When it comes to finding unique clothing, jewellery and home accessories, or even a personal gift for someone special, there’s no better shopping experience than an off-radar boutique. And luckily for us, Britain has some of the very best.
Stocking local designers you’re yet to discover, a raft of next-big-things from abroad and clever gadgets you never knew you needed, there’s something very intimate about boutique shopping.
It’s not just limited to clothes and home decor either; there are plenty of niche beauty brands hiding in apothecary style stores too. So prepare to discover a few of our favourite finds…
Folk's menswear has become a cult label among the London set, but the equally impressive womenswear range has been kept somewhat on the down-low. No surprise that those who already know about it want to keep the secret to themselves; the collection is everything you’ve ever wanted to steal from a boyfriend’s wardrobe made to fit properly, with understated dresses and fantastic knitwear to boot.
Founded by Cathal McAteer in 2002, the boutique label has remained loyal to its alternative roots, and that, believes McAteer, is what has led to the cult following.
“We've never had a theme. If there's a trend going on, we'll go the other way on purpose. It feels better to be out of the trend spotlight. We've got enough customers now, so we focus on taking care of them and then they take care of us.”
53 Lamb's Conduit Street, London. WC1N 3NB
Vincent Van Doodle, Birmingham
Geek chic has never been cooler than on the shelves at Vincent Van Doodle. The Birmingham boutique specialises in handmade homewares inspired by science, culture and history, but with a very modern aesthetic.
Think the ascent of man embroidered onto monochrome scatter cushions, the faces of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking sketched onto coffee mugs, teacups or milk jugs, and Newton’s discovery of gravity depicted via printed wallpaper.
“Our biggest aim is to get families talking about real people and real heroes,” says Jules Bedwood, who founded the store with her husband Oli.
“We like to use figures from the world of science, as well as female icons, ancient heroes, adventurers and explorers, to create artwork to inspire minds and the modern family at home.”
10 Commercial St, Birmingham, B1 1RR
Celestine Eleven, London
Where can you find a boutique which marries luxury shopping with wellness, alternative therapies and niche beauty stock? Of course, London’s Shoreditch, and more specifically, Celestine Eleven.
The boutique comes at fashion from the angle of cool new designers with the likes of JW Anderson, Meadham Kirchoff and Rachel Comey on the rails, while celebrity facialist Nichola Joss offers skin treatments and you can even time your shopping trip around an instore yoga session.
"Celestine Eleven was always meant to be an expression of the perspective that luxury is a state of mind more than anything else,” explains founder Tena Strok. “As a viewpoint that hadn't been widely expressed in retail before, I was keen to explore all avenues in which this idea could manifest; we therefore offer reiki as well as organic plant based skincare, herbs alongside handbags, astrology seminars and handmade jewellery.
“We are multi-faceted beings, and my belief is that modern retail should cater to all aspects of our desires. I think this is the direction we are now slowly moving in as consumers, and I am really happy to be able to contribute to that change."
4 Holywell Lane, London, EC2A 3ET
Hannah Zakari, Edinburgh
From the slogan t-shirt you always dreamt of (‘Reading is Sexy’ is our personal favourite) to quirky bags, stationery and more, Hannah Zakari in Edinburgh is a treasure trove of off-radar designers. The intriguing range of unusual jewellery is perhaps the boutique’s pièce de résistance however, with everything from delicate pieces to loud, colourful statements.
“We have such a broad range of different designers and styles but somehow it all combines perfectly to create something quite unique and special,” says owner Rachael Griffiths. “I'm not sure how, but it works!”
Check out the wall art too; plenty of perfect prints for city dwellers from London to Paris and beyond.
43 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, EH1 2QB
A trip around Brighton’s Lavender/Room, nestled in the famous North Laine, is what we imagine a rummage through Florence Welch’s closet to be like. Expect everything from stylish ankle boots, printed scarves and eclectic jewellery, to painted teacups, scented candles and unusual artwork.
The kind of place you can browse for days, it’s no surprise founders Jenny Atherton and Nicky Sanderson have just opened up a second boutique on the sea front too.
“We wanted to open a shop where you could buy all the things you love, with good old-fashioned customer service at its heart, where everyone was made to feel special. We felt there was a big gap in the market when we started out in Brighton,” says the co-owners.
“We buy only the things we love, and hope our customers will love them too.”
16 Bond Street, Brighton BN1 1RD and 38-39 Kings Road Arches (by the West Pier), Brighton BN1 2LN
Rosa Blue, Cheltenham
Tucked away in Cheltenham, Rosa Blue founders Penelope and Luca Menato hand print their own gorgeous fabrics in a nearby factory, to create everything from stationery and accessories to homewares including cushions, lampshades and even tea towels (though you’ll never want to dry your dishes with these beauties) from scratch.
An emporium of unique gifts, we’re especially fond of the scented Birds of Praise, which come with a special message that can be dedicated to a loved one.
“We design and print all of our own cotton, and so we make all our goods ourselves and to order,” explain the Menatos. “All fabrics featured in the shop are available off the roll too, and any item can be ordered in any pattern.”
Bath Road Leckhampton, Bath Rd, Cheltenham GL53 7NA
Wolf & Badger, London
Wolf & Badger is very much a shopping Mecca for those in the know. Since the store first opened its doors in Notting Hill back in 2009, the ethos has been to only stock new, undiscovered luxury designers that excite owners and brothers Henry and George Graham.
“We have an eclectic range of high-end products from brands that you wouldn't necessarily have seen before, and that’s what really sets us apart,” explain the duo.
“We pride ourselves on stocking unique and limited edition items that are not only different and unusual, but also beautifully made and designed. Our product range changes very quickly too, because we work with an ever changing roster of brands who drop new styles throughout the season. From one month to the next we have new and different designers to discover.”
46 Ledbury Road, London W11 2AB and 32 Dover Street, London W1S 4NE
Beauty Kitchen, Glasgow
A beauty hotspot with a difference, the Beauty Kitchen in Glasgow doesn’t just stop at making every single product with entirely natural ingredients. Each tub and tube has earned its place on the shelf by being 100% effective too.
But the real difference between this beauty boutique and others on the high street, is that you can see just what goes into your product of choice by making up a batch yourself.
The team offers regular sessions where they share beauty and skincare secrets with customers, while you learn how to whip up your favourite body scrub, face mask or bath bomb.
“100% natural products and a personalised experience for every customer is what really makes the Beauty Kitchen different,” says founder Jo Chidley. “Our favourite phrases is ‘we may not be perfect but at least we're not fake’ and we hope our genuine, honest approach is what customers remember and tell their friends about.”
The Beauty Kitchen’s products have been such a local hit, even Holland and Barrett has now snapped up a selection. We recommend popping into the Saltmarket store for the full experience however.
117 Saltmarket Glasgow G1 5LF
A favourite among the fashion industry’s inner circle, Vanilla in Oxford is the place to go if your wardrobe needs a splash of contemporary colour.
Founder Renate Beaumont curates an achingly stylish selection of bright and bold pieces from a diverse mix of established and undiscovered designers, ticking off clothes, shoes and accessories which all channel her own fashion forward, yet slightly off-beat style.
“New Labels are introduced each season and the collections are always colourful,” explains Beaumont. “My aim is to create a very diverse shopping experience even for our regular customers, with a mix of handpicked pieces.”
13 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7JN
If you like wardrobe to be as diverse as your weekend pursuits, pay a visit to Cuckoo. The Cambridge boutique has carved out a niche in curating a collection of clothing and accessories that’ll see you speeding around the city one minute, then dressed ready for a weekend in the country in the next.
“We aim to make our business ‘different’ by making customer service the priority,” explain owners Kate Bols and Michelle Veenman. “A simple philosophy drives everything we do; to provide you, our customer, with fabulous clothes and accessories, in a relaxed, non-intimidating environment.”
True to their word, the pair have just won a Cambridge BID award for exactly that.
4 St Mary's Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PQ and New Road, Barton, Cambridge, CB23 7EY
If unusual jewellery is your thing, prepare to spend an awful lot of time browsing the shiny wares at MoMuse in Dublin.
Designer Margaret O’Rourke specialises in custom, handmade jewellery with an off-beat twist. But from padlocks and stars, to hearts, skulls and keys, even the quirkiest pieces are still elegant.
“I spend most of the day, when I’m not talking to customers, making jewellery at my desk,” O’Rouke says of her intimate shop space. “I do an awful lot of custom made earrings here, and often when customers see you making the jewellery it makes the pieces a bit more special because it’s actually made here in the shop.”
Ground Floor, Powerscourt Townhouse, Dublin 2, Ireland
The Hambledon At Cowley Manor, Gloucestershire
Comfortably sandwiched between the Cowley Manor country house hotel and its luxurious spa, this diminutive version of Winchester’s best-loved alternative department store is stocked with an edited version of The Hambledon’s full offering.
Downscaling in size hasn’t had any adverse effect on the new boutique’s charm however; just like the multi-storey mothership, this is a haven of handpicked new designers, luxe bath and body brands and homewares you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
“We always wanted to make a shop which sold the things we loved in a space we loved to people we could grow to love,” says founder and owner Victoria Suffield. “It's a sentimental kind of aspiration but borne out of a genuine love of retail and a real belief in the worth of shops and shopping.”
The Hambledon At Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire, GL53 9NL
Another hotspot for the upper echelons of the fashion circuit, Found in bath has become known as a hipster’s paradise. Anyone who loves teaming a luxe knit with a Breton stripe or off-beat print has plenty browse here however.
The designers stocked range from unsung heroes to emerging new talent, with unusual homewares and accessories that are sure to break the ice at any dinner party.
Explaining the secret behind the success of their store, owners Olivia Brewer and Nick Blake explain: “Found is a concept store that looks for the undiscovered, the classic and the contemporary. From fashion labels to heritage brands, new accessory designers and hand-printed stationery we source to create a tightly edited collection.”
17 Argyle Street, Bath, BA2 4BQ
Welsh market town Abergavenny might not be the first destination that springs to mind when shopping for innovative homewares, but Arlene Clare and Angela Evans, owners of contemporary design hive FortySix are fast changing that.
Packed with home accessories that all combine functionality with sleek, modern design, you’ll find self-gifting an unavoidable pleasure with all these acid brights and Scandi aesthetics.
“We endeavour to source new and different things which our customers will find irresistible,” say the founding duo. “You’ll find something for everyone in the store with plenty of unique gift ideas.”
6 Cross Street, Abergavenny, NP7 5ER
Blue Rinse vintage, Leeds
Blue Rinse has developed a cult following among vintage lovers and has even had its wares hit the rails of Urban Outfitters, but there’s no experience quite like delving into the treasure trove that is the Leeds boutique.
Spread over three floors you’ll find pre-loved gems from across the globe mingling with the boutique’s own Re-Made In England collections, which see near destroyed vintage pieces combined and cleverly crafted into ‘new’ garments.
“We’re a vintage, used, recycled and reworked clothing company with an ethical and forward thinking approach to business,” explain the team behind the boutique, which also has a sister store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter,
“Whether you are selling on a market stall, are a multinational clothing retailer or just somebody looking to buy some new clothes, we have something for everybody.”
9-11 Call Ln, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 7DH and 21 - 23 Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JG
Objets De Désir, Bristol
The place to go for quirky gifts in Bristol (even if they are just for yourself), Objets De Désir has carved out a niche in the city for supplying something a little unexpected.
Stylish yet eclectic, founder Rachel Drake’s boutique specialises in uncovering creative new talent in art and design, with a special focus on all things fun.
“We hope to provide our customers a chance to own original, interesting and hard to find pieces that are not available on the High Street,” explains Drake. “We love all things fun, unique and beautiful!”
Unit A Clifton Arcade, Bristol, BS8 4AA
Modern Baker, Oxford
If you like your natural skincare to come with a batch of fresh, organically baked bread or perhaps a slice of delicious gluten-free cake, Modern Baker is the place.
Full to the rafters with inspiring products that promote wellness and ‘clean’ living, the Oxford shop is a treasure trove of healthy and organic kitchen and beauty supplies, as well as a place to sip a green tea matcha while watching the world go by.
“Modern Baker's real point of difference is our concept of 'only healthy' - and staying true to that promise forces us to innovate constantly,” says founder Melissa Sharp.
214a Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7BY
Junk Shop, Manchester
Though an absolute must-visit for vintage magpies, the Junk Shop offering doesn’t just stop at pre-worn finds. This quirky Northern Quarter boutique also seeks out new, up-and-coming designers who share a passion for creating sustainable style and ethical fashion pieces, for a truly individual curation of clothing and accessories.
The store also offers opportunities to join in with sewing class, dress-making class or customising workshops, for a truly immersive experience.
Owner Charlotte Keyworth says of her success: “Our mission is to provide imaginative and affordable vintage fashion for cutting edge, cost-conscious customers.
“Having developed three unique labels by our own in-house design team (Junk Boutique, Jumble and Label of Love) we can guarantee constantly changing and ever evolving looks at the cutting edge of fashion.”
2 Dale Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1JW
Whosit & Whatsit, Newcastle upon Tyne
A new breed of boutique, Whosit & Whatsit in Newcastle upon Tyne is quite literally a lookbook brought to life. Browse wall art, jewellery, stationery and more, sit on innovative furniture, drink from cool and quirky cups; almost everything you can see and touch is a product to be bought.
Founded by designer Naomi Atkinson, the idea behind the store format was to give emerging designers and artists a new kind of platform to showcase their work.
“We’re creating an affordable model for independent designers from across the world to get their products on the high street,” explains Atkinson.
“For shoppers, W&W brings together beautiful, unique pieces for you browse through and experience how they could physically fit in your home, rather than shopping from an image on a screen.”
It’s little wonder the boutique is now up for a business award.
6 Sandhill, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3JF
Red Ruby Rouge, Northern Ireland
If it’s innovative design you’re after, pay a visit to Red Ruby Rouge in Northern Ireland. After swapping her legal career in New York for running her very own boutique in NI, founder Fiona Kennedy has indulged her passion for seeking out emerging creative talent by showcasing her best finds on the shelves of RRR.
“I’ve long been a collector of beautiful things and without realising it I had curated a list of inspiring emerging designers from my travels well before RRR came to fruition,” explains Kennedy.
“Once I realised I already had a wish list to start with, I just continued my habit, collecting as I travelled, visiting young designer markets and exhibits, trawling online design blogs and keeping an eye on inspiring creative sites.”
66 Demesne Road, Holywood, Co. Down, BT18 9EX