Listen to a Londoner: Ellen Burney

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email

Ellen Burney

Ellen Burney is a London-based fashion journalist who has written for titles including Vogue, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is currently on a ‘six-month city sabbatical’ and living in Rye, East Sussex with her partner and their one-year old daughter Doris.

LLO: As a former ELLE columnist, W correspondent and current contributing editor to Lula, you must know quite a few of London’s best-kept fashion secrets. Where are your favourite places to spend a day shopping away from the high streets?
EB: The staple second-hand designer shops such as Bang Bang on Goodge Street and Retro Woman in Notting Hill. For the best old rags try Beyond Retro on Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and the surrounding stalls in Spitalfields Market. For contemporary labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe and Sonia Rykiel I like Diverse on Upper Street, and for hair bows try the crate of bow-ties, visit Episode on Chalk Farm Road! For antique lockets and charm deals, charm the woman with the very long and curling yellow finger nails and tall, fancy barnet in Grays Antique Market in Mayfair.

LLO: You’ve got a love for the printed word. What are you reading now?
EB: Well, I have finally finished A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks, which I loved. In general I read slowly but surely yet with this it was a race against time to finish it before its television debut in December. I made that mistake with Money by Martin Amis, buying it long before I read it and then couldn’t touch it after the pretty dismal television screening earlier this year.

LLO: After a bad day, you’re feeling like a little retail therapy in the form of lingerie and shoes. Where are you going?
Myla. They have a classic five-pack of tulle knickers with bows for £35 but a lot of my earnings have gone on their frilly tap pants and pearl bras. The frou-frou sleepwear is forever on my wish list. For shoes, Russell & Bromley for their classic loafers which I have in burgandy to match my tipple. I like my shoes clompy rather than sexy and so Miu Miu for platform heels. French Sole for black quilted ballet pumps, a classic cliche I refuse to snap or step out of.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to people watch for some street fashion inspiration?
EB: Anywhere with really mad old, well-dressed women. The type that use their walking sticks to push old bits of bin bag into the gutter while proclaiming it ‘a dirty sock.’

LLO: Top three London bloggers we should all read with our morning coffee?
EB: The Enchanted Hunters, Caroline, No, and Canned Fashion.

LLO: Tell us about an inspirational fashion moment that happened to you or someone you know in London.
EB: Well, I will always remember that the late Isabella Blow took time out to call me with advice on getting work-experience on magazines. It was 9/11 and she was in New York and so it was very, very kind of her.

LLO: You’ve written quite a lot about fashion during the credit crunch for Elle. Where’s the best place in London for some creative but cheap fashion buys when you’re skint?
EB: These aren’t necessarily creative but some good value investment buys are a good starting point. Very soft black leggings, £12 from Topshop. I find tights are an easy way to give some sort of style hint. Navy or grey rather than the predictable black. Wool makes for a nice texture as do ribbed. Falke or Wolford and there’s no point in spending little as they rip, no matter how soft you think the Boots bamboo pairs appear. But maybe that’s just the way I sit. I’ve always relied on a hair accessory or style to perk up my mood. A hair bow or cheap pink scrunchie from the chemist. Chelsea boots are a staple for me. At the moment I have a brown pair from the local ‘Country Store’ but last year’s were £22 from Portobello Market. I live and breathe Breton tops and the best fit and quality I have found are £35 from Labour & Wait on Cheshire Street. I have both red and blue. The sailor souvenir type shop in Greenwich has some great ‘sailor basics’ including heavy fishermen’s sweaters. My hairdresser Zoe Irwin keeps a bowl of accessories from her travels on dressing table and wears each day to spice up outfits, such as a Sonia Rykiel brooch worn as a hair grip.

LLO: Favourite up-and-coming London-based fashion label or designer that deserves our attention?
EB: TBA and Charles Anastase for princess-wear and the magnificant Maggie Cassidys for made-to-measure spectaculars.

LLO: I’m heading to London for one night only and want something to eat and drink away from the tourist trail. Any recommendations?
EB: The Grapes pub on Narrow Street in Limehouse for a candlelit dinner in a tiny, seafood restaurant  above the River Thames. Charles Dickens was a regular and the pub features in Our Mutual Friend. Today, Old Gandolf the Grey is the Guinness-drinking regular. If you’re still around the next day, there’s lobster bisque and rare beef sandwiches. Other traditional pubs I like include The George on Commercial Road for a piano-filled knees-up and The Golden Heart in Spitalfields. In Islington, the organic gastro-pub The Duke of Cambridge for vodka and plum juice never dissapoints. I’ve been going there for over a decade, as well as Frederick’s in Camden Passage, Islington, for fine-dining. A memory of an old gentleman and gentlewoman sitting side by side to survey the folk is a long-time fond memory.

Thanks Ellen!

Ellen’s fabulous blog Vagabondiana is highly recommended!

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2 comments on “Listen to a Londoner: Ellen Burney

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Listen to a Londoner: Ellen Burney | Little London Observationist --

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