside, which is where all meetings should take place if they offer this stunning view, they shared with me some of the unique features of Fasano. “The experience here is an extension of Rogério Fasano himself; a mirror of his personality. It’s evident in the smallest of details, with an understated luxury.”
And it truly is. From the moment you step into the lobby, you are greeted with an aura of discreet, yet superior hospitality. Designing the hotel with sustainability in mind, the repurposed pequiá wood from the Amazon is used throughout the hotel. You’ll see it in the lobby, the bedside tables, and even at the front desk, which is formed from a large log of this rare wood. The simplicity of natural materials like dark pequiá, marble, native plants, and red brick are all weaved together to provide guests with a visually appealing and comforting vibe, a true escape from Rio’s raucous scene.
With a family history well-versed in gastronomy, the Fasano experience wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to a luxurious dining experience. “It’s important for us to take food seriously, but with a ‘slow food’ manner,” the staff mused. “The restaurant, Fasano al Mare, which is a misnomer in a way, highlights an Italian Mediterranean cuisine, replete with housemade pasta dishes that contain local ingredients.” One bite of the Tortelli Di Vitelo, their signature dish, is a testament to this superb dining philosophy. Delicate folds of fresh pasta envelop tender cuts of veal, tempting your taste buds to savor every morsel of these pillows drizzled with Parmesan fondue. Chef Paolo Lavezzini’s menu draws on his expertise from award-winning restaurants in Florence, subtly influencing every element of this gastronomic gem.
While the mirrored ears, a Starck design hallmark, listened in on our conversation, I heard an anecdote about the hotel’s owner. “Rogério loves cinema and had been studying film in London; he dreamed of being a director and one of his idols was Francis Ford Coppola. After receiving a call to come back to Brazil and manage the family business, Rogério left his film career behind.” But with a stroke of serendipitous luck, Rogério would one day meet his idol when Coppola paid a visit to this famed hotel. “He was a little nervous about asking the celebrated director for an autograph, but he did and now it sits on our Hall of Fame wall just outside of the Baretto-Londra bar!” An homage to London, Rogério’s favorite city, the pub-style bar hosts both DJs and classic rock bands, with décor characteristic of British music icons. The signature Union Jack flag hangs in the background, but the colors provide a nod to Fasano’s Italian heritage.
Luckily for travelers who appreciate the Fasano philosophy, the hotel is expanding throughout Latin America. With Brazilian locations as close as Angra dos Reis and Belo Horizonte opening in the next year, and projects planned for Miami and the reopening of Uruguay’s property, travelers seeking out this “understated luxury” won’t have to look further than one of Fasano’s meticulously planned hotel experiences.
If you need souvenirs, or even a gift for yourself, just down the way is Ipanema’s shopping district, which is full of Brazilian brands: Osklen, Francesca Romana, Melissa, and of course the ubiquitous Havaianas. Depending on your budget, and how much space you have in your carry-on, you’ll be sure to find a way to support the Brazilian economy with a visit to these boutiques – gift list in hand.
Maybe you keep up on travel trends like “voluntourism”, work for a company that sponsors volunteer vacations abroad, or just have a desire to help others in need. Doing community service while traveling is an alternate lens to learn about the countries we visit. Eager to participate in Stanford’s “Beyond the Farm”, my alma mater’s annual day of community service event, I joined a Mais Caminhos event early one Saturday morning. Mais Caminhos, the community outreach arm of the language center Caminhos, organized a group of volunteers from all over the globe, many of whom are studying Portuguese at the center, to head up the street to a local school, Solar Meninos de Luz.
Solar Meninos de Luz was founded in 1991 to bring educational, health, and cultural programs to the favela neighborhoods that sit behind Ipanema, and has grown over the years, now supporting over 5,000 families. When we arrived at the school, we were greeted by Brama, a spirited soul who manages the Paulo Coelho Library. After sharing some of the history of the school, the library, and its famous donor, Brama gave us a tour of the classrooms, all lined with artwork and projects from its students. With a challenging charter before us, we began to clean and dust over 20,000 books that lined the shelves of this great community resource.
Beyond just providing an opportunity to do a bit of good for the local citizens, the Mais Caminhos event was a way for us foreigners to share travel tales and resources, as well as animated anecdotes from our struggles with learning a foreign language here in Brazil. While diligently dusting off copies of classics like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and volumes by Brazilian authors Clarice Lispector, and Paulo Coelho himself, I thought back on my own experience of living here and learning a foreign language as an adult. Life changing, it is one of my proudest accomplishments, and I’m always encouraging others to do the same. Meeting other language enthusiasts while making a positive change in this neighborhood was definitely a highlight of this trip.
Later that evening, I headed to nearby Botafogo, which has a lively mix of bars, bookstores, and oddly enough – hamburger joints. On my last visit, I ended up at Hell’s Burguer, which is always a good option. But after reading Veja’s Comer & Beber list of top hamburger spots, I had to try the famed Comuna. This first place winner has a small menu, and rightfully so, since the burgers are a meal in themselves. There’s no need for fries. Just make sure and indulge in one of their handcrafted milkshakes after you’ve had enough time to digest your food.
Botafogo is also a great neighborhood if you like to barhop. Start with the stretch of bars that are easily accessible from the metro. One of my favorites, The Boua, has a bountiful selection of beers on tap, and an accompanying menu of traditional Brazilian appetizers, but with a twist. The mandioca, linguica, and of course, batata frita, or French fries are all large enough to share. My favorite is a mixture of octopus, sausage, and potatoes, all melted together with gouda cheese in a bread bowl; something that instantly transported me to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Also in the area is Bar Bukowski, a lively weekend-only spot where you can get a hefty dose of classic rock and sing along to your favorite Stones’ songs with the locals. For a more mellow vibe, there’s the WineHouse if you want to sip on your favorite bottle of Chilean cabernet coupled with crispy bruschetta and other small bites to pair with your glass. Their cellar has a diverse, yet appealing selection of wines from Italy, France, and some hard to find Brazilian wines, which you can sample during their weekday happy hour.
For some of us, happy hour is a time to get outside and enjoy those last hours of sunshine. If this is you, then a walk, or a bike ride, along Botafogo Bay should be on your list. Depending on how far you want to go, you can weave your way towards Flamengo, or head in the other direction towards the Yacht Club, down to Urca, and end up at Praia Vermelha. Nestled in this cove where throngs of tourists make their way up to the top of picturesque Pão de Açucar is a small beach where you can sit and see the sky light up with colorful streaks as the sun sets behind you.
My next, and final, dining destination was to Zaza’s Bistro, a colorful restaurant that makes their eating experience a full sensory adventure. With its quirky decor, Zaza’s envelops you in a tropical version of a Tim Burton movie set, all while waiting for your highly anticipated meal. The Gilson Martins placemats, gilded metal flowers, and inspiring quotes painted on the walls are all Instagram-worthy, and enough distraction while you wait for each course.
What’s unique about Zaza’s, and makes it hard to get a same-day reservation, is the attention to detail with each plate. The menu sources local, organic ingredients, often changing their menu from week to week, and infuses international flavors into traditional Brazilian dishes.
I started with an inventive appetizer of smoked octopus samosas served with a sweet chili marmalade, and paired these tasty starters with their “Soft Flora” drink, a delicate blend of mango, mint, coconut water, and tonic – the perfect refresher for a warm evening. But Zaza’s drink menu is worth a second glance; they artfully blend Brazilian fruits and their house favorite, Absolut vodka, to provide the perfect accompaniment to each of your courses. And definitely save room for dessert. If you can’t choose just one from the luscious list, opt for the chef’s degustation menu where you’ll be able to sample each of their delicious offerings.
As I sat there enjoying each morsel, I thought back to my conversation with Chef Leticia and eagerly anticipated returning home to try some of her recipes. “Open your mind to new cuisines. I would love for people everywhere to integrate Brazilian cuisine into the mainstream. Shop local and eat global – that’s what I’m trying to show in my book.” Looking forward to planning my next dinner party menu, I recalled her advice about throwing a successful one: “Plan and do as much ahead of time as possible – that way you have more time to spend with friends!”
I knew my money was well spent on the London Rock Walk tour when our British guide made the controversial statement about how rock ‘n’ roll started in the U.S. Before leaving our meeting spot near Tottenham Station, our guide, Richard, proceeded to tell us the story of Vince Taylor and the Playboys, his move to California, his move back to London, all while weaving in stories of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, and other rock ‘n’ roll forefathers. Richard, who I imagined could probably weave a good ghost story around the campfire, kept us on the edge of our seats while we wandered through London’s musical landmarks to his soundtrack of storybook snippets about the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Elton John, The Who, and other musical greats.
Passing through Tin Pan Alley, our group eagerly listened as Richard deftly told how the war, the end of compulsory military service, and school regulations had shaped music history and the bands that had come out of Britain during that era. Circling back to his opening character, Vince Taylor, Richard told the tragic tale of Taylor’s demise into drugs and alcohol, and his relationship with David Bowie. By far it was my favorite anecdote, probably because the main character shares my father’s name, but also because I was nearly in tears as Richard shared how their friendship inspired the famous song “Ziggy Stardust”.
Not wanting the tour to end, our group wrapped up with a lively question and answer session at Carnaby Street. At nearby Camellia’s Tea House, a few of us enjoyed that English tradition of afternoon tea and compared notes on all that we had heard on the Rock Walk tour. Sipping on a pot of handmade “Dancing Rose and Violet” tea, I enjoyed buttery scones, with a medley of clotted cream, lemon curd, and the most perfectly sweet raspberry jam.
After wandering through the shops on Carnaby Street, I took the tube over to Camden. Coming up to the street, I was met with rows of stores selling rock-inspired clothes, pins, signs, and vintage wares. Not knowing which direction to go, I wandered towards The Regent’s Park and dipped into No Hit Records. Searching for a portable souvenir for my brother, I spent some time flipping through their extensive punk collection and left with a couple of records based on the clerk’s recommendations. Not wanting to leave this gem of a music shop, I asked him where to go that night and he recommended checking out the Melbourne Ska Orchestra that was playing nearby at The Forge.
Inspired by the previous day’s rock ‘n’ roll history lesson, I made my way over to Abbey Road. Getting a bit lost in the neighborhood, I wandered down a side street where I came upon an antique mall. Hoping to get directions from one of the antique dealers, I wandered through countless booths of art, jewelry, and enough treasures to make me wish I had brought another suitcase. My favorite shop was a second floor room full of light fixtures; enough to make any interior designer swoon.
Weaving along, I learned that this marvelous place I had stumbled upon was known as Alfie’s Antiques. I had a chance to talk with one of the antique dealers who pointed me towards the famous music landmark with his parting words: “don’t get hit by a car!” Thanking him for his guidance and his tips on what else to see in the area, I realized I had spent over an hour browsing through the booths, so I took a break at the rooftop cafe. A gorgeous summer sky greeted me, as I enjoyed a refreshingly chilled pea soup and crunchy housemade bread.
Eager to reach my destination, I followed the store owner’s directions and headed up the street til I saw throngs of people dodging car horns. Watching groups of families and friends reenact the famous Beatles’ cover for the eponymous album, I snapped some pictures of Abbey Road studio and waited my turn. Nearly getting hit a couple of times, I quickly made my way across the street and inspected the pictures taken by my newfound friends. After returning the favor, I spliced together a few of my photos for an amateur replica of the world famous record cover.
My next stop was Fine Cell Work, a non-profit organization that trains prisoners in skilled needlework and handicrafts. After learning about their “trunk show” from Time Out London, I knew that I had to stop by for a peek at their boutique in Victoria. Once inside their small showroom, I had a chance to browse through hand-embroidered quilts, needlepoint pillows, and even some larger pieces like custom ottomans. Dominic, one of Fine Cell’s volunteer staff, shared some of the history of Fine Cell, how their program has helped over 400 incarcerated men and women learn a new skill, and anecdotes from their volunteers who conduct on-site needlework classes at prisons all over England and Wales. While we compared ideas on everything from prison reform to the lost art of handicrafts, Dominic helped me choose a pillow with the Union Jack emblem-a quintessential British souvenir.
Leaving the Fine Cell boutique, I wandered up the street and did the obligatory walk by the popular British landmarks Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, all while marveling at the lush greenery of the parks in between. My next stop was The Old Spitalfields Market to visit the studio of Joshua Kane Bespoke. I first learned of this gifted menswear designer while viewing the Rude Boy exhibit at Somerset House earlier in the week. Finding his site on Instagram, it turned out Joshua’s flagship store was right near where I was staying. Beckoned by the signature brass necklace I saw on his site, I paid a visit to his shop and luckily had a chance to meet Joshua right before he was closing for the night. An animated mix of dandy and dapper, Joshua was a true gentleman and showed me around his studio, while giving me a little history on his career as a designer and tailor. Boxing up my necklace, he offered tips on where to go in London that night and some must-see spots for my next visit.
Making my way to dinner, I stopped in Rough Trade Records, because one can never visit enough record stores! In absolute bliss, I paced through rows of vinyl, read some staff recommendations, and heard a sneak peek of Led Zeppelin’s highly anticipated release of their reissue campaign. I eventually reunited with friends for a farewell dinner at Dishoom in Shoreditch. Having already enjoyed lunch here earlier in the week, I knew what to expect from this mouthwatering Bombay inspired cuisine. Taking some recommendations from our server, we dined on the most exquisitely assembled dinner, perfectly presented for sharing. Of course my favorite was the Black Dahl, their signature dish that’s simmered for over 24 hours and had me wishing I lived nearby. Relishing each bite of this spicy and savory cuisine, my friends and I shared stories from the day and ideas on how to get me across the pond for another visit.