Shopping in London

Shopping in London 1951 book Francis Marshall cover

Shopping in London isn’t what it was, even what it was in 2000, when Shelf Appeal moved down. There are still great independent shops here. But a lot of the great British brands have fallen by the economic wayside. The grip of homogenisation has meant London shopping streets are now strewn with the same brands all the other capital cities have.

In 1951, whilst the Festival of Britain covered the country with its own particular brand of design modernism, this booklet was in circulation. It was intended to provide guidance to tourists with pence to squander and who wanted to know where the best of the shopping best was situated. The British Travel and Holidays Association (with a head office in St. James’s Street if you please) produced it. It was a regular publication of theirs.

The lovely cover illustration is by Francis Marshall, fashion illustrator of the moment throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. He is a really interesting artist, somewhat sidelined as he was a commercial artist. Worse, he worked predominantly in fashion. Oh dear, my dears. He worked for the big fashion magazines but also for Jaeger, drawing lovely sharp and sharply dressed moderne women for them. Apparently he also illustrated covers for 200 Barbara Cartland novels.

The booklet has other vignettes and area maps throughout, drawn by other people. But as Shelf Appeal never tires of pointing out, the cover is the star when it comes to ‘pick up’ appeal. The lady on the cover is almost certainly outside Fortnum and Mason and almost certainly (in my mind, still recovering from seeing the huge Dior retrospective in Paris last year) wearing a Dior suit. The booklet entry for Fortnum’s suggests: ‘Particularly should you see the lovely cashmere from Scotland and the pure camel coats.’ I am thinking our cover star must have bought a nip-waisted, pearl-buttoned cashmere twinset, at the very least.

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