Pamela Shiffer’s unassuming yet inviting boutique in London’s Primrose Hill is a beacon of eclectic womenswear, brimming with clothes and accessories by little-known brands and cementing a loyal following over the past 25 years.
“We have a diverse range of customers,” she says, “who share a desire to stay on trend in an age-appropriate, individual way and keep a vitality in the way they dress. It’s a question of interpreting that vitality.” She knows her clients – doctors, lawyers, barristers, City analysts and executives, TV presenters and actors – well and buys with them in mind. Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Deborah Meaden is a regular, as are networking guru Julia Hobsbawm and artist Nikki Stevens. “Some come in three or four times a week; others, from Europe, the US and Lebanon, head here when they’re in town. Many bring their friends, sisters or daughters. It’s a family atmosphere.”
In the 1980s Shiffer, a former model who went on to work with Jeff Banks and then in fashion retail, realised “there wasn’t anywhere I could find clothes I liked and could afford”. So in 1989 she opened a tiny shop off Camden Square, buying “on season” from a few small brands, building a clientele by word of mouth and a reputation for being “unusual, off the beaten track”. She moved to Primrose Hill in 1996, taking her clients with her and extending the range. “I hit the ground running,” she recalls.
She’s been running ever since, scouring the globe for designers with something unexpected to offer. Her selection includes printed silk shirts (from £159) by Denmark’s Tone Barker; patterned knit dresses (£149) by Brazilian Maria Pavan; leather jackets and coats (from £145) from Rino & Pelle in Holland; and stretch jeans (£99) made for “real women” from UK brand Amazing Woman.
This focus on women of all shapes, styles, ages and budgets guides Shiffer’s very particular, almost idiosyncratic buying. “Our looks are not classic, not too grown-up. They are more quirky, to a point, but still effortless and ageless.” She’s particularly interested in Danish style at the moment. “It’s clean, monochrome and structured. The simple dresses [from £120] by Baum und Pferdgarten, for example, are great for work. The Danes just get it right.” In the coming seasons, she says she’ll be keeping an eye on brands coming out of Peru, and is also planning to expand her own-label collections later this year.
What Shiffer’s dedicated fans (and I myself am one of them) love is not only the sense of discovery, but the service and styling advice. If you wish, Shiffer and her assistants – Dennis and the fabulously chic Galina – will bring out pieces that allow you to create a complete look. “It’s a form of bespoke editing,” says Shiffer, who each season shows new collections at special evening events, with drinks, live music and manicures. “It’s much more than a high‑street shop. Whether you buy or not, a visit should be a pleasure, an escape, an adventure.”