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LONDON — It’s no wonder Portobello Market is a hit with teen girls.
This story first appeared in the August 7, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It’s not just because it offers the world’s largest selection of antiques, vintage finds and pieces from up-and-coming London designers, but because it’s where Hugh Grant shopped for groceries and spilled orange juice on Julia Roberts in the film “Notting Hill.”
“It’s true that Portobello has a certain energy about it,” said Jody Peach, who runs a booth selling vintage clothes and accessories with her mother. “There’s a vibe here that doesn’t seem to be at other markets in London.”
The market in West London runs the entire length of Portobello Road, up to Notting Hill Gate and Westbourne Grove and down to Ladbroke Grove, selling vintage clothes, as well as antiques and accessories from some 1,500 traders.
Although Portobello is open every day from around 8 a.m., the best days for fashion are Fridays. That’s when stylists and designers pick up ideas. On Saturdays, which are touristy and the busiest of the week, the market attracts around 3,000 visitors an hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“The days can be pretty long,” Peach said. “I get up at about 6 a.m., get all the clothes ready and then set up here. It’s like moving house twice a week, with the amount of packing and unpacking we do.”
Peach said she makes between $800 and $2,500 at retail on a Saturday. Her booth, which looks more like a vintage junkie’s wardrobe than an 8-by-8-foot plot, is at Portobello every Friday and Saturday and is open from around 9 a.m.
“I like to decorate it,” she said, adding a feather boa to an overhead steel rail and strategically placing shoes and bags on an old wooden table like she’s window-dressing for Harvey Nichols.
“Just because it’s a stall in a market doesn’t mean it has to look like one,” she said.
The booth sells everything from Sixties wedge shoes and Eighties white stilettos, priced from $39, to vintage handbags, at $45, and old gilded belts, from $12. Evening dresses from every era in every color are priced between $30 and $70. Jackets are either furry or sequined and can easily go over her current bestseller: silk jersey party tops, from $45, which are popular with her younger customers.
“I think teens are more and more aware of mass production,” Peach said. “They don’t like to look like everyone else anymore and wear the same T-shirt their friend has.”
It’s a trend that even high-street shops and department stores have picked up on. Topshop now has a vintage section, as does Selfridges, both on Oxford Street.
“It may take a few customers away from the market, but most people, especially the younger ones, know we don’t mark up as much as they do and there’s more choice here,” she said. “It’s also about the nature of the market, too. It’s a completely different environment to a store-shopping experience.”
“It’s a great place to hang out,” said India Standing, 18. “I love to rummage through everything and then find something totally unique, but so in fashion.”
Annie Croft, 18, has been coming to the market since she was 14. “I’ve always loved vintage, even before it became fashionable,” Croft said. “There are a couple of stalls here that give me a regular 20 percent discount. It’s great.”
“You can also bargain with the traders,” said Laura Green, 20, who visits Portobello every Saturday with friends. “Some of my favorite things have been from here, including this,” she said pointing to a caramel suede trenchcoat and adding that it only costed $55. “It’s a great place for buying unusual presents, too.”
Stallholder Vesna Orel sells customized vintage handbags. Decorated with prints of the Madonna and edged in sequins, they start at around $45 and go up to $185 for the largest size. “They’re popular because no two styles are the same; people here love individuality,” she said.
For those who can’t quite brace themselves for the market stalls, there’s Portobello Green, a small shopping complex just off Portobello Road that has all the individuality and quirkiness of the market.
Stores include 2 Tuff, selling jewelry and belts; Debonair, selling clothes and accessories; ISIS jewels, and Gloss, a leather home accessories boutique.
Portobello Road is fast becoming a shopping haunt of its own with the teen sector.
The Electric Cinema and brasserie just reopened, and accessories boutiques Willma and Olivia Morris both have stores there.
“It’s definitely an up-and-coming area,” said Morris. “For me, it attracts the right kind of customer — quirky, fashionable girls — that you just don’t get on Oxford Street — or anywhere else, for that matter.”
It’s also a regular hangout spot for the fashion glitterati. British designers Julien Macdonald and Stella McCartney both have offices on nearby Golborne Road, while Kate Moss and Sadie Frost just like to visit on a regular basis.
“What also makes it great is that there are hardly any high-street shops here,” said Lizzie Spencer, 21. “It’s rare to find a place that hasn’t given in to high-street stores. That’s why it’s special and why I keep coming here.”