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Shop London Like an Insider

Rachel Felder gives us the inside skinny on what's hot across the pond

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Rachel Felder, who spent much of her life in London, wrote Insider London, A Curated Guide to the Most Stylish Shops, Restaurants, and Cultural Experiences, which came out this spring. Read below or watch the Facebook live interview to learn how to get the most out of shopping London’s obscure nooks and crannies.

Lesley Jane Seymour: I’m a big London fan. I was not for a long time; I used to avoid it because the food was so bad to be really honest.  Now I’m such a crazy fan of London that I actually make sure my plane stops there and that we spend a day or two in London on the way to Paris. So I was thrilled when I saw that you wrote this.

So tell me a little bit about your love of London: you talk about having a family connection there, as it says it’s an “insider’s guide” to London.

Rachel Felder: I’ve spent much of my life in London, despite my accent or the fact that I’m actually a New Yorker! My grandmother was born in London and so I spent time with her there and I always had a connection to the city. I lived there for a couple years and I’ve gone back and forth really my whole adult life, so I just love it, but I don’t love the touristy things, I love the really good stuff.

LJS: No, there’s nothing touristy in here, which is great.

RF: That’s what you want when you travel, you know, that kind of authentic experience.

Insider London book

LJS: Authentic’s our keyword— just live your most authentic life— maybe that’s why it appealed to me.

RF: Love it! Well, the thing about London is, to your point, a lot of people go there—or used to go there—and not really understand what the big deal was. I think it’s the type of city that you really need to know someone who knows those nooks and crannies to point you towards the really good stuff, and that’s not necessarily where tourists are.

LJS: So you’re hand-holding us through your favorite shopping places, through your favorite hotels, through your favorite little places to eat as well. And so tell me, pick two places that you absolutely love that people might not necessarily have heard of: where would you send them?

RF: Well there’s quite a lot that I love, but two of my favorite places are in Islington. One’s a store called Present and Correct, it’s a curated store. The guy who owns it used to work in wallpaper so he has a real eye, and he, like me–and I bet there are many people out there–[is] obsessed with stationary, but vintage stationery. It’s an absolutely incredible store, and it’s in Islington, right near Sadler’s Wells. It’s very central but it’s down a little side street so you need somebody to tell you it’s there.

Another one, which is in Islington as well, is called Black Axe Mangal. Mangal is a kind of Turkish flatbread, almost like a Turkish pizza, and in the U.K. if you’re drunk and you’re going home after a night at the pub you often would eat a mangal because usually, it’s like a cheap, not-so-cheerful, greasy flatbread covered with mystery meat.

LJS: I remember that from high school!

RF: It’s the stuff you eat when you’re drunk and then you might well regret it a few hours later. So Black Axe Mangal is run by a former Noma chef… So he’s the real thing times ten, except his restaurant isn’t high end. It’s gourmet flatbread, and he trained how to make the flatbread at a place called Tartine in San Francisco; it’s one of the best bakeries in the world. He [uses] the most creative toppings, beautiful quality ingredients, but it’s not expensive, so it’s like major food in a casual setting that’s super creative, not expensive, easy, fun, so I love it.

LJS: So why do you think London is so hot right now? I feel like fashion is really great in London, too. What do you think happened? Really it used to be, and you even mention it in the book, in the 70s and 80s not so great, right?

RF: I think the expectation level went down a little bit, so maybe that was part of it. I think the construction of the overground actually was a huge component of all of this. In many of the very creative neighborhoods, they used to be impossible to get to, and they built an addition to the subway system called the overground and all of a sudden you could get to these neighborhoods that were still comparatively affordable. So creative individuals, whether they were artists or chefs or fashion designers, could thrive and have a living and creative space that was affordable. I think that the thriving British art scene was actually a huge component of all of this shift, and then I think more recently the graffiti artists like Banksy have had a lot to do with it. Things are cyclical too, and people have sort of woken up in Britain in terms of great food and great fashion, and there are a lot of beauty entrepreneurs in the U.K. right now, particularly in London. So yeah, it’s happening!

LJS: What city is next for you?

RF: I did write a book called Insider Brooklyn that came out last year, so if you’re interested in the nooks of Brooklyn, there’s that.

LJS: A very similar feeling

RF: Similar feeling although Brooklyn has a different feel, but yes the book is a similar feel. There are other cities that I love very much, but one thing I should say about London is that right now it is really affordable.

LJS: It was not, it was horrifically expensive.

RF: Correct, but Brexit has softened the pound. The dollar is quite strong right now, and also part of this whole movement has been boutique hotels and Airbnbs that are more affordable and Uber has made transportation more affordable. London is much more affordable than Paris, so it’s a great place, even for a long weekend.

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