On my first visit to Portobello Road, which houses the famous Portobello Markets, I had the most interesting and colourful experience. Perhaps I was expecting too much. Its just that I love good quality, stylish vintage fashion, the kind you find in well-curated vintage brick-and-mortar or online shops. Emerging from the Notting Gate Hill tube station and orienting myself with grateful assistance of Google maps, off I went carrying my eager anticipation in search of unique vintage treasures. What amazing vintage clothing would I find at this legendary market? This particular Friday morning started out with great promise. Upon turing left into Portobello Road from the somewhat standard touristy shops along Pembridge Road, a couple of brightly painted shops gave way to pastel coloured terrace houses.
After a short walk and feeling a little intrusive staring incessantly at the lovely painted terrace houses, the ‘beginning’ of the Portobello Market shops and market stalls started on the corner of Chepstow Villas and Portobello Road. Approaching from the southern end the road began with more civilised vintage jewellery and furniture shops and bric-a-brac stall traders before slowly giving way to tacky new fashion apparel, souvenir shops and food stall traders in the middle section of Portobello Road. Here vendors sell touristy items and souvenirs ranging from costume jewellery, faux fur hats, neon mirrored sunglasses, baby clothes, and London branded bags, fridge magnets and much much more.
Maybe my teenage self would have been ecstatic with all this stuff to choose from. However, all my adult environmentally conscious self could see was tonnes and tonnes of mass produced junk lining each side of Portobello Road. Junk that will eventually end up in landfill. At certain points, Portobello Road felt so generic that I had to scour the road side stalls to find a few gem artisan and vintage traders. Like the bright colourful prints from illustrator and printmaker Miranda Holms, whose flowers and animals immediately stood out from all the blandness and beckoned me from across the road.
As I said, maybe I expected too much. And for a market road as long as Portobello Road, by the time I reached the northern end of the road and the vintage fashion at the Green Market, my visual senses were depleted from all the tourist trash in between. If you are after vintage fashion then you need to head straight to the Green Market area of Portobello Road and save yourself time wading through all the sludge. However, my first experience of Portobello Road wasn’t a complete disappointment. The street was filled with loads of colour and quirky things to photograph. Disappointed but not deterred, I will return.
So, if (1) its your first and only visit to Portobello Road, you are (2) limited for time, and most importantly, (3) your sole mission is hunting for vintage fashion – avoid my mistake and start at the northern end of Portobello Road. Otherwise if you have all the time in the world be prepared to enjoy all the interesting, unique and sometimes gaudy things that Portobello Road has to offer. With my expectations firmly recalibrated, I will certainly head straight for the Green Market area on my next visit to this legendary London market street – in search of those still elusive vintage fashion treasures.
Read about my favourite Portobello vintage store in The Most Enticing Vintage Jewellery Shop in London article.