Discover Jermyn Street's Untold Stories & Secrets
In its 300 year history, Jermyn Street in St James’s has always retained its distinctive character. Despite inevitable changes in the architecture over the years, the original spirit and atmosphere still provide a quintessentially British experience. The Hawes & Curtis flagship store is located in the heart of this prestigious street which is renowned for its resident shirt makers.
If you want to discover the stories behind the traditional shops and specialists on Jermyn Street, Dr Cindy Lawford’s tour will give you exclusive access to some of London’s most famous tailors, cheesemongers, perfumers and more. You will also discover how the finest gentlemen’s hats are made and how the best bespoke shirts are tailored. The tour focuses as much on the unique retail environment of Jermyn Street as it does its somewhat scandalous history. Dr Cindy Lawford is the Education and Development Officer at Jermyn Street Theatre. The Hawes & Curtis Times caught up with Cindy to hear more about her love for Jermyn Street.
Out of all the incredible places London has to offer, why do you find Jermyn Street so inspiring?
Jermyn Street is one of those rare streets where shopping can be relaxed, a kind of browsing down the street and in the shop windows; a street where courtesy from the sales staff is as important as the fine craftsmanship involved in the making of the shirts, shoes, hats and ties. It is a street of beautiful old shop fronts with grand royal warrants displayed. Jermyn Street has the oldest cheesemonger in the UK (Paxton & Whitfield), the oldest perfumer in the UK (Floris), and the oldest shoe retailer (Foster & Son). And with all this it combines such an interesting history with spies, poets, politicians, royal mistresses and street prostitution.
What is the most fascinating fact you discovered about Jermyn Street?
At the moment, it is that Aleister Crowley (primarily known for his occult writings and teachings and considered by some in the British press to be "the wickedest man in the world") met Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) at the Cavendish Hotel during World War 2, probably to discuss the arrival of Rudolf Hess from Germany.
How do you think attitudes towards men’s fashion and grooming have changed from when the street was founded?
Well, the emphasis on shirts did not begin until the 1920s, so that is one major change from the nineteenth century. There are of course far fewer bespoke shoe makers and fewer bespoke shirt makers, but they persist because there remains a need for that kind of quality and perfect fit. Large retail shopping arrived with Simpson's and its DAKS trousers in the 1930s. Now shoppers on Jermyn Street are treated to a much greater choice of prices, styles and materials, and everything a man needs to look fantastic is available on the street. He can combine heritage fashion materials in unusual trendy ways as never before. On grooming, there is still that desire for the perfect scent, shaving cream and the old-fashioned close shave. People are willing to pay more for exquisite quality and they know they can get it on Jermyn Street.
Why do you think the traditional shops, commodities and skills are still applicable and appealing to modern consumers today?
Because people know quality when they see and touch it. Jermyn Street is a very sensuous street, where handling the products and trying them on makes all the difference. These encounters with gorgeous products are of course mediated by great personal service that is becoming so rare in the large stores elsewhere in London. Though it has the largest Waterstones in Europe, Jermyn Street is still largely about small shops. On my tours, I like to take no more than 8 people so that they can fit everywhere and see everything.
What sets Jermyn Street apart from other London shopping destinations?
On its best days, the street has a kind of gentle quiet and beauty, despite being so close to Piccadilly and the rest of busy Mayfair and St. James’s. The street is a kind of escape, with St. James’s Church offering sanctuary to the homeless and those just needing a moment of calm, and with 70-seat Jermyn Street Theatre offering an intimate experience of theatre like nowhere else in the West End. It has some absolutely breath-taking art in galleries like the Sladmore, Dickinson and Weiss. It has great little restaurants, Franco’s, Wilton’s, Rowley’s and Getti, with a wonderful price range. And above Caffé Nero, there exists a fabulous little garden that overlooks the street, a memorial to the bravery of Londoners during the World War 2. It is a street that you don’t want to walk quickly down. And when you run into someone from one of the shops, you always stop for a chat. It is always expected and delightful.
The tours are on Friday from 4pm-6pm and Tuesday lunchtime from 12.45pm-13.30pm. For more information visit www.cindylawford.co.uk/jermyn-street-experience
Images 1 & 2 from visitlondon.com & menswearstyle.co.uk