Reporting from London—London is swinging again thanks to bride and princess-to-be Kate Middleton. Millions are hanging on her every move — where she shops, where she primps, what she eats and drinks.
Although the couple live (part of the time) in a rented farmhouse in North Wales, Middleton and Prince William will likely move to London's Kensington Palace at some point in the future. And Middleton certainly spends a lot of time in London — especially now that the wedding is a month away — mostly in the swish neighborhoods of South Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Mayfair, all of which are in close proximity to Hyde Park and the Buckingham and Kensington palaces.
Middleton, whose family owns a party supply business, has been known to frequent chain stores and discount outlets. When it comes to dining, her choices are similarly un-exotic. She does enjoy a cocktail, frequenting clubs that cater to the "trustafarian" set. But although they may be referred to as private clubs, they aren't really, meaning that you just have to look the part (or be a prince's girlfriend) to get past the velvet rope.
Here is a guide to some of her favorite hangouts.
Middleton has been called "the high street princess," and by high street, we're talking about the kind of mainstream chain stores you'd find in the mall. There are lots of high streets in London, but Middleton's shopping strip of choice is King's Road, which long ago kissed its punk and hippie roots goodbye and instead is a who's who of contemporary British fashion boutiques, beginning at the Sloane Square end with Duke of York Square, and heading west all the way to the Bluebird Cafe.
Middleton and her family have been loyal clients of celebrity hairdresser Richard Ward for years (the TV personality issued a "news statement" on his website congratulating the happy couple and confirmed it was one of his stylists who "enhanced Kate's look" for the engagement press day). The hairstylist's salon in the new, pedestrian-friendly outdoor mall at Duke of York Square is certainly luxe, with its own boutique, cappuccino bar and Philippe Starck mirrors at every stylist station.
The clientele is decidedly upscale — think camel coats, jeans tucked into riding boots and Tod's handbags. A blow-dry will set you back $105 at current exchange. But for those soft Middleton waves, it might just be worth it. An hour-long "Velvet Hands" manicure costs $114. And for polish, only OPI's pale pink Princesses Rule will do.
Whistles, where she bought the scalloped-edge ivory blouse she wore in some of the engagement photos, is in the same shopping complex, fronting King's Road. The brand is a bit like Madewell, not sexy but sweet. For spring, that means a smart-looking fluorescent pink knife-pleat skirt ($154), a black tie-shoulder jumpsuit ($406) and a lucky horse print blouse ($138).
Next door is L.K. Bennett, where the style icon in training goes for her sensible kitten heels. The round-toe, 21/2 -inch Sabira heels resemble Christian Louboutin's Simple pumps but at a fraction of the price, just $147. L.K. Bennett is reminiscent of Ann Taylor pre-makeover — lots of office-appropriate pencil skirts and feminine polka dot blouses (both $203), along with conservative silk jersey dresses ($300) and diamante clutch purses ($276).
Jigsaw London, at the west end of Duke of York Square, is where Middleton worked as an accessories buyer in 2007. It has the prettiness of J. Crew and the bohemian appeal of Anthropologie. For spring, that means $57 Breton stripe shirts, $80 T-shirts with silk rose appliqués, along with fluttery metallic floral dresses ($317) and some very cool-looking Hunter wellies with a distressed finish. (Although Middleton braves the elements in her trusty suede Aquatalia boots.) The rest of the accessories are somewhat lackluster, including fabric bead necklaces, raffia clutches and woven leather totes ($89 to $479).
Across the street is Reiss, where Middleton scored the sleek cream dress she wore in her engagement photos. It was an older style (the bride-to-be apparently raided her closet for the Mario Testino photo session, rather than going on a shopping spree), but the dress was reissued after the photos came out and customer demand surged. Reiss is similar to Club Monaco, with super-chic, modern clothes in the style of Celine and Jil Sander such as a fuchsia silk top with a fluid sleeve ($185), an A-line suede skirt ($365), royal blue silk trousers ($195) and asymmetrical cutout wedge sandals ($295).
Back down King's Road at Sloane Square, Peter Jones is the Middleton family's go-to department store. (In fact, when I was chatting with the saleswoman while buying my very own black feather royal fascinator headpiece, she informed me that Kate's sister, Pippa, had been in the store just that morning.) The store, which feels like a Macy's or Bloomingdale's equivalent, features some of the same brands found on the high street, along with selected designers, including British accessories brand Mulberry. Perhaps this is where Middleton picked up the postman's lock clutch she carries so often.
In January, Kate and her mother, Carole, were spotted browsing the post-holiday sales racks at the store, leading to speculation that the royal couple might have a small gift-registry at Peter Jones for close family and friends. (They issued a statement to the public asking for charitable donations in lieu of gifts.) If that's true, surely they logged some time on the home accessories floor, checking out the Orla Kiely bed linens ($71 to $102), seven-day custom curtains, Nespresso coffee makers ($356) and Beatles throw pillows ($81). Something tells me Middleton won't need any china, although commemorative royal wedding plates and tankards are for sale at the store.
An even bigger attraction is the hat department at Peter Jones, which stocks feathered and flowered styles by one of Middleton's favorite milliners, Whiteley Fischer (about $290). You might remember that her famous jaunty black beret was by the hat manufacturer, which has been in business for 60 years.
Another source for Middleton's extensive hat wardrobe is Philip Treacy, who will design wedding hats for members of the royal family. His salon is east of Sloane Square on Elizabeth Street, along a stretch of retail that could cater to a princess bride's every need — Jenny Packham for dresses, Peggy Porschen for cakes, and Allegra Hicks for honeymoon beach cover-ups. At Treacy's shop, floral headbands go from $487 to $1,300 and couture creations, such as the silver starburst hat in the window that was made for Grace Jones, can run well into the thousands.
A short walk north on Sloane Street toward Knightsbridge, and you'll pass stationery and leather goods store Smythson, the source of Middleton's leather-bound wedding diary, and upscale department store Harvey Nichols, where she has picked up those famously smoking-hot silk jersey plunge-front gowns by BCBG and Issa.
Beauchamp Place, a swanky street that's just a few blocks down Brompton Road past Harrods, was one of Princess Diana's stamping grounds and is a Kate Middleton hangout as well. In January, rumors started flying that British designer Bruce Oldfield was designing her wedding dress when Middleton was spotted coming out of his Beauchamp Place boutique with her mother and sister.
Though Oldfield, who designed the prime minister's wife Samantha Cameron's wedding dress, has been dismissed by many royal watchers as too old-school to be the dressmaker, his windows were full of styles suited to a young bride, including one slinky lace creation in Middleton's signature body-conscious silhouette.
Middleton also loves a bargain, and on Kensington High Street just a few blocks away from Kensington Palace is TK Maxx, the British version of TJ Maxx. Middleton reportedly enjoys riffling through the racks of last season's mirrored Lanvin sandals ($291 down from $991), Valentino tops ($242 from $731) and Alexander McQueen dresses ($761 from $2,567). Perhaps she can send a footman down to check out the latest "designer labels for less." As if.
When it comes to dining, Middleton is a creature of habit. She loves Bluebird, where the rich and highlighted come in their fur vests to nosh on eggs Benedict and hamburgers. Housed in a former garage, Bluebird is actually two restaurants, with a gourmet grocery store and a clothing boutique stocking Azzedine Alaia, Marni, Phillip Lim and more.
On her 29th birthday, she and sister Pippa ate at Tom Aikens, a modern French restaurant in South Kensington, where the French waiters are so heavily accented, you just have to grin and nod. The creative cuisine runs the gamut from a tomato-less gazpacho to truffle panna cotta. Prices are steep ($390 for dinner for two), but the more casual, less expensive Tom's Kitchen next door (same owner) is also a favorite with Kate and the prince.
When Kate joined her future stepmother-in-law, Camilla Parker Bowles, for lunch recently, they hit Koffmann's at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, which attracts helmet-haired ladies of a certain age and men in three-piece suits who enter through the discreet side entrance. This is not a place for diners looking to experience Britain's modern culinary revolution (it is traditional French, helmed by chef Pierre Koffmann). Kate and Camilla dined on rabbit and foie gras. Black pudding is also on the menu.
When she wants to let loose, Middleton doesn't go to the exclusive Soho House like princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, the daughters of Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew. Instead, she hits clubs such as Boujis and Mahiki, the tiki bar with the velvet rope in the heart of Mayfair. (Nightclub impresario Guy Pelly, the rascal friend of the princes, has been involved in managing five clubs in London, including Mahiki and his newest venture, Public on King's Road.)
The tropical-themed Mahiki serves its own house rum from Barbados and spins classic rock tunes. The cocktail list includes Guinness punch, a Coconut Grenade (served in a real coconut) and the $203 Treasure Chest, which serves eight and contains rum, brandy, peach liqueur, lime and sugar, topped with a bottle of Moët & Chandon.
Of course, Middleton probably won't be having any more freewheeling nights once she is officially inside the royal bubble. Then again, maybe Pelly can open his next club inside Kensington Palace.