Conversations about shopping are always dominated by cities. London, New York, Milan… all epicentres of style but all a bit predictable, and all full of other stuff, pesky things like “industry” and “ten million people” getting in the way of a nice day out shopping.
If only there were somewhere that had all the brands, boutiques and shopping opportunities (shopportunities?) of those places, but compact and pleasant.
What you want, the hallowed place you are picturing, is Bicester Village. Located in beautiful Oxfordshire, it’s home to everything you could want shoppingwise, from hot new brands to long-established classics, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Here’s why…
1. You fancy getting out of London… but not too far out
Living in the Big Smoke, it’s easy to feel as though anywhere with -shire in its name is impossibly far away, full of Hobbits and Wildlings, and – worse still – devoid of 4G. As soon as you leave, of course, you realise that only applies to about 40% of such places.
Bicester Village is a mere 45-minute train journey from Marylebone. 45 minutes is the perfect length of train journey – it’s enough time to decompress some of the city out of you, take in some of the beautiful English countryside and, importantly, enjoy a fine glass of wine to get you in the right mood to shop.
2. You want to make your shopping expedition delicious
Nobody can be expected to shop on an empty stomach. How can you possibly make a sensible decision about a really nice jacket when you haven’t even been fed? As luck would have it, Bicester is home to Farmshop restaurant and cafe, Soho House’s delicious restaurant inspired by the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside surrounding it.
Think exposed beams, barn doors, cobblestone floors and the heartiest food around. Feel that lovely full glow as you get your browse on.
3. Like, really delicious
Café Wolseley is about to open in Bicester this month, bringing a dash of Mayfair to the Oxfordshire countryside. Appropriately for such a retail heaven, it’s also a shop in its own right, offering both homeware and high-end groceries – their loose-leaf tea is what PG Tips hopes it can be when it grows up.
Stop for a nibble, grab a takeaway or think about Later You and pick up a needlessly indulgent treat for that arduous 45-minute journey home.
4. You’re planning on travelling through time at some point
There is a timelessness to classic British design. Bicester Village is home to some of this country’s finest brands like Paul Smith, Barbour and Dunhill – flag-bearing, world-standard, agenda-setting industry leaders that function almost as shorthand for gentlemanly attire.
If they ever invent time travel, here’s where you want to shop beforehand – you can turn up comfortably in any era, past or future, in a strong style combo and look like you belong, whatever your nefarious continuum-disrupting plans are.
5. You want to up your beach game
99% of the time, someone drawing their fantasy pair of swimming trunks on a tablecloth then making them out of a sail is a person that needs professional help. However, in the case of Fred Prysquel, it was a terrific move – he founded Vilebrequin, the Saint Tropez-based brand that revolutionised what gentlemen look like on beaches.
If you holiday on the world’s most beautiful beaches in the world’s most threadbare Speedo – the one you’ve been swimming in since university and can’t bear to part with for sentimental reasons – you need to pay a visit to the Vilebrequin boutique and upgrade.
6. You want full head-to-toe style
The greatest looks in the world have been derailed by poor footwear choices. You can wear an elegant, exquisite, made-to-measure suit, but pair it with some boxy, ugly shoes and you might as well be wearing a plastic bag with a tie crudely drawn on it in Sharpie.
Bicester offers all kinds of shoe solutions, from the classic Italian elegance of Tod’s to the no-nonsense versatility of Clarks, the breeziness of Havaianas to the realistically-only-appropriate-in-specific-rural-settings-but-absolutely-perfect-for-them-ness of Hunter.
7. You’re getting your summer on
Winter has its highlights – hot chocolate in a ski lodge, hitting the powder on a black run first thing in the morning, seeing a business rival vanish through a crack in an icy lake – but it isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly tempting on an uninspiring November afternoon to switch it up and live a life of perpetual summer, which is where Orlebar Brown steps in.
A relatively young brand, founded in 2007, they started out making swim shorts and have expanded to cover everything one could ever want to wear in the sun, basically ensuring you can look as sharp in shorts and a polo as in a three-piece suit. Orlebar Brown in Bicester Village can sort every element of your summer wardrobe other than your ridiculous, Beano-style knobbly knees.
8. You want time on your hands, or at least near them
Buying a watch isn’t like buying anything else. You can’t just look at a picture and know what you want – you have to feel the weight on your wrist, get a feel for how it will be as an extension of your arm. It’s not like buying a pair of trainers – every watch is a potential heirloom.
That’s when somewhere like Bicester Village is worth its weight in gold (and, thinking about it, might actually contain its weight in gold). Between Parmigiani Fleurier, Hour Passion, L’Atelier and more, your every horological whim should be catered for, although, if you’re the sort of person who rolls up to a shop and demands in a loud voice that they cater to your every horological whim, you might have bigger problems than needing a new watch.
9. You feel like putting the pedal to the, er, foot
The Cotswolds is Britain’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is arguably best seen from above a set of pedals on a bike. Whether punishing yourself barrelling up Cleeve Hill or riding languorously between village pubs, you want to both look and feel the part, which handily is the forte of Rapha, one of the cycling world’s hottest brands and with their own Bicester Village store. Make every element of your cycling experience stylish as hell – you can even get designer bar tape, so your handlebars don’t let your ensemble down.