Best shops to pick up an unusual gift

Be original and plump for an unusual gift

A salt and pepper grinder in the shape of comedy duo Cannon and Ball. A pair of trainers that double as weighing scales. A trip to Swindon.

These are all unusual and, frankly, atrocious gifts.

We're all put under increasing pressure to be original and this absolutely extends to that thoughtful little something you're called upon to pick out at Christmas and birthday time.

But where does the individual, the intriguing and the unusual finish... and the signed copy of H from Steps' autobiography begin?

Allow us to point you in the right direction...

3 Newburgh Street W1F 7RE

Nearest Station: Oxford Circus (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: When you want to take a photo that looks either old and washed out or super-bright and ‘totally retro’ you probably go straight for your Instagram. But wait, Lomography is the art of imperfection. Photography inspired by creativity, trial and error. For something a little more tangible than your phone, try a Diana or a Holga on for size.

James Smith & Sons Umbrellas
53 New Oxford Street Holborn WC1A 1BL
Region: Holborn
Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: There’s nothing unusual about an umbrella, in this city or anywhere else. But they don’t immediately spring to mind when you’re thinking of buying a gift. And perhaps that’s because they’re just so damn easily misplaced. But what if you were given a beautiful, handmade umbrella, complete with touching monogram? Would you lose that? We think not. So visit James Smith and Sons (founded in 1830) the umbrella specialists on the corner of New Oxford Street.

  • USERS 9/10
V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)
Cromwell Road, South Kensington

AIL Says: ‘Hey where d’you get that Devo coin wallet, that David Bowie tee shirt, that Bauhaus-esque rubber apron and that William Morris china set?’ The answer to this one very long question is, ‘I got it all at the V&A Museum shop. A place where the weird stands next to the normal and gifts reside in the leftfield of gift-giving.’

  • OUR REVIEW 8/10
16-17 Burlington Arcade Mayfair W1J 0PL
Region: Mayfair
Nearest Station: Green Park (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: You can love everything about a person but when they insist on smelling like Lynx Africa 24 hours a day you’re either forced to forget them or to begrudgingly respect the fact that they choose to smell like a secondary school disco. For these people, a bespoke perfume from Penhaligons was invented. Profile their scent – yes, we agree that sounds very creepy – and make them a smell concoction that’ll keep your relationship going steady.

The Cloth Shop
290 Portobello Road North Kensington W10 5TE
Region: North Kensington
Nearest Station: Ladbroke Grove (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: When is a piece of cloth not an unusual gift? When it has already been transformed into a piece of clothing, that’s when. At the Cloth Shop on Portobello Road, what you get is cloth. Silk, cotton, canvas, wool; you name it, they’ve probably got it. So, give the gift of cloth and see what creations appear henceforth.

Arthur Beale
194 Shaftesbury Avenue Covent Garden WC2H 8JP
Region: Covent Garden
Nearest Station: Covent Garden (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: It turn out there are lots of things that one can buy from a yacht chandler as a gift. There are balls of rope, official yachting-wear and a whole range of other peculiarly stylish aquatic pieces. They might not be used aboard a yacht but that doesn’t matter. Arthur Beale is a great place for an unusual gift if ever we saw one and a store that comes with more than an ounce of history.

  • USERS 10/10
Forbidden Planet
179 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8JR

Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: Comic books and superheroes have gone mainstream but that still doesn’t make transforming your living room into a replica of the interior of the Millennium Flacon any more normal – at least that’s what my mum keeps telling me. However, toys are normal - they’ve always been normal – and the range of adult (not that kind of adult) toys on offer at Forbidden Planet is vast. Casually stroll in, pick up a couple of WWF action figures, a Star Wars Storm Trooper mask and a Harry Potter wand or two and you’ve got yourself a great selection of unusual gifts to give.

Get Stuffed
105 Essex Road Canonbury N1 2SL
Region: Canonbury
Nearest Station: Essex Road (0.1 miles)

AIL Says: Taxidermy isn’t everybody’s idea of a good night out, but who said anything about going out? We’re talking stuffed animals here. Parrots, pigeons, pigs (possibly), pretty much any stuffed animal would make for a great unusual gift and an equally great conversation starter. Starting with, ‘Why did you buy me a stuffed animal?’ Find the store on Essex Road, Angel.


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