Regent Street has a world-famous sweeping Regency facade and flagship stores for prestige British brands. On high, are serried ranks of flat, finely framed windows. But behind ugly temporary hoardings, a £500 million face-lift has been going on.
Now these are coming down and the street is emerging again as a luxury shopping destination. And increasingly classic, traditional brands (including Burberry, Austin Reed, Aquascutum, Hackett and Jaeger) contrast with fashion names from home and abroad (including Banana Republic, Mango and Desigual). And interiors flagships are also arriving.
Design aficionados can start at the Piccadilly end, and find on the left a captivating branch of Habitat (www.habitat.net) (at 121-123 Regent Street), occupying what was once one of the first cinemas in London. Now the fine Art Deco plasterwork and lighting has been carefully restored, and even the original Wurlitzer organ remains.
Inside is a dramatic contrast, with modern black-stained staircase and shelving units, designed by Tom Dixon. Ample tiered floorspace shows off Habitat's own-brand colourful furniture, furnishings and accessories. To one side an inspirational selection of artworks is housed in the original early New Gallery opened in 1888 - said at the time to be "the handsomest in London".
Further along is the large corner flagship store of Zara Home (www.zarahome.com) (129-131 Regent Street), where home accessories, including bed linen and tableware, are well priced and fashionable. Brightly coloured goods in the latest colours are stashed on shelves and tables over three floors. They contrast with the fine hand-embroidered and crocheted white linens and damask cotton that are also Zara's stock-in-trade, and very reasonably priced.
Across the way is the new Iittala store (www.iittala.com), at number 126, a Mecca for modernists, filled with the simple, subtle shapes of Finnish glass in a rainbow of colours (red and purple are the priciest, being most difficult to make). Find also modern china and sturdy kitchenware. A new pattern by fashionable graphic/fashion designer Klaus Haapeniemi is modern yet folk-based.
Nearby, in contrast, Wedgwood (www.wedgwood.com) is totally British, at number 158. Sumptuous table settings are flanked by glass cabinets filled with china and glass - perfect for a complete dinner service, or a small boxed gift. Dating back to 1759, Wedgwood has an inimitable archive of patterns to inspire new lines, such as Dynasty and Sweet Plum. Jasper Conran has created a more modern, casual style. Meanwhile, patterns such as Platinum and Wedgwood White are as popular as ever.
Then drag yourself (or your kids) past Hamley's (www.hamleys.com), bang in the middle of the Street, where toy dreams come true for young and old alike.
Even techies have their hang-outs, with the celebrated Apple Store (www.apple.com/retail) (235 Regent Street) at the top end of the street, near Oxford Circus. Interactive product demos and a personal shopping service may even convert technophobes to Macs, websites, podcasting, iPods and iTunes, with personal training and back-up services on tap.
And now Nokia has arrived nearby at number 240, in the former Dickins & Jones building, now revamped with a clutch of big brands, including Banana Republic, and a roof restaurant promised shortly.
Then at the top near Oxford Circus, with its entrance in Great Marlborough Street, Liberty (www.liberty.co.uk) is the jewel in Regent Street's sparkling crown. Founded in 1875 by the redoubtable Arthur Lasenby, its intrinsically English mock-Tudor facade was created from original timbers from two old ships, with a golden galleon glinting on its roof. Inside is a cosy almost-domestic interior, with oak panelling, stout-brown timber pillars and beams, mullioned windows, stone fireplaces, wide wooden stair treads, quirky lifts and soaring atriums.
Merchandise has a rich, opulent feel, luxurious and exclusive, with a personal shopping suite on the first floor. Fashion and fashion accessories fill about half of the store, but there are strong departments for home furnishings, including excellent china and glass, linens, and exclusive furniture.
A new brand, Liberty of London, features Liberty's archive motifs. For example, sinuous Art Nouveau tendrils (taken from Ianthe, a much-loved fabric of 1900) are printed onto silken fabrics, embossed onto fine leathers, and carved into the pile of luscious turquoise towels. Other designs feature peacock feathers from the iconic Hera motif of 1876.
Original Liberty prints (such as Ianthe and Hera) are still on sale in the furnishing fabric department, printed onto linen union or cotton, where services include bespoke furnishings, furniture and tailoring
For reviving pit stops, pleasant places to eat and drink abound on Regent Street, many tucked away in stores (for example, "TEA" on the ground floor of Liberty, which boasts 48 different teas and cream scones, and Café Liberty from breakfast to cocktails, on the second floor).
Cibo is at Mama's and Papa's on the first floor above busy Argyll Street, with an organic kids' menu. Or pop into a hotel, such as the glamorous Artisan bar at The Langham, or the Rose Lounge at Sofitel St James, complete with harpist.
The Parlour at Sketch on Conduit Street serves dainty cakes and elegant sandwiches (until 11pm). Heddon Street is packed with restaurants and bars, while newly pedestrianised Swallow Street will also shortly be dubbed "a food quarter".
More details of Regent Street shops and services can be found at (www.regentstreetonline.com).