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Shopping London, Shopping the Olympics

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

Liberty of London, and swarm of tourists

Dear Olympic Shoppers,

It's Olympics time! The Opening Ceremony is tonight: Promising hours and hours of spectacle and fanfare, the ugliest logo you've ever seen, and, apparently, nine geese.

This summer, your favorite sports—badminton, judo, fencing, and trampoline among them—will be brought to you live (well, not live, there's that time difference thing) from London.

Now, as much as badminton excites—I'm even more excited about the whole London thing. What's not to love about London? The shopping alone—I mean, the city is truly one of the world's top retail destinations. And, frankly, if ever there were a Shopping Olympics (that's an Olympics I'd be way down for), London would would be a major player. And, more so than some other world-class shopping destinations, much of the Best of London Shopping comes in the form of a few really fantastic department stores.

Of course, the city is home to incredible single-brand boutiques and a slew of concept shops (Dover Street Market comes to mind); plus some of the world's best vintage shopping. But, I think London and I think Harrods and Harvey Nichols and Liberty of London—three must-stop shopping institutions, each covering thousands upon thousands of square feet; each with three distinct points of view.

London's best known is, of course, Harrods. Most famous for it's tremendous size—300 plus departments spread across over a million square feet—the store was established in 1824. Its current iteration is as much a fashion destination as it is a tourist trap. To wit: its over-the-top food hall stocked with Harrod's branded tins filled with bits of shortbread and weak tea alongside best-you-can-get cheeses and sushi and prepared foods and chocolate; the Disney-esque Egyptian-themed central atrium and escalators; logo-emblazoned tote bags and umbrellas and hats on the fringe of just about every department.

Once you're past the cheese, however, the shopping is pretty phenomenal: The best of the best of international brands; a range of product (there's a full shop-in-shop devoted entirely to books, magazines, and stationery); and services ranging from bespoke picnic hampers to watch repair to bathroom design to banking to custom fragrances. One note: The men's department—dark, cramped, a little low budget looking despite all the Dior—feels a little like a Macy's that hasn't been remodeled yet.

Mere steps away is the original Harvey Nichols flagship. Founded in 1831, Harvey Nichols takes up a fraction of the space Harrod's does. For all it lacks in square footage (this is not to say it's a small store—it's pretty huge, actually), it makes up in, well, cool. Harvey Nichols is younger and cooler and posher—hence its prominence in Absolutely Fabulous. The focus is more on high fashion and innovation than on big international names and splashy logos. And, it stocks the best of British design: Nicole Farhi, Vivienne Westwood, Mary Katrantzou, Erdem and Alexander McQueen amongst others. The store displays and advertising are cheekier; the employees are more hip; and it's less swamped by tourists (I didn't see any Harvey Nichols coffee mugs filled with hard candy and wrapped in cellophane). That said, there are restaurants; and you can buy your groceries there if you really wanted to.

Then, across town, there's Liberty. Which, no contest, is my absolute favorite. Founded in 1875 and based around those famed Liberty of London printed textiles (as well as the simple shifts, tunics, shirts, and ties produced from said textiles), the store's signature wares feature small but intricate floral and ditsy patterning. Those classic items—stationery, china, apparel, bolts of fabric—are sprinkled throughout the store's departments; which are as beautiful as they are well-stocked. A huge half-timbered, Tudor-style landmark, the store was built in the 1920s, at the height of the Tudor revival movement and with an eye to the Arts and Crafts movement Liberty was (and is) so closely associated with. All the interior detailing is beautifully in tact—carved and inlaid wood and leaded glass everything, set around a huge sun-drenched atrium running the full height of the structure and festooned in rich tapestry. The clothing collections are fantastic (so much Dries van Noten), but the most mind-blowing departments include their collection of Arts and Crafts antique furnishings, their housewares and furniture, and their beautiful mess of gifting, crafting and sewing. It's unlike any other store in the world.

Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to be in London-bound and on the cusp of some serious Olympic Shopping. Not to worry, you can still order up a piece of London 2112 from a litany of brands and retailers—whether you’re after a graphic tee or highly conceptual (read: Not cute) pair of knickers. A few suggestions amongst many, many options: Stella McCartney x Adidas, Fred Perry, Karl Lagerfeld, Gap, Umbro, and Opening Ceremony. Who, in addition to creating special merchandise, opened a London pop-up for the occasion. But why wouldn’t they, Opening Ceremony is named in honor of all that Olympic fanfare you’ll all be watching this evening.

Now, regarding the geese. They could only get nine? Really?

· Love, Frank [Racked]