The British royal family has long been a source of public fascination, captivating mere mortals in Britain and beyond with a passion for all things Windsor.
Toss a wedding into the mix — specifically one so storybook as the coming nuptials of Prince Harry and his American fiancée, Meghan Markle, on May 19 — and the excitement swells: Where will Meghan shop in London? Where will Harry buy her jewelry? Is there a favorite perfume, chocolate or hat-maker (which raises the question: will Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, offer her new sister-in-law, an actress and former model, a crash course in headpiece etiquette?)
Paparazzi can only capture so much. Another way to gain insight into the predilections of the royal family is by examining the brands that hold the royal warrant — the top-of-the-line British purveyors that have earned the royal family’s seal of approval.
Royal warrants, which have been issued by the British royal family since the 15th century, are a mark of distinction for companies who have provided goods and services for at least five years to Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip or Prince Charles. Suppliers range from silversmiths, champagne houses, perfumers and shoemakers to agricultural crop sprayers and biscuit brands. There are currently about 800 royal warrant holders throughout Britain.
Vetting is fierce. If approved (most applicants are not), the company snags the ultimate endorsement: the honor of displaying the royal coat of arms, along with the prestigious “by appointment” legend alongside the company logo, a practice that can be traced to the reign of Elizabeth I.
With the help of a royal warrant road map, tourists can effectively shop the royal family’s go-to brands, centuries-old companies that represent top quality, heritage and craftsmanship. A guide to the warrants offers something for everyone. The brands are not only for people who can afford to buy a $5,000 bespoke suit without batting an eye, but includes purveyors of cheese, tea, books and grooming products. The road map is an opportunity to scoop up meaningful souvenirs without spending a fortune.
Companies with the royal warrant are so well respected that at least two fashionable hotels, the Beaumont and Hotel Cafe Royal, are offering royal wedding packages that feature walking tours to some of these esteemed businesses.
While nobody can predict the shopping habits of Meghan and Harry, history suggests where they might shop — at purveyors holding the royal warrant.
Fortnum & Mason
Royal Grocers and Provisions Merchants
Royal Tea Merchants and Grocers
Founded in 1707 by Hugh Mason, a grocer, and William Fortnum, a royal footman to Queen Anne, Fortnum & Mason became a purveyor of tea and fine food credited with transforming Britain’s culinary landscape by introducing classics like the Scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage meat and dusted with fried breadcrumbs. In the process, they popularized the luxury picnic hamper with ready-to-eat provisions and expanding the consumption of tea beyond the aristocracy.
In the 1920s, sports, cutting edge fashion, interior design and an expedition department (Fortnum’s provisioned the first expedition to Mount Everest) were added to the mix effectively creating a department store. Since its inception, the company has served 12 monarchs with continuous royal warrants. Today, it holds two warrants; Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles.
Tea and the accompanying delicacies — biscuits, preserves, specialty honey, chocolate — are still the company’s foundation. Surprisingly, a classic hamper costs less than buying products separately. The Mini Huntsman Basket (a keepsake wicker hamper filled with specialties like Assam Superb tea, rose and violet cream chocolates, marmalade and Florentine biscuits) is an excellent souvenir. Or, you can splurge on a formal afternoon tea at the storied Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. The company archivist, Dr. Andrea Tanner, leads a Delicious History tour every second Thursday at 11 a.m.
Paxton & Whitfield
93 Jermyn Street
The pungent aroma of orange-skinned, washed-rind cheese (Stinking Bishop, anyone?) is the calling card of this shop, established in 1797. Its bounty of artisanal cheeses (mostly British) supplies grand hotels, top restaurants, discerning Londoners and, of course, the palace with top drawer dairy products. Queen Victoria granted Paxton & Whitfield its first warrant as cheesemonger to the Royal Household in 1850. The brand has held onto this honor with subsequent warrants issued by King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales. New this year is an Academy of Cheese, a daylong tutorial for cheese enthusiasts. Tip: Go hungry and ask the cheese stewards for samples of esoteric products like the Fleur de Maquis, a Corsican ewe cheese encased in rosemary and juniper berries.
The Goring Hotel
Royal Hospitality Services
15 Beeston Place
The Goring, which is steps from Buckingham Palace, was where Kate Middleton (and her entire family) chose to spend the night before her wedding to William. It also served as the preferred perch for royalty during the coronations of George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and is an unofficial luxury annex for visiting dignitaries.
In the age of minimalist, feels-like-anywhere design, as classic hotels are swallowed up by corporate behemoths, it’s inspiring to stay at a century-old property still owned and operated by the family that built it. The Goring revels in its Britishness. The Michelin-starred Dining Room (that, naturally, showcases British classics like Eggs Drumkilbo, an egg, prawn and lobster dish favored by the late Queen Mother) was designed by interiors heavyweight David Linley, nephew of Queen Elizabeth II. The grand rooms and lobby were recently refurbished by the country’s top artisans to inject a rich, undeniably feels-like-London charm; bespoke furnishings by the respected manufacturer Manborne, Fromental’s exquisite hand-gilded wallpaper, as well as colorful Gainsborough Silk wall coverings and curtains.
Instead of run-of-the-mill butlers, there are red-liveried footmen, a detail that could read as tacky if not for the splendid surroundings and royal family legacy.
In 2013, The Goring was the first and only hotel to be granted a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth II. If you can’t afford a stay, stop in for afternoon tea (in the lounge where the Queen has held her Christmas lunch) or a cocktail in the glamorous crimson-hued bar.
Truefitt & Hill
71 St James’s St.
William Francis Truefitt started out as court wig maker to King George III, before setting up shop in 1805 to offer luxury barbery services (first wig-making and styling — a time-consuming affair), and later, haircuts to London’s gentry. The pairing of pampering hot towel wet shave with the air of a gentlemen’s club (services always came with a shoe shine) attracted high society, namely Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell, Charles Dickens, Sir Winston Churchill and the royal family.
In 1875, hair “preparations” were introduced, leading the way to shaving accessories (the old school silvertip badger hair brush, razor and stand make a stylish souvenir), fragrance and skin products, all crafted in Britain. Today, the traditional shave and other services (still complete with complimentary shoe shine) are performed by barbers nattily attired in white shirt with monogrammed waistcoat and tie. The company has had nine consecutive royal warrants and currently holds one from Prince Philip.
What began in 1797 as a literary coffee house producing political pamphlets and publications spotlighting social issues of the day is London’s oldest bookseller. The shop’s welcome-to-my townhouse charm — elegant wood paneling, tucked-away fireplaces and a wooden spiral staircase — is underscored by staff-curated tables loaded with selections from well-known and more esoteric British scribes like P.G. Wodehouse, Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie and Kingsley Amis. Check the schedule for book signings; high profile artists (recently, Julian Barnes) are often on the docket.
On top of buying a book (the shop is well-known for autographed hardbacks and first editions bound in leather with decorative William Morris endpapers), bibliophiles can sign on for Hatchards’s monthly subscription service which can be delivered anywhere in the world. Hatchards gained its first royal warrant in the 18th century from Queen Charlotte, wife of George II and continues to hold all three warrants from Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
Royal Purveyors of Chocolates
14 Princes Arcade
This century-old chocolatier’s quirky heritage has amassed a cult following. The actor John Gielgud, Cher, Tina Turner and Paul McCartney have nipped in to sample pâte de fruit “fruity babes” and ginger hunks while the 19th- and early-20th-century French actress Sarah Bernhardt commissioned a specialty inverted violet crème in 1910, a Prestat classic known to have been the Queen Mother’s favorite flavor. One famous relationship was with the novelist Roald Dahl whose passion for Prestat truffles landed Prestat a starring role in his novel “My Uncle Oswald” and is said to have inspired the children’s book, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Truffles (William and Kate served them at their wedding) are best-sellers. The boozy “Popping Pink Prosecco,” a tangy Yuzu sake and London gin (that dramatically fizzes in the mouth) are newer incarnations, while the classic Marc de Champagne (using the founder Antoine Dufour’s original recipe from 1895) is still in demand. The shop is closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen May 14.
Lock & Co. Hatters
6 St. James’s Street
Since 1676, Lock & Co. Hatters has created toppers for royals and aristocracy. The business designed the bicorne hat, the de rigueur military accouterment of the time, worn by Admiral Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar, invented the bowler, popularized the fedora and tweed newsboy, and have remained the go-to for top hats (Sir Winston Churchill wore one to his wedding in 1908) through the present day. It’s still a family-run business operating from the same four-story building since 1759.
In 1993, Lock introduced women’s high fashion millinery (statement head pieces are a popular trend in Britain; the Duchess of Cambridge frequently sports Lock’s designs to formal occasions) though classic designs remain best-sellers.
As in the past, customers’ heads are measured with a Victorian-looking contraption called a conformateur; purchases come in a hand-cut, paper-and-card hatbox, a souvenir in and of itself. The firm holds two royal warrants: Prince Philip and Prince Charles. Lock partnered with the jeweler Garrard & Co, also the holder of a royal warrant, to fit George IV’s crown to Queen Elizabeth II’s head for her 1953 coronation, relining the interior with ermine and purple velvet.
Henry Poole & Co.
Royal Livery Tailors
15 Savile Row
A military tailoring outfit begun during the Napoleonic Wars evolved into the court tailor to Queen Victoria in 1869, producing the palace’s livery, or official uniform. After meeting and then outfitting Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales (known as Bertie), Poole’s popularity soared.
This relationship produced modern black-tie dress. In 1865, tired of fussy white-tie evening dress with coattails, the fashionable Bertie asked Poole to design a more informal ensemble — “a short silk smoking jacket with silk collar and cuffs, lined silk; a pair of trousers to match” — for entertaining at his country home in Sandringham. This look would later come to be known as the tuxedo.
Poole was also Savile Row’s founding tailor. The firm’s bespoke suiting (the process requires three fittings and between 80 to 120 hours of hand stitching) attracted an international clientele, Czar Alexander II of Russia, Sir Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, J.P. Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, Frank Lloyd Wright, among others. The merchant has served each monarch since Queen Victoria which has translated into Poole’s livery and other garments being worn at every coronation, jubilee and royal wedding since the merchant was issued the first warrant in 1869. Sartorial buffs can book a visit to the archive room where leather-bound books detailing every client since 1846 are stored.
Royal Manufacturers of Toilet Preparations
89 Jermyn Street, St. James’s
Floris is an independent, family-run business, and operates from the Jermyn Street premises where it was founded in 1730. Originally a barber, but also trained in perfumery, Juan Famenias Floris introduced a zesty lime unisex fragrance in the late 18th century that became an instant hit, offering both an uplifting perfume and an olfactory tool to combat the stench of London’s sewage-strewn streets. Soon, classic floral scents — rose, lily of the valley, violet, stephanotis — were sold alongside grooming products, bespoke fragrances concocted for wealthy clients in the shop’s cellar. While most royal warrant holders are hush-hush about their customers, Floris has a small museum in the back of the shop with letters and archived receipts from various palaces and high-wattage clientele like Sir Winston Churchill (Special No. 127 and Stephanotis, both of which are still available), Ian Fleming (No. 89; Fleming also mentions Floris in the James Bond novels “Moonraker,” “Diamonds are Forever” and “Dr. No,” Marilyn Monroe (Rose Geranium) and Queen Elizabeth II. Floris received its first royal warrant from King George IV in 1820.
Royal Jewellers, Goldsmiths and Silversmiths
24 Albemarle Street
Established in 1735, The House of Garrard, which also functioned as silversmiths, received its first royal commission from Frederick, Prince of Wales (a black ebony teapot handle) that same year. Queen Victoria appointed Garrard as Crown Jewelers in 1843 and the house has served every monarch since then, crafting five crowns (still worn for state occasions) which can be viewed at the Tower of London Jewel House, a dazzling exhibit of royal regalia, including the Crown Jewels, where tourists are transported through displays by way of a moving walkway).
On top of countless royal commissions, Garrard is known for exquisite tiaras, including the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, a headpiece of 19 diamond-encrusted arches framing large drop-shaped pearls that has been passed down from Queen Mary to Queen Elizabeth II and lent to Princess Diana, and recently worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, in addition to the “Girls of Britain and Ireland tiara,” the spiky diadem with a band of round and lozenge-shaped diamonds frequently worn by Queen Elizabeth II and featured on British bank notes.
Today’s collections are understated, inspired by regal heritage but designed for contemporary life. You can visit the Queen Mary salon upstairs (by appointment) to view paintings of the royal crowns and try on a few imitation tiaras from the royal collection.