Must Have but can't find

Anxious to find a hip yet practical gift for her godchild, Monique Roffey hires a personal shopper - the latest American import

Lesley Clarke, 30, strawberry blonde in an ecru linen suit, gold accessories and clutching a Louis Vuitton handbag, could pass for a smartly dressed friend. In fact, she is a stranger - and my very own personal shopper.

"It's a concept Americans are familiar with, but not many people here are used to," says Lesley, who moved to the capital from Birmingham two years ago. So unusual is the concept in this country that Lesley herself came into the profession by means of self-appointment. After being made redundant from a florist, she thought to herself, "What else do I enjoy doing? And it was shopping."

That was six months ago. Since then, for pounds 20 an hour, she has taken more than 50 women shopping. They are mainly middle-aged Americans in town with money to spend. "They're always very pleasant," Lesley reports. "In fact, they often tip."

Lesley specialises in ladies clothes. A shopaholic myself, I quiz her on where she would take me had I been on a couture quest, rather than wanting unusual but useful gifts for my goddaughter. My favourite designers are Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. Chief covetables are purple satin slide-on loafers, MAC make-up and black velvet drainpipe pedalpushers.

We meet for coffee in Knightsbridge,where we discuss ports of call. Details have been meticulously noted in Lesley's Filofax. It bulges with shop names, addresses and phone numbers. Before pointing out that I am her first young, hip, London-based client, Lesley reels off a list of designer and club shops in Covent Garden: Sign of the Times, Jones, John Richmond. She hasn't heard of Shop, the swinging new cult- designer boutique in Brewer Street, but she does know where to go for John Galliano clothes, MAC cosmetics and the loafers.

But I'm taken aback that she's uncertain of the whereabouts of the Westwood flagship shop. This, for me, scores a fat zero in the street cred department. I am not alone in my disappointment. Nell Nelson, who also met up with Lesley to discuss shopping, was hoping to be told about the hippest spots after two years living abroad. "She met me at the Park Lane Hotel. I was hoping to go to Nicole Farhi's new cafe," says Nell. "She just didn't seem to be up on the shopping scene."

Nell may have been pleasantly surprised had she actually gone shopping with Lesley, who has managed to please some very demanding customers. "One man asked me to take him shopping for antique Chinese silver. I spent a whole day tramping around London chasing up leads until I eventually found some in Holborn."

Meanwhile, the design quest out of the way, Lesley takes me shopping for baby presents. She explains that she won't be taking me to Harrods or Mothercare, but that if I were a bona fide client, these would be the first stops, along with Tiffany's, for silverware. We take a cab to Walton Street - I pick up the cab fare, as clients do - which, promises Lesley, has four specialist children's shops.

The first, the Nursery Window, is mainly fabric and accessories. Though Lesley makes an effort to point things out, there's no girlie shopping banter, no offered opinion on prices or quality. We move on to Patrizia Wigan, a smart children's clothes shop selling equally bland, traditional goods. Both shops are really for the conservative Knightsbridge mum.

Our third stop, Dragon's of Walton Street, was more like it. I could have browsed for ages, checking out the tooth-collecting boxes, the toys, the kiddie furniture. But Lesley still seemed distracted.When a client faces a quandary, this is surely when the personal shopper should step in. Lesley offered little help. The toss-up was between a teddy and a big dragon. I thought the dragon won hands down, but would have welcomed some back-up. When I did choose the dragon, Lesley merely said: "The teddy is nothing special."

Our fourth and final stop specialised in linen. We had a quick look round, Lesley pointing out a pale blue checked nappy stacker before we left. I hailed a cab but when I offered to drop Lesley off at the nearest Tube, she declined. "Thanks, but I'll walk," she said. "I'm going shopping."

Had I been older, richer and from out of town, Leslie would have been ideal - a well-dressed, unobtrusive shopping companion who knew the ritzier parts of town. The ultimate accessory for those who like to accessorise.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project