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The Times Shopper

Treating Yourself Royally in London

October 12, 1986|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer.

In London, royal weddings and births always occasion an abundance of souvenir items--cups, tea caddies and other paraphernalia with photos and seals. But the British shoppers' fascination with their young royals goes beyond the buying of souvenirs. The clothing, accessories and home furnishings associated with Charles and Diana, Andrew and Sarah, or other members of the royal family are much sought after. The shops where they are sold are very popular with the English and tourists alike.

Both Princess Diana and the Duchess of York registered their weddings at the General Trading Co. (144 Sloane St., W1), generally considered the most tasteful and elegant gift shop in London. When Diana and Sarah toured the store, selecting the items to be placed on their lists, they were quite naturally given the royal treatment--catered to by managing director David Part, whose great-uncles founded the General Trading Co. in the 1920s. The general public is shown great attention by an exceptional sales staff or allowed to browse independently, as they choose.

Sarah's Gift List

The range of merchandise is broad and includes small and reasonably priced items as well as large, expensive ones. Sarah's gift list of 500 items ranged from the shop's least costly, a Darlington glass vase for the bedside table at about $10, to a Georgian dining room table and eight reproduction chairs, together priced at around $10,000.

The list also included two blue-and-white antique Chinese vases at about $600 each, leather photo albums, complete sets of Coalport Athione cobalt china, garden chairs and fireplace accessories. Only those with invitations to the wedding were allowed to see the list, and their purchases were sent directly to Buckingham Palace. There are usually about 30 weddings registered at the shop. You may not be invited to any of them, but this is certainly a good place to pick up an item or two like ones now in use by the royals.

A Rainbow of Bows

Shortly before the wedding, Sarah was photographed wearing a large, brightly colored silk bow around her ponytail. Bows have since become all the rage. They're made by Les Bijoux de Famille (the Family Jewels) and come in black, white, red, royal blue, purple, fuchsia, emerald, yellow, navy blue, bottle-green, burgundy, gold and silver lame. Some are two-tone or striped. The bows sell for about $10 to $30 and are available at both Fortnum & Mason and Harrods, as well as other shops. In addition to the clip-on bows, Les Bijoux de Famille makes bows attached to headbands and large sparkling earrings of glass colored to complement the bows.

Costume Jewelry

Princess Diana is known to leave the family jewels in the vault while wearing costume jewelry, much of it bought at Butler & Wilson (189 Fulham Road, SW3). The large lizard pin seen often on Diana's lapel comes from this shop. Nicky Butler and Simon Wilson became partners during the 1960s, when they began by selling antique jewelry at a small stall in the Portobello Road market. As good antique jewelry became harder to find, they started to execute their own costume jewelry, strongly influenced by the Art Deco designs of the 1920s and 1930s. They opened the Fulham Road shop in 1982, another in South Moulton Street in 1985.

The shops are filled with glittering, huge pieces of jewelry, gold-tone necklaces, bracelets and earrings encrusted with pearls and multicolored stones. Snake bracelets, necklaces, pins and earrings are very popular. Butler and Wilson do two collections each year. Earrings sell for $14 to $120, necklaces from $50 to $200. The Fulham Street shop has a billboard which features huge pictures of Catherine Deneuve, Lauren Hutton, Charlotte Rampling and other actresses wearing the jewelry. Princess Di has not appeared on the billboard, but her patronage of the shop has been a big sales booster.

Counting Sheep Sweaters

Several seasons ago, Princess Diana was photographed in a sweater patterned with one black sheep amid several white ones. That sweater, given to Diana by a friend, was made by Warm & Wonderful and is still sold at their shop at 233 Camberwell New Road, SE5. Owners/designers Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne have invented many patterns for hand-knit sweaters, produced by about 800 knitters in the west of England. Total annual production is about 45,000 sweaters in about 40 designs. The shop is in an old Georgian house in a residential area. You'll find not only the famous sheep sweater (about $75), but a variety with richly colored patterns, many of them fashionably abstract, ranging in price from $60 to $200.

Royal Romper Room

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