All posts by kirk

Richard Biedul

Richard Biedul


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“…I didn’t consider myself to have any distinctive features. I was a normal bloke.”

Its early on a May morning when Richard Biedul and I meet at Fitzrovia’s Mandrake, one of London’s newest and most distinctive boutique hotels. We’re looking through a selection of his favourite personal wardrobe pieces, including a two-piece suit from Jack Davison Bespoke and a military-green matching shirt and trousers from Savile Row tailored essentials label Basic Rights. Biedul is a British style icon, a figurehead of fashion whose story as a model is as fascinating as the brands he works with. In the Mandrake’s blood-red private dining room, we meet to talk modelling, menswear and just what it means to be a Londoner.

Born into a working-class family, Richard is a north west Londoner with a Polish heritage. His mother and father met in London, where they settled and raised Richard and his two brothers. “We had everything we ever wanted. It was the perfect upbringing,” he says. “My mother was a lawyer before she became a teacher. She had an influence on me, which led me to take on a law career. I suppose I never truly understood the value of education at that time. I hung out with the cool kids and tried my best to keep out of trouble… which wasn’t always the case.” Richard took a law degree, which led to him becoming a fully qualified solicitor at a leading London law firm. From an early age, while dividing his time between north west London and Soho, Richard was fascinated by the look and feel of men’s clothing. “Clothes are important to you in a working-class upbringing, you know? I guess you could say it started when I worked in a clothing store as a teenager, which grew into an adult fascination with tailoring and style,” he says. “One evening after work, about seven years back, I was standing outside a pub in Hoxton where I had a strange encounter with a model scout. I didn’t think much of it really; in fact, I neither took it seriously nor believed it at all.”

This was the beginning of a transition from office to runway for Richard, who after being signed by the agency Select and moving on to Elite, found himself booked by some of the world’s leading brands within weeks. “All within six months, I had begun walking in Paris, Milan and all over the world, and moved to New York. How else can I describe it? It was crazy; just that. There’s nothing in life which can prepare you for such a change. I didn’t look at myself to be what I perceived as a model. A model to me while I was growing up was someone who almost looked like they had been carved from stone, and that wasn’t me. It wasn’t the 27-year-old, average build man that I am. I didn’t consider myself to have any distinctive features. I was a normal bloke. You know, if I think back, I remember my first fashion week, where I closed Oliver Spencer’s show in London, then rushed to Milan to work with Brioni and to Paris to do Berluti. I thought I must be on to something. Really how can you top that now? It became a thing where if one big client wanted you, so would another.”

Richard came to prominence at a time in the early 2010s when the British fashion industry was gravitating away from sculpted perfection and towards normal, relatable individuals to model clothing. After all, customers are more likely to desire clothes when the person wearing them on the runway is someone they can recognise as being like them.

Currently, Richard splits his time between his London life, working with fashion labels worldwide and a new personal project. Given his long-term experience in the industry, he has taken the opportunity to produce his first capsule collection. “Sustainability in clothing, especially in British brands, is something which has always been central to my interest in clothing and always will be,“ he explains. “This industry has given me an education in style and clothing. I love to learn, and in learning I have contributed further to my level of involvement with brands. It’s become more of a partnership, and now I want to take some part of that and give something back.”

Richard has set up a production company, working with brands such as Hackett, and will launch his first capsule collection this summer in collaboration with contemporary London based label King & Tuckfield. Founded by Stacey Wood, the men’s and women’s brand takes inspiration from the style of the 1940s and 50s paired with modern elegance and meticulous workmanship. “Designed here in London, King & Tuckfield is driven by its focus on British craftsmanship and sustainability,” says Richard. “My collection is inspired by mid-century fabric and design; it’s modern workwear with a sartorial twist. The first collection will be released this summer, followed by another later this year.” I ask Richard whether in the coming years, given his experience in the industry, he may look to move away from the runway and towards a design career. “Although this would be the dream, I’m far off that. At the moment I am somewhere between an art director and a model. I feel like I’d need to go back to ground zero and learn the business from the bottom up,” he says. Perhaps he’s being too modest. As Richard talks me through each of the outfits, his inspirations and aspirations, I suspect that his knowledge and eye could definitely lead him to create further collections in the coming years.

Today, Richard is represented by IMG, based close to Soho, where he has spent much of his time – both work and social life – over the years. “The heritage of London is there in the spirit of the neighbourhood. The streets of Soho have been and always will be for everybody and anybody. Its rich wash of colour embraces style, race, sexuality and community. It has stood the test of time. Everywhere I go, and in everything I do, I like to be engaged, and in Soho anybody can find themselves,” he says. “The music, the people and the clothes; it was central to my youth and upbringing, and to me as a person. It was new, it was mind-blowing, and I fell in love with it.” Keep a close eye out for Richard on the runway and with his King & Tuckfield collection this summer: this proud Londoner and figurehead of British style is ready to make his mark.

kingandtuckfield.com

@richardbiedul

Sophie Cookson

Sophie Cookson


Interview & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“You just have to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly and fearlessly and not be self-conscious about what you create…”

Sophie Cookson caught the world’s attention with her film debut in the 2014 spy movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. The young British actress, who is clearly going places, has since appeared in the Kingsman sequel and worked with Dame Judi Dench in next year’s film Red Joan. Journal caught up with her in the West End to discuss her new play Killer Joe and her love of London’s theatreland.

You’re making your West End stage debut in Killer Joe. Tell us a bit about the play and what drew you to it.

Killer Joe is a play by Tracy Letts, set in the early 90s. It follows the story of a poor family living in a trailer park who, in order to pay off their debts, decide to hire a contract killer to murder their estranged mother so they can get her life insurance money. I play Dottie, the sister of drug dealer Chris who has hatched the plan. She’s had a childhood trauma and definitely isn’t like most other 20-year-olds. She’s been kept infantilised and as a result of this is often underestimated. It was really Tracy’s muscular, visceral writing that drew me to the project. The pace and intensity builds and builds to the point of explosion. It’s incredibly thrilling to watch and be a part of.

Is it an emotionally demanding role? How did you prepare for it?

Incredibly! I’m not sure how I prepared for it, to be perfectly honest! Sometimes with things like that you just have to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly and fearlessly and not be self-conscious about what you create.

What does having a live audience bring to your performance?

It’s really interesting in an intimate space like The Trafalgar Studios. It’s a very immediate, confrontational play, where at moments you can feel the whole audience almost holding their breath. The audience’s reaction creates an even more intense, claustrophobic atmosphere.

Do you find that re-living the play daily brings an evolution to the role of Dottie? 

Absolutely. There’s no way that can’t happen. There are hundreds of components that make every single moment and if just one of those are different (which they inevitably will be) then you’re always creating something entirely fresh. As long as you carry on listening and doing the work every night, you discover something different.

Was there a defining moment that made you want to become an actress?

I wouldn’t say there was a bolt of thunder where I knew, but I had several teachers over the years who encouraged me and then I finally reached a point where I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t give it a shot.

I read that you love nature. Are there any greener parts of the West End you like to escape to?

Well there never seems to be quite enough time to escape too far from the theatre, so I’m very lucky having St James’s Park next door.

Now that you’re based in central London, what are your favourite haunts in and around theatreland?

Well, Bar Italia is an institution! There’s nothing more fun than just sitting outside and observing all of Soho’s colourful characters.

Have you explored the area’s galleries and museums?

In the past yes, but not so much recently. I tend to get quite absorbed with whatever project I’m involved in and find it impossible to absorb or learn about something which isn’t connected to it in some way. But now we’ve settled into the run there’s lots of stuff I’ve got my eye on.

What was your first taste of London’s theatre? 

I think the first thing I saw was Beauty and the Beast. I remember running through the auditorium and being in awe of the sound coming from orchestra pit, then singing in the cab on the way to the station. It was absolute magic.

You sing in your role in Gypsy. If you could do a musical, what would your dream role be?

Any Sondheim! Sign me up! I’ve always fancied a go at Sally Bowles in Cabaret too.

You’ve been described as the kick-ass English Rose; what film genres that you haven’t yet tackled appeal to you?

God, have I? As to genres – all sorts! I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.

 

Tell us about your new film, Red Joan. How did it feel to play the younger version of the character played by Dame Judi Dench?

It’s set in the 1940s and early 2000s. It’s about a young girl called Joan who studies physics in a male-dominated world. She ends up working on the atomic bomb for the British government and subsequently passing over secrets to the Russians – not for the reasons that you might assume. It’s loosely based on a true story and Judi plays Joan in her 70s, which is when she finally got arrested. She lived her entire life with not one person suspecting her of anything like that, not even her son. Obviously, it’s a very intimidating prospect being a young Judi, but she’s so funny and gracious it was a great challenge to step up to.

killerjoeplay.com

@cookie_soph

Ann Wixley

Ann Wixley


Interview Kirk Truman

Portraits Si Melber


“…It seems a leap, but the habits that I learnt as a dancer still apply.”

A distinctive looking and impeccably dressed redhead with a wicked smile, Ann Wixley can usually be seen making her way through Fitzrovia, the neighbourhood she now calls home. But long before she was the Executive Creative Director at media agency Wavemaker UK, Ann was a ballet dancer, born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. Taking elegant puffs on a cigar, she told me about these two very different careers and the unexpected qualities that connect them…

Tell me about your upbringing back home in South Africa and how you ended up becoming a ballet dancer

I remember when my mother suggested that I grow my hair. I was about eight years old, with a thick bowl cut which offset my fat cheeks unflatteringly. It was after winning a prize at the annual ballet eisteddfod in Cape Town, where I grew up. This was the start of a 17-year calling to become a ballet dancer.

My hair finally in a bun and stubbornly hairsprayed earned me the short-lived nickname at primary school of ‘Ethel Hairspray’. I realised then that peer pressure simply wasn’t for me. The notion of wanting to be a part of a large group in order to pick on a smaller group that was slightly different seemed ludicrous even then.

 

My career as a principal ballet dancer was relatively short but rich, if not in earnings. I joined CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Board) at 17 as their ‘baby ballerina’ to perform solo and principal roles. After four magical years I moved to Pretoria to join PACT (Pretoria State Theatre) to enjoy their diverse repertoire of Balanchine, Sir Ronald Hynd, Roland Petit and a favourite Fokine classic, The Firebird. I performed a soirée for President FW De Klerk’s wife Marijke’s birthday, for Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration Ceremony at the Union Buildings, and for Princess Caroline of Monaco in Lausanne, alongside Darcy Bussell as a fellow Prix de Lausanne winner.

How did you transition from your career as a dancer to working in media?

I now work in advertising at Wavemaker UK where I create and direct ideas and content that work with media and technology to solve marketing problems for clients.

It seems a leap, but four habits that I learnt as a dancer still apply. The drive for finding empathy with a character and my audience; the knife edge of performance under pressure; a love of context – the bigger picture of a narrative within which one, or one’s ideas, can play only a part. And stamina.

The hops and skips in between make the leap less dramatic. I created events as a freelancer, joined a creative PR agency to work on clients like Levi’s and Smirnoff, followed by a media strategy agency where I started up their ideas division. From Africa’s big sky I moved to the Big Smoke of London and joined a large media agency where I created this current role and have been practising it for the last eight years.

It still gives me pleasure to wear ‘normal’ clothes not ballet togs every day. I like to bend them to my will; after all you should wear the clothes, not the other way around. Colour, line and clothes that move appeal to my senses. I have an archive of treasures that I rotate: my favourites are usually Vivienne Westwood and Y3, mixed with vintage pieces found by my mother when I was 17.

What does the Fitzrovia neighbourhood mean to you as your home?

I live in Fitzrovia now with my partner, a fashion photographer. From this thin sliver of town, we can glimpse the green of Fitzroy Square and stroll through the seasons in Regent’s Park. We are regulars at Bobo Social for their simply delicious burgers, caffeinated at Charlotte Place’s Lantana and stay sane thanks to the friendly Fitness First on TCR. A stone’s throw from the Virginia Woolf blue plaque, I’m proud and grateful to be in a room of my own.

@annwixley

David Newton

David Newton


Interview & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“With the rise of social media, Instagram has become my agent.”

David Newton is a hugely successful still life photographer based in Central London. His clients include Dior, YSL, and Maybelline, with editorial commissions from the New York Times, Harrods and Wallpaper. He’s a long-term resident of Marylebone, where he lives with his gorgeous Basset Hound Rupert and also finds time to edit and publish his supersized glossy fashion/interview magazine Wylde. Journal met up with the maestro over cocktails at newly-opened La Brasseria on Marylebone High Street.

You started off professionally as an illustrator, is that right?

Yes, and people say they can tell I used to illustrate, as my photos do tend to contain a bit more than just objective representation; there’s often a little story or narrative in there too.

Are you happier creatively as a photographer?

I made more money doing Illustration – it bought me the flat in Marylebone – but I’m happier doing what I do now. One of the reasons I changed to photography was the fact that illustration is so subjective you are constantly being told by art directors that you got it wrong. But with photography you very rarely get it wrong: 9 times out of 10 it’s an objective view of something. Though, like I say, I do try to put a little story into the pictures.

Your work is ridiculously creative and consistently original; where do you get all your ideas from?

I often get asked that question privately on Instagram, and it makes me a bit sad to hear that from another creative, because it seems to imply that there is a physical place where you can go and “get” inspiration from. As if it can be ordered online or bought in a shop, or something. My response is that you have to constantly keep your brain on, and open, like a sponge. You have to not discount anything that you see or think. Then it’s a case of cleverly working out how what you’re curious about can be in a picture.

Do you have an agent?

I’m regularly approached by agents; I’ve had two in the past. But with the rise of social media, Instagram has become my agent. I did a big ad campaign for a major Paris luxury cosmetics house earlier this year… they found me via Instagram.

Has moving your studio from Shoreditch to your home in Marylebone changed the way you work?

I got forced out by Shoreditch’s greedy landlords and spiralling rents; but as it happens, it changed my career because now I don’t have to wait to implement my ideas. The literal distance between idea and execution can now be measured in feet, rather than miles! When my studio was in Shoreditch, I might have lost the idea overnight, or it got replaced by something else. It would often have to wait until the next day.

What led you to start up Wylde?

I started Wylde in 2011 purely as a showcase for my work and the work of other photographers that I admired. It’s changing and evolving all the time, but still massively about images. That’s why it’s huge (A3) and printed on the best quality glossy stock.

How has Marylebone changed since you moved here 15 years ago?

I got in just before the Marylebone boom happened. When I first moved here, it was a bit of a down-at-heel backwater. Charity shops, little old ladies; it was quiet, no tourists… or bankers.

What do you love about Marylebone now?

It’s cool, and it’s very friendly, especially if you’ve got a dog. It’s very villagey, to use estate agent-speak! But it actually is – people do stop and talk. Really good for parks. It’s fun. Much livelier than Mayfair. Other “posh” areas are not as interesting.

Any favourite shops?

I’ve just discovered A Society on Chiltern Street. It sells old coffee table books, things like Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdain, Alan Jones… exactly my cup of tea! You have to see what’s in the back room – this most bizarre 1960s stereo that looks like it’s landed from space. John, who works in there, is so friendly… bizarre, as it’s such a cool place! High-end candle shop Cire Trudon, also on Chiltern Street, is an occasional treat.

Any other favourite stores?

It has to be Selfridges. I call it my corner shop; I believe in supporting local businesses! Wylde is stocked there so I often pop into the mag section to check it’s on the shelves.

You have a rescue Basset Hound called Rupert; where’s your favourite place to walk him?

We cover the whole of Marylebone, but always head towards Paddington Street Gardens, as it’s the only park in Marylebone where you can shut the gate and let your dog run free and meet other dogs.

Favourite restaurant?

A couple: Delamina on Marylebone Lane – it does Modern Israeli dishes – and La Brasseria Milanese on the High Street; a very smart Italian with fantastic cocktails. I recommend the saffron vodka.

dnewton.com

@davidnewtonphotography

30 Cleveland Street

30 Cleveland Street


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…when you come across real talent, it is sometimes worth allowing them to create the structure in which they choose to labour.”

The late Felix Dennis was a legend in the publishing world. The same could be said of the publishing house he founded, which has outlived its creator and continues as an industry leader to this day. The story of Felix Dennis and Dennis Publishing is one that takes place almost entirely in Fitzrovia – the story of a golden age in publishing and of a Fitzrovia institution. From Rathbone Place to 30 Cleveland Street, Felix and his publishing house have left their mark on the neighbourhood, just as they have on publishing in the UK. There are a number of well-known titles you may know from the Dennis empire: Viz, Fortean Times, Cyclist and The Week to name but a few. Today, the site of Dennis Publishing at 30 Cleveland Street is undergoing a vigorous restoration, to again offer an exceptional and inimitable working environment at the heart of Fitzrovia. But as John Stacey of UK & European Investments, which is undertaking the refurbishment, notes wryly “Fitzrovia attracts many of the brightest and best of creative businesses but we’re not expecting the new occupiers to have quite as vivid a story as that of Felix Dennis…”

The son of a part-time jazz pianist who ran a tobacconist’s shop, Felix grew up in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London. His upbringing was a humble one; his dad took off when his son was 12, and Felix lived for a time in his grandparents’ tiny terraced house in Thames Ditton. After brief stints at art college and as a rock and roll drummer, the start of his career in publishing was equally inauspicious: selling copies of the counterculture magazine Oz – a heady mix of sex, drugs and politics – on London’s Kings Road. By 1969, after a couple of years selling advertising and writing music reviews (including the first review of Led Zeppelin’s eponymously titled debut album), he had become one of the magazine’s co-editors. For Felix, the 1970s began with a bang when Oz became embroiled in the longest conspiracy trial in British history. For their infamous ‘Schoolkids Issue’, Felix and his co-editors Richard Neville and Jim Anderson invited a bunch of public school fifth and sixth formers to edit the magazine: a sexually explicit Rupert the Bear cartoon strip proved too much for the authorities, resulting in the arrest and trial of all three editors. With John ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ Mortimer as their defence barrister, the ‘Oz Three’ were initially found guilty on a charge of ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals’ before the verdict was overturned on appeal and Felix’s convictions were quashed.

As Oz magazine folded in 1973, Felix started his own Cozmic Comics, publishing work by underground cartoonists including Robert Crumb as well as British artists such as Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland. And then came a fateful moment that proved instrumental in his career: Felix saw teenagers queuing for a Bruce Lee movie, and something in his mind clicked. He conceived the idea of publishing a martial arts magazine in a format that would open up into a poster – perfect for adorning the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms. First published under the auspices of H. Bunch Associates, Kung-Fu Monthly became the first publication of the newly-founded Dennis Publishing in 1974. Being eventually sold in 14 countries, the magazine was an immediate success, making over £60,000 in its first year. From here, Dennis Publishing begun to build a burgeoning portfolio, producing within its first few years of business an array of bestselling titles capitalising on the international obsession with Kung Fu and Muhammad Ali’s legendary fight with Joe Frazier. Helmed by British expat Peter Godfrey, Dennis Publishing began selling its publications in the US. It was the start of a highly profitable relationship that led to a decades-long partnership between the two men.

Beginning with Which Bike? in 1976, a number of special interest consumer publications were added to the growing Dennis portfolio. Again, Felix followed his keen commercial instincts; he spotted a good idea, thought about it, and presented it to his team, allowing them to develop it as a title with real market potential. It was a simple but effective formula that resulted in one successful product after another. In his words, “when you come across real talent, it is sometimes worth allowing them to create the structure in which they choose to labour. In nine cases out of ten, by inviting them to take responsibility and control for a new venture, you will motivate them to do great things…”

Through this period Dennis Publishing was based at 39 Goodge Street, but with continued success that showed little sign of stopping, they had finally outgrown their first Fitzrovia nest. Next, the company relocated to 14 Rathbone Place, not too far afield; Felix had discovered the site one day while walking from his Soho flat to the Goodge Street offices. By 1979, amid the success of multiple new titles, the team had grown to 16 strong. It was at this point that Felix struck gold once again. Following his instincts, as usual, he purchased Europe’s first home computer magazine, PC World, for less than £100,000. Growing the title and its readership, Dennis Publishing sold it three years later for a colossal £3m. Adding another title in 1983 in the UK and the US, MacUser was sold in the US two years later for close to $20m.

Dennis Publishing had come to establish itself as a major UK publishing house, but by the dawn of the new century, it was bursting at its seams and the business was spread across a number of sites. With an eye to the obvious benefits to management, overheads and team spirit, it was in 2000 that Felix chose to house almost the entire company’s activities under one roof, over five floors at 30 Cleveland Street. The location was the very beating heart of Fitzrovia, directly opposite the now demolished Middlesex Hospital. The new premises had itself once been used as a private clinic for military officers, which gave it all the more appeal in Felix’s eyes. The publisher remained on the same site for 17 years until relocating to a new site a short distance away in Bloomsbury last year. During this time, Dennis Publishing cemented itself as a leader of the industry in the UK and beyond, with Felix becoming renowned as a publishing legend, famed for his maverick entrepreneurial style. Later in life, he developed a taste for writing poetry, a perhaps surprising new venture in which he enjoyed considerable success before he passed away in 2014.

In the autumn, the revitalised and restored 30 Cleveland Street will emerge from behind its current carapace of scaffolding. Alongside 40,000 square feet of new office space, the building will feature terraces on the upper floors with vistas which should prove suitably inspirational for visionaries from any walk of business. John Stacey observes: “Given its art deco style and rich history, we want to keep the spirit of the building. Certainly, Felix Dennis will always be on any list of great Fitzrovia characters.” Enhanced and rethought, 30 Cleveland Street’s future is assured in Fitzrovia, while keeping true to the legacy of Dennis Publishing.

30clevelandstreet.com

La Fromagerie

La Fromagerie


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


“I wanted people to walk in and feel excited to find out more about the produce, and especially to walk into the Cheese Room…”

Lamb’s Conduit Street is steeped in history; diverse, charming and engaging, it is considered by many to be one of the best in all of Bloomsbury and indeed London. Then, almost a year ago, it got even better. Sarah Bilney, a director at La Fromagerie, together with founder Patricia Michelson, had longed for another outlet and set their hearts on Lamb’s Conduit Street for the third iteration of their cheese, wine and produce shop, one that would be as enticing as the street itself. La Fromagerie first opened in Highbury Park 26 years ago, having evolved from a market stall in Camden Lock. Today, the three sites are thriving as their Bloomsbury showcase nears its first birthday.

There’s a charming back story to the venture, and it goes a little like this. Founder Patricia Michelson discovered her love for cheese while skiing atop a mountain in Meribel, in the heart of Savoie, France. Having tasted Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, she brought a wheel of it home – winching the 38kg monster into the back of her car. Today, this is the raison d’etre of La Fromagerie; the yearly trips to Savoie now are to select cheeses by tasting the forms made with the summer milk from cattle grazing on the high mountain pastures. The May, June and July cheeses are quite different in flavour, so Patricia chooses some to sell at one year old and ask for others to be kept for a further year, giving the tasting style a real burst of herbaceous flavours. Going back to the origins of La Fromagerie, Patricia placed her first cheese in her garden shed and started the business from there before upgrading to a stall in Camden Lock market around a year later.

This became the motivation for the eventual opening of the first La Fromagerie outlet in Highbury Park in 1992, which also encompassed a wholesaling business onsite in the basement of the shop. After 10 years in business, Patricia and her husband/business partner were ready to open their second site in 2002 and chose Moxon Street – a side street off Marylebone High Street – mainly because Patricia loved the building, particularly its huge double ‘garage’ doors. The site has since become world famous, as has Patricia’s knowledge, since the publication of her two award-winning books, The Cheese Room (2001) and CHEESE (2010). “There are several key elements that have been instrumental in the success of La Fromagerie,” she says, “one being Sarah Bilney, who is now a director, and came on board a few months before the opening of the Marylebone shop. We had already known each other for over five years and my recollection of our deciding to work together was that it happened after rather a lot of cocktails and the wish to do something new and exciting with La Fromagerie. Sarah has the same view as me when it comes to produce, producers, seasons and also visual impact. I have always trodden a path of authenticity and being respectful to the people and place as well as what is being made or grown, and Sarah embraces this too. I have never liked serve-over counters and I didn’t want to be a ‘deli’ as such. I wanted people to walk in and feel excited to find out more about the produce, and especially to walk into the Cheese Room, read the descriptive labels of the cheese, taste and then buy. It is labour intensive, but everyone who works with us has to be greedy for knowledge as well as wanting to talk about the produce. I tell our team that they are the PR for the business as their engagement is the link between the product and the customer.”

The success of La Fromagerie’s Bloomsbury opening is due to two main components; the setting and the location. The site is different from the two others, with a focal point provided by the marble bar where you can sit and enjoy wine, cheese and charcuterie. There’s a small but perfectly curated Cheese Room, with chilled cases outside the room for tender cheeses to sit alongside other key products and a wall of shelves with larder essentials too. The wine list reflects its identity with the cheese to make perfect pairings, and the few tables on the ground floor are just sufficient to allow those who wish to linger a little longer to feel part of the surroundings too. Freshly baked items sit on ledges and counters ready for breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch. This new opening is tailored to a more social setting as well as shopping. Another vital element to the interiors of their stores is the décor, which Patricia and Sarah source from their travels visiting Brocantes and Markets and work with independent carpenters and joiners to realise.

Below ground, an extensive renovation and re-modelling has taken place; installing a glass roof and restoring the 18th century beams has produced a wonderful space for private events, tastings and workshops, as well as providing an area where the homewares and vintage items can be viewed. The signature La Fromagerie green paint is Shop Front Green from the famous Papers & Paints shop in Fulham, specialists in historical colour palettes. Patricia and Sarah have made Lamb’s Conduit Street their home from home and the traders and local community have responded to their arrival warmly and made them feel part of the community. The La Fromagerie story feels destined to continue, with much, much more to come both in Bloomsbury and beyond. While Patricia has already honed her wealth of food-centric knowledge to perfection, it’s certain that the shared vision she and Sarah have of La Fromagerie will surely take it even further – who knows what will happen next? So, when you’re next in Bloomsbury, take a walk down Lamb’s Conduit Street to see their new opening; and then you’ll find yourself wanting to visit Marylebone too, or take a trip to Highbury to see where it all began… all three are havens for lovers of good food.

lafromagerie.co.uk

@lafromagerieuk

The Lighterman

The Lighterman


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Cooking was a part of my upbringing, and part of my family. So really, going into a kitchen felt quite natural to me…”

If you visit Granary Square, just over the Regent’s Canal from King’s Cross station, you will come across The Lighterman, a very modern venue for eating and drinking. The name was inspired by the neighbourhood’s industrial past, when Victoria Lightermen worked on flat-bottomed barges known as “Lighters”, on the canals and rivers of London. Located on Regent’s Canal, The Lighterman looks over Granary Square and offers stunning views across the canal and towards King’s Cross. I talked to chef Tom Kelleher, who tells me the story of The Lighterman and his role in commanding this fast-paced dining environment.

There’s something about The Lighterman that gives it the feel of a 21st century European villa. Perhaps it’s the way the glass-encased space allows the light to stream through it, a rarity almost anywhere in London. Whether at the height of summer or the middle of autumn, the views from The Lighterman’s wraparound terraces are unparalleled. Comprising a pub, a dining room and a bar, The Lighterman opened its doors in summer 2016 and has become a prominent fixture in the area. Founders Open House have allowed their openings (The Lighterman, Percy & Founders and The Larder) to evolve naturally as local restaurants, bars and hangouts in the neighbourhoods in which they are based. Percy & Founders, for example, is in an equally appealing location, located less than five minutes from Oxford Street; it offers a carefully crafted addition to Fitzroy Place with a beautiful outdoor terrace that is a welcome haven from the busy streets of Central London. Its dining room is situated adjacent to the recently restored Fitzrovia Chapel, with views of the surrounding square.

Since its opening, The Lighterman has become the pub and dining room of King’s Cross, offering all-day food and drinks from morning coffee and breakfast to lunch, dinner and evening drinks. Food is fresh and seasonal, with much of the menu sourced locally or from the very best of British suppliers: meat makes its way down from the Lake District, and fish comes from the Maldon-based speciality smokehouse Lambton & Jackson.

The Lighterman has continued to evolve its menus and extend its private hire opportunities. Since joining Open House in January this year, chef Tom Kelleher has been dividing his time between The Lighterman, and Fitzrovia’s Percy & Founders. “It has given me the opportunity to constantly challenge myself and help to curate the menu offerings of both sites,” he says. Tom first found his way into the kitchen as a youngster growing up in Portsmouth, and names his mother as his key inspiration. “I was one of many children, and my mum was always cooking. She had a very nifty approach to it. Cooking was a part of my upbringing, and part of my family. So really, going into a kitchen felt quite natural to me – I felt part of a team, I guess. I definitely feel more comfortable in a kitchen environment than anywhere else!” he laughs.

With 19 chefs spread over two kitchens, The Lighterman is Open House’s busiest location. All food is fresh and produced on site, just as it is at Percy & Founders. “At Percy & Founders, the space is divided between being an informal bar and a restaurant environment, whereas at The Lighterman, each of the three floors offers something different to the customer,” Tom explains. “This is split between a canal-side bar on the lower ground, a more brasserie feel approach on the ground floor, and a restaurant up on the first floor.” Tom helps lead The Lighterman and Percy & Founders through the seasons, curating the menu offerings and building the teams; and in the end, it’s team spirit that ensures the success of the whole venture. After all, Tom’s key influence in the kitchen has always been family.

thelighterman.co.uk

@thelightermankx

Robert Montgomery

Robert Montgomery


Interview & Portraits Kirk Truman


“…I wondered if you went halfway between Jenny Holzer and Philip Larkin what would you get?”

Rob and I ran into each other a couple of months back. Then, we talked a little about Journal, a little about his publishing venture New River Press and quite a lot about his art. I wondered why he hadn’t graced our Fitzrovia cover yet, and suggested it was about time we got around to it.

So, Robert Montgomery: poet, writer and artist. He’s a Scotsman who insists he’s a Londoner, a “melancholic Situationist” whose work brings together a personal poetic voice and public interventionist strategies. From billboards, and solar-powered light pieces to woodcuts and ‘fire poems’, Rob’s work is fiercely diverse; though to me, he’ll always be the artist who burns his own words to the ground.

Tell me about your background and influences…

I grew up in Scotland and I lived there until I was 23. I did a BA in painting at Edinburgh College of Art, then I got a scholarship to do an Master of Fine Arts, so I stayed in Edinburgh for that. After my MFA I got a place on this amazing post-graduate programme in America, the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It’s a fantastic residency programme for young artists funded by the museum, similar to the Whitney Program in New York. I had incredible artists come to my studio there to critique my work; James Turrell, Roni Horn, Jack Pierson – these real heroes of American art. The best thing was that you had a studio in the museum surrounded by an incredible collection of masterpieces – Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, rare works by Gerald Murphy – so it was also an education in American art history. The artist Joseph Havel and the curator Alison de Lima Greene became my mentors there.

 

How did you start out as an artist?

Well I decided when I was about 15 that I wanted to be an artist, but I had been quite an academic kid so persuading my father to allow me to study art at university was a bit of a challenge. I had to make a deal with him: he would only let me go to Edinburgh to do art if I got the grades to do law. So, I had to take economics at school and do five Scottish Highers/A Levels, and I had to get two As and 3 Bs, or something like that. Those were the entrance requirements for the Law degree; for the art course I would have only needed something like 3 Bs. I got the grades for the law course, so he had to let me go and go do the art course! That was our gentlemen’s agreement. From art school onwards, I was set on the path. I had a great experience at Edinburgh College of Art that gave me lots of tools to draw on, a particular way of thinking about the world.

How did you come to spend time in Fitzrovia and eventually end up living here?

Well, I met my wife – the Fitzrovia poet Greta Bellamacina. She already lived here, and when we had our son Lorca I had to stop living in the craziness of my art studio – so we moved in together to our small flat right under the BT Tower. The flat is pretty tiny, too small for us really, but it’s very old and has good vibes so we’re very happy in it. Niall McDevitt, the Irish poet and poetry historian, discovered Arthur Rimbaud’s first address was next door to us; the first time he came to London, before he came back with Verlaine on their wild love affair/escape from Paris, he lived on Maple Street when it was called London Street. Partly because the streets of Fitzrovia are so steeped in it, I’ve been making work recently revisiting early London Modernism. I just did a work called Estuary Poem for Wyndham Lewis for the gallery at One Canada Square, where I revisited Lewis’s 1914 BLAST manifesto. It was a giant wooden sculpture that said ENEMIES OF THE ICEBERGS AND THE STARS. We burned it on Shellness Beach at the very end of the Thames Estuary then rebuilt the burnt fragments in Canary Wharf.

 

How did you come to bring poetry into your work and installations?

Well, I started working with text in my paintings at Edinburgh College of Art and then I became really obsessed with the text art of Jenny Holzer. I loved how she disseminated her words on little posters in the city; that was such a beautiful idea – messages to strangers. So I began to make work similar to Jenny’s, and then I wondered how close I could take the voice to poetry. I’d always been privately obsessed with a few poets: TS Eliott, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and John Ashbery. I wondered if you went halfway between Jenny Holzer and Philip Larkin, what would you get?

 

Tell me a little about New River Press and its backstory. How does it differentiate from your work as an artist?

Well, me and Greta were inspired by the story of Leonard and Virginia Woolf starting the Hogarth Press in their dining room. The Hogarth press published Mrs Dalloway and also the first British edition of Eliot’s The Wasteland, so I had the idea that writer-led presses could do important things. We’ve set up New River almost like an indie record label. If the Hogarth Press was one inspiration, Sub Pop and Factory Records were the others. The poets get 50 per cent of the income from their books, which is a much more generous percentage than big publishers can give. I’m very lucky in that I can make a living from my art. I can sell paintings and do public commissions, but for my poet friends I noticed that’s a lot harder. So, my work as an artist is able to support the press, and I hope we’re doing something important. Really, we wanted to make a press for contemporary page poetry. There’s been so much progress for spoken word in London in the last few years that we wanted to do something for page poetry, or poetry in the Modernist/Beat tradition. We’ve had a very dynamic first two years. We’ve published 11 books so far. We did a night at Pentameter’s Theatre in Hampstead just before Christmas that I think brought back the spirit of 60s poetry happenings and the International Poetry Incarnation, with around 30 poets reading and some musicians whipping the whole thing up in to a kind of mad Bohemian theatre.

Serge *et le phoque

Serge *et le phoque


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


“Great food begins with the suppliers…”

When the Mandrake Hotel opened on Newman Street last September, it was the place that everybody was talking about. Entering through the long, dark corridor entrance, you are greeted by eccentric stylistic flourishes, surrealist design and hedonistic luxury; there’s even a stunning courtyard with its own hanging gardens and a greenhouse full of exotic plants. Founded by Rami Fustok, the Mandrake is a new breed of hotel in Fitzrovia, every bit as magical as its name would suggest, and at its heart is a new breed of restaurant: SERGE *et le phoque. Compared to the eclectic make-believe of its surroundings, the restaurant is a surprisingly understated and relaxed space, although it also boasts a stunning red lacquered private dining room that is a feast for the eyes.

SERGE is the new London outpost of French duo Frédéric Peneau and Charles Pelletier. Having opened their Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name in Hong Kong, this is their first overseas venture. Centre stage as I arrive at the restaurant is co-founder and interior designer Charles. Dressed to a tee, he’s full of charm and radiates intellect and enthusiasm from behind his rectangular glasses. It’s his strong entrepreneurial spirit which has guided SERGE from Hong Kong to London.

Also on hand to greet me is head chef/restauranteur Frédéric Peneau. Fred started his career at the Cafe Burq in Monmartre, later opening Le Chateaubriand, which was considered an industry benchmark in Paris and helped lead an evolution of the city’s restaurants. “Le Chateaubriand was a small bistro in Paris. Nothing posh really; it was a neighbourhood bistro but people would come from all over the world to dine there,” says Fred. He then headed East to Hong Kong to launch SERGE; within its first year of opening the Wan Chai market district restaurant had gained a Michelin star. No wonder Rami Fustok wanted to get Fred involved with his long-planned Fitzrovia hotel. “Rami had heard about me, and we agreed to meet. He asked me about myself and my work. I said to him that I don’t really like to talk about myself – instead I offered to cook for him a dinner,” Fred recalls. “So, I did. He loved what I cooked, and he told me about the project and becoming involved with the Mandrake Hotel. He told me straight: I want you!”

Fred explains to me that the food at SERGE begins with the suppliers (58 to be exact). “It’s all about getting the best we can get from the best people at the best time. I could just buy all of my vegetables from the same supplier, but what would be the point in that? I go to specific suppliers for specific ingredients. It’s about finding the best, not just settling for what is easily available.”

“It’s very focused. It’s not just about freshness, it’s about where, when and how,” he says. “You cook with your mouth – everybody should cook like that and only like that, you know? As a restaurant, we cook everything à la minute to ensure the freshness of the dish. Everything happens there and then. There are few restaurants in Britain that do this, and we are proud to count ourselves as one. For us, the menu is ongoing. It’s never finished; for us, it’s just the beginning of a story. My kitchen and my menu are reactive, to London and to our diners.”

Ingredients and menu are vital, then, but equally important, says Charles, is the dining experience itself. He believes that, in effect, the way you’re feeling will have an impact on how your food tastes. In the restaurant business a meal is easily turned tastes equal to that of your dining experience, which I’m delighted to say, at SERGE *et le phoque was on par. “The taste of the food reacts to the experience. Think about it like this: why should we have to put on evening dress to listen to classical music? Our dining experience is high-end, but it doesn’t mean it should be exclusive. We want SERGE to be enjoyed by diners from all walks of life,” he explains. “Dining is not just about eating, but also coming to a restaurant – it’s about the whole experience. And the taste of the food changes with the experience… I guess you could say we’re still working on that. Any good restaurant always should be!” he laughs.

At SERGE, every element of the meal – from the sourcing of ingredients and well-planned, modestly priced menu to the work of sommelier and the expertise of the waiters – helps ensure a social and culinary experience that is as unstuffy, relaxed and satisfying as possible. Fred and Charles hope that what they’ve achieved in their ever-evolving quest is a restaurant as reflective of contemporary London as the first SERGE is of Hong Kong: fantastic ingredients, a menu as diverse as our capital and a modern style of cooking in which no particular tradition dominates. It’s a winning combination… and one which your mouth will definitely understand.

Visit Serge *et le phoque at The Mandrake Hotel at 20-21 Newman Street or online to read more or enquire about bookings.

Ten Health & Fitness

Ten Health & Fitness


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


“Ten has become the Dynamic Pilates and Physiotherapy destination of choice for discerning Londoners…”

What is Ten Health & Fitness I wonder? Fitzrovia has evolved and adapted to the times through the decades. Once the home of London’s rag trade, today Great Titchfield Street has given birth to a wave of thriving businesses ranging from dining, some of the best cafes in Central London and a growing centre of health and fitness. Ten Health and Fitness is on a mission to celebrate endorphins in London. With 8 sites throughout our city, they arrived in Fitzrovia around mid last year on Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of the neighbourhood.

As you enter Ten on Great Titchfield Street, this perfectly designed and light-filled space quickly captivates you. Neighbouring one of the best salons in Central London, The Kings Canary, the space is light and welcoming. At ground level is the reception and retail space, with a private training room on a skylit mezzanine. Changing rooms and a Reformer Pilates studio are on the floor below. At Ten, all classes are intimate – with never more than 10 people in a session – with workouts designed around your specific needs and goals. The Ten experience is very different from the typical London gym offer. Instead, its all about you: when you want to train and how you want to train. Ten is open 7 days a week, with no dedicated membership or joining fees.

All too often we find we’ve been slumped over a desk since, well, forever. The harmful postural effects of our sedentary working lives are well documented. So if that’s you, it’s probably time to stand up and visit Ten Health and Fitness when you find the time. Ten offers Dynamic Reformer Pilates classes, Private Pilates, Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy. They are able to reverse damaging postural patterns while building strength, conditioning your core, and sculpting your glutes. Their new Fitzrovia studio is super sleek and well positioned along one of the most dynamic streets the neighbourhood has to offer.

For Ten it’s all about helping their clients enjoy the time they spend exercising. Ten wants their clients to love that post-workout buzz, and love how quickly they’re able to see and feel the benefits. As we all know perhaps all too well, if the experience of exercising isn’t positive, welcoming and enjoyable, there’s little point at all. Everything at Ten is designed to help clients feel  this way, and help them achieve their body goals. A big part of this lies with the carefully selected trainers at Ten, chosen for their attitude and approach as well as their expertise. Whether teaching small-group classes, or bespoke one-to-one sessions for clients looking to enjoy the privacy and individual attention required to work toward their own personal goals, Ten’s trainers are amongst some of the most expert and highly trained in their field that you’ll find just about anywhere.

Another area of focus for Ten is their in-house Physiotherapy and Sports Massage. Therapists are an integral part of all Studio teams, with Physiotherapists recognised by all the major private health insurance companies. This integrated combination of therapy and exercise feeds into Ten’s latest venture, TenClinical, which provides specialist clinical exercise prescription to clients with life altering clinical diagnoses (primarily oncology, cardiac, diabetes, and women’s health issues). With strong relationships with London’s leading hospitals, consultants and surgeons, many of their clients are referred directly to them. Sessions are led by qualified and clinically experienced physical trainers, with fully integrated physiotherapy support. To explain the difference between a personal training session, and a TenClinical appointment, the latter are focused on improving quality of life post-diagnosis, during and after treatment, and goals are dictated by the client’s needs rather than their wants. It’s that simple.

“…it turned out to be genuinely and positively life-changing for me… and so the idea for Ten was born. Call it fate if you will.”

With a background in Marketing, the impetus for Ten came from a car accident for founder Joanne Mathews back in 2006. “It didn’t feel very happy at the time, but it turned out to be genuinely and positively life-changing for me” she says, “I was in in a rehab gym where I was recovering from back and pelvic injuries, and so the idea for Ten was born. Call it fate if you will.”

Joanne started the business as TenPilates, with the first studio opening in Notting Hill in 2007. Over the years it evolved into Ten health and Fitness as she added more products and services, and more Studios.  10 years on, Ten Health & Fitness has more than 160 team members spread over 8 London locations. “Ten has become the Dynamic Pilates and Physiotherapy destination of choice for discerning Londoners…” she says, “As a former county-level swimmer and squash player, sport and exercise has always played an important role in my life. With first-hand experience of the challenges and frustrations of trying to remain fit and healthy while managing injury, I know the importance of a holistic approach to health and exercise.” As Ten expanded and grew, Joanne’s commitment to an expert, energising and empowering end-to-end fitness solution, combined with a love of business and people, has enabled Ten to become the boutique fitness destination we know today, across London and here in Fitzrovia.

Visit Ten Health & Fitness in store at 83 Great Titchfield Street or online to enquire about bookings & treatments.

The Ward

The Ward


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Gideon Mendel


“Allowing a photographer onto a hospital ward of this nature was an extreme act of trust…”

During the small hours of a dark January morning, I begin to turn the pages of Gideon Mendel’s photographic record The Ward. It’s a harrowing experience, at once profoundly beautiful and powerfully shocking. The book tells the story of four patients at the former Middlesex Hospital, each suffering from AIDS. The photographs it contains follow John, Ian, Steven and Andre over a number of weeks in 1993 on the hospital’s Broderip and Charles Bell wards. South African born Gideon Mendel is a hugely talented photojournalist, and it is through his eyes that we see moments of pain, suffering and love between patients, staff and loved ones prior to the introduction of antiretroviral medications.

The Ward has been published by Trolley Books, an independent in the field that focuses primarily on reportage, contemporary art and photography. Based in Fitzrovia’s Riding House Street, Trolley Books was founded by publisher Gigi Giannuzzi in 2001 and is led today by his brilliant successor, Hannah Watson.

Hannah met Gideon Mendel during the summer 2017 at the Arles photo festival in the south of France. She approached him with the idea of revisiting those 1993 images and exhibiting them at The Fitzrovia Chapel, going on to produce a limited run book based on the series of unforgettable photos. “It all progressed quite quickly,” says Gideon, “although I must insist that the book very much owes its inception to Hannah.”

Born in Johannesburg, Mendel has won considerable renown as a contemporary photographer. His style is intimate, with his long-term commitment to the projects he undertakes earning him international recognition and numerous awards – most recently, the Pollock Prize for Creativity. At the beginning of the 1990s, he was with an agency called Network Photographers. Network was beginning work on a project entitled ‘Through Positive Eyes’, which told the story of HIV/AIDS, providing a photographic record of people living with the disease in major cities around the world. “At this point, there was a huge stigma around HIV. I had a personal experience with the disease after returning from a trip from Somalia. I was taken ill and went through the experience of having an HIV test,” he says. “I contemplated what it might mean to have the disease and how it might impact my own life. Back then, you had to wait three days for a result. Even though I wasn’t gay, I was well aware of the risk factors of the disease. I found out that I wasn’t HIV-positive, though my eyes had been left opened by my experience.”

While in hospital, Gideon met a number of doctors who were working in HIV and tropical diseases, which gave him further insight into the illness. “We managed to obtain permission to photograph the Middlesex Hospital. At the time, the media was sort of besieging the ward. There were some papers trying to obtain defamatory images of individuals who were suffering with the disease, thus there was this real sense that the camera was the enemy at the time,” he recalls. “So understandably, allowing a photographer onto a hospital ward of this nature was an extreme act of trust. I was at first terrified, and then struck by the loving nature of the environment created by doctors and nurses.”

Issues around consent were obviously vital to the process. Gideon was only able to photograph patients who gave their permission willingly and knowingly. Much of his time was spent socialising on the ward and talking with patients, building relationships and learning from their experiences – perhaps one of the reasons why his images were so strong and meaningful.

The photographs in The Ward were taken over a six-week period on 53 rolls of film. It was a limited timeframe, but his experience at the Middlesex Hospital changed Gideon’s outlook on his work, his career and his life forever. “For me, it was the beginning of a 20-year journey. It alerted me to the sheer importance of the issue and led me to cover and photograph it in other countries too,” he says. “And, of course, it was where I met my wife, who I’ve subsequently had children with.”

Gideon’s images first surfaced as part of the ‘Positive Lives’ project, and it was not until years later, when Hannah approached him about exhibiting them and later publishing The Ward, that these powerful photographs were once again widely seen. The only remaining part of the original Middlesex Hospital, the Fitzrovia Chapel in Pearson Square was the most appropriate environment to exhibit Gideon’s work and mark the release of the book in November last year. On display until early December, the exhibition gained considerable attention from both the media and the general public. In attendance were many doctors and nurses from the Broderip and Charles Bell wards, as well as relatives and close friends of the four patients – John, Ian, Steven and Andre – all of whom died within a year of Gideon’s images being taken.

To read more about Gideon, his work and The Ward visit gideonmendel.com

Merlin Labron-Johnson

Merlin Labron-Johnson


Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


From helping out in the school canteen to earning a Michelin star at the age of 24 just nine months after opening his first restaurant, Merlin Labron has come a long way in a short time. It’s a journey that has taken him from Devon to Fitzrovia via a culinary education in the regional cuisines of Switzerland, France and Belgium. Journal talked to him about the joy of vegetables, reducing food waste and his passion for pickling…

You grew up in South Devon and started out on your culinary journey helping out in the school kitchen – can you tell me about that?

I came to an agreement with the school cook whereby I would wash the dishes and be paid in lunch. She was a terrific cook. I started helping her prepare the lunches and eventually graduated to cooking them by myself while she tended to her other duties – she was also the school receptionist. I’d have a budget and I’d head into town to buy the goods – organic and vegetarian. It was a strong start.

Has she ever come to eat at Portland or your second restaurant, Clipstone?

She did! It was a very special moment for me but sadly I couldn’t be there on the night. She wrote me a very sweet letter afterwards, though, with some feedback on all the things she ate…

Did your fascination with cooking start at an early age? 

I wouldn’t say I was always fascinated by cooking but I certainly loved to eat. I would cook for myself a lot at home and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the better I cooked, the better I’d eat!

Are there any particular ‘food memories’ from your Devon childhood that you hold dear?

My father has two dishes in his repertoire: pheasant casserole and apple crumble. We ate a lot of both. He’d haggle for pheasants in the farmers’ market and he’d use apples from our tree to make the crumble. It was very rustic; he wouldn’t bother peeling the apples and the crumble was made with oats and soft brown sugar. We’d always eat it with double cream and he’d make big trays so we’d have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It hasn’t put me off – I still do love a good crumble.

How did you end up working in Switzerland and Belgium? 

I went to Switzerland to do a ski season when I was 18. I only planned on staying there for four months but I fell in love with the region and stayed for two and a half years. After that, I moved to the Haut Savoie region of France. I worked in fine dining restaurants, cooking very classical French cuisine. It was extremely serious and disciplined but I loved it. I learnt things that I could never have learnt working in the UK and I’m very grateful for that. After France, I found myself working at restaurant In de Wulf in Belgium which was incredible. It was there that I found my love for pickling, fermenting, curing, foraging and vegetable cookery. We cooked a tasting menu of about 22 courses using only local ingredients and wild foods.

Did you travel around Europe a lot when you were based there? Any other favourite ‘local’ cuisines?

Yes, when I lived in Switzerland I’d often cross the border into Italy, and when I lived in Belgium I was just a 20-minute drive from Lille in France. From Lille you could get quickly to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London. Of all of these cities, Brussels was probably my favourite to visit. I’d go on a Monday when the restaurant was closed and come back on the Tuesday night. I’d hang out in the Bourse district and I’d always eat at a restaurant called Viva M’Boma which I believe translates to “long live my Grandmother” in local dialect. They specialise in offal and Bruxelloise cuisine and I’d eat things like veal kidneys in mustard sauce with dripping fries and brown sugar tart for dessert. It was totally joyful and there was a lovely blues bar around the corner where all the washed-up musicians would come down to jam with each other and get drunk on good beer. Things would get a bit loose after that!

You earned a Michelin star very quickly. Has it been constricting or liberating?

It hasn’t really been either. The star was bestowed upon us, which, needless to say, we were rather pleased about. Since then, we’ve just carried on doing what we do, but always striving to get better at it.

You have a keen interest in making your own vinegars. Can you explain the process?

I love acidity in food, because it allows me to produce dishes that are rich and indulgent whilst being clean and not too heavy. At any one time we’ll be using 10 or so different vinegars in our tiny menu. There’s two ways we make vinegar at the restaurant: one is by infusing basic white wine vinegar with flavours – fruit, herbs, aromatics – and the other is by mixing fruit scraps with a little sugar and water and allowing it to turn naturally into vinegar. Both methods are really a way of reducing our food waste. Fennel and other vegetable tops, old herbs and soft fruit get infused into vinegars, and fruit peelings, scraps and cores get turned into natural vinegars. It’s really easy to do at home, and naturally made vinegar is really good for you.

Tell us about your work Skye Gyngell as well as with Food for Soul. Are there any other similar projects you are looking to start yourself, or be involved with in the coming year? 

I did an event with Skye where we looked at many aspects of food waste within restaurants and their supply chain, and then cooked a delicious feast using things that are often discarded and overlooked. The profits went to a charity called the Felix project, who go around collecting surplus food from business and then distribute it to shelters that feed the homeless. One of those shelters is called the Refettorio Felix and is founded by Massimo Bottura and Food for Soul. I cook there once a month, and we do a three-course meal using produce that has been rejected by the supermarkets – which is, of course, perfectly edible. It’s terrifying what people are throwing away these days!

Fitzrovia has always had a vibrant restaurant culture. Do you have any favourites in from roaming the neighbourhood? 

I have to say, I don’t do a lot of roaming in Fitzrovia – but if I did, I’d roam into Honey and Co and eat all of their cakes.

You are known for your beautiful plating – do you have a clear idea of how the dish will look when you create the recipe or do you experiment with the ‘design’ once you’ve perfected it?

Yes, I often have an idea of how a dish will look when I create it – it’s part of the fun. There are lots of chefs who will tell you that it’s not important that food looks good, it’s all about the flavour. They are right! But I like making food look good too. Why not?

Finally, if you hadn’t become a chef, are there any other artistic avenues you think you might have wanted to explore?

No, If I wasn’t a chef I’d be a Farmer. Back home in Devon, where I belong!

Visit Portland at 113 Great Portland Street or online to read more or enquire about bookings.

Brontë Aurell

Brontë Aurell


Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“There are no problems that can’t be solved over a session of kneading dough or cooking something…”

Before Kaffeine, before Riding House Café, when Great Titchfield street was still the quiet home of Fitzrovia’s last rag traders, a warm and cuddly Nordic invader brought cinnamon buns, strange groceries with crazy names and a Scandinaian welcome to the neighbourhood. It’s been 10 years since Brontë Aurel and her husband Jonas opened Scandinavian Kitchen in 2006. We spoke to Brontë about Fitzrovia, baking and her successful publishing ventures.

Scandi Kitchen was really a bit of a pioneer coming into this quiet area of Fitzrovia back in 2006. What drew you to Great Titchfield Street?

 

We chose the spot on Great Titchfield Street because, to be honest, it seemed entirely ludicrous that you could have a space so close to the centre but with no footfall. In 2006, we knew it was only a matter of time – we knew about the BBC plans, so we had a hunch. We also really liked the area – and quickly got to meet some lovely neighbours.

Your cooking and your incredible cakes are one of the major reasons for Scandi’s success. Where did it all start? 

My earliest memory is from my grandmother’s kitchen. It was warm and cosy. She was probably baking buns of some kind. I felt nothing but love. I always remember her wearing her blue apron, her hair always perfectly curled and styled, always smiling.

I think I grew up on food and love and warm kitchens. Even now, with my own family and a young kid, I believe there are no problems that can’t be solved over a session of kneading dough or cooking something. I’m a cook, not a chef. I just love food and I love feeding people. Nothing fancy – just stuff that fills bellies and make people happy.

Hygge seems to be the new Scandi buzzword. I see it everywhere! Can you set the record straight on its meaning? 

Hygge means to appreciate the moment you are in – while you are in it. No other spaces – no phones, no Facebook, nothing. Just you feeling content – and realising that there’s nowhere else you want or need to be. No time. Just being.

You can feel hygge on your own or with friends or family. Usually, there’s some sort of sharing of food involved – wine, snacks, cheese… anything that means you share the moment even more.

I think some people in the UK misunderstood hygge – as if it was going to be an automatic thing if you spent £40 on a candle or hygge knickers, hygge blankets, hygge jumpers… nonsense, the lot of it. Hygge is something you feel, not something you buy.

I feel hygge wherever I feel good. Hygge isn’t forced, it just happens. It’s like saying “What place do you go to for feeling happy?” Everyone has a different answer – it’s a personal thing. There are plenty of hyggelige places, though – places where you might find it if you go and you just chill out and spend time with people you like. (could add a few lines about her own favourite places here)

And what about Fika, another Scandi word that’s on everyone’s lips?

Fika is a Swedish word that means to meet up for a cup of coffee and something to eat. It is both a noun and a verb – you can have a fika and you can fika with someone. It can be super casual, it can be at home, with colleagues, at a café. You can even have a fika date – very casual, and no new dress needed. We tend to fika both once in the morning and again in the afternoon. The thing to remember about fika is that you have to stop what you are doing in order to do it. And you can’t do it alone – it’s a social thing. Stop, have a break, speak to some people – and then go back to what you were doing. I think we could all benefit from more fika in our lives.

 

Speaking of something to eat, Scandis do love their salted liquorice… but it’s an acquired taste!

It’s our marmite! You love it or you hate it. You can grow to love it, but you need to eat a lot of it to make that happen – so most decide it is not worth the hassle and pain. Scandinavians have a love of salty things – it’s said to come from back when we had to salt and smoke things to keep the food safe to eat during the dark months. Perhaps this is the reason we have such a love for salmiakki, as we call the salty liquorice. We sell lots and lots of it – to Scandies and Brits alike. There is quite a cult following for salty liquorice. The strongest one is called Djungelvraal – most non-liquorice lovers really hate that one! It means Jungle Scream.

Add to that the bewildering number of sweets with names that sound, well, quite naughty in English… like SPUNK and PLOPP, both of which are sold in your shop…

Ha ha! Those sweets we mainly stock because of the names. They’re some of our best sellers. Back home, they don’t raise an eye brow because, well, it means nothing to us! You can add Skum to the list – it means marshmallow. We have Christmas Skum, Banana Skum, lots of other kinds of Skum, too. And chewing gum called Sor Bit! Which is also entirely a serious brand.

Another local favourite you’ve brought over from home is the Crayfish Party (kräftskiva)

Crayfish Season is August and September. We meet up, sit outside and eat crayfish and sing songs as we drink aquavit. The song is called ‘Helan Gaar’, and it’s a Swedish drinking song. We actually sing it at Christmas, Easter and Midsummer too.

We drink aquavit – a strong grain based alcohol flavoured with caraway and fennel and aniseed. Mainly we drink it with pickled herring, but also with crayfish and general smorgasbord fun. It’s a tricky drink if you overdo it – it tends to get people sozzled from the waist down! Always take advice from Scandies on how to drink it or you might end up playing footsie with Bjorn from Halmstad under the table.

You’ve been in Fitzrovia for a decade now. What do like about it, and what are some of your favourite shops and restaurants in the area?

Ten years – I can’t believe it! We have such nice neighbours – we love the guys at Mac & Wild, and our team often go to Homeslice after a busy day at work. We love the people over at the Green Man for after-work drinks. We love King’s Canary for great hair, and KallKwik for always helping us out. I think we appreciate all our neighbours – the other food places and bars, full of people who just work as hard as we do every day. Being in retail is tough, whether you make sandwiches or pull pints or sell clothes. We have seen people and places come and go, but what makes this area, our little spot, so amazing is the people who live here and those who make it happen, day in and day out. We couldn’t wish for a better neighbourhood.

From Scandi kitchen to publishing – you’ve become an author with four beautiful books under your belt…

It’s almost five now. Phew! It has been a busy two years. The first two were cookbooks about Scandikitchen. The third was about Hygge. My most recent book just came out – it is called North. We started writing a blog when we opened and have sent out a silly weekly newsletter every week for 10 years… over 500 newsletters! Over time, these took shape as funny little cultural explanations and snippets. So, eventually, it became a book. It was so much fun to write. It’s basically a tongue-in-cheek look at Scandinavian culture. And in March, we have the final cookbook in the trilogy – ScandiKitchen Summer.

 

And finally, speaking of cooking… what is your favourite recipe? 

I think it has to be cinnamon buns. After all, who doesn’t love warm buns?

Charlotte Street News

Charlotte Street News


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…they need almost everything they can get their hands on from the print world. Magazines are their bibles…”

I wasn’t a publisher when I first set foot in Charlotte Street News as a teenager, just an unpublished writer without a readership – a nobody, really. At that time, almost a decade ago, I didn’t know whether I wanted to start a magazine; but what I did know is that I was already fascinated by the smell of ink, paper and creativity that came off the titles on the rack. I scanned from bottom to top, and if I recall correctly, I noticed an early issue of publisher Tyler Brule’s Monocle sitting there. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was almost certainly lust. The different kinds of paper stock, the endless pages of content, the elegant layouts; I examined page after page in awe. And a seed was planted.

Print magazines are not a dying breed, as we’re often told; if anything, they’re on the rise. However, the newsstand is in decline. In Central London, there still are a number of speciality newsagents, but throughout much of the UK, newsstands are being priced out by big high street competitors. Here, within a matter of yards of each other between Soho, Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, you can still find some of the most successful niche newsstands in the whole country, selling the finest publications and print products in the world. You can walk into Soho-based newsagents such as Wardour News and Good News, or Fitzrovia’s Charlotte Street News, and pick something up you’re unlikely to find anywhere else, from leading names such as Cereal and Kinfolk, to lesser known niche independent publications such as Intern Magazine and Drift. These newsstands feel like timeless outposts of creativity and individualism on a competitive high street where independents are always trying to survive in the face of fierce mainstream competition.

Originally from India, newsagent Perry Thaker started out on Charlotte Street in the late 1980s. Having just sold his newsagents in suburban New Malden, Perry was looking out for a fresh opportunity in central London when he stumbled upon the leasehold for what was to become the home of his new business on Charlotte Street. “Back then, Fitzrovia was a very different place from how we know it today. I moved in January 1988, and Fitzrovia was far from the media village some would describe it as now,” he tells me. “It was a mess when I moved in, and I worked hard to get it into shape. We got off to a great start, and within a couple of months I began supplying names such as Channel 4 and Saatchi & Saatchi. Fitzrovia was becoming more and more of a hub, and I was picking up a number of supply chains to businesses in the area. Channel 4 become one of my biggest customers, and because of them ITV became a regular customer too. This is how it is for me – it grows organically.” Deliveries, supply chains and subscriptions have grown to be Perry’s biggest source of custom over the years, with Fitzrovia’s growing range of businesses requiring a large range of publications to be supplied on a regular basis. “These companies, they need almost everything they can get their hands on from the print world. Magazines are their bibles, and it’s our responsibility to get them to them,” he says.

In January 2018, Charlotte Street News will be 30 years old. Perry admits he finds it hard to believe that three decades have gone by, although he says he has seen major changes both in the publishing industry and Fitzrovia over that time. “It’s become one of the greatest neighbourhoods in Central London. I know it’s much more established now, but to me it still feels like a well-kept secret hidden between Soho and Camden. You have to search it out,” he says. “Print has had a tough time, which has meant that editors and entrepreneurs have had to go back to the drawing board to think hard about how they can make their products work, succeed, and ultimately survive. I’ve seen a lot of magazines disappear because of the Internet. Especially amongst the younger generation today, people don’t have to seek out information and stories from the rack anymore – they can find it their pocket or on their screens at home. Although the rise of digital has made it a tough market for print, seen in another light it may have helped to underline its importance. We survive on the back of a tangible and niche product, and digital will never be able to replace that special identity.”

Independent publishers trying to take a paid-for publication to market feel the squeeze. Distributors here in London, such as WhiteCirc and Ra & Olly, supply newsagents like Charlotte Street News with the latest publications on a sale or return basis; translated into non-business speak, this means that Perry will receive the latest publications from new publishers (around 10 or so copies) and will only pay the distributor once the copies are sold. For a new publisher, just like any prospective business owner, this means taking your product to market is highly risky. New publications require a large amount of investment and time to get right, with no guarantee of success. Take my word for it: it’s a lot of legwork! So, when you pick up one of those biannual or quarterly independent titles on the rack – titles that have been in circulation for a number of years – you can be sure that somebody worked themselves into the ground to make it happen. Today, Perry doesn’t stock tabloid newspapers, he specialises in rare, speciality and niche magazines or high-circulation publications such as The Week and Monocle. Charlotte Street News is undoubtedly Fitzrovia’s leading newsagent. You won’t find cigarettes and alcohol here, or the ramblings of the Daily Mail – only well-styled perfection in print form. This is a gallery of publishers’ dreams.

Ricky Richards

Ricky Richards


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Oliver Mills


“Its always been about questioning creativity, and unearthing its mystery. The true essence of how somebody got somewhere is what my show is all about…”

I first met Ricky Richards earlier this year, during the summer. He’d taken the time to get in touch having read through our latest issues, with the intention of featuring me on his regular podcast. I agreed, and we met at Factory Studios on Fitzrovia’s Margaret Street. Having looked a little into his background, and the nature of his podcast, I’d expected to meet a hard-headed, thirty-something entrepreneur; instead, the Ricky Richards I sat down with was a completely different person from that of my imagination: an amiable young man still in his twenties. We spoke for about an hour in a recording studio, where Ricky quizzed me about various aspects of my career, the origins, concept and creation of the Journal and my future ambitions. He dug deep and went personal. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in trying to uncover the secrets of my creative output and entrepreneurship. There’s a rare spark about Ricky: he’s the type who’ll go all the way.

Ricky is originally from North Devon, and from an early age gravitated towards creativity and sport. “I’ve never really fit the creative stereotype. I look more like a BNP member than a creative, so it’s a nice surprise when people discover I’ve got a visual eye and a love of learning.” His primary interest shifted from sport to graphic design following a bleed on the brain as a youngster. Starting out as a designer, before becoming an Art Director, Ricky put in time with a number of ad agencies, including Wieden + Kennedy, AKQA and Ogilvy, working on everything from global print campaigns and brand designs to directing TV and music videos. “After the brain bleed, I guess it gave me a different appreciation of life, and I vowed to never waste a day again. As a result of the incident, I stopped playing as much sport and focused on my design,” he says. “When I first moved to London my design was taking off, thanks to a little Behance hackery, and I became one of the regulars on the freelance circuit in the city. I was working my way through a number of agencies, always with other projects on the side.”

Living in London, Ricky was drawn to podcasts, which he’d listen to on a regular basis during his daily commute. “I found them to be an incredible way to learn while I was travelling. I became so obsessed with them that it felt like every sentence which came out of my mouth was made up of something I’d heard,” he says. “In the end, my colleagues kept telling me to start my own, as all I did was talk about other people’s!” He felt that there was no real excuse not to give it a try. After all, there were no obvious downsides – it was a viable idea which gave him the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded people whose careers intrigued him.

Ricky has frequently come across branding commissions, and it was one of these that led to him meeting filmmaker (and now friend) Rhys Chapman. Chapman was working on his film Wonderkid, about homophobia in football, a high-profile project with Sir Ian McKellen set to record the film’s voiceover at Factory Studios. It was Rhys who introduced Ricky to the studio, where he soon began recording his regular podcasts. Ricky’s eponymously titled show, Ricky Richards Represents, is recorded on a weekly basis here in Fitzrovia. His conversational approach towards interviews has been put to excellent use in speaking with many of London’s leading creators and innovators. The podcast has featured the likes of Will Hudson, founder of It’s Nice That, David Pugh Jones, ex-Strategy Director for Buzzfeed and Microsoft, and Andrew Diprose, Creative Director of Wired UK and PPA designer of the year. “The very first guest was Rhys – it felt appropriate. We tested it out. It was all very low-tech stuff at this stage – just me with a USB microphone. We delved into personal questions, and tried to figure out the motivations behind his work,” Ricky says. “We only have so many days on this planet, so I like to uncover people’s motivations and philosophies, and, in the process, unearth the mysteries of creative excellence and entrepreneurship. The hope is that others can take that learning and steer their life in the direction they want rather than just being another cog in the wheel. I’ve always been fascinated by people and their path into what they do. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do the podcast. At first, I started with what I thought were my most interesting friends, and then leveraged that to approach people who have carved out their own path or have interesting outlooks on life.”

Moving beyond his circle of friends and acquaintances, Ricky has continued to approach individuals whose work appeals to him and has now built up an extensive catalogue of interviews – which is how our own conversation began. The podcast goes out to an audience of professionals interested in personal development and strategic thinking. Like Ricky, his listeners seek out advice and unique insights that they wouldn’t perhaps get in their day-to-day lives. His work as a designer and his still relatively new podcast have helped demonstrate that, at the age of 27, Ricky has a bold future ahead of him as an entrepreneur. Ricky Richards is one of those people who possesses exactly the right balance of entrepreneurship, talent and enthusiasm to get things happening – to turn an interest into a successful business. I am confident that, given time, his commitment and passion will lead to great things.

David Moore

David Moore


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“…as a kid, I was stubborn. I liked mashed potatoes and omelettes with raspberry jam!”

David Moore is a man unafraid of a floral pattern and a huge fan of the Human League – two facts I discovered almost simultaneously as he greeted me, decked out in a fedora and colourful shirt, at his Fitzrovia restaurant Pied à Terre. I found him thumbing through a selection of vinyl albums, one of which was the relatively obscure early Human League offering Travelogue. It’s always nice to find you share a common interest.

Pied à Terre opened in 1991, enjoying a meteoric rise that saw it earn two Michelin Stars within five years. Its illustrious roll call of chefs includes Andy McFadden, Richard Neate, Tom Aitkens, Shane Osborn and Marcus Eaves, all helping establish the restaurant’s impressive gourmet dining credentials – credentials that have attracted a number of big names over the years, from the Monty Python gang to Annie Lennox and John Hurt… though sadly not Phil Oakey thus far. “John Hurt was very entertaining character. He came in for dinner once and ordered a really expensive bottle of red wine, which he’d never done before. I was quite surprised. It was £265, and he got two or three of them! The bill came and he paid it, no problem. The next time he came back, I asked him about it. ‘I didn’t have my reading glasses,’ he said. ‘I thought it was £26.50!’ So, I said, ‘Dinner’s on me tonight’ and he was thrilled.”

Sitting down to eat, I soon find out what attracts such a crowd. Current head chef Asimakis Chaniotis’s creations are a revelation, with dishes like smoked quail with organic spelt risotto and girolles, whole native lobster with sweetcorn, seaweed and rouille, and red wine poached pear with almonds and Roquefort ice cream; each dish, plated as if high art, is as every bit as delicious as it looks. “The bizarre thing is that as a kid, I was stubborn,” David tells me. “I liked mashed potatoes and omelettes with raspberry jam!” These days, though, there’s definitely a sense of playfulness about both David and Pied a Terre’s offerings. It’s a quality that served him well when, at the age of 20, he went for his first big job interview with Alain Desenclos, restaurant director at Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “I used to watch a TV programme called Take Six Cooks, and I remember Raymond Blanc talking about restaurants and food being like an opera… then they panned across to Alain Desenclos, and I thought ‘God he looks scary!”’

Undeterred, David came up with a novel strategy for the interview. “I had to drive 243 miles from Blackpool to Great Milton. So, I thought ‘This seems like too good an opportunity not to have lunch!’ I put my smartest Freeman Hardy and Willis shoes on and my Burton’s grey suit with very thin grey tie,” he adds, laughing. Once he’d finished eating, David called the waiter over and said, “Could you tell Monsieur Desenclos that his 3pm appointment is here and would he like to join me at my table?”

“Everyone came out to have a good look at this guy who’d invited Alain to join him!” He landed a job as a waiter, but his progress to head waiter was hindered by his lack of French. “I was the only English waiter! I remember in the first couple of weeks I thought the French waiters were all big Smiths fans… because how do you say ‘I’m pissed off’ in French? ‘J’en ai marre’ – Johnny Marr!”  The early 90s were a boom time for Fitzrovia, with big advertising agencies moving into the neighbourhood, but Charlotte Street in those days hadn’t yet scaled the gastronomic heights it’s now known for. “Pied à Terre was a kind of urban storm-trooper that started to turn the tide. In 1993, we earned our first Michelin star, followed by a second in 96. Now there are seven Michelin starred restaurants within half a mile of Charlotte Street!”

David met his wife Val just around the corner, making this spot on the Fitzrovia/Soho border even more of a special place for him. “We met at the Mexican Beach Bar, right where Soho Street turns into Rathbone Place… Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ was on the turntable and I saw this redheaded beauty with a fine figure… it truly was love at first sight… though she did object to my shoes, which got dumped in a bin that evening!”

Another enthusiast for Pied à Terre was local hero and publishing legend Felix Dennis, who even helped publish a book on the area in Characters of Fitzrovia. “Felix was a great supporter of ours when we first opened. He was local, with an office on Goodge Street, and I’d bump into him all the time. I was on the way to the bank one gloomy autumn afternoon in 1992, stressed out about our finances, when I ran into Felix. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him we had a cash-flow issue and that we urgently needed £10,000. Felix instantly told me to bypass the bank manager, head to his office and ask for a cheque for £10k – and that he’d be in with his Dennis Publishing team to spend it on Friday! He basically saved us from a huge financial crisis.”

In 1998, David decided to buy a property close to the restaurant. “I’d been engaged a year, we were getting married and had got a small deposit together.” He narrowed his search to a 20-minute circle around Pied à Terre. “We explored Soho, Marylebone, Camden, but we just loved Bloomsbury.” David and Val finally chose an “amazing space” on Gray’s Inn Road, close to many of the places they now hold dear in the area, from the small farm at Coram’s Fields to the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Back in Fitzrovia, David’s newest venture is a collaboration with Matthieu Germond, who has transformed the old Dabbous site on Whitfield Street to create Noizé, a quintessential, local French bistro with an emphasis on the food and wine of the Loire Valley. Its no-nonsense aesthetic and menu of elegant simplicity (squid, smoked bacon and apple; suckling pig belly with carrot and tarragon) brings a welcome touch of convivial French charm to the area. As we say goodbye, David has a parting suggestion: “We should get Phil Oakey to join us next time!”

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


Pampered pooches and exotic cats on leashes… Fitzrovia’s pets are seemingly no strangers to the area’s gentrification. These furry citizens have taken a liking to the high life, freeloading snacks from strangers and local businesses, and using local trees as their observation posts, always on the lookout for Fitzrovia’s pet paparazzi and the chance to become local celebrities!

Frank, Foley Street

Frank, a seven-month old Springerpoo, is  a doggy dynamo.According to owner Laurence, Frank’s “energy is boundless –  there is simply no stopping him from running, running, running.  I think he takes after me. I should never have trained with him before I did the half marathon  –  he is just a high energy dog!” And though he does enjoy a  gentle stroll through Fitzrovia, the moment he gets a whiff of Regent’s Park, he’s off! “It’s that classic Spaniel nose,” explains Laurence. “It’s  a tug of war until he gets there!”

Frank is totally besotted with tennis balls , brooms and especially shoes. “If you have a pair of shoes, watch out! Frank will destroy them and proof of this can be confirmed by my adorable PA Susie who lost two pairs to him, so that’s another bill I have had to pay!” Laurence adds wryly. “But by 7pm, it’s crash-out time on the sofa, cuddles galore and finallya good sleep on his back with his paws skyward.” No doubt dreaming of the next exciting encounter with a broom or his favourite dinner treat, a special tuna recipe specially prepared by Laurence.

Monica Galetti

Monica Galetti


Words Laurence Glynne

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“In the kitchen, she gender is irrelevant: once you slip into your chef’s jacket, everyone is equal

It’s a bright, sunny day and I’m sitting in Monica Galetti’s innovative new restaurant, surrounded by contemporary Samoan artworks full of mesmerising patterns and gorgeous colours. A typically vivid and meticulously detailed tapestry tells the story of Monica’s own life, depicting her husband David and daughter Anais in a way that exudes warmth and celebrates family ties. Somehow it seems to perfectly sum up Monica’s personality. Let’s be clear – this extraordinarily gifted woman is not the stone-faced judge familiar from that well-known reality cooking series MasterChef. In talking to Monica, you soon realise that she possesses humility, a bubbly sense of humour and a deep passion for her family and her staff.

Today, we’re talking about Mere, her latest venture, which recently opened in the heart of Fitzrovia on Charlotte Street. Her sous chef can’t come in and one of the steamers in the kitchen is being repaired, but Monica remains calm and unruffled. We’re laughing over a story from her childhood about when she would try out her emerging culinary skills only to end up burning all the potatoes and pancakes; even the most talented restaurateur has to start somewhere! Monica’s love of cooking certainly started in her humble home setting, where the family would gather together in the kitchen and bond over the preparation and eating of food. It was a typical Samoan way of life, with children encouraged to cook from a young age. Such early experience with the combination of flavours and spices was essential in developing her palate. The seeds of her future career had been planted.

Other aspects of her Samoan childhood played an equally vital part in developing Monica’s character. When her parents split up it was her mother, Meredith, and her aunts who raised Monica and her sister Grace. Meredith was a young mum and the breadwinner who supported the whole family, including an aunt who was wheelchair-bound as a result of polio. The tomboyish Monica was schooled in Samoa up to the age of 18, when she left to join her mum in Wellington, New Zealand, where Meredith had settled with her second husband. At school, she had loved geography, and one fond memory is of a trip to the snow-capped Mount Tongariro in New Zealand. The tapestry of Monica’s life was evolving, pointing her towards an extraordinary journey which would lead her, many years later, to Fitzrovia.

After school, she enrolled in a Hospitality Management Course in Wellington. Here, she realised she could start making her dreams come true. A committed student, she’d often work until midnight, socialising with friends taking a back seat until she’d finished: partying or hanging out would only begin in the early hours. She obviously had a lot of stamina. The mentor who helped her fulfil her dreams, and continues to influence her even today, was a lecturer called Mr Small. In contrast to his name, he was a larger than life character, playfully camp and with an infectious sense of fun; given Monica’s own wicked sense of humour, it’s no surprise the two of them gelled. She specifically remembers one day when he asked the pupils to write down what they wished to achieve in the future. This time, he was being serious, and the task had a significant impact on Monica, forcing her to focus on her plans. These involved a desire to travel and see as much of the world as she possibly could, all the while building on her growing experience in hospitality.

Travelling to various countries and learning from the wide array of cultures she encountered only fed her love of food and curiosity about the world’s many different cuisines. Returning to New Zealand, her first job in the kitchen was as a chef in Lower Hutt. It was an “inauguration”, another step on her journey, in which she not only developed her basic skills but learned to prepare food and cook and at a “rapid, rapid rate”. She excelled in culinary competitions, which brought out her perfectionism and competitive spirit. If she was told by someone that she could not do something, she would seek to prove them wrong – in other words, she says, “putting it in their face”. Such competitiveness, she points out, has nothing to do with being a woman in what is still largely a male-dominated profession. In the kitchen, she says, gender is irrelevant: once you slip into your chef’s jacket, everyone is equal.

Monica’s performance exceeded all expectations and her reputation spread; so much so that she was offered a position as a chef at Michele Roux’s London restaurant, La Gavroche. Roux’s respect for her obvious talent and strong personality, meant that she was soon offered the position of sous chef at the Michelin-starred establishment. Success in any restaurant is not only down to the quality of the food; another essential ingredient is the camaraderie created by a good team. The staff at La Gavroche tended to hang out together as a group of friends, and this is how Monica’s relationship with David, now her husband and partner, began. David trained in France and was working at La Tour d’Argent in Paris when he sent his CV to Michele Roux; soon, he had arrived in London and was working as a sommelier at La Gavroche. After a few months, Monica left to go travelling for a year.

As soon as she returned, David asked: “What are you doing tonight?” “Sleeping,” she replied. “Great – just what he wanted to hear!” she laughs. “He suggested meeting up after work at midnight! I told him, no way mate!” They ended up meeting in Covent Garden at 6pm. With such a busy life and the constant disruptions caused by work and travel, Monica had given up looking for a relationship. Then, when she least expected it, along came Mr Right! Now, the pair are happily married and a formidable team in the restaurant. Their daughter Anais, 11, has already shown a love of music and fashion; perhaps cookery will follow.

Monica’s dream has always been to create something special and to share her love of the restaurant business with an equally passionate staff. She would love to be the perfect hostess – and would doubtless shine at it – but front of house is not for her. That’s why she remains in the kitchen. Looking after her customers, though, is of the utmost importance: she wants to take away their worries for a while, make them feel good and share her home from home with them. This is where the idea of family still inspires her; the childhood memories of bonding in the kitchen are now a reality once more, as she and David produce beautifully crafted food designed to put a smile on people’s faces; the only thing that’s missing is the burnt pancakes.

Centre Point

Centre Point


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…a celebration of everything that makes London a world-class city.”

Here, in the few square miles which make up the West End, there is little that rises above 10 storeys. The Post Office Tower and Senate House are among the most familiar beacons in this part of London, though there is perhaps one architectural fixture that’s even more instantly recognisable. Sitting on the borders of Fitzrovia and Soho, Centre Point has been for half a century quite literally at the centre of London life. Praised, damned and often disused throughout its existence, the story of Centre Point is the story of a brutalist icon and a national treasure.

Designed by architect George Marsh of R Seifert and Partners, on a site once occupied by a gallows, the building was constructed between 1963 and 1966 at the crossroads of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, New Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road. Sitting atop distinctive angular ‘dinosaur legs’, at 117m (385ft) high it was one of the first skyscrapers in London, comprising a 34-storey tower and a smaller, nine-floor building to the east linked by a first-floor footbridge. With the popularity of Brutalist architecture on the rise in 1960s London, Marsh had a vision of a concrete honeycomb-inspired exterior. This sort of repetition of modular elements, distinctly articulated and grouped together into a unified whole was a key characteristic of the brutalist movement. Centre Point’s precast honeycomb segments were produced on the Isle of Portland in Dorset out of fine concrete utilising crushed Portland Stone and then later driven to London by lorry. The building was the first of its kind in the city, capturing the spirit and inventiveness of 1960s London. The result is a now iconic building that remains raw and unpretentious, contrasting dramatically with the highly refined and ornamented buildings constructed in the Beaux-Arts style that surround it. Though it hasn’t always been seen as an asset to the area, Centre Point received Grade II listed status from English Heritage in 1995.

Centre Point was built as speculative office space by property tycoon Harry Hyams, and despite its position at the heart of the West End and its then impressive height, the building remained empty for almost a decade after its completion and was dubbed ‘London’s Empty Skyscraper’. This was the result of Hyams’s plan that the whole building be occupied by a single occupant. He waited (and waited) for someone to meet his asking price of £1,250,000. At this point, skyscrapers were almost unheard of in the city, and the prominence of such a huge, empty, and unrepentantly modern building inspired many opponents in London. Hyams kept a distinctly low-profile, and when often flying into London over his creation felt that something was missing – a name. At Hyams’s insistence, several years after its completion, Centre Point was branded with its famed neon logo, with the lettering on the logo directly derived from the Optima font. In 2004 artist Cerith Wyn Evans utilised the logo for an outdoor art piece called ‘Meanwhile… across town’, with the replacement LED logo having been unveiled to Londoners this summer. Cerith will be returning to Centre Point with a neon light installation, his work ‘Forms in Space… by Light (in Time)’ is the 2017 Tate Britain Commission.

After remaining largely empty for many years – and even being occupied by housing campaigners for a weekend in 1974 – Centre Point eventually became a functioning office building. From July 1980 to March 2014, it was the headquarters of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), making them, at nearly 34 years, the building’s longest-standing tenants. More recently, it has provided space for US talent agency William Morris and gaming company EA Games. In 2011, Centre Point was purchased and then resold to property investment and development company Almacantar, who have a policy of transforming new acquisitions into prime products with sustained value. Centre Point stands as perhaps their most ambitious project since the company’s launch in 2010.

By this point, Centre Point’s status was uncertain: iconic – if not universally loved – and listed it may have been, but it remained as underused and underexploited as ever. Almacantar’s goal to bring to life a building that, despite being on a prime site right in the centre of one of the world’s greatest cities, had never fulfilled its huge potential. Perhaps now, with the redevelopment of the site for commercial usage at the base and residential in the main tower, we’ll finally see this essential part of London’s skyline celebrated and brought back to deserved prominence. It has undergone an intensive restoration, with every inch of its structure carefully restored and over 50 years’ worth of wear and tear removed in order to secure its future.

This means that for the first time in its history the tower’s famed beehive windows are to become living space. Almacantar began collaborating with Conran & Partners and Rick Mather Architects to restore and repurpose the landmark structure, carefully taking into account the character, neighbouring area and unique position of Centre Point on our city’s skyline. With stunning views of London to the east and west, Centre Point presents an opportunity for an unmatched home environment in Central London. When you enter the building, the first thing to get your attention is the sense of quiet. In the setting of the Conran & Partners designed interiors, this is a welcome break from the bustling chaos of the West End below. Under your nose is Soho, Fitzrovia and Tottenham Court Road station. To the west you can make out Kensington Palace, and to the east St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and the Thames. Such an escape from the sprawling city spread out below is a rarity anywhere in London, and to find it in the heart of the West End is practically unheard of. At the base of the building, residents will benefit from numerous amenities, including a club, 24-hour concierge, a spa and pool overlooking the newly renovated station below, screening and meeting rooms and a gym. Above ground, a series of 1, 2, 3 & 5 bedroom apartments make up the main body of the building. Spread over the 33rd and 34th floors is the duplex apartment; a rare opportunity to peer out over the city through Centre Point’s glowing eponymous logo. “The apartments at Centre Point are a celebration of everything that makes London a world-class city,” says Tracy Hughes, Residential Sales Director. “It is unmatched in terms of design, location and specification, and will benefit from an uplift from Crossrail. When we open Centre Point this year it will be a rare and distinguished residential address in London’s exceptional West End.”

 

Back at ground level, the area around St Giles High Street has long been a dull and slightly grimy spot and sometimes a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Repurposing the tower for residential use has also meant redesigning the base of the building, creating a 15,000-square-foot public space for the 21st century city. Looking back at the unexecuted building designs from the early 1960s, it’s possible to see how the new ground-level layout revisits and fulfils Seifert’s original vision for a true ‘centre point’ in London’s West End. This new public space at the base of the tower is to be lined with a series of restaurants and contemporary cafés, with names such as Rhubarb already set to join when the site opens later this year. The first-floor footbridge is also undergoing a transformation to make way for a restaurant overlooking New Oxford Street. The new Centre Point has not only restored this icon for future generations but created a space for the general public that will finally do justice to Seifert’s original vision. And with the upcoming Elizabeth Line providing links to Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf, Centre Point will finally live up to its name: a national treasure at the very heart of London.

THRSXTY

THRSXTY


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Every brand has a story to be told, and we love telling stories…”

I’m sitting with Oli Wheeler on Little Portland Street. We’re talking about public relations, his agency THRSXTY, and his secret life as a drummer and self-confessed adrenaline junkie. There are almost too many PR agencies to count in this neighbourhood, but this street is especially populous, filled with some of London’s biggest names in communications. We’re discussing Oli’s latest role as CEO of THRSXTY, the growing Fitzrovia-based agency whose clients are as dynamic as the company’s rapidly expanding young team.

A few doors down Little Portland Street are five or six other agencies gathered under the umbrella of the Exposure Group, helmed by joint CEOs Raoul Shah and Tim Bourne, who purchased THRSXTY back in 2008. THRSXTY had originally started out as a film PR agency, whereas today they are specialists in PR, digital marketing and event production across diverse sectors, from fashion to spirit brands. Until 2015 the agency just about broke even, but Raoul and Tim had great belief in its potential. “They thought THRSXTY could take a new and interesting direction. It was doing pretty well, and ticked over nicely, but it was always destined for more than that,” says Oli.

He started out working for Freud Communications in 1993, going on to become a board director for 14 years between 1997 and 2011. He left Freud to join viagogo, the live event ticketing company, as Global Head of Communications, launching it into 62 countries. In early 2015, he began having conversations with Raoul and Tim about THRSXTY. “I had started to think about what I’d like to do next when Raoul and Tim mentioned THRSXTY to me. They felt it needed new energy, vision and leadership to take it to the next level,” he says. “I took a good look at it and it was clearly an agency that had huge potential, and so I joined in January 2016. I had big ambitions for the agency, but it required a complete turnaround as it wasn’t where it needed to be. I actually don’t think it could have continued in its previous form. It was doing fine – and there are lots of agencies that are “doing fine” – but I don’t do “fine”. I only want to work with exceptional clients and exceptional people.”

Since joining THRSXTY Oli has taken it in a whole new direction, reshaping and redefining the image, clientele and culture of the business. In his first year with the company, its turnover grow by an impressive 71%: clearly, the agency is thriving under his influence. “Come to think of it, this is only my third proper job,” laughs Oli. His first task was to work out what kind of agency THRSXTY was going to transition into. “THRSXTY was just waiting to be taken on a growth mission. It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. It had a handful of great clients, and a few that were not so great. We resigned those.” He set some serious growth targets, expanded the services that showed most potential (such as digital and event production) and, crucially, set about finding the right people to come on board for the ride.

 

“THRSXTY is still a PR company at its heart,” says Oli, “although digital and influencer marketing have both grown exponentially for us. Our production team has doubled in size as has our VIP talent team. After an explosive first year we are continuing to grow our client list and we have just employed our 20th team member. Next on the horizon is New York, which we plan to open in 2018.”

Oli is as charismatic as he is enthusiastic and driven, and this has been key in bringing on board a hefty array of intriguing and innovative brands and clients during his tenure. “THRSXTY clients have a challenger mindset – they’re ambitious, courageous and creative,” he explains. “They’re anything but ordinary, and all our clients share our energy.” Walking into the agency, you can immediately sense everyone’s pride in working with Evian, Lacoste, Original Penguin, and (a particular favourite of mine) Herschel Supply. There is an entire team dedicated to drinks brands, ranging from premium tequila brand Patrón, Piper Heidsieck champagne and Suntory Japanese whiskies to Drambuie, Sailor Jerry and Wild Turkey.

“Some of our clients have grown in size along with the agency, and others are brand new to us. The main sectors are drinks, lifestyle brands and high street fashion. We’ve become quite a specialist in the drinks category, which makes our Friday afternoon agency catch-up quite lively at times.

“We’re privileged to have a long list of cultural icons in the portfolio, but we also take pride in building new brand identities. Every brand has a story to be told, and we love telling stories. Our role is to communicate those stories to the right people via the most effective channels. PR is a bit like shouting “oi!” very loudly and then pointing at something, and we are very lucky to work on some innovative and pioneering brand campaigns. It’s a real privilege to work with such talented people.”

Oli has worked within minutes of the THRSXTY office for his entire career and he has seen Fitzrovia change over the years into the neighbourhood that it has become today. The agency’s location is not only popular with the team but, in Oli’s view, is key to its success. “I try and take a quick walk around the neighbourhood every day. After 25 years I am still seeing vibrancy and inventiveness at every turn. This morning, I noted that one sandwich shop had a queue down the street, yet others were virtually empty, so I couldn’t help ask someone why they were prepared to wait. He told me he just liked what they sell and he liked spending time in there. These are inspirational insights when you are running your own business. THRSXTY is a fun place to work and we encourage our clients to spend time with us here. Fitzrovia has a real edge to it – with a healthy dose of mischief thrown in too!”

“I believe it’s important that our people are multidimensional and that they all have interesting lives outside of the agency”. Oli is a perfect example of this multi-faceted approach to life: when he’s not working, he plays drums in a band called Westbourne Circus, made up of musicians such as Simon Le Bon as well as others who play for the likes of Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. He also rides off-road motorcycles in various adventures around the world, which he describes as “my personal choice for a midlife crisis”.

He co-owns THRSXTY with Exposure, and what started out as a friendship with Raoul and Tim has developed into a rewarding business relationship. He believes that he has found the right balance between his business and his interests and makes sure there’s plenty of time to spend with his wife, the actress and presenter Tina Hobley, and their children. It’s looking as though THRSXTY, still evolving and growing, could be his greatest adventure yet.

Fresh Lifestyle

Fresh Lifestyle


Words  Kirk Truman

Photography  Etienne Gilfillan


“This really began to give us a flavour of something much bigger… we’d only really started to scratch the surface with what we could do.”

 

In a prime location at the corner of Cleveland Street and Mortimer Street sits One Fitzroy. It’s home to US manufacturer and marketer of prestige beauty products, Estée Lauder, and at ground level you’ll find one of their highly-regarded collaborators. Few salon partners have warranted the respect of a leading hair care brand such as Aveda; Fresh Lifestyle, an independent boutique salon is one such partner, bringing the very best in premium hairdressing to the heart of Fitzrovia.

 

Fresh Lifestyle founders Wendy Lauricourt and Michael McLeod opened their first salon more than 14 years ago in Blackheath, South London. “It’s fair to say that the first location was very much the product of Wendy’s vision,” says Michael. “She’d always wanted to create her own marque, and when you have that drive things have a way of coming to fruition. We acquired the sub-lease on a tiny, run-down shop unit overlooking the heath, and with the help of family and friends we managed to create a distinctive space in which to launch our business. It opened in 2003, at that time Wendy was the only full-time hairdresser.”

 

Fast-forward two years and, with a team that had grown to 15, the fledgling project was now operating at near capacity. “We both felt we’d just started to scratch the surface with what we could do, and decided to take things to the next level,” says Michael. Wendy had previously lived and worked in Islington, and knew instinctively that the area’s demographics made it a perfect fit for Fresh Lifestyle’s brand. So, in 2006, Wendy and Michael took on their second location, this time in Upper Street, a stone’s throw from Islington Green. “The increased footprint enabled us to develop the concept from hair salon to lifestyle salon, with a dedicated retail zone at the front of the premises and a spa area to the lower level,” says Wendy. The success of this revised concept inspired them to acquire larger premises for their original Blackheath operation, and in 2009 the partners opened their second Lifestyle Salon in this well-heeled village setting.

 

The partnership with Aveda has been a constant from the inception of the original salon to the present day. “We originally partnered with Aveda because of the synergy between our two brands – a synergy that has fuelled the growth of our business,” says Michael. “It’s probably fair to say that we’re now one of Aveda’s most respected UK partners, to the extent that Estée Lauder invited Fresh Lifestyle to represent the Aveda brand within their UK and Ireland Head Office premises; for us, it’s a huge compliment.”

 

Fitzrovia’s unique mix of retail, business and residential premises, together with the neighbourhood’s bohemian heritage, meant the invitation from Estée Lauder was too good to pass up, and Fresh Lifestyle Fitzrovia opened its doors here in April 2016. The brand-new, double-height space, with floor to ceiling glazing on two sides, is bright and spacious. It looks particularly good from the vantage point offered by the comfy bespoke leather armchairs and with views onto Mortimer Street, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in one of the leafier portions of downtown Manhattan.

 

This bespoke salon space exudes calm and tranquillity, in keeping with the partners’ vision for the perfect guest experience. The faultless technical service on offer – be it cut, colour, or style – goes without saying, but Michael and Wendy feel that it’s equally important to create ‘me time’ for Fresh Lifestyle’s guests. From the stress-relieving rituals that accompany each service, to the hypnotic comfort of the full-body massage chairs in the secluded shampoo zone, everything is geared towards ensuring that visitors leave feeling great. And to ensure that you leave looking great too, each service is carried out by a specialist cut or colour professional dedicated to ensuring that you’re comfortable with and confident about the service you’ll enjoy. At this unique Fitzrovia crossroads spot, Fresh Lifestyle’s brand continues to thrive, showcasing the very best in all things hair for both men and women.

Jon Van der Mije

Jon Van der Mije


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“There’s always been an element of competition about food which I’ve enjoyed… it’s the challenge that I strive for.”

We’re walking around the busy kitchen at Percy & Founders. It’s midweek, and the place is still buzzing even at the very end of the lunch hour. While chefs cook, chop and stir at every turn, at the reins is the newest addition to this central Fitzrovia restaurant, Head Chef Jon Van der Mije.

 

Born and raised in Nice in the south of France, Jon’s relationship with food started early. “I was quite young, just 15, when food began to interest me. My grandfather was a chef, and he would show me a few things from time to time.”

 

Though his grandfather lived in Spain, Jon visited him on a regular basis, and the two would spend much of their time cooking together, trying new dishes and practising the traditional arts of braising and cooking with wine. “He always captivated me with his cooking, and after a while food took a hold of me,” Jon remembers.

 

“My first job in a kitchen was in Cannes and it became a love of mine straight away. There’s always been an element of competition about food which I’ve enjoyed… it’s the challenge that I strive for. The role of a chef isn’t necessarily the easiest. It’s very time consuming, but it’s a good life for me. Any chef should take the same pride in what they do that, say, a doctor would take in his work.” When it comes to the menu at Percy & Founders, Jon’s favourite dish is vegetarian: stuffed courgette flower, ricotta, pine nuts, tomatoes & black olives, the roasted lamb loin & shoulder with charred aubergine and sheep’s yoghurt is another dish he is particularly fond of.

 

Jon has lived in London for eight years, having worked for a while in Australia, and joined Open House as Sous Chef three years ago. “I originally started out at Percy & Founders, then moved to The Lighterman when it opened last year. The Lighterman and Percy & Founders have each naturally evolved into a local restaurant, bar and hangout in the areas in which they’re based.” After a year at The Lighterman, Jon was rewarded for his hard work and huge talent in the kitchen with an invitation to return to Percy & Founders – this time as Head Chef.

 

“The food is not too dissimilar; everything we use in the kitchen is fresh and well sourced, mostly from just outside London.” Having opened in the summer of 2016, The Lighterman was an instant success. A pub and dining room over on King’s Cross Granary Square estate, it offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, with three terraces giving fine views across the square and the Regent’s Canal.

 

Located less than five minutes from Oxford Street, just off the junction of Berners and Mortimer Street, Percy & Founders is in an equally appealing location with a beautiful outdoor terrace away from the busy streets of Central London. Its dining room is situated adjacent to the recently restored Fitzrovia Chapel with stunning views of the surrounding square. The restaurant is a carefully crafted addition to Fitzroy Place, and, like the square itself – the first to be built in London in over 100 years – has quickly established itself as a favourite spot among local residents and workers.

 

Percy & Founders offers all-day food and drinks, from morning coffee and breakfast to lunch and dinner. Food is fresh and seasonal, with much of the menu sourced locally or from the very best of British suppliers: meat makes its way down from the Lake District, and fish comes from the Maldon-based speciality smokehouse Lambton & Jackson. I’d like to single out their traditional Sunday roast for special praise – it really hits the mark!

 

Now a prominent fixture in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, Percy & Founders continues to evolve its menus and extend its private hire opportunities. And Jon, a true free spirit, loves working in the restaurant’s open kitchen environment. Watching him at work, quick on his feet as he cooks, it’s obvious that he is respected by colleagues and remains a team player amongst his busy cadre of predominately female chefs. Jon’s return to his old stomping ground as Percy & Founders’ new Head Chef finds him perfectly at home – right at the centre of one of Fitzrovia’s leading restaurants.

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“There’s an artistic decadence about the area which still lingers – it’s the most artistically vibrant neighbourhood in London…”

It’s just shy of 10am and we’re siting up on the first floor of the Rebecca Hossack Gallery on Conway Street: me, Gary Kemp and Piper, his friendly miniature labradoodle. Gary has been coming to the gallery, just round the corner from his home, for many years. On this particular grey Monday morning in March, we’re surrounded by the work of the artist Barbara Macfarlane. But we’re chatting about fashion, not art, as Gary tells me how clothes have been an important part of his career, upbringing, and life. Designer Oliver Spencer joins us to dress him in a number of pieces from his latest collection, while Gary and I reminisce about Fitzrovia’s past, moving back and forth between Victorian London and the seedier side of the neighbourhood during the New Romantic era, when he first discovered Warren Street, Fitzroy Square and the Post Office Tower. To cut a long story short: we’re talking Spandau Ballet, music, fashion and Fitzrovia.

Born just up the road in Islington to working class parents, Gary was raised in a council house with his brother, and later fellow band member, Martin Kemp. As he was growing up and becoming a musician, place was everything. In his words: “You couldn’t find your tribe unless you went out the door. Today, you can find it on your laptop. In those days you couldn’t.” For Gary’s new wave band Spandau Ballet, the legendary clubs of Soho’s yesteryear – Billy’s, The Blitz Club and Le Beat Route – served as the colourful backdrop to the New Romantic era and helped propel them to massive popularity and lasting fame as one of the biggest British acts of the 1980’s.

Kemp’s relationship with music started at the age of 11, when his parents bought him a guitar from a shop on Holloway Road as a Christmas present. “I still can’t work out to this day why my father thought it was a good idea,” he says, “but for me, it was an immediate epiphany of wanting to write songs. I didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs, so instead I wrote my own. I think, in truth, I quite like being alone – I quite like the company of a guitar. When you’re a creative person, you sort of make your own friends, whether it’s a piece of art or a song.” Despite having started acting as a youngster, Gary now focused on a career in music, forming a band called The Gentry with school friends. His brother Martin was later to join the group as a bassist. After a friend of the band, DJ Robert Elms, saw a phrase scribbled on the wall of a nightclub lavatory during a visit to Berlin, The Gentry was renamed Spandau Ballet. Soon, they became a staple act of The Blitz Club in Soho, a hotbed of talent for new music and fashion, boasting an array of rising stars, from Boy George to Steve Strange.

Frequenting Soho during these early years of his career meant Gary soon discovered Fitzrovia: his first encounter with the area came in 1979, when he visited Boy George’s squat on Warren Street for a photo-shoot after a gig in Soho. “At this time, Fitzrovia was quite a seedy area. The square was a slum, the centre of the used car trade. It wasn’t residential, not in the way in which we know it today. Warren Street was where Boy George and his crowd lived. At the time it was the most famous squat in London, and we used to visit quite a lot. It was painted completely white inside, and they’d hung up lots of nets that would float around the place, with mattresses on the floor. It was full of the most interesting, cross-dressing, wild people. Costume designer Michele Clapton was there, stylist Kim Bowen, Steve Jones and Christos Tolera too; it was full of St Martins students, so it certainly wasn’t a squalid place like you might imagine,” he says. “The first time we went there was after we’d played at The Blitz that night for a photo session with the photographer Graham Smith. In those days, George – who wasn’t called Boy George back then – was a cloakroom attendant at The Blitz Club on a Tuesday night; he’d famously steal everything from peoples’ pockets. I remember him shouting down the bannisters ‘I can sing better than your fucking singer’, so I shouted back to him ‘Get your own band then!’ And of course he did,” laughs Gary.

Buying a synthesiser, Gary wrote what in 1981 became Spandau Ballet’s first album, Journeys to Glory, which led to the band becoming a household name. During the 1980s, Spandau Ballet’s success went from strength to strength, with Kemp writing many of the band’s early hits in his parents’ council house. In 1990, the band split – the same year that both Gary and Martin Kemp appeared in lead roles in the film The Krays, with Gary starring as Ronnie Kray. Tensions between the former bandmates spiralled over the publishing rights to songs, with singer Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and saxophone player Steve Norman taking legal action against Kemp.

At this time, he lived in Highgate. By the early 2000s, many friends and acquaintances were beginning to move either to the then up-and-coming Primrose Hill or Marylebone, but Gary had other plans. “Even at this time, Fitzrovia was still run down. It’s always been this kind of no man’s land between Soho and Regent’s Park. It’s always had a kind of roughness about it, and has only recently become a decidedly upmarket area,” he says, “I like that Fitzrovia has a uniqueness about it. That’s what’s exciting about it; it’s inviting and is creating its own social existence. I suppose, the truth is I’m quite fascinated with the history and the people of this place. I like the idea of walking around the area and sensing the ghosts that came before us: the Pre-Raphaelites, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf. A pet topic of mine is the furniture, architecture and art of 19th century London, especially the work of architect-designer E.W. Godwin, which I am an avid collector of,” he says. Today, the area’s still full of creatives. There’s a very Downtown New York feel to the place now, that when I first moved here wasn’t around. There’s an artistic decadence about the area, which still lingers – it’s the most artistically vibrant neighbourhood in London. Fitzrovia has continued to pass the artistic baton down to the new generations.”

Gary moved to Fitzrovia about 15 years ago with his wife Lauren, having been drawn by the appeal of the area’s Georgian streets and squares. “The architecture and space of Robert Adam’s vision is embracing and wonderful. The square is like walking into St. Mark’s Square after emerging from the back alleys of Venice: the space just opens – it’s an embrace of oxygen. It’s a real pleasure to have Fitzroy Square as the centre and crown-jewel of the area,” says Gary. In 2009, Spandau Ballet reformed, with their reunion documented in Soul Boys of the Western World (2014), which Kemp co-produced. Following on from a nine-month world tour, relationships between band members are stronger than ever, and it looks as if there’s more to come: Gary and his band-mates are now talking about recording a new album and continuing to play live.

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


Pampered pooches and exotic cats on leashes… Fitzrovia’s pets are seemingly no strangers to the area’s gentrification. These furry citizens have taken a liking to the high life, freeloading snacks from strangers and local businesses, and using local trees as their observation posts, always on the lookout for Fitzrovia’s pet paparazzi and the chance to become local celebrities!

Inci Ismail

Inci Ismail


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“We are very close to everything that leaves our kitchen, and the atmosphere that we create…”

Walking down Newman Street one morning, I noticed the colourfully painted interiors and neon lights of a brand new restaurant. The playful interior, with brightly coloured skeletons and sword-wielding warriors adorning the walls, immediately drew me in. But sitting down to breakfast, I quickly realised that despite the eatery’s modern look, the lovingly prepared dishes and warm welcome spoke of a far older and more traditional perspective.

A wondrous feast of varied meze was laid out before me, and as I tucked in, Inci Ismail, the owner of Firedog, explained how she’d always wanted to bring a modern twist to Turkish dining while staying rooted in family traditions. One of the clues to this ode to the Aegean past lies in the restaurant’s obscure, but seemingly modern, name.

“A firedog is a piece of stoneware that was used for grilling meat as far back as the 17th Century BC on the Aegean island of Santorini,” Inci explains. “But the main inspiration behind Firedog is our traditional style of dining – there’s no such thing as a ‘meal’, it’s always an eating experience with friends and family.”

Inci was born in Tottenham, North London, where she lived with her mother, father and three siblings, and her passion for bringing this noble culinary heritage to Fitzrovia can be traced back to her parents’ influence. They grew up in Sivas, a beautiful city in central Turkey known, among other things, for its distinctive regional dishes.

Inci’s earliest memories of food relate to how inextricably entwined eating and socialising are in Turkish culture. When she was growing up, her family hosted weekend breakfasts that usually blurred into lunch or dinner – “a never-ending breakfast feast”, as she describes it. Her household had an “open-door policy” whereby friends and family were always welcome – in fact, the more the merrier. This very Turkish sense of sociability and generosity had a profound impact on the budding restaurateur, one that became an integral part of her adult outlook and the primary inspiration for Firedog’s culinary ethos.

Though Inci later married a Turkish Cypriot whose mother’s cooking skills rivalled those of her own, she still sides with her own kin. “My mother’s expertise in Turkish dishes is greater than anyone else I know – but I suppose I am biased!” she says. Family loyalty aside, Inci was duly impressed with her mother-in-law’s considerable talents in the kitchen. “In fact, we flew Firedog’s head chef to Cyprus to meet her. We wanted him to learn to master the flavours, the cuisine, as well as the social significance that food symbolises.”

Such measures are unsurprising when you realise just how completely immersed Inci is in the business of creating food. “We are very close to everything that leaves our kitchen, and the atmosphere that we create,” she explains. This is a welcome return to a style of dining that sometimes seems to have vanished in the modern world, and a salutary lesson for a generation that has forgotten the sacred ritual of gathering round the table and prefers the company of a screen at lunch and dinner.

True to Inci’s family traditions, Firedog’s great innovation is dishing out this expansive Mediterranean eating experience for breakfast and brunch – all day breakfast is served until 4pm. “It sets us apart, and is a completely different way of dining to the regular London brunch scene”, she says. The main attraction here is the Firedog Breakfast Meze: their signature spread of traditional meze dishes and specials inspired by the Su’dan restaurant in Alacati, Turkey. We’re not talking a bowl of porridge or cereal, here, and the blandness of a workaday breakfast is made clear when Ismail explains the logic behind her approach: “Grazing on smaller plates full of flavour, mixing sweet and savoury, ensures every taste craving is fulfilled!”

Roast beetroot hummus, smoked and pickled aubergine, goat’s yoghurt, and pastirma are served alongside the authentic Near Eastern flavours of sumac, barberry, and sujuk, the spicy sausage popular in turkey and beyond. More than just the food, it’s that distinctive Mediterranean attitude to eating together that makes the concept so appealing. As Inci says, “Being able to share and pass dishes around the table adds to the social experience – and there’s no fear of having food envy!”

Drinks are also given the Firedog spin, with a range of exotic freshly squeezed juices Fresh mandarin, grapefruit and purple carrot juice add extra zing to daytime dining and bring a bit of the Aegean sun to London. Should you fancy something stronger, they’ve also teamed up with South London’s Partizan Brewery to produce a bespoke sumac and za’atar house beer.

Firedog combines dining and bar spaces. Inci was delighted with the mood and atmosphere of the space when they first came to it, but was keen to give it a fresh perspective too. Though eager to share her culture’s convivial dining habits, she wanted to do so with a humorous and contemporary edge by blending other cultural mores and styles, adamant that  “Firedog would have elements of London”. With this in mind, she enlisted an East London artist from Graffiti Life to daub the walls with images of the meaty, moustachioed warrior Tarkan, a character from a series of Turkish comics and films of the 60s and 70s. “Tarkan sort of sums up our identity,” she says. “ A proud Turkish warrior!”

Inci’s success hasn’t been down to luck: she’s a canny entrepreneur with her fingers in a lot of meze. Her hard-working parents instilled in her a rigorous work ethic, which has paid off in several other business ventures. Simply Organique, a coffee house and grocery business based in Manor House was her first, started in February of 2015. Since then, she says, she has been fortunate to support other business ventures, such as The Black Penny coffee house in Covent Garden, Firedog, and an upcoming seafood concept called Trawler Trash opening shortly in Islington.

Despite these geographically dispersed businesses, Fitzrovia is where Inci has made her home. She’s particularly fond of Store Street, where her morning caffeine fix comes courtesy of Store Street Espresso. “I take my hat off to them,” she says. “A flat white is my go-to in the mornings.” And she has a soft spot, too, for the buildings on South Crescent, explaining “I love the architecture… it looks beautiful at Christmas. One thing that would make the street complete, though, would be the revival of the old Petrol station.”

Meanwhile, back at Firedog, the vibe is fun, convivial and buzzing – just as it should be when good food is combined with good company. “We hope that everyone who visits us leaves suitably full of food, laughs and music,” says Inci. As restaurant mission statements go, I can’t really think of a better one than that.

The Museum of Modern Nature

The Museum of Modern Nature


Words & Illustrations Sophie Pelissier


It is often worth reminding ourselves that, as Londoners, we are lucky to have some of the world’s oldest and most important museums at our feet. We have the opportunities to know everything about anything, and have never been so spoiled for big blockbuster exhibitions. However, sometimes it’s all too easy to drift through a museum and feel that we are learning simply by dutifully observing what is put in front of us. How much of what we see really puts us outside our comfort zone?

The Wellcome Collection, overlooking six lanes of noisy traffic opposite Euston station, challenges this traditional approach to exhibitions by catching its visitors off-guard. As a free-thinking museum dedicated to making connections between medicine, life and art, it pushes us to question what it is to be human. And in doing so, it offers an experience that is two-fold; not only are we learning new things, but hopefully we might leave with a new perspective on ourselves. Wellcome’s mantra is therefore simple: it’s “a free destination for the incurably curious”, and an open mind is all you need to bring along with you.

These are not the dry, historical exhibitions of school trips, but presentations that bring together the bizarre and the unexpected. Take ‘Making Nature’, the museum’s first exhibition celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, which is also part of a larger study of our relationship with the natural world. Tracing our ancient attempts to ‘organise’ nature and how we have genetically manipulated it in the 21st century, it also challenges us, and our preconceptions, along the way. When reading about the history of zoos and circuses, we become aware of visitors in the next-door room behind a two-way screen. Interesting, too, to note the effect of taxidermy: how do we respond to a naturalistic tableau of fox cubs at play, compared to the fox lying on the floor nearby, with no pretence made at concealing death? Most arresting of all is the footage of a tiger as it paces forlornly through an empty house: is this the ‘Tiger Who Came to Tea’, Blake’s ‘Tyger, Tyger’, or something more sinister? Overall, the approach is so smart and subtle that you don’t even realise they’re doing it, but the exhibition’s organisers show us how our response to nature has evolved not only through the exhibits, but through our own behaviour.

By taking on big topics such as ‘Making Nature’, the Wellcome Collection inevitably turns our attention to modern problems of our own making – poaching and habitat loss, our weakness for fur or obsession with the #pugsofinstagram hashtag. The Collection does this equally well in its second temporary exhibition too. In ‘Electricity: The Spark of Life’, the final room leaves the question of sustainable energy hanging in the air, a perturbing afterthought to the model of the world’s first bespoke eco-city being built in Abu Dhabi.

This all feeds back into the Wellcome ethos: that great ideas in science and medicine can change people’s lives all over the world. As part of the Wellcome Trust, the charitable foundation aimed at improving global health, the Wellcome Collection was originally conceived by the 19th century pharmacist turned philanthropist Henry Wellcome. An eccentric who amassed one of the world’s most impressive collections of medical and health-related objects, he housed his treasures in the current building on Euston Road for the benefit of the science and medical communities. Henry Wellcome’s legacy is at the heart of all the exhibitions: eccentric ideas and artefacts that nonetheless highlight the importance of scientific research and developments in modern medicine.

The Wellcome Collection, then, is a place founded on big ambitions, one of which is the aim of creating a dynamic and engaging place of learning open to the wider public. Visiting on a Saturday, I encountered the usual weekend crowd of young families, teenagers louche and day visitors from out of London, but not all of them had come solely for the exhibitions.  A ‘Saturday Studio’ for 14-19 year olds hosts creative workshops making films or podcasts. Public talks and events featuring scientists, researchers and professionals run throughout the week, many of them in support of this year’s special study of the natural world, and all of them for free, of course. The renowned library upstairs attracts the academic community from nearby University College London, but more of a surprise is the adjoining Reading Room. Described as ‘a new type of gallery’, this extension to the library is an interactive space where the public can probe a little deeper in to what it means to be human. Amongst the collection of books, objects and contemporary artworks, visitors can work, read, spontaneously get involved in pop-up talks or even host their own.

All of this is representative of the impressive achievements of Wellcome’s first 10 years. There has already been a £17.5 million re-development in 2012, to accommodate the unexpected footfall of 500,000 curious visitors a year. One senses that the Wellcome Collection still has much to offer us, especially in this special anniversary year of 2017. So if you have never bothered to ponder the meaning of life before, then there’s never been a better time. You have until June to see footage of Parisians in 1900 excitedly hopping on and off the world’s first electric sidewalk in ‘Electricity: The Spark of Life’. Go along in the first week of May to the ‘Re-making Nature’ weekend with your own objects and ideas, which will be used in the forthcoming ‘Museum of Modern Nature’ exhibition. Then, in the autumn, why not learn about the surprising life-saving powers of graphic design, or ancient healing traditions in India? And don’t worry if you forget to arrive with questions: the guys at Wellcome will make sure you leave with plenty of them.

Treadwell’s Bookshop

Treadwell’s Bookshop


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I want it to be a place for people to come and come back to and build a connection to and weave into their own histories.”

Where do curious Fitzrovians go if they’re wondering how people made sense of the world in the past? Or how they themselves might make sense of it today? Well, many of them head to Treadwells. Christina Oakley Harrington opened her now well-established bookshop back in 2002. It was named Treadwells after her grandmother, and its inception marked a point in Christina’s life where knowledge, ancestry, belief, strength and a desire to share and pass these things on all came together. Her father worked for the United Nations in the programme for developing nations, so the young Christina, brought up in West Africa and Southeast Asia, was exposed every day to the local forms of what Western culture might see as esoteric, or even pagan, practices and beliefs.

“In Liberia, the religions are very localised and mostly un-named, and my exposure was via playmates and through my family’s beloved cook and housekeeper Daniel, who took us to his village numerous times. We also had Liberian friends who kindly took us to parts of the country where most Westerners weren’t interested in going, to ceremonies for local village communities. The first religious ceremony I remember – in my entire life – was in upcountry Liberia, in a tiny village by the edge of the scrubby outlands from where there appeared a hundred girls marked up in white chalk. It was the final stage of the girls’ initiation into womanhood, when they came out of seclusion to be welcomed back to the community. There was dancing, drumming and the elders were in a state of trance possession and wearing masks. I was quite disturbed but fascinated, and clung tightly to my mother’s hand. In Burma, we lived in Rangoon and went with Burmese family friends to many, many pagodas, monasteries, shrines and community religious festivals.”

Eventually, when she was in her mid-teens, the family moved to the USA, where Christina noticed that, compared to the environments she’d grown up in, there was a certain ‘lack’. There were, of course, the formal organised religions, and while some traces of pagan heritage could be still found, as with Halloween, it seemed to her that while the customs had survived, their underlying meanings hadn’t. As a compulsively curious individual, Christina found herself on a quest to find meaning in her new environment, searching for the kinds of threads that run through most ‘esoteric’ beliefs: nature, ancestry, tribalism, community, symbolism, a language of meaning, and meaning within meaning. It was a search for magic – something you can harness, that’s already there, but isn’t yours.

So Christina voraciously read whatever she could get her hands on and kept searching. Eventually, during one of those long, late-night conversations at university, a friend told her about Wicca. This sounded like the ‘it’ that she had been looking for: so she packed her bags and moved to London. As with many alternative belief systems or ‘sects’, there was a certain element of secrecy involved, and Christina had to feel her way around the fringes, finding the ‘ins’ and the clues: the little hidden gem of a bookshop providing a pointer, the meetings with a contact. Finally, her persistence paid off. She found her way to the ‘centre of the flower’ and became first an apprentice to Wicca, and eventually a Wiccan high priestess – a white witch. Sadly, magic and witchcraft don’t pay the rent. So she applied her trademark sense of curiosity to a day job as lecturer in medieval history at St Mary’s University College. Medieval art and culture are filled with rich symbolism – those meanings hidden within meanings – the visible and the invisible. Christina became adept at understanding this particular era, interpreting the breadcrumb-trails of codes and symbols to arrive at a more complete understanding of how people thought at the time. Coincidentally, the study of esoteric beliefs and practices was having something of a boom at this point, at last being taken seriously as a genuine area for research and study.

One day, St Mary’s embarked on one of their restructuring drives, as universities are wont to do. And it was at this point in her life – with at least two demonstrable academic specialisms, a few good omens and a small inheritance from Grandmother Treadwell – that the bookshop was born. It wasn’t a straightforward birth. The young chap in the loans department of the bank was very sceptical about the long-term prospects for books, never mind bookshops – wasn’t it all going digital? But the plan was for more than ‘just’ a bookshop. It was to be a meeting place for practitioners and scholars, offering classes and lecture series, and a place in which like-minded and curious people could understand, communicate and experience rituals. It started in Covent Garden, with an orange box for a counter and volunteers to keep it open, but once again fate stepped in, or rents stepped up. Christina found herself drawn to Store Street – situated near the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, the Folklore Society, Fitzroy Square, the British Museum, SOAS (the School of African Studies) and the rich seam of curious people who frequented the Fitzrovia neighbourhood.

So, she mixed a great big potion, made a few incantations to the Moon on the third Tuesday of spring and – poof! – got a shop on Store Street. Ok, so that’s a fib; the truth is rather more prosaic, but she did get the shop, and people came. And that’s one of the surprising things about Christina and Treadwells: it’s not some kind of ‘cloud cuckoo land’ enterprise, but an extremely well organised and curated, research-rich resource providing history and information on anything you could possibly imagine (and plenty you can’t) about the beliefs and cultures of the world. It informs about magic and the occult, which are rooted in folklore and offer an alternative path to that of ‘Enlightenment’ rationalism. New Age, it is not: Christina is not of the school that believes that positive thinking can cure everything. She tells me that they often get people in the shop talking about how ill they feel and enquiring about books on healing. The staff ask gently if they have been to see their GP. To me this seemed (as one entirely clueless about occult matters) a contradiction, but as our conversation happily meandered I realised that the whole idea behind these fairly randomly grouped and quite disparate beliefs that are called esoteric is that they are quite willing to embrace what’s current and new; they don’t view it as a threat to their way of life or system of belief, but as a potential enhancement to their understanding of the world and the people living in it.

So what about the clientele? Who comes to Treadwells? “A very mixed bunch,” says Christina, ”but there are trends – like when Harry Potter was big in the early 2000s there was a lot of interest in magic. Interestingly, there is a strong feminist thread through many of these alternative beliefs which value the role of the female, unlike some strands of organised religions, which don’t; so we have a number of younger female participants who are seeking a strength from within themselves which is offered in alternative beliefs. So I’m pleased about that. My main wish is to ensure that we have what people need, or want, or are curious about, so that when have an interest, it doesn’t die on the vine.” With so much to find out about it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few good recommendations for beginners: The Book of English Magic by Richard Heygate and Philip Carr-Gomm, The Secret Lore of London by John Matthews, and What is a Witch? by Pam Grossman. Asked what she wants for Treadwells in the future, Christina replies after some thought “Longevity. I want longevity for Treadwells. I want it to be a place for people to come and come back to and build a connection to and weave into their own histories.”

Joshua Kane

Joshua Kane


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“I wanted to sell, design and produce clothes with my name on them, with my own particular vision.”

It’s safe to say that Joshua Kane has been on my radar for a while now. Since hearing about him some months back, I’d been intending to find a way for us to work together. Friends from all walks of life, at least those with an eye for clothes, seemed to mention his name to me at every opportunity; and then, a pleasing coincidence occurred. Little did I know, but London’s dandiest tailor was about to leave his first store in Spitalfields Market and land on my doorstop right here in Fitzrovia.

Joshua is a designer trained in bespoke tailoring. He dresses the stars, has just finished producing the wardrobe for a Hollywood film and is now part of the Fitzrovia scene, having opened his new flagship store at 68 Great Portland Street, on the corner with Little Titchfield Street, in December 2016. ‘Blood, sweat and shears’ is his motto, and the underlying philosophy that has guided his journey to establishing his own eponymous label.

Taking a stroll around the new store, I note stylish ready-to-wear suits, leather jackets, coats, shirts and shoes for men & women all artfully arranged for maximum impact. The mannequins by the door and the spotlights that glare down from the ceiling make it feel like a show at London Fashion Week. In an area once home to London’s traditional rag trade, this is a new breed of retail space, and Joshua, ever a perfectionist, has nailed it. This new venture is just the latest destination on a journey he set out on many years ago, another step on the way to achieving his dream. “As a teenager, I was a semi-professional football, I skateboarded every day, and I loved sports. At that age, people start to think about what they want to wear and start going out to buy clothes,” Joshua says. “I remember the first time I went out looking in shops at things that I wanted to wear, and everything I tried on I never liked for a number of reasons. It’d be too long, or I wouldn’t like the colour, the cut or the feel. At this point, I really didn’t know what any of this meant, but I knew I wanted to do it differently. I’d spent my childhood making things such as toys and models, and then I turned to clothes. I’d buy things and try to alter them – making simple adjustments, gluing things and ripping things. I did whatever I could to make it more like something I wanted to be wearing. At school, in my fine art course, I had a fashion module. Like any young football-playing lad, I sneered at it at the time; though as soon as I started doing it, from a product and functionality perspective, I just fell in love with it. This was the beginning of me making things that I could wear every single day.”

Having won something of an affluent following, with wearers including TV presenter and comedian Alex Zane and actors Michelle Keegan and Jason Mamoa, Joshua has made a name for himself as the dandiest tailor in London. “After school, I went on to take an art foundation course, where I focused on textiles and design, at Oxford Brookes University. Following that, I went on to study fashion design at Kingston University. I fell in love with it, and worked myself into the ground for three years. By this point, anything sport-related was out the window. I’d discovered myself in fashion and design,” he says. “I went on to work at Brooks Brothers, and then Jaeger menswear. At this point, I had a little studio in my apartment in Islington where I was designing and making things for myself. I had dreams, and my own idea for a label; it was always the plan for me at the back of my mind, and the whole journey I was on. I wanted to sell, design and produce clothes with my name on them, with my own particular vision.”

Away from his day-job, the clothes Joshua was busy creating for himself caused a stir amongst his friends and peers. “I was obsessed. I was a perfectionist. I was meticulous about every detail that was going into what I was wearing. I was always wearing my own clothes, and work colleagues, friends, and people I knew were asking if I’d make something for them. They couldn’t believe I’d made everything myself,” he says. “People would look at what I was wearing, and they loved it. There was this great feeling of instant respect from friends and peers. It allowed me to climb the ladder, maybe quicker than I should’ve done, and gave me the confidence to move forward with my work. I had skills that people had trained years for, and I had them because I was an obsessive-compulsive, and loved the process of making things.” At this point, Joshua was working at Burberry, designing for the Burberry Prorsum line, where he worked for just under three years. Later he moved onto Paul Smith, working on the London and British collections for another nearly three-year stint. “Sir Paul was a hero of mine. He was the first person I ever sent a CV to when I graduated. He never responded! I told him that when he hired me actually,” he laughs.

Joshua’s plan was to start his label when he turned 30 – though when he was still only 28 a friend, Jimmy Q, approached him about making and designing him a suit. At the time, the idea of taking on extra work outside of his day job wasn’t feasible, so he begun to consider focusing on his own brand idea. “I explained to him that I didn’t make for anybody else at the moment, that I was exploring the idea of making clothes for people. He was a similar size to me, so he ended up borrowing one of my suits to wear on the red carpet, where he did an interview. He appeared in GQ magazine’s top-dressed of the week section wearing my suit. This was the first time I’d ever had any press for my work, which had always been a personal thing. After that, I decided it was time to move on and go solo. It was the weirdest feeling – I shat myself doing that! I didn’t have any investment, I didn’t have any finance, but what I did have was a range of contacts that liked what I produced. I didn’t know what was going to happen next – all I knew was that I was unemployed and had to try to make my label work. I began approaching people I knew had wanted to wear my suits for years, and it started to take off from my studio in Islington.” Joshua was able to make a living doing personal tailoring, carrying out fittings and making everything at home, selling the resulting range of suits to friends and contacts.

Having outgrown his Islington studio space, where he produced his first ready-to-wear collection, Joshua went on to open his store in Spitalfields Market in 2014, where he remained until late last year. “Our clients and wearers of the brand mostly had their lives oriented around the West End. I think being where I was in Spitalfields meant that at times I was pigeonholed as an East End tailor. With the store moving into the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, we’re bringing the clothes to the wearers of the brand, instead of them coming to us. Fitzrovia is where it’s at,” he declares. “What’s made it work is all the personal relationships we’ve built. Since we opened this new space, people have responded phenomenally. There’s been a real buzz, and a huge amount of support. It’s been a team effort from friends, family and our followers, coming together to do something much bigger than we would ever havr thought possible in the beginning.” Going forward, this year will see Joshua concentrate more on his womenswear line, with his latest collection due to be showcased at London Fashion Week in February this year. “I want to further focus on the lifestyle element of the brand. I want people to realise that it can be for him and it can be for her. Fitzrovia is a door to new opportunities for us. Opening this shop really feels like the beginning in some ways. We’re men’s & women’s tailoring with a difference – it’s as simple as that.” Fitzrovia in some ways still feels like new territory for Joshua. As he continues to build relationships from his Great Portland Street base, I’m certain that Fitzrovia’s newest tailor will flourish in the neighbourhood: there’s a perfect match between the growing brand and the evolving character of the area. Welcome to the hood, Mr Kane.

Daniel Bates

Daniel Bates


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


For years, Fitzrovia has enjoyed a sort of sleepy anonymity. While tourists flocked to popular haunts in Soho, Marylebone and Mayfair, this corner of the West End seemed somewhat neglected, the last refuge of a half-forgotten Bohemian London. But last June Fitzrovia’s streets and squares played host to a series of concerts, workshops and social events designed to highlight the area’s illustrious past. FitzFest was born, boasting a decidedly ambitious programme for a first-time Festival, and its organisers succeeded in producing an event that successfully celebrated the neighbourhood’s singular artistic heritage and remarkable cultural diversity.

“The main inspiration for me was finding the book Characters of Fitzrovia by Mike Pentelow and Marsha Rowe at the Fitzrovia Centre. Until I read the book, I had little idea about the history of the area – all the crazy, wonderful things that happened and all the fantastic characters who walked these streets”, explains Dan Bates, FitzFest’s artistic director. But its more recent past was just as important an inspiration. “Fitzrovia was an area which for many generations had been the home of inner-London, working class immigrants and Bohemian artists. I wanted to help remember the historical identity of Fitzrovia – its community and creativity, its social and ethnic diversity – amidst the changes happening in the area.”

Though the idea of a festival to celebrate the area had been gestating in Dan’s mind for some time, it was one of his neighbours who was instrumental in really opening his eyes to the possibilities. “My neighbour, Joyce Hooper, is in her 80s and has lived in the same Local Authority flat in Fitzrovia for over 60 years. She is the absolute expert on the area, knows everyone and is a fascinating source of oral local history. She explained how when she first arrived, the neighbourhood was considered a Jewish area; then it saw the arrival of Cypriot, Chinese and Bangladeshi communities; and further changes occurred when many Local Authority and Peabody flats were sold to tenants in the 1980s and 90s.” It was Joyce’s memories of the different types of music she had heard throughout her life in Fitzrovia that inspired Dan to start a local festival with an emphasis on music. But FitzFest is also more than a festival. Last year it offered music education workshops at All Soul’s Primary School, provided music for poorly children at UCL Hospital and organised performances for older members of the community at All Soul’s Clubhouse.

Last year’s FitzFest opening event brought past and future together in a tour de force elegy to the voices of Fitzrovia’s history by music pioneer Scanner. The public opening of the Fitzrovia chapel was accompanied by an extraordinary sound collage, running for 24 hours a day, evoking the history of the chapel and incorporating the memories and voices of all those for whom the Middlesex Hospital was an important place. Scanner composed a soundtrack to which was added recorded interviews with people in whose lives the hospital had played a significant role, while musicians working in shifts throughout the day added improvised elements to the proceedings.

But the Festival’s strength lay not only in celebrating Fitzrovia’s past but also in the diversity and eclecticism of its offerings, as Dan explains. “It being the first year I wanted to throw everything I could muster at the festival and try and include as many people as possible.” As a hugely experienced classical musician – he holds the position of principal oboe for the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, the City of London Sinfonia and the Irish Chamber Orchestra, as well as guesting with most of the country’s major orchestras and recording with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Rihanna and Barbra Streisand – Dan is in a perfect position to pull together all sorts of musical strands for FitzFest, calling on his wide range of musical colleagues to ensure a varied calendar of events. So it was that Fitzrovia’s local musical heritage became one of the main elements of the festival. A major highlight was a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s brilliant Clarinet Quintet by world famous clarinettist Jörg Widmann in the very room in the Portland Place School in which the German composer is said to have died during a visit to London in 1826. Local resident Sue Blundell provided a piece for an actor and musicians about the life of local composer Eric Coates; his famous Dambusters March remains probably his best known work, but he also wrote a number of charming ‘light music’ pieces inspired by London life and locations, including ‘Knightsbridge’, which became the theme of the BBC’s In Town Tonight. Coates still has plenty of fans, it turns out. “The venue was the room above the Ship pub on New Cavendish Street, and it was such a sell-out success that we repeated it in early January this year and are going to repeat it in this year’s FitzFest as well.”

Of special note were performances by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), with all music played on authentic period wind instruments made in Berners Street. “The OAE play on instruments that would have been in common use in the composer’s day and age,” Dan tells me. “A lot of the instruments that the orchestra play these days are copies of the historical instruments, because though many originals survive, few are in playing condition now. String instruments generally improve with age, while wind instruments don’t last very long!”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Fitzrovia was a centre of the furniture trade, and the two industries of furniture-making and musical instruments were strongly associated with each other, developing side by side. “If you think about it, a wooden flute is really just a hollow chair leg – with a few refinements of course! Many makers operated on Hanway Street, others on Newman Street, while Berners Street saw several generations of flute makers.”

This year’s Festival, made possible thanks to Derwent London’s support, will build on last year’s successes but add an interesting interactive element. “Last year, audiences seemed to like spoken word stuff particularly, be it dramatic performances or talks about the local area. I am hoping to build on this for the next festival and invite Mike Pentelow and Nick Bailey back to talk about Fitzrovia. I’m also planning a murder mystery treasure hunt around the neighbourhood – that will be fun!” Another of last year’s Festival favourites will return this time around: free yoga sessions at the Fitzrovia Chapel with teacher Andy Sotto. “They were very popular classes – people loved lying on the floor and looking up at the amazing ceiling.”

Daniel also hopes to extend his range of venues this year. “The BT Tower would be the ultimate – it’s the major symbol of Fitzrovia. I’m always on the lookout for interesting spaces that people might not normally have access to – car parks, disused swimming pools and so on.”

FitzFest 2017 runs from 8-11 June 2017.

Clifford Slapper

Clifford Slapper


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“I played the piano for what was to be his last ever television appearance in the world…”

The rain is tumbling down outside as Clifford Slapper begins to caress the piano keys atop Quo Vadis in Dean Street. It’s a familiar setting for him, one he played in every night for a number of years. Pianist, producer and now author, Clifford has strong ties with the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, as well as nearby Soho. The author of the first ever biography of David Bowie’s most frequent collaborator, pianist Mike Garson, Clifford is himself a well-respected keyboard talent, having collaborated with a multitude of singers and musicians throughout his career. Now, he has turned his attention to creating and releasing Bowie Songs One,an album in which a variety of vocalists join Clifford at the piano to celebrate the music of the late David Bowie in a collection of 10 of the Starman’s songs.

Born and raised in North London, Clifford has lived in Fitzrovia for the past 17 years, first on Cleveland Street and now on Charlotte Street, where he works from his studio. During his time here he has run a number of live club nights in venues around the area, from Bourne & Hollingsworth to Charlotte Street Blues, on the same site where, back in the 1930s when it was called the Swiss Club, David Bowie’s father ran a speakeasy-style jazz piano club in the basement. Clifford has made a name for himself as a go-to composer and professional musician, having performed at almost every club in this square mile of London, from the Groucho to Ronnie Scott’s, The 100 Club to The Ivy. “I don’t think there’s a single private members club around here that I haven’t actually played in,” he says. “I’ve come to find a balance between music and writing. It was a fortuitous chance that was I with Mike Garson, the long-term piano collaborator of David Bowie. We were talking for quite a while, and we got talking about Bowie, whom we’ve both worked with, and discussed the idea of me writing his biography. He said to me that I’d be the perfect person to do it, so I sort of jumped in at the deep end, and five years later, after a long labour of love, I published it.” The result, Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson, was published in 2015 by Fantom Books and has been extremely well received.

Clifford discovered his love of the keyboard as a youngster, when his parents bought him a toy piano. Drawn to playing live, by his teens he was regularly performing in pubs all over Islington. “For some reason, Islington has more pianos per square mile than any other borough of London! It became my stomping ground, and I played in a hell of a lot of places over the years,” he says. From Islington’s pub music scene, he continued to expand his musical horizons, going on to collaborate with designers such as Marc Jacobs and Tom Baker and performing at fashion shows. More significantly, in recent years Clifford has been working both as a composer and a recording artist, much in demand as a session pianist. “I started being approached by producers, to play for people like Marc Almond,” he says. “I also began co-writing with Robert Love, who sung the theme song to The Sopranos”.

In addition to these collaborators, he has gone on to work alongside household names such as Boy George, Jarvis Cocker, Angie Brown, Suggs from Madness and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp. He also had the chance to collaborate with one of the major inspirations of his musical life, the late David Bowie. “Towards the end of the 1960s, Bowie was really struggling to get his career going. So, he came up with the ingenious idea for the character of Ziggy Stardust: an imaginary rock star from another planet. The character was everything he was trying to be, but was yet to become,” Clifford says. “With the Aladdin Sane album, he took the character of Ziggy on tour in America, which made his career really explode. Bowie’s entire band at this point was British, and then they recruited my friend Mike Garson, who is American, to join and play with them in the early 1970s. Bowie found America such an alarming and disturbing place to be. He was a true inspiration to me as a youngster – he inspired me in my music, and inspired me to pursue a career as a pianist,” remembers Clifford. “Some people say never work with your idols, as you’ll be disappointed, but David Bowie completely fulfilled my expectations. We spent two days together working on the set of the Ricky Gervais comedy series Extras, just the two of us. He was a complete gentleman: modest, a perfectionist and entirely unassuming. He was incredibly funny, and had the whole crew in hysterics. I played the piano for what was to be his last ever television appearance in the world.”

Clifford’s composing and production work has become the primary focus of his career in recent years. He started work on the Bowie Songs Project in 2014, with the intention of reinterpreting some of the star’s greatest songs in unplugged acoustic settings, arranged for just voice and piano. Now, just over a year since Bowie’s death, Clifford’s first collection of recordings from the project will be released on March 3rd this year. Bowie Songs One has already been attracting a lot of attention. An intensely personal project for Clifford, this alternative take on the musical genius of David Bowie matches a wide range of contemporary vocalists, including Billie Ray Martin, David McAlmont, Katherine Ellis and Ian Shaw, with Clifford’s distinctive work on the keys. The collection moves from early works like ‘Letter to Hermione’, from Space Oddity, to Seventies classics like ‘Time’, from Aladdin Sane and ‘Stay’, from Station to Station, providing a fresh view of classic songs that both complements and brings a new approach to the originals. From his earliest musical inspiration to this contemporary reinterpretation, Clifford Slapper’s keyboard journey has, after all these years, come full circle.

Fitzrovia Dawn

Fitzrovia Dawn


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


To me, London is at its best in the early hours when it is nearly deserted and all but silent. Fitzrovia at dawn can appear a harsh, even bleak place, yet it offers a varied and inspiring tapestry of visuals to explore. From the shadows cast by the day’s first commuters to the eerie shapes cast by the approaching morning light, Fitzovia’s streets take on an entirely different quality at this time of day from their later bustle. Compiled during the last few weeks of 2016, this series explores the sights of Fitzrovia between 5 and 7 o’clock in the morning.

Six Physio

Six Physio


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Pete Drinkell


“Call us old fashioned but we believe that prevention is better than cure…”

There’s a new addition to Fitzrovia’s growing health and wellness scene. Recent Mortimer Street newcomers Psycle introduced us to low-impact, head-to-toe bike workouts, while on Euston’s Drummond Street Ringtone Boxing Gym has continued a tradition of workouts and training methods used by old-school boxers. Now, Six Physio has relocated from its former premises on Harley Street to 19 Foley Street offering both 3:1 and 1:1 Pilates sessions with their experienced therapists.

“Don’t treat, cure”. This is the Six Physio’s watchword, and I admit that I was sceptical at first. Six Physio started out small in a room with a phone in SW6. Back then, the idea was to never, ever compromise on doing the very best for their patients – and the idea hasn’t changed. Six Physio aren’t out to be the biggest in their game; instead, they’re about being the best at what they do. To date, they have established 10 clinics throughout Central London, stretching from Chelsea, to Moorgate and Leadenhall. They have also made their presence felt in other ways, including holding onto Best Company and Sunday Times Top 100 Small Companies to Work For titles for an impressive four years in a row.

The ‘physio’ bit in the name is important; it’s the major part of what they do. Entering the Foley Street clinic, it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t just a gym, but something much bolder. Although clients do carry out exercise at Six Physio, it’s the ‘physio’ element that sets them aside from other leading gyms and clinics in the area. Having now provided the very best physiotherapy in London for a quarter of a century, they’re experts in their field. Offering sports physiotherapy, help with back pain, and oncology physiotherapy, physiotherapists consult with patients about their specific issues with the intention of tackling the problem within three weeks. Furthermore, if there is no sign of a visible change within that period, the therapists won’t continue to treat, and will instead refer patients on for further investigation within their network of first-rate consultants; or as they put it: three strikes, and you’re out!

During my first ever one-on-one pilates session with Rehabilitation Physiotherapist Ailish Toomey, I was asked about any health problems I had. Following the equipment-based pilates, Ailish examined my recently sprained ankle, locating the cause of the discomfort. Advising me how to eradicate the problem, she clearly and effectively demonstrated how to massage the Extensor Digitorum Longus (what you and I would simply refer to as a muscle on our lower leg). I kept this up for a few days, and within a week or so was definitely on the mend.

As strange as it might sound, Six Physio’s key tool is talking people better. Their treatments are heavily dependent on a process of open and clear communication about health and fitness, which in turn provides the best results. Their physiotherapists provide patients with the relevant knowledge and support required to properly manage their own fitness or health condition – meaning you don’t have to keep coming back. Here, prevention is definitely better than cure. After 14 years at their Harley Street clinic, they have successfully nestled themselves in Fitzrovia, offering the same team and service in a bright, modern space, comprising six treatment rooms and a large, newly-equipped Pilates studio. Six Physio is a welcome new addition to Foley Street, and one for which residents with aches and pains or workers looking to improve their health will undoubtedly be grateful in the future.

Visit Six Physio in store at 19 Foley Street or online to enquire about bookings & treatments.

The Smoking Guns

The Smoking Guns


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan

 

“We started something together that we were wholly in control of – it was the beginning of a new adventure.”

A transatlantic duo blazing their way through Soho’s music venues, clubs and bars, spinning Northern Soul, 60s rhythm & blues and old school rock-n-roll, Iraina Mancini and Samantha Michelle are an unlikely success story in an often male-dominated world. I talked to them about how The Smoking Guns got started, their Soho roots and the reasons behind their DJ venture.

Growing up in West London, Iraina Mancini has spent her life in the company of music. “My Dad was in a band with David Bowie,” she explains, “so I’ve always had something of a musical upbringing. He raised me on soul, and its been ingrained in me since I was a kid.” When she was just 18 she approached a band after a gig, telling them that their singer wasn’t the best and that she would make a better vocalist for the group. “I think I was very confident in those days for an 18 year old girl,” she says. “They turned around and invited me in for an audition. After that, I started a band called Mancini and toured around for a number of years, made an album and went on the road. I’ve been doing music ever since. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve become more of a songwriter for other artists. At the moment I’m recording an EP.”

Samantha Michelle, the other half of the duo, grew up in Toronto, spending much of her youth in Canada and the US, eventually settling in New York for sometime before moving to London. “Mine and Irania’s upbringings are polar opposites,” says Sam. “I didn’t grow up in a musical household at all. My father is a businessman, and my mother is a doctor. A creative life as an artist or musician was definitely not something that my family expected of me – it wasn’t a viable option. As a kid, I was always very artistically inclined. I would often paint, and I was a competitive dancer, but these were merely hobbies. I didn’t like the options that were presented to me in the world that I grew up in, so I wanted to build a new life for myself. The gateway into that for me was university. I worked hard to get into a good school, eventually studying in New York. My whole world became an incredibly different place for me as I explored the nightlife of the city, which had a strong influence over my taste in music. I felt like some of the music I was listening to was part of some kind of unspoken tribe. When I moved to London, I was instantly fascinated. It’s strange for me really, as I have no ties to the place at all, yet I’ve adopted it as my home.”

Sam and Iraina first met in Soho nearly five years ago at Dean Street’s Groucho Club. They quickly became friends, and their friendship became centred on their careers, with both of them working as actresses and DJing separately. One evening they discussed the possibility of starting their own project together. With their combined love of soul, rock and roll, and the music of the 60s and 70s, the two of them decided to pool their talents, forming The Smoking Guns late last year. “We thought maybe we could do something that we could be in control of, something fun,” says Iraina, “so we decided to DJ together. We made a pact: this time next year we’ll have really made this thing take off.”

“We were so fearless, and we believed in ourselves wholeheartedly,” says Sam. “In life, shit doesn’t go your way for whatever reason. At first it builds this distrust and lack of faith in yourself, and then something comes to you to make you realise your true potential. So together Iraina and I turned a new leaf – we started something together that we were wholly in control of. It was the beginning of a new adventure. We wanted to get to a point in our lives of primitive artistic pursuit.” And so The Smoking Guns was born. Once they’d decided to work together, Iraina and Sam wasted no time: in fact, they managed to land their first booking within five minutes. With their easy and approachable manner, perhaps it’s no surprise that the two quickly began to work with dozens of venues, particularly around Soho; and given their taste in music, The Smoking Guns carved out their own specialised niche. A female duo spinning Northern Soul, 60s rhythm & blues and old school rock-n-roll? Unheard of!

What might have been seen as a handicap in a musical scene that’s always been heavily male-dominated actually proved pivotal to their success, helping them to begin working alongside some of the most exclusive nightspots in the Soho neighbourhood, such as The Groucho Club, Soho House and Lights of Soho, with a number of weekly residencies all over London. “We were very lucky that we already had a core group of people that we’d already worked with in the past, so we had a good starting point. So much of my life has been spent here on the streets of the neighbourhood. It’s an incredibly important place to me. Its a personal experience, DJing for people we’ve grown up around and who are part of our lives,” says Iraina. “At the start, many of the people that we began working with or being booked by were people we already knew pretty well – it was a success on the back of our connection to Soho. The neighbourhood is dear to our hearts, and The Smoking Guns is a lovechild of Soho!”

What Sam and Iraina have created is refreshing and original, a shot in the arm for a music scene that has been losing some of its momentum in recent years. In just over 12 months, their friendship has blossomed into a successful musical collaboration covering all corners of Soho. Standing tall in their Joshua Kane bespoke men’s suits they give off an image of confidence and beauty that defies both expectations and odds, even in an ever changing and diversifying neighbourhood. The Smoking Guns have already begun to gain a strong following, creating a positive and uplifting atmosphere that echoes the neighbourhood’s yesteryear: crowds revel in the basement of Lights of Soho to the sounds of Bob Dylan and the Small Faces, while at the Groucho they scream with joy to the sound of The Doors and The Rolling Stones. Perhaps these two talented young ladies were destined to meet and combine to spread their musical message. As they continue to go from strength to strength, Sam and Iraina are two young guns to watch closely.

A Soho Office

A Soho Office


Words Griff Rhys Jones

Photography Archives


Some time ago, in the very early Eighties, Melvyn Kenneth Smith and I decided to go into business together. We had no idea what we were doing. Or what business to go into. We liked the idea of an office. Not the Nine O’Clock News had, I think, an audience of 18 million in one set of repeats. It was a pop phenomenon, like being a band. We were certainly arrogant, opinionated and ignorant enough to assume we could run anything. Mel and I had been producers and directors before we became performers. We were plucked from those jobs to do our party pieces on TV. This was our affinity. It bound us together. The late Harry Thompson paid us the compliment of saying, later, “you were the only ones who weren’t c*nts in the entire operation.” But then he didn’t really know us.

We were also pragmatic. I started producing commercials for the Not spin-off of records and tapes (this was before DVD). We decided we might make more, so we decided to make radio productions and we called it “Talkback”. We were starting a sketch show of our own sometime in 1982, working in the old Television Centre (the one they recently sold). The nearest place for lunch apart from a dispiriting staff canteen full of men with pints of beer was half way back to Notting Hill.

It was a round building. Once, trying to find a cup of coffee, I walked around three times before I realised it was a circle. The hutches faced out onto the central atrium. The only view out of the window was other offices full of people working. It didn’t inspire. I wanted to get back to the West End. I craved the glamour of a pub. Friends from university had a theatre promotions business with an office in the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. I suspect they needed to offset the costs so they gave us a desk and we started making commercials and pieces for Soho-based companies like Saatchi and Saatchi. After a while and a couple of jobs we moved and settled into Brewer Street.

I probably still walk past the entrance to that office every week or so. It was on the north side, down the Aquascutum end, opposite the Stone Island shop where I sometimes buy Italian football supporter’s clothing to wear on TV shows. But which walk-up was it? I can’t recall. I have forgotten to even try to remember. We took two rooms or maybe more. People joined us to write commercials. Vicki my old secretary left the BBC. We pitched to agencies and recorded in Angel Sound or sometimes on the barge in Little Venice that belonged to Richard Branson.

It was up there, on the canal, we recorded about six scripts I had written for Tim Delaney of Leagas Delaney. We were busy so we had to suggest to Tim that he joined us at around 11 at night while we “knocked ideas around”. One was a simple but alarmingly racist shop sketch. I offered the customer, Mel, who wanted a Japanese “videocaster” a “Phirrips”. Like most successful commercials it was popular with advertising people so it won a lot of awards.

But here we were in Soho. We went out to eat in Greek restaurants and could take walks peering into shops. This was before the Groucho Club had been invented. We went to basement dives called “the Marie Lloyd” to get drinks when the pubs closed. You could buy smoked eels at Hamburger Products down the other end of Brewer Street. It wasn’t White City. There were strip clubs all over the shop then, instead of just corralled down the corner of Brewer and Wardour. Meard Street was still shit street. Late at night, it was possible to walk your mother through there, trying to get to some restaurant or other, and find yourself passing several blokes pissing in the gutter and another getting a knee-trembler in the shadows. (Mothers are more experienced in life than you think though.) The French Pub was a stand-up, fall-down boozer rather than a fascinating part-gourmet eatery. The inmates turned to stare if a stranger had the temerity to march himself in. You had to sidle up to the bar.

We had a Soho philosophy. You needed nothing more than a tea chest, a cardboard box to sit on and a phone. Make money and you took home a share. It generally worked. Not everybody paid us. Our manager, PBJ, pointed out that our first big contract was not paid, six months after the job was done. I went and sat in the office of a major advertising company until I got a cheque off the boss, a now world famous PR Lord. I was pretty drunk. That seemed to help. But we moved. When? I don’t know. We went to Berwick Street. We got some sort of pokey offices out of a deal with Warner Brothers. I know we were in that street, because I recall I was once waiting for Mel. We were supposed to be back in White City, but he hadn’t shown up so I decided to get in the cab and go without him. The cabbie said he knew my voice from somewhere. “You’re Jeremy Pascal, off the radio aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well you sound just like him.”

We drove off, turned right towards Oxford Street and passed the underground car park there. The cabbie said, “Look, look there! There’s that Mel Smith off the telly coming out of the car park.”  Mel was coming out. The cabbie was clearly in awe.

I pulled down the window. “Oi! Mel!!”

The cabbie was horrified. “Don’t shout at him. They don’t like it.”

“Get in the sodding car!”

Mel got in. The cabbie shut up.

But which order did this happen in? I don’t know. I remember I got my dad’s dog run over in Soho Square. Not something you want to do. I let him off his lead to run about a bit by the half-timbered hut and he chased a pigeon into the street. It was the squealing after he got hit that was the bother. Everybody looked at me like I was a murderer. The dog survived. It got its leg in plaster from a Soho vet somewhere. By that stage, we had first floor offices directly on the corner with Greek Street – big and airy rooms, with oblong-paned Crittal windows (now replaced by an ugly bank building), overlooking the dog-desecrating square. I went up to Star Warehouse in the old railway stables at the back of the Camden market and bought a pinball machine, a pool table and an orange jukebox. We believed they were essential to creativity. They went with us on yet another move to Carnaby Street. (Or was it the other way around? I remember the toys, but not the order of moves.)

The Soho Square offices had their charms. We were once taken up to the top floor where there was a beautiful darkened flat completely panelled out in shinny yellow satinwood that had belonged to Gracie Fields. But, ah, the joy of those Carnaby narrow 17th century rooms, poky stairs and clapboarded dados. Too many of the eighties edit houses and post-production facilities were squeezed into unsuitable 18th century listed houses with netted fire doors, glass partitions and grim noticeboards, but our place remained a house, with fireplaces in every room. We were always above a shop. Carnaby Street went on up into the roof. At a party crowding up the stairs, I watched a Harbottle’s lawyer patronise an anonymous-looking man about his music. “We sometimes represent groups. What’s yours called?”

“Pink Floyd.”

Carnaby Street was pedestrianised, like now, but in a yellow and black zigzag plastic. We kept taxis permanently hovering at one end or the other, waiting to take artistes to important lunches. Gradually the pool table and the pinball machines went. There was no room for creativity. They were replaced with desks. The company was doing all right. Nobody hung out and played very much any more. Mel had the orange, Sixties bubble jukebox transported off to his place. It was mine. I paid for it. But I didn’t say anything. He’s dead now and it sits in his empty Abbey Road house. I might try to get it back. It has pictures of the two of us wearing Greek costumes under its perspex lid. I don’t remember why the Greek costumes, or the silver boingers on our heads. Those should date it, but there is now no record of that headgear craze. It was around that time we decided to move to Percy Street in Fitzrovia. This was a big place. We even had the shop, with an old plate glass window looking on to the reception area decorated with pictures bought from Rebecca Hossack around the corner. That was the end of Soho for us. When was this? God knows. Must have been the end of the Eighties. It was in many ways.

 

Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I wanted to open on Berwick Street. I really believed it was the high street of the neighbourhood.”

Farringdon, Portobello, Lambeth: familiar names of London districts, but also those of a range of garments designed by Oliver Spencer, whose clothes, full of stylish accents and practical details, have earned a reputation for distinction, comfort and sheer cool. Designing and making handcrafted garments for modern men and women, Bloomsbury-based Spencer has produced his own individual take on relaxed British style, and a special relationship with the Soho neighbourhood stretching back to his youth.

Having grown up in Coventry, Oli first moved to London in the early 1990s to study art. Frustrated by the limitations of art school, he abandoned his studies and enrolled in what he describes as the University of Life, selling second-hand clothes from a stall at Portobello Market. “Lots of things happened which I would describe as being pivotal in framing where my life would go next. I learnt lots of lessons – some good and some bad,” he says. He woke up at 4.30am every day so he could get his pitch, and it was there on the market stall that his relationship with clothes really began, giving him with an enduring love of the product and a passion for shopkeeping.

Oli spent a decade creating and expanding his first venture, formalwear brand Favourbrook, during which time he designed waistcoats for the 1994 film Four Weddings And A Funeral and began to establish his place on London’s design map. Eight years later, he wanted to embark on a new venture with even greater ambitions – success on the global scene. His plan was to produce a range of clothing that combined the quality and craft of traditional tailoring with a more relaxed modern style. His philosophy: quality needn’t mean formality; casual needn’t mean careless. “I have a feeling towards clothing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dressing up or dressing down – it’s involved in every step of my life in any case,” he says. “When my customers purchase something from us, I want them to feel a sense of belonging – as if they’ve bought something that’s like their best friend… something they’ve owned forever. Every season, I strive to get there. I want to create clothes that talk to people. Most of my customers like to be seen but not heard – that’s why I don’t brand my stuff.” The Oliver Spencer label was born in 2002, and its founder’s philosophy soon found a number of adherents in the heart of Bloomsbury and beyond. Oli’s arrival in Bloomsbury came about through friend and founder of Folk Clothing, Glaswegian fashion designer Cathal McAteer. The Oliver Spencer brand first came to Lambs Conduit Street in 2007, and Oli’s store at No 62 is home to the latest collection each season, with the original surviving shop fittings making for an immaculately dressed setting.

Since launching on Lambs Conduit Street, Oliver Spencer has continued to expand across London, opening shops in Shoreditch and Soho – an area that’s been important in Oli’s own life since 1989. “I first came here with an ex-girlfriend of mine who was a couple of years older than me. At this point, I was already into fashion. It was the middle of the summer, and I was wearing an old second-hand two-piece check suit with sandals – aged 18. I remember getting some strange looks! People could see I definitely wasn’t from the area,” he says. “My relationship with Soho has always been that of a stranger really. It’s always held this awe for me – I’ve always been a bit scared of it to be honest. When I was a kid at art school, Soho was this tricky place. It felt so grown up, with so much going on all around. To a young kid, it was a bit intimidating. It was full of many different tribes, and not everybody was necessarily nice, especially if you were an outsider coming here. Everywhere you turned, there were dark streets and characters lurking. Since then, my fear has turned into a fascination. On a Friday evening, I know if I get here after 9pm, I won’t be home until at least 3am. Its an absolute vortex.” After opening his Bloomsbury stores, Oli had always planned for Soho to be his next destination. “I knew exactly where I wanted to open: I wanted to open on Berwick Street. I really believed it was the high street of the neighbourhood. It was the first store we opened where the tills began to ring from the very first day… if the shoe fits, as they say.”

Oli is uncompromising in the standards he sets for production and provenance, sourcing the finest fabrics and yarns from artisanal British and Italian mills. He prides himself on producing his garments in only the best European factories and workshops, with around 40 per cent of the collection made here in London or elsewhere in England. Despite the emphasis on British quality, Oliver Spencer’s eye is firmly fixed on the global market. Today, his clothes are stocked in many of the world’s leading department stores, from Selfridges to Liberty of London, and he has opened shops in Toronto and Paris, as well as developing a profitable international online business. With wearers of his brand including Daniel Craig, Tinie Tempah, Alex James and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, Oli confesses that his next ambition is to become a household name.

 

Raymond Revuebar

Raymond Revuebar


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Getty Images/Hulton Archive


Behind its ever-changing façade, Soho’s streets still hold secrets; dig beneath the surface and you can find yourself transported back to a different time. Make your way through the daytime crowds of Berwick Street, head towards the seedy Walkers Court, and stick around until nightfall, when the infamous doors to The Box Soho are open wide. Step inside this relic of Soho’s not-so-distant past and you’re in what was once the Doric Ballroom, which in turn became the setting of the Raymond Revuebar, perhaps Paul Raymond’s most famous legacy to the neighbourhood he reigned over for so many years.

It’s a legacy that still haunts the streets of Soho today. As evening revellers pass along Brewer Street, most don’t look up to see the neon beacon of the Raymond Revuebar that still glows above their heads. But, in spirit at least, the centre of Raymond’s empire of erotic entertainment, sex, publishing and property lives on. Despite the change of name and ownership, The Box Soho remains true to the Raymond Revuebar’s legacy, serving up nightly helpings of titillation, nudity and sex. Paul Raymond pioneered Soho strip clubs and the soft-porn magazine trade and prospered for more than 40 years; it was perhaps an unexpected ascendency for an entrepreneur who started out as a wartime spiv selling black market nylons from a market stall.

Paul Raymond was a stage name he chose early in his career, but he began life as Geoffrey Anthony Quinn, born in 1925 into a working class, Roman Catholic family in Liverpool. His mother wanted him to have a sound job, something steady and respectable, like a railway ticket office clerk, and she never fully accepted his more risqué chosen career.

Despite his success and confidence in later life, Raymond was a shy youngster who often stammered. If his childhood taught him anything, it was the need to establish his independence, something that ultimately defined his character. He left school at 15, working at the Manchester Ship Canal as an office boy. After a stint in the RAF, he embarked on a rather different life. He purchased a mind-reading act for £25, billing himself as a clairvoyant, and in Liverpool became a theatrical agent and impresario. The manager of one theatre told Raymond that he would book his act – but there was a catch. Raymond’s two female colleagues would only be allowed on stage if they appeared entirely nude. He offered the two girls an extra 10 shillings a week and they agreed. At this point, the law stated that nudity was permitted in a theatre providing women didn’t move whilst onstage. Finding away around this obstruction became something of a creative challenge: by putting the girls on a rotating platform, Raymond found a way to make his early shows a success. This set him on a path through a changing Britain – one that led him to Soho and made him one of the richest men in the country.

Raymond saw that the Lord Chamberlain’s restrictions surrounding on-stage nudity could be simply bypassed by turning public theatres into private clubs. In 1958 the old Doric Ballroom at 12 Walker’s Court, Soho, reopened as the Raymond Revuebar, hosting an array of explicit daily shows. At the time, this was one of very few legal venues in London offering full-frontal nudity. Though homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, the Revuebar also operated a Sunday night show targeted at a gay audience. The success of the club was inevitably controversial, and in 1961 the chairman of the London Sessions called the show “filthy, disgusting and beastly”, and fined Raymond £5,000. It might have been a setback, but it also provided publicity for the shows worth many times this amount. By the late 1960s, the Revuebar was solely hosting striptease performances. This in turn made way for big-budget erotic shows of the type presented by Continental clubs such as the Crazy Horse. Performances involved a mixture of solo striptease acts mixed with simulated boy/girl and girl/girl on-stage sex. Known The Festival of Erotica, the show ran for many years, often with three performances a night.

By this time, Raymond had become a British institution. His realisation that the naked female body could deliver far bigger box office once it was relocated from Soho’s seedy cellars to the world of the theatre was the key to his success. Taking over the Whitehall and the Windmill theatres, his stage holdings grew, while his formula of providing nudity without actionable crudity was also applied to print publications like Men Only, Mayfair and Escort. Raymond’s wealth and empire begun to spread throughout Soho: he purchased freeholds of buildings throughout the neighbourhood, and created Soho Estates, amassing around 400 properties in the Soho area and becoming a commercial giant that dwarfed other theatre managements.

With competition from the wave of table dancing clubs that opened during the 1990s, audience numbers for traditional striptease shows were dwindling, and by 1997 Raymond sold the Revuebar to former Marseilles Ballet dancer Gerard Simi. The Revuebar hung on for a few more years, eventually closing in 2004. After the death of his daughter Debbie in 1992, Raymond stepped out of the media limelight and began to loosen his connections with the organisation he had built. A recluse in his last years, he died of respiratory failure, aged 82, in 2008, his granddaughters Fawn and India inheriting an estate estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

You can recapture something of the glory days of Paul Raymond’s Soho in a new exhibition from Getty Images Gallery, which unearths rare photos of Soho’s past, and particularly of its nightlife and entertainment venues. The Raymond Revuebar, of course, is one of the exhibition’s focal points. Running until November 19th, the exhibition will be a trip down memory lane for some and an eye-opener for many others, juxtaposing the neighbourhood’s seedy roots with everyday Soho-ites through a series of beautiful photographs carefully selected from Getty Images’ vast historical archives – from David Bowie at The Marquee Club, jazz greats at Ronnie Scott’s and stunning images of Soho’s nightlife.

 

Filson

Filson


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“There’s an endless amount of inspiration within the Filson brand given that we’re over a century old…”

Filson is a brand that was born out of necessity: it arrived in the right place and at the right time, and with a sense of purpose that has kept it on course ever since.

Thousands of fortune hunters were stampeding through Seattle, heading north. Born in 1850 and inheriting his fathers pioneer spirit and love of the great outdoors, CC Filson was armed with a strong work ethic, a reputation for honesty and several years’ experience operating a small loggers’ outfitting store. He knew that quality was of vital importance and that the only thing good enough was the very best. It was said that if a man was heading north, he should come to Filson for his outfit.

The rugged quality of Filson products has been setting the standard for American outdoor apparel for over 100 years, as creative director Alex Carleton is well aware: he was a Filson customer before he even came on board the brand, growing up in New England with a love for the outdoors. “I was familiar with the products and always intrigued by the world they came from. I wanted to help reveal a lot of the untold stories that existed. I’ve always gravitated towards American companies that played in the arena of tradition and outdoor recreation. Filson is the perfect combination of both,” he says.

As creative director, Alex is a firm believer in working with what’s there and maintaining a connection with the company’s origins, purpose and sense of place. “I’m a creative, I don’t really feel comfortable working in a vacuum. It’s not my style. There’s an endless amount of inspiration within the Filson brand given that we’re over a century old. I’m cautious about not letting our narrative stretch too far away from where we are and where we come from. It’s really easy to keep close to the core when you love it,” he says.

As Alex explains, a book could easily be written about the story of Filson. Producing unfailingly reliable gear for outdoor work, the company’s golden age lasted for decades, with Filson kitting out the innumerable men heading north in the hope of making their fortunes. “The Cliff Notes go like this: CC Filson was a pioneer who, by way of Nebraska, landed in Seattle at the end of the 19th century. He and his brother opened what would be a modern day equivalent of a hardware shop in Pioneer Square. When gold was discovered in the Klondike, being the entrepreneur he was, CC targeted prospectors as his customers and outfitted them for the insanely harsh weather of the north. Filson is the original Alaska outfitter.” Come the 20th century, the brand introduced outdoor sporting goods oriented toward those quintessentially American pastimes of hunting and fishing. Today, Filson see themselves as offering a unique blend of products for both work and recreation – and not just in the wild northlands of the USA.

If London is the gateway to Europe, then Soho is the gateway to London, and Newburgh Street was where the brand came to open its first retail outlet outside of the US. “We opened our first store at 9 Newburgh Street in April 2013, and then our second store at 13 Newburgh Street in December 2015,” Alex explains. “At number 9, you’ll find our luggage, bags and accessories, and at number 13 our clothing, such as our famous Mackinaw jackets, cruisers and shirts.” Their Soho stores have managed to integrate into the surrounding neighbourhood in the same way that their US stores have done. It’s about establishing a feel for the environment and getting to know the local area and work with it. “Soho has a sense of adventure and discovery, and we definitely share those values,” he says, “We host an array of events that give us the opportunity to bring a slice of the Pacific Northwest to life, from Whiskey and Wax, where we will show you how to wax your jacket, to events hosted by people that live the Filson life, such as wild chefs and foragers.”

Over the decades, Filson has both maintained what works and continued to innovate. It’s interesting that while so many heritage brands have changed, and in the process lost themselves, Filson has concentrated on delivering what they always have: a guarantee of quality and a focus on making products geared for the wild. In the future, just as in the past, Filson will continue to serve those customers who demand the very best high quality apparel for outdoor pursuits, and the brand’s presence in Soho – bringing a taste of the far north to central London – will undoubtedly grow. “We shall continue to innovate our product offerings and foster that same entrepreneurial spirit that CC Filson had. We’ll continue to mine our archives and share our adventure stories while creating new ones today,” says Alex.

 

A Home of  World Culture

A Home of World Culture


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I’ve always had this love of human creativity, what people can create, and what nature can create…”

A few years ago, one Fitzrovian opened my eyes a little wider to the neighbourhood… and the world beyond. She encouraged me to look, to listen and to really see this village in the city through her eyes. Her name is Rebecca Hossack. She’s beautiful, seemingly ageless, and strikingly tall. She’s intellectual and influential, a respected businesswoman, an established art dealer, and a member of the local council. And considering how remarkably down-to-earth she is, it’s easy to forget the success of her eponymously named galleries here in Fitzrovia and across the pond in New York City. She’s remarkably open when discussing her business, and her abiding love of Fitzrovia, but Rebecca values her privacy too, especially when it comes to her home environment and her own personal art collection, so I was delighted when she invited me into this very special place.

Born in 1955, Rebecca has a Scottish family heritage and was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. She began studying for the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in the early 1980s when she first came to England, but soon after opted for a career in art. After borrowing £20,000 to open her first gallery on Windmill Street in 1988, Rebecca has gone on to establish two successful Fitzrovia-based galleries, on Charlotte Street and Conway Street, with another in the heart of Lower Manhattan, New York. Today, her presence and her mission are as uncompromising as ever: she wants to create a sanctuary where people can come to find themselves among the artworks, greenery and peace of her galleries.

The same approach to creating a unique space extends to her domestic environment. Just round the corner from Conway Street, in a classic, flat-fronted Fitzrovia terrace, she and her husband Matthew Sturgis have created a beautiful home that’s as full of the unexpected as her galleries, and filled with Rebecca’s extensive personal collection of non-Western art and artefacts. It begs the question: is her home is an extension of her galleries, or her galleries an extension of her home?

As we stand in the kitchen, Rebecca talks to me while making a pot of tea. “This is a house of world culture. Everything in the house isn’t just a thing – it has meaning and a personal touch. Everything is made or created by somebody I or my husband knows. In the kitchen alone, all of the cups and saucers are made by the octogenarian potter, Anne Stokes, from Hampstead,” she says, handing to me a plate inspired by the Aboriginal artist Jimmy Pike. We step down into the basement of the house, which Rebecca’s refers to as her ‘earth room’. “Everything in here is homemade. Because it’s downstairs, I wanted this to be the earth room. Everything down here is made from the earth. The floor is leather and the curtains are woven leather,” she tells me. From a rare wooden medieval chest, to a woven high-back Orkney Scottish chair and a Haitian voodoo flag, the contents of the earth room rival the displays at the British Museum or the V&A, both of whom have taken objects and artefacts from her home on loan through the years. Rebecca walks me to the end of the room, where she introduces me to a series of paintings, and two aboriginal funeral poles. “These are our hollow log coffins. When Matthew and I die, I’ll go in this one, and he’ll go in that one; your bones gone in there. Traditionally, the aboriginals would hang your dead body on a tree until you’d fully decomposed, then bleach your bones, and stuff them in the log. I’m hoping my log can be planted in Fitzroy Square. I’m not sure how the residents will take to it though!” she laughs.

Her relationship with art and collecting has been a long one, growing throughout her life. It began when she was a child in Melbourne. “Ever since I was tiny, I have been collecting. I’ve always had this love of human creativity, what people can create, and what nature can create. I’ve always had an obsession with flowers,” she says. “I’ve had many, many collections during my life; my first one was of glass animals. I have always loved collecting – what humans have made is a source of infinite delight to me. I am not delighted by many modern things: the public realm constantly disappoints me.”

Rebecca’s lifelong love affair with aboriginal and non-Western art   is an unmistakable product of her Australian origins. “I am from a family of three generations of Scottish weavers. My father was a doctor, and all of my family were tradespeople and factory workers. I was the first member of the family to break from the norm. It’s funny how suddenly that happens, and why,“ she observes. “Through the galleries I represent 40 artists, all non-Western. I kind of made it my mission to work with only non-Western artists. Today, I think we have more pictures and paintings than any other house in Fitzrovia – somewhere in the region of 430 – and an extensive book collection made up of my and my husband’s personal collections. I don’t know what to do now, because I really have run out of room on the walls. Each one is personal and like a jewel, with so much knowledge and meaning. That’s maybe my biggest existential problem in life now!” she laughs. “It’s really hard to have a minimalist house filled with this many books and pictures. Everything on the walls is rare enough to be in the British Museum – some of it has been at one time or another!” Rebecca and I walk through the entrance hall of her house. I am examining a series of solid bronze cactuses when she draws my attention to a painting that covers most of the wall space. “The picture you are looking at here is by the Spinifex people. I went to the most remote place on the earth on Christmas Day to meet them some years ago in the Great Victoria Desert. Little was known about these people – so much so that the British used the site for nuclear weapons testing,” she says. “The painting tells the story of a nuclear weapons test, in which they evacuated their homeland.”

The Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery has been an established presence in Fitzrovia for almost 30 years now, and is renowned for showing exciting, often eye-opening work by international artists. Walking around Rebecca’s galleries, as in her home, you are greeted at every turn by figurative drawings, paintings and sculptures that go against existing trends in the art world and are quite unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. The galleries frequently show work on paper by Aboriginal artists from Australia, and are undoubtedly among London’s most enviably independent and original gallery spaces. Rebecca Hossack is a Fitzrovia institution. Despite her protestations about lack of space, I suspect her extensive personal art collection will continue to grow, just as her galleries will continue to showcase some of the most exciting and unexpected art to be seen in Fitzrovia. Home and gallery are, in the end, of a piece, and 100 per cent Rebecca.

Shrimoyee Chakraborty

Shrimoyee Chakraborty


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“…I didn’t like studying, so my mum got me to the kitchen to do my homework while she cooked.”

The first thing you notice upon entering Calcutta Street is the colour: a bright aquamarine exterior, with menus like wooden window shutters in the same brilliant hue. The second thing is the menu: to those unacquainted with regional Indian cooking, the dishes may seem unfamiliar – after all we’re so used to traditional Indian restaurants serving the usual curries – but Calcutta Street aims to bring a culinary rarity to London diners: authentic Bengali cuisine. There are mains such as Panchmishali Torkari, seasonal vegetables cooked with panch phoran, a classic Bengali five-spice mixture, and billed as ‘Grandmother’s classic’; Kosha Mangsho, a rich and fragrant Bengali-style lamb Curry; and a delicious sea bass cooked in banana leaf – and all come with a personal touch. This is Shrimoyee Chakraborty’s sanctuary, and all her dishes originate “from her family kitchen on Gariahat Road”.

“When I moved to England, I hated the curry houses here. I didn’t like the décor. The style, it was far too… I mean, I wouldn’t go on a date there, and that’s not the India I grew up with. I was sick and tired of slum India, poor India… we’re all about reds and oranges, we’re all about wearing a sari and Bollywood.” Her response was to start a blog called Calcutta Street, which described itself as “a celebration of my city and a montage of happy memories growing up in a household obsessed with food and entertaining.” “I was like, right, this is real Indian food, not what you eat in those restaurants, and I think that’s why the blog got attention.”

Looking back, Shrimoyee credits her mother, who at the time was doing a PhD in philosophy, with awakening her culinary imagination.  “When I was very young, like every other kid, I didn’t like studying, so my mum got me to the kitchen to do my homework while she cooked. She used to sit there and say “Finish your homework!” but instead, everything else was more interesting and more exciting than my school books. My mother is a fantastic cook. She loves experimenting and used to incentivise me to learn to cook and try new things. She would say ‘Right, if you finish this paragraph you can make a dough or whatever’. That’s how I started enjoying it.” As she grew more confident, Shrimoyee became more adventurous. “When my mum wasn’t home, I used to go to the kitchen and make things by myself. Even now, if I’m confused about a recipe I call her up for advice.”

But Shrimoyee’s journey from childhood experimentation in the kitchen to full-blown restaurateur has as many unusual twists as her recipes. “I grew up in Calcutta and left at 16. When I was in my teens I had all sorts of ideas! I always wanted to do something a bit different from the norm. First, I wanted to be a female pilot. After that, I wanted to market independent films, because I was really into foreign language films – Bertolucci, Almodovar and especially Satyajit Ray.” But coming from a very academic family, her parents balked at the idea of her studying media. “It was a complete taboo! So instead, I did economics but with a media major for my undergrad degree.”

Though she had a taste of the media world in India, doing some presenting for the Disney channel, Shrim decided to move to Manchester, where she did a Masters in global business analysis. “I thought ‘I’m going to go the corporate route – I want to make a lot of money!’ But really, I was never a money-driven person.” She worked at Royal Bank of Scotland, then in advertising at WPP, before finally being poached by Yelp. “They said ‘Right, here’s the Yelp brand from America – launch it! It’s your baby!’ That was the best thing ever!” But after a year and a half, London beckoned. A stint at the Sunday Times was followed by a job at the economic think tank Asia House. “I was the head of programming, researching foreign markets and finally using my economics degree, dealing with big companies to do economic analysis.” But in the midst all this, Shrimoyee had also launched her food blog, yearning to get back to her passion for food. “At first, it was just a hobby. When I started it, I was looking at other blogs that were just generic recipes written down; there was nothing that was specifically regional, like the cuisine I make here.” Shrim started doing video blogs. From this came TV opportunities. “Channel 4, Travel, and Living, got in touch. I was doing shows here and there. And then the Independent came to interview me and asked me what’s the next step, and I said I want to do pop-ups!”

A soul-searching trip to the East and West coasts of America convinced her she needed to act on her instincts. “I saw these investment bankers who’d left their jobs to make their own cheese and stuff like that, and I thought Wow! This is very inspiring!” From this point, there was no stopping Shrim. Her first pop-up in Camden featured Bengali cuisine with a street food theme. “I was really just testing the market. I blagged my way in, telling the owner I have this blog with 1,700 followers and I can get you 50 people through the door on a Sunday afternoon when you’re not busy.” Instead, we got 100 people and ran out of food – it was complete chaos!” More pop-ups followed, from Bonnie Gull in Exmouth market to the South Bank Festival and live jazz events with sitar players.

“I barely had any time, but I realised I needed to stop the pop-ups; so I wrote a business plan overnight, thinking about how I could try and raise some funding. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?” Investors quickly saw Shrim’s potential and lined up to help her start her own business. “I saw this property on Tottenham Street and I thought It looked super cute! I always wanted to be near Charlotte Street. So we got the builders in and Fitzrovia’s Calcutta Street was born!”

For Shrimoyee, introducing the culture of Calcutta, as well as its cuisine, was one of the most important aspects of opening her restaurant. “That’s why our menu holders are Bengali books by great authors, because art and literature are a huge part of Calcutta’s culture. And all the artwork in the restaurant is by local artists from the region. Calcutta also has a huge amount of cinema history – the first ever Oscar for an Indian film was won by Satyajit Ray, a Bengali director, so I want to screen some of his films and showcase that side of our culture.” Ambitious, fiery, and most of all passionate about bringing the authenticity of her Bengali roots to her restaurant, Shrim is hoping her journey and her food will offer a different perception of India to London diners.

Romain Bruneau

Romain Bruneau


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I was working in the comics section and developed taste for the more indie type of graphic novels…”

There was something almost sacrilegious about asking Romain into a church to shoot some portraits of him, as he comes across as a kind of Barista Lord of the Dark. His drawings of Cthulhu-esque tentacled creatures and detailed observations of insects are pinned around Kin, the Fitzrovia café where he works, and provide some clues to this enigmatic character.

“I started drawing in December last year. I’m influenced by loads of things, like Black Metal imagery, occult stuff, the Italian Renaissance, and “outsider artists” like Fred Deux and Cecile Reims, as well as my friend Al Doyle.” Romain’s interest in comics was first aroused when he worked in a bookshop in Paris, where he grew up. “ I was working in the comics section and developed taste for the more indie type of graphic novels. Winshluss, whose Pinocchio won the 2009 Angouleme prize, is a particular favourite but I love American artists like Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes.”

Romain only developed an interest in drawing as a way to pass the time while taking some time out from another of his passions: music. He started playing guitar at 14 and formed his first band at 16. “It was a perfect way to get out of the suburbs, do stuff in Paris and it also allowed us travel a lot. As we were involved in the punk scene I spent loads of time hanging out in squats: the perfect place to meet weirdos who shared the same ideas and a will to live their lives in a different way. It was also a great place for creativity and the cradle of many musical projects.” A few years studying sound engineering were a bit of a disappointment. “ I thought I would find that as good as playing music … that wasn’t the case.”

It was in Ireland that his focus really crystallised. “I’d always wanted to live abroad. My friend Arnaud moved to Dublin, so I was visiting him quite a lot. When our Irish friends and fellow punks wanted to spend some time in Paris, they’d stay at mine. So I had strong connections before I moved. I started three bands over there – Rats Blood, Ghost Trap and Cat Piss Brain Rot – all of them through the punk scene.” As a guitarist and occasional vocalist, he still regularly plays with Rats Blood but has started two new bands: High Vis, a post-punk outfit, and Love Song, a more melodic project. “Most of my projects have a political stance, they are all based on a D.I.Y libertarian/anarchistic ethic I would say.” Though his influences include punk and death metal, he’s nothing if not than eclectic in his tastes, with jazz, hip-hop and classical all feeding into the mix. “I love watching the LSO at the Barbican Centre,” he tells me.

The extensive gigging with his numerous bands has taken him to an equally varied range of unusual venues. “From the middle of a forest in the north of Germany to a small local football stadium in Italy. We also ended up squatting in Barcelona, in tunnels built underneath a mansion. They told us they were built as an escape route during the Civil War. I remember sleeping in a room the squatters had discovered after knocking the walls down. There was a massive pentagram in the tiles on the floor. I slept within it – and all the people who slept outside it got bitten by bed bugs! Ahah!!!”

Now living full time in London, Romain divides his time between his day job as head barista at Kin, playing music and discovering London on his bike. “I kinda cycle everywhere in London – the best way to commute! I love skyscrapers, the mix of old and new architecture, the brutalist Barbican Centre is cool… the Tate Modern… also the old Battersea Power Station.”

Romain’s obvious interest in the unusual side of London becomes apparent as we do some more portraits, this time in one of Fitzrovia’s hidden gems, the Grant Museum of Zoology. “In Paris I used to love visiting the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle, where you could find lots of strange creatures and skeletons,” he tells me. He looks strangely at home in in this Lovecraftian environment, surrounded by jars of formaldehyde and animal skulls. As we make our way out, a monstrous python skeleton winding its way across a display case catches his eye. “We should ask them if I could wear that as a scarf,” he jokes…

Brian Robinson

Brian Robinson


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I started as a press office assistant and have done a huge range of things from press cuttings and press releases…”

The Independent has called him a minor British institution in his own right and a walking encyclopaedia of film, and friends and colleagues have delighted for years in his anecdotes, delivered in an unmistakable sardonic style; but soon, with retirement only months away, Brian Robinson’s 29-year residency at the British Film Institute press office will come to an end. In his role as press officer, Brian has met countless stars of the silver screen and interviewed such luminaries as Gene Wilder and Julie Andrews (“my favourite moment”) live onstage at the South Bank’s National Film Theatre. And as programmer for the BFI Flare (London’s LGBT film Festival) he has championed many a budding talent and programmed countless gems, including Derek Jarman’s Will You Dance With Me? and Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Theo And Hugo.

Brian grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, keeping his head down, working hard at school and always having etched in his mind a line from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “I know there is a world elsewhere.” For him, this was the world of film and entertainment, and from an early age it offered him a temporary escape from the violence around him. “Going up to Belfast to the cinema with a programme and a box of chocolates was a big event for our family. It seemed like the height of sophistication. I fell in love with Julie Andrews when I saw Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music and won second prize in a fancy dress competition as Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Belfast in the Seventies wasn’t the easiest place to be a gay teenager, and despite meeting the legendary Quentin Crisp – Brian helped get him over to Northern Ireland to perform his one-man show – Brian set out for the mainland. After a law degree at Sussex (“I spent most of my time shopping for vintage clothes”), his first years in London brought with them early, if fleeting, brushes with fame. “When working in Fortnum & Mason’s fruit and flowers department in the summer of the Silver Jubilee there were lots of famous people who popped in. I missed Alec Guinness, who wanted a pound of grapes, but saw Kenneth Moore and Clementine Churchill – and I got to say Sorry to George Harrison when I bumped his arm on the stairs with a tray of peaches.”

He would soon get to meet many of the stars he adored in a professional capacity when, in 1978, he joined the BFI press office, then in Charing Cross Road, though it moved to its current Stephen Street address later that year. “I started as a press office assistant and have done a huge range of things from press cuttings and press releases to event organisation.” In time, he graduated to “speech-writing and celebrity hand-holding” and conducting on-stage interviews with some of the world’s most celebrated actors, technicians and directors.

We asked Brian to share some of his favourite stories with Fitzrovia Journal.

Brian on Bette Davis,

Bette Davis was a surprise recipient of a BFI Fellowship shortly after I arrived at the BFI. I was tasked with looking after her, somewhat in awe that such a legendary Hollywood star could be in my life. She was about 80 at the time. We had agreed with Channel 4 news that she would do this quick piece and when we arrived at the venue, she looked at the floor and said, “This is linoleum! I need carpet!” I said I’m afraid there isn’t any carpet Miss D, and she said: “Get some!” So I went to the house manager and I said, I’m really sorry but Miss Davis doesn’t want to do the interview on a linoleum floor. Do you have any carpet? He said: “Actually we do have a roll of emergency replacement carpet.” From that I learned that however unlikely a thing might seem, that sometimes asking you can get it!

Her appearance at the Fellowship Awards was a complete surprise to the audience. Dirk Bogarde, who came on before her thought he was the star billing, but then Richard Attenborough said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please stay in your seats; we have another very special guest.” We showed a clip from Now Voyager and just before she was due to go on stage, she asked for another ashtray as she had been smoking continuously during the four and a half hours she’d been in make-up and hair. I rushed to the dressing room, knowing that we only had one ashtray and that it was full. I ran to the toilet and tipped her lipstick stained cigarette butts down the pan with a slight sense of misgiving. Years later I discovered that John Lennon’s cigarette butts had sold for something like £300 and the Smithsonian owned one half-smoked cigarette of Bette Davis. But I quickly flushed away those priceless relics and brought her a wiped clean ashtray.

Finally Miss Davis went on stage and received the most instantaneous sanding ovation I’ve ever seen. In fact, Vanessa Redgrave jumped up with such violence that she broke her own award!

Brian on Woody Allen

When Woody Allen came to the BFI to give a talk, the phone rang every day. It seemed as if people from every film magazine and newspaper around the world – people from Chile, Japan, France – wanted to come, but we only had about a dozen press tickets. A researcher from a show called My Favourite Hymns rang and said, “Oh, I hear Woody Allen is coming to see you. We’d love to have Woody Allen come on the show and talk about his favourite hymn. I said, “Are you sure?” And she said, “Oh yes.” I said, “You do know that he’s Jewish?” She said, “Oh we don’t mind. We’ll take anyone who has a favourite hymn.” So I told his agent and she said it was the funniest thing that he’d ever been asked to do, but he didn’t have a favourite hymn.

Brian on Quentin Tarantino

There was an incredible frenzy around Quentin Tarantino. He’d got famous very quickly. I remember just seeing him walking along the Croisette in Cannes before Reservoir Dogs took off. By the time of Pulp Fiction, he was voted one of the top 10 directors of all time in the Sunday Times readers’ poll. There was an insatiable appetite for him – he surfed the zeitgeist, and everyone wanted him. There was one particular time where I remember literally jogging around the National Film Theatre with a crowd of nearly 50 people all holding books and posters shouting  “Quentin, Quentin can you sign?” They were just rabid autograph-hunters. We were even offered a year’s supply of shampoo for the whole press office if we could get someone in to see Quentin Tarantino’s on-stage interview!

Though Brian will continue programming the BFI Flare festival, leaving the BFI’s Fitzrovia HQ means he’ll be spending far less time in an area he has many fond memories of.

“One of my favourite locations is Newman Passage, which features in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. In fact, a lot of the film takes place around Newman Street and Rathbone Street. The door that leads into the Newman Arms from Newman passage is where an actress paying a prostitute says to a blond man ‘Alright dearie!’ I once took the filmmaker Vicente Aranda around Fitzrovia and he was amazed that every street looks like a film location. When I took him to Newman passage he recognised it immediately from Peeping Tom. I always used to laugh with the Observer’s late film critic Philip French because of a scene in the film where the murderer’s hanging around taking out the body, and someone says ‘Who are you?’

He replies, ‘I’m a journalist?’

‘What paper?’

‘The Observer!’”

Lanyap

Lanyap


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“My brain ticked, and I began to think about trying to do something with this…”

The first time I met Kieran Mithani, he presented me with a range of his latest products. As I admired these creations, he explained that the majority of them were made in the studio of his Fitzrovia home on Cleveland Street. Kieran is the creator of Lanyap, a new niche accessories brand specialising in high quality leather goods and knitwear.

Kieran is half English, half Indian, and was born and raised in Camberley. While studying engineering at university he came to realise it wasn’t something he wanted to pursue as a career. “After university, I came to London and managed to get a scholarship at the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi on Charlotte Street. This was the spark which led to me doing something much more creative,” he says. “After moving to Fitzrovia, I began to teach myself motion graphics. It gave me an edge, and post-production became something that captivated me. Despite this, it got to a point where I didn’t really feel like I was really making anything, just playing around on my computer. I had this desire to make a change.”

Strangely, what initiated the idea for Lanyap was a family Christmas a few years back when, one evening, Kieran began knitting with his mother. “She taught me how to do a few stitches, and there was something about it which captivated me. I’ve always been fascinated by the process of making things, for me it sparked this desire to create something raw and fresh. My brain ticked, and I begun to think about trying to do something with this,” he says. “I suddenly really got into it. I started to learn how to create numerous different patterns, which led me to research other brands and fabrics and to think of ideas for garments and accessories. I began to think a lot about the quality and manufacturing process, firstly of knitwear and then, later, leather goods. I quickly became aware that there were a lot of brands on the high street which were making mass-produced stuff that were wasn’t necessarily well-made or built to last.” Kieran’s brand concept was focused on quality and creating something niche, with products that would be made in limited numbers and to the highest level of quality possible from the best fabrics he could possibly source.

“I started looking into how big contending brands make their own products, from the hand-finished edges of leather goods to the stitching, gluing and the finished product,” he says. “I realised just how many levels there are to making a product as good as it can be, this led me to take a course in Norfolk which introduced me to industry techniques. What I was learning was cool, but it wasn’t at the level where I wanted to be. I wanted to create products that matched the quality of brands such as Hermes, or other French leather goods brands using beautiful leathers and incredible manufacturing techniques.” This led Kieran to take his growing expertise to the next level. Training in Switzerland, he learned how to maximise quality in the trade he was already beginning to master. “The attention to detail that you can apply to handmade leather goods can make it of infinitely higher quality than something that is made on a production line in a factory. That sort of potential, of something being better than a mass-produced item, was perhaps the most interesting thing about the whole process to me,” he says.

Since the brand’s inception, Kieran’s products for his small start-up have been entirely produced in his studio here in Fitzrovia. He has launched a range of leather bracelets and wallets, as well as purses and handbags for women. In addition to this, Lanyap’s knitwear line has seen Kieran create his Bear Paw gloves, inspired by the hand wraps used in boxing training. While at the moment Kieran mostly accepts only bespoke commissions for products, the coming year will see him begin the process of wholesaling Lanyap to major London retailers who share his vision of beautifully crafted, limited edition goods.

Bao

Bao


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Initially we weren’t set on it having any longevity, we never intended for Bao to grow into what it has done…”

I am anything but patient, but to get into Bao I waited for 20 minutes with a can of Taiwanese lager in my hand. I’ve been watching the ever-expanding queue outside for a year now as I’ve gone up and down Soho’s Lexington Street, and wondering: what makes all these people stand in line for a restaurant that only seats 15 people and sells Taiwanese street food? Now, Bao has crossed the border into Fitzrovia, and the still fresh-faced venture has opened its doors on Windmill Street to great acclaim.

Brother and sister Wai Ting Chung and Shing Tat Chung, and Shing’s wife Erchen Chang, are all under 30 and the idea of starting Bao came to them while were travelling together. Journeying through Erchen’s home country of Taiwan, they were inspired by the informal street food culture and culinary traditions they discovered – and that was how Bao found its inception. “We’d all just graduated, so we made the decision to travel around Taiwan together. We ate all over, and from there we were inspired to come back and start our own venture,” says Shing. “We discussed the idea of a market stall whilst travelling back to London. We thought introducing some of my home traditions, including the bao itself, on the stall could be a cool idea. It was much less risky for us to start out as a market stall in the beginning, as opposed to starting our own restaurant right away. Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity; we never planned for Bao to grow into what it has done. The initial response and attention it received was fantastic, and it was an organic progression.”

In 2013, Bao started out as a market stall at Netil Market in Hackney, and is today it remains a permanent fixture on Saturday afternoons. Taking things to the next level, from market stall to restaurant, Bao opened their first permanent premises on Soho’s Lexington Street in 2015. Both their Soho and Fitzrovia restaurants offer a relaxed environment, with efficient yet relaxed service, and the interiors bring the trio’s background in fine art to life with catchy branding. “With our new Fitzrovia site, we have adapted the space to the brand, and the brand to the space. At first what appealed more than anything was the extensive amount of natural light it had – it was the perfect corner spot for us. Before we opened, we loved the casualness of u-bars, and felt this was something that we wanted to bring to the space,” says Shing. “We liked the idea of diners watching as drinks are prepared, we wanted people to be engaged with the aesthetic of the brand and feel like they’re at the centre of the restaurant. We wanted the basement to have the exact opposite feeling. We wanted to create a completely different vibe, with a tin-clad and spacey feeling to it as you look into the kitchen and watch the food being prepared,” adds Erchen.

The name Bao itself originates from their signature Chinese steamed bread roll, known as bao, which is served with a filling of meat, fish or vegetables. Their menu itself is split into four sections, focusing not just on bao but also chicken, fish and rice dishes, with special Taiwanese rice sourced from Chi Shiang, and vegetable sides. In both branches, diners order dishes via their menus on a tick-style system. But before that comes the long wait – whether on Lexington Street or Windmill Street – that can sometimes last up to 45 minutes. It’s a stretch by anybody’s standards, but there’s something about Bao that makes the wait worthwhile. Of course, the food is the thing: the tantalising menu is fresh and innovative, and while it’s based on Taiwanese street fare, the kitchen pushes far beyond those boundaries. At the same time, I can’t think of many eateries in this area of London that have matched Bao’s innovative aesthetic, and I suspect the result is a brand identity that will continue to thrive and grow. Although the three are typically modest about their baby, I suspect they take a quiet satisfaction in knowing they’ve created something really quite special. Bao has certainly added another fine food destination to the already independent-led Windmill Street: welcome to the hood!

Bernie Katz

Bernie Katz


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Edu Torres


“…Soho is a place of many emotions, a place of ghosts. A place you shouldn’t stay for too long… get in and get out.”

Bernie Katz lights a cigarette handed to him by Madness’s own Chas Smash as we chat in the smoking area of the Groucho Club where Katz has reigned as gatekeeper and host for almost a quarter of a century. Connected, intellectual and brilliantly eccentric, he’s inarguably one of Soho’s most familiar faces and one of London’s most famous hosts. There’s a story that, some years ago, an elderly lady arrived at the Groucho believing she was at Soho House. After Bernie had taken the trouble to walk her, at a steady pace, to her intended destination, he ran into a friend, actor Stephen Fry, who immediately dubbed him “the Prince of Soho”. The name stuck.

He looks the part too: the slickest, best-dressed and most charming fixture of the Groucho, clad head-to-toe in custom-made clothing by friend and tailor Chandni Odedra, a wardrobe that runs the gamut from leopard print to sequins.

It wasn’t always like this. Bernie was born and raised in South London, where his father was one of the area’s most notorious gangsters. The young Bernie saw drive-by shootings and extreme violence from an early age. One day, when he was just 15, a man burst into his family home in Kennington and shot his father dead right in front of him. The gangland upbringing his father’s way of life had exposed him to was now at an end, and Bernie moved on to another life. He worked for a period in a haberdashery store in Tooting, before getting a job at the long-gone Tiddy Dols restaurant (famed for its 18th-century Welsh Rarebit and gingerbread) in Shepherd Market. Thus began a career in hospitality that saw him move on to The Savoy and a restaurant in Italy.

At a time when private members’ clubs were archaic, men-only retreats, a group of publishers that included Carmen Cahill, Ed Victor, Liz Calder and literary agent Michael Sissons had an idea. They imagined a place that welcomed both men and women to meet, work and socialise – and so the Groucho Club was born. Almost a quarter of a century ago, Bernie was invited to work at the club by the late Dick Bradshaw, inventor of the espresso martini, to cover a waiter’s paternity leave. Despite describing himself as having been an awful barman and waiter, Bernie found himself with a permanent role at the club when the new father failed to return.

“There was once an amazing woman called Teresa Cornelys, a singer who became a lover of Casanova,” Bernie tells me. “She landed here in Soho in her late thirties, where in 1760 she invented the first private members’ club at Carlisle House, Soho Square, hosting a range of fashionable gatherings. Teresa and Soho is how members clubs came to be born.” It’s a tradition that Bernie takes pride in continuing. “The Groucho is like a family. Everybody looks after each other. Members, members’ children and members’ children’s children – it’s like an extended family for all. No matter who somebody is, if they come to see me, I’ll see that they land on their feet,” he says. “After being here for over 20 years, you get to know all sorts of different people. I’ve been captivated by the arts world, which has led me to work on numerous art auctions featuring everyone from Peter Blake to Damien Hirst. In addition to this, my sister has an autistic son, thus I’ve been able to organise auctions to benefit the National Autistic Society. I’ve dabbled a lot in the art world – hence I’ve got a great art collection. Let’s call that my pension!” he laughs.

In his time at the Groucho, Bernie has made the club his own, and in turn it has shaped him. “Without meaning to, without changing myself and remaining who I am, I have always kept my feet on the ground. I’ve never gotten too carried away… you’ve gotta remain as solid and as real as you can,” he says. “You do as you say, and say as you do. If you say you’re gonna do something, you’ve gotta do it and stick to your word. I think that’s what, for the want of a better word, has been the secret of my success as a host. I’ve always said I can do something or I can’t, and I’ve always delivered on what I say I can do. That’s been the recipe for my reign.” As well as having been shaped by the club, Bernie believes that Soho too has influenced him in many ways. He explains that while he loves working here, he likes to live at a “safe distance” from the area, finding comfort in his home in Kentish Town. “There’s so much you can say about Soho, and so little you can say that hasn’t been said before. Soho is like a Shangri-La: it’s music, art and fun” he says. “I can be anywhere in Soho and I feel at home, looked after. It’s a place of friendly faces.”

Bernie has noted how Soho has been changing in recent years, though for him this is part of its identity too and doesn’t affect the essential qualities of an area that will always remain close to his heart. “Soho is very fast-paced. It’s always changed and adapted to the times. It’s a place where you can be openly gay, black or white, whoever you wanna be: it’s a place for all. I’ve always thought of it as an animated film – it’s like a shop that changes every five minutes; though to my eyes, it hasn’t really changed all that much in hundreds of years. I think Soho will always remain vibrant and colourful,” he says. “Soho goes back as far as Henry VIII, hence the hunting cry ‘Soho!’ It began to modernise during the reign of King Charles II. Century after century, decade after decade, the characters haven’t really changed. It’s the most beautiful, magical, mystical and tragic place that there is.”

The many secrets and stories of Bernie’s life at the Groucho and beyond were revealed in the 2008 book Soho Society, in which he delves into the lust, envy and decadence of Soho’s party scene, and the lives of those who have joined him for the journey. Bernie’s future at the Groucho Club is uncertain; although he can’t imagine leaving the club any time soon, he explains that his long reign will eventually have to come to an end. His passion for the art world is something he’d potentially like to pursue further, launching his own ‘Prince of Soho’ exhibition, showcasing various artists’ work. For now, you’ll find him racing around the corridors of the club, or on his new regular show on Soho Radio. Whatever the future holds, the Prince of Soho’s reign is not yet done. As he says, he and Soho are “both colouring books that haven’t been coloured in properly yet… Soho is a place of many emotions, a place of ghosts. A place you shouldn’t stay for too long. Get in and get out.”

Sunspel

Sunspel


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“…many of the distinctive fabrics used were originally developed and created by the company; these continue to be used for our designs today.”

Among the maze of Soho’s historic streets it’s hard to single out one that could be termed the area’s epicentre: would it be Carnaby Street? Brewer Street, perhaps? Wardour Street has a good claim. But arguably Old Compton Street remains the quintessential heart of the neighbourhood; and in the past few years the street has become home to a welcome new addition bringing yet another layer of history and a unique heritage to the area. Originating in Nottingham, Sunspel has been crafting its high quality garments from the world’s most luxurious fabrics for 160 years. I spoke to the company’s CEO, Nicholas Brooke, about Sunspel’s Midlands roots, pioneering approach and iconic boxer shorts.

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, steam power had kick-started a period of enormous worldwide change. Born in 1822, Thomas Arthur Hill founded Sunspel in 1860. His father was a hosiery maker in Nottingham, and Thomas chose to follow in his paternal footsteps and enter the hosiery and lace trade. Hill found himself at the heart of one of the earliest manufacturing sectors to embrace the introduction of steam power – and he responded by becoming a fabric innovator, and one of the great early British industrialists. Opening a textile factory in Newdigate, Nottingham – which became the centre of British lacemaking – his vision was to create simple, everyday clothing from beautiful fabrics. It’s a philosophy that Sunspel continues to follow today. Hill’s use of lightweight and very fine cotton allowed him to pioneer the development of luxury undergarments as we know them today. In addition, some of the earliest garments produced at the Newdigate factory included some of the first T-shirts, tunics and undershirts ever made.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Sunspel had become one of the first British companies to export to the Far East, having built an extensive business across the British Empire. It was during this period that Sunspel came to develop its unique Sea Island cotton fabrics, sourced from the West Indies and used in its most luxurious products. “Sunspel became renowned for producing undergarments of exceptional quality,” says Nicholas. “Many of the distinctive fabrics used were originally developed and created by the company; these continue to be used for our designs today.”

Long established as a menswear label, Sunspel today is an authentic English heritage brand, making luxury wardrobe essentials for both men and women. Current CEO Nicholas Brooke became involved with the brand through a family connection, having been aware of Sunspel for some time and having a genuine admiration for the company’s heritage and history of innovation. When Nicholas and business partner Dominic Hazlehurst bought the company from existing owner Peter Hill, a relative of founder Thomas Hill, in 2005, it was important to them that the new owners would not close the existing factory, outsource the production or tamper with the fundamentals – but there was work to be done in bringing Sunspel into the 21st century. “The brand was not in great shape. We worked hard to bring it up to date. We had lots to work with: a great heritage, fantastic product and the potential for it to be restored to its former glory. It’s been wonderful to see how much the company has transformed and grown,” says Nicholas. “Cook pioneered the development of the T-shirt as we know it and also introduced the boxer short to Britain from the US in 1947,” he tells me. “The Sunspel boxer short was later immortalised in the 1985 Levi’s commercial with Nick Kamen, who was seen stripping down to his white Sunspel boxers. The brand has also come to develop a close association with cinema, working closely with costume designer Lindy Hemming to re-fit the Riviera polo shirt for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006). It was an existing style, tailored to fit Daniel Craig – and the re-fitted version that he wore is the new standard for the polo. The brand has stayed true to its heritage, combining tradition and innovation to make exceptional quality, modern clothing for everyday wear.”

In 2012, Sunspel turned its eyes to Soho, opening at 40 Old Compton Street, on the site where the infamous Janus Bookstore once sold bespoke erotica. “Our next door neighbours are a vintage liquor store on one side and the original Patisserie Valerie on the other. Fine booze, fine pastries and fine clothing – what more could you ask for?” says Nicholas. As with their Chiltern Street and Redchurch Street stores, each Sunspel branch is the result of a carefully thought out process. Nicholas cites the Old Compton Street store as a destination for the brand’s fans and a place to be discovered by new customers. “The store stands apart as one of the only clothing stores on the street, and definitely the only store offering British luxury wardrobe essentials for men and women. It’s a vibrant area and I think Sunspel fits nicely into the architecture of the street,” he says.

If fits, too, into the way the ever-changing area is evolving. “It’s a place of neon lights and night-time haunts, eccentric characters and exotic entertainments,” says Nicholas. “Traditionally, Soho was known for its less salubrious offerings and over the years Old Compton Street has gone from a down-at-heel, seedy street to a more up-and-coming destination with a great mix of entertainment, food and stores. Albeit a bit more polished these days, I think it’s still an incredibly exciting area.” The Soho store is now established as an important and successful part of the brand, catering to a wide cross-section of Sunspel’s customer base. Nicholas feels that it has become an integral part of the fabric of the street and the wider neighbourhood. Having recently opened stores in Berlin’s fashionable Mitte district and in Omotesando, Tokyo, Sunspel is looking carefully at other store locations for the future, but Old Compton Street looks set to remain a major London home for the growing brand.

Shinola

Shinola


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Jamie McGregor Smith


Soho is a vibrant and culturally significant area… an ideal location for our first store outside of the US”

Curiosity got the better of me some months ago, and I entered a specialist emporium in the centre of Soho, above which hangs an eye-catching and distinctively branded timepiece. Inside, I found watches, leather goods, journals and bicycles. Priding itself on selling lovingly crafted products made in the USA, Shinola is a unique find even among Soho’s eclectic shopping streets. I asked Creative Director Daniel Caudill to tell me about Shinola’s Foubert’s Place store and to share the story of this quintessentially American brand.

Shinola is a relatively new Detroit-based design company dedicated to delivering world-class manufacturing jobs and making products of the highest quality and durability. A Bedrock Manufacturing brand, it was conceived in 2011 in the belief that products should be built in America and built to last; it’s a belief that emerges from the strong legacy of manufacturing in community-minded Detroit – a legacy that Shinola finds inspiration in. Standing for skill at scale, the preservation of craft and the beauty of industry, Shinola’s watch and leather factories are housed within Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, in the former Argonaut building.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Shinola’s Creative Director is responsible for each and every detail. Born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Montana, Daniel Caudill studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. He then went on to work alongside a number of apparel brands before moving into styling photoshoots for music videos and adverts, which in turn led to him becoming a consultant for a number of major American brands. Although everything at Shinola is a direct result of collaboration, it is safe to say that none of what makes the brand what it is today would exist without Daniel. “My role here is a culmination of my career so far,” he says. “A friend introduced me to some people when what would become Shinola was just an idea among a handful of friends. We would have conversations about what the aesthetics of the brand could be. These conversations went on to be the creative foundations of the brand.”

From Shinola’s signature watches to leather accessories, journals and bicycles, the brand’s crucial founding ethos is that their products should be built to last. Using high quality, labour-intensive materials, experienced craftspeople and the finest manufacturing processes available, Shinola’s products are more than just accessories for modern day living. “We wanted to make beautiful products,” says Daniel, “but more importantly we wanted to create jobs, which is still one of our proudest achievements to date. The company grew naturally when we made the decision to move to Detroit in 2012. From there, we found and trained people from within the community, built a factory and started manufacturing beautiful watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals.” Daniel and Shinola believe in the history of Detroit, but also in its future, which is why they’re based there. Investing in skill, Shinola is creating a community that is thriving through the excellence of craft and pride in work. The brand is reclaiming and redefining the meaning of American luxury goods: they are things that are made well.

London was the ideal choice for Shinola as the first bricks-and-mortar outlet outside of the US, with Daniel describing the city as the gateway to the world. “We opened our first store at 13 Newburgh Street in October 2014,” he says. “In December 2015 we moved to a bigger store just up the street at 28 Foubert’s Place and added a Shinola clock to the outside of the store, which is an oversized take on our original Runwell watch.” In establishing the store here in Soho, Shinola used the same approach that it had in the US, integrating and collaborating with the local community. “We throw great events and parties for our neighbours, customers and local agencies and always try to be interesting to them, be it through craft-maker events or book launches or whiskey and food tasting,” he says. “Soho is energetic and spirited, with adventure on every corner, including ours. We identify locations and stores based on the beauty of the raw space and the community we are surrounded by. Soho is a vibrant and culturally significant area with a strong sense of community – an ideal location for our first store outside of the US.”

In almost no time at all, the Shinola brand has gone from strength to strength, growing and evolving constantly in the process. It has gone from employing just nine people to 540, working in multiple factories across multiple new product categories. “The people who work in our factories are always learning new ways to improve how we make our products, as well as learning to make new ones,” says Daniel. “We are also opening a lot of stores in some cool places; we’ll have 22 by the end of this year.” Shinola’s future in the Soho neighbourhood is certainly bright, as they continue to interact with the surrounding area from their Foubert’s Place store. Moving forward, the brand is set to continue working on a number of projects, such as expanding their women’s line, and introducing new and exciting product lines: watch this space!

Mark Baxter

Mark Baxter


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Kirk Truman


“Anyone can fit in up here in Soho. We’re all chameleons…”

He harks back to an age when a man’s word was his bond, when deals were sealed with a handshake and when the world turned, so it seemed, at a far slower pace. He’s the author of Elizabeth, Peter and Me, Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry and the co-author of The A-Z of Mod and The Mumper, but he’s better known to the denizens of Soho as the über-connected, go-to public relations man who walks this small corner of central London with a rare, old world sensibility that sees him bring people together, be they bar owners, writers, rock stars or tailors – and all for the greater creative good.

Upstairs at the French House, Mark Baxter looks out into the mid-morning street, removes his spectacles, stirs his cappuccino and takes stock. “I live south of the river, and when I was a little kid my mum and my old man would bring us over here to do typical sightseeing stuff like Trafalgar Square and the lights of Christmas. Back then, I realised how close we were to Soho. It’s something like 25 minutes on the bus from Camberwell in south-east London, which to me is sometimes an angry place. Nothing’s ever been easy down there. It’s hard to make a living. There are some tough people. And me, I won’t take no for an answer. My old man used to say ‘If you can’t go through the door, go through the window’. In other words, don’t give up.”

But as a kid in the early ’70s, he was still taking it all in. “As I got a little bit older, and I’m talking 12 or 13, I used to get the number 53 bus from school on the Old Kent Road straight into the West End. That’s what I used to do, regularly. I remember Soho back then – I remember all the peep shows – but it was pretty seedy to be honest. But all my mates stayed locally, played locally and worked locally. I saw a different world up here, but it was quite hard for me to get people to come with me to see it.”

Baxter, like a lot of London kids, would play the Red Rover game: you’d jump on a random bus on a day fare and see where it took you. It broadened his horizons. “Coming here opened my eyes. When I had my first real job on Fleet Street in 1982, in the print trade, I started coming to Soho with a bit of money in my pocket and started enjoying the clubs and the clothes and record shops. Me being a curious person, I started checking out a lot of art galleries and museums. You had to seek this stuff out because there was no Internet back then, obviously. By travelling around London, I’d see posters for things like a Terence Donovan or Terry O’Neill exhibition. I’d check them all out and it was a big step for someone like me, from the place I came from. By exposing myself to a new world, the world of Soho, and walking around and seeing stuff, I began to meet like minds on my circuit.”

Baxter’s voice is a deep south-east London reverberation that fills the room. The words come in rapid waves, their sentiments unashamedly upbeat about what can still be achieved in this historic square quarter mile. “Anyone can fit in up here in Soho. We’re all chameleons. A lot of people I know up here, we meet for a coffee for an hour or so, and they’re either seeing their tailor or they’re here for a casting or a voice over. No one’s dwelling in the box for too long. Everyone’s flitting between things. I mean, this area is still full of great talent, but maybe back in the 1950s someone might have been in the pub all day, long drinking. These days Soho is a different place. You can’t live your life that way now, not if you want to make a pound note.”

He cites Mark Powell, Michael Caine and Paul Weller as inspiring working class figures who worked hard to prevent their creativity from being stifled. “Despite where you start, it’s where you finish that’s important,” he says. “I identify with guys like this. Most of my mates have moved to Kent or Essex, but I’ve always loved the multicultural atmosphere of London. I’ve always been a people person. I think that’s probably what it comes down to: what people bring to the mix, what they’re wearing, listening to or reading. To me it’s always endlessly fascinating. I always wanted to learn, but transforming ideas into making them happen is the hard bit. And trying to get someone to pay you is another matter. My grandad was a rag and bone man, and that is basically selling. So I’m convinced that it’s in my genes. It doesn’t matter what it is, I can find an angle to sell you something. I’ve always had that, and to me it seems fairly obvious sometimes. People like my grandad were the early recyclers. Everything was about profit. This comes from a really mixed background, that working class work ethic. It’s pure graft. There’s no other way out of this: you’ve just got to graft your way out.”

When asked about Soho’s future, he’s frank: “Soho’s on a tipping point. Family-run businesses are being offered silly sums of money for their businesses, and if you’re of a certain age and think that you might want to retire… I can see Soho changing very quickly as new money comes in and buys people out. So we should make the most of Soho now and get the best out of it while it’s still here with the last vestiges of the past. Places like the French House should be celebrated.”

The French tricolour outside the window is whipped into life by the wind, and Baxter eyes it. “You can still find a little piece of old London here in Soho, that’s evolved naturally, organically; but money always wins in the end. The pound note will dictate what survives and what prospers. Soho is trying to attract new people. Old locals are few and far between these days. The balance has been changed – and massively. If rents go through the roof, these agencies and businesses around here are going to go elsewhere. We’re hoping against hope this place is not going to change, but inevitably, it will. It always has.”

Kim & Paul Abraham

Kim & Paul Abraham


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Edu Torres


“I’m an old punk… I socialise in Soho. It’s still got a buzzing community…”

The three cats come walking around the chairs and move up to me, the interloper. They look me full in the face before leaping onto the sofa to take an even closer shufti. Then, having seen enough, they lazily depart, mews proclaiming their hunger. My gaze shifts back to Paul Abraham who sits across from his wife Kim. We’re seated in their flat, perched high above Endell Street and within sight of St Giles, Covent Garden.

“I’m an old punk,” Paul tells me, “and I used to come to Soho to see punk bands. It was the lure of music, I suppose, that got me coming to Soho. One of the venues was the Marquee, another the Wag on Wardour Street. And near here, where we live now, was the Roxy Club on Neal Street. The West End in 1977 was an interesting time, quite a dark place. I would spend all day walking around Soho and the West End. And today, well, I still feel there’s a vibe in Soho that’s nowhere else. Originally, it was the music that attracted me. Plus the fact that It never felt like white suburbia.”

Nor will it ever, despite Soho’s growing residential aspect. And in Soho you can still spot the odd punk refugee who made it out of the maelstrom and lived to tell the tale. If you blink you’ll probably miss them – although you can see Kim and Paul walking through Soho most days, their combined sartorial flair setting them apart from the thronging pavement crowds. They’re the type of Londoners one rarely spots these days, but when you do, your eye is arrested. Kim and Paul come from a dying band of stylists who once inhabited the clubs, walk-ups and bars of a grittier, some would say more honest, era in Soho’s history. They wear their clothes as a defiant semaphore in a world slowly turning grey and uninspiring. It’s this, perhaps more eloquent, language of clothes that rises above the mundane argot spoken by the homogenised masses who have drifted by stealth into the Soho maze. And it’s a sartorial language that Kim and Paul speak very well.

Of the Soho she remembers, Kim says: “It never had a hang up about itself. It was always diverse, and it was diverse class-wise as well. There were expensive places you could go, but there were also places where you could get a cup of tea for ten pence. There was a real mix of things.” With Paul hailing originally from Bromley in Kent, and Kim from Hornchurch in Essex, it’s the classic tale of a man and woman being drawn inexorably to the bright lights of the big city.

Currently employed at the world famous Savile Row tailor, Huntsman – upon which the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service was based – Paul is part punk, part stylist and part forward-thinker who tenaciously worked his way into the discreet world of high-class tailoring via an unusual route. “I got a job working for Christina Smith who owned a lot of property in Covent Garden. I was doing carpentry and decorating work for her while also singing in a band. But, of course, the band split and I began to work for her on a full-time basis, and it was then that I got further involved in the Covent Garden area via her and the community centre.”

Then he got married. Then divorced. “At the time when I met Kim, I was going through a divorce, so she suggested I go for a more steady job, and so I went for a handyman’s job at Huntsman on Savile Row. And I’ve been here ever since. A lot of Savile Row is very discreet,” says Paul. “For example, you don’t disclose who your customers are. It’s a gentlemanly agreement; it’s as simple as that.” Kim currently works as a primary school teacher at Netley School, just off Tottenham Court Road, which serves the Regent Park Estate. “The vast majority of people who live in the West End are ordinary people,” she says. “Covent Garden is full of social housing and people aren’t earning huge salaries on the whole around here. So when the Stockpot on Old Compton Street went, it was a bad thing.”

Paul agrees: “Old Compton Street is generic now. I know London has always been changing, but the question now is whether it is changing for the better.” It’s a genuine concern for a couple who once loved the vibrant undercurrent of Soho nightlife. But Paul returns to the sartorial side of things again as the cats drift back to see what all the noise is all about. “When I think back to Carnaby Street, even in the late ’70s when it was a bit run down and grotty, you could still get great clothes made there, and cheaply. But now it’s just chains. That is what’s sad about so-called progress. But I wouldn’t mind moving back to Soho,” he says after a moment of reflection. “I used to live on St Anne’s Court and I still drink there. I socialise in Soho. It’s still got a buzzing community.”

“Soho was edgy because of the characters who lived there, so if you remove them, if you social cleanse the area, then it’s going to change and become something completely different. And this,” says Kim, gesturing to the decor of their flat, “this is our little bubble.” Their home is a time warp of figurines, paintings and ephemera from decades they remember with fondness, and they can maintain this microcosm as they see fit while the outside world marches to a different drum. “The stuff in here makes us smile,” she says, “and we’ve always liked dressing up. We always will. And there are still a few eccentric characters about. But I’ve always said that when I’m older I’d like to go and live in Brighton which, frankly, is Soho-on-Sea.” Paul mutely concurs. Now it’s just the cats left to convince.

Paul Kitsaros

Paul Kitsaros


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


I’ve got that thing… when I see something I pick it up quickly. I was very fast, I learnt the job fast…”

When walking out of my front door on Grafton Way, it doesn’t take my mind all that long to begin wondering just what each corner once was, and shall become in Fitzrovia. Warren Street and Fitzroy Square were once slums, with many of its buildings nearing disrepair and home to the used car trade in London; quite a different story today of course. Residents and transients alike; anybody who has come to know Fitzrovia well, will know that from here garments head to shops around the UK and even further afield. Spread from New Cavendish Street, to Berners Street, Great Titchfield Street and Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia’s Garment District still lives on to this day.

Buyers from brands all over London once bought garments and cloth here for stores throughout the UK. What was once considered London’s home of wholesale and fabrics has slowed in recent years, and spread further afield, though many stores still continue to this day, notably on Great Titchfield Street. In addition to this, behind closed doors, carefully hidden basements and 1st floors, a select number of alterations and tailoring studios continue to operate in an area, which in select corners has outgrown its traditions. Based at 66 Cleveland Street, Paul Kitsaros is one of the last tailors of his kind in Fitzrovia. Once the norm, tailors and alterations workshops in the neighbourhood were altering suits for the big names on Savile Row, from Henry Poole to Gieves & Hawkes on a daily basis.

He is a committed master of his trade; there is a barely a time in living memory that I haven’t walked past Paul’s studio a saw him at work. Stood on a wooden floor covered with thread and cuttings of fabric, Paul stands stitching buttons on to a newly commissioned jacket as he tells me of his life in tailoring. As I sit on a stool, Paul stands level with me at just over 5 feet tall with his cuffs rolled up to his elbows, his glasses balancing on the tip of nose whilst he stares with a piercing concentration at the garment laying on the desk in front of him. Originally from the north side of Cyprus, Paul first came to London during the 1960’s with his father where he first worked in Camden Town making trousers. “I became quite good, you know? I’ve got that thing… when I see something I pick it up quickly. I was very fast, I learnt the job fast” he says. “A lot of people said it to me in the early days, I was very quick to learn the trade. So I started out with trousers, and then began to learn more and more about the trade.” From alterations, to cutting and fitting, Paul eventually came to learn to ins and outs of the tailoring trade.

What started out in Camden Town, began to lead Paul on a journey through central London’s tailoring and alterations trade. Originally starting his own business in 1968 on D’Arblay Street, he later came to relocate to numerous locations throughout Soho from Berwick Street, to Rupert Street, Greek Street and eventually Fitzrovia in a career that has stretched over fifty years. “I landed here in Fitzrovia in 1998. In those days it was booming… it was full of tailors everywhere. I came here because I’d always wanted to have my own ground floor shop, it was the dream for me” he says. “I saw that the shop space was available after coming for dinner at the nearby restaurant, Vasis. I viewed the space, and I knew I wanted it. Its like a village here, and still is.”

Paul says his speciality has come to be bespoke suits, which he produces for an array of clients throughout Europe, and as far afield as the US. Though today as a workshop, Paul and his small team alter clothes for clients from Soho based tailor, Mark Powell, to the tailoring houses of Savile Row. Paul doesn’t allow his age to hold him back from his work, which he is so accustomed to and emotionally involved with. As I sit and watch him work, there is magic in his hands has he weaves a needle back and forth through the fabric. His work is common practice yes, though evermore uncommon in our neighbourhood, where Paul’s work once thrived amongst Fitzrovia’s rag trade. Bursting with energy, he is completely loveable in one light and perhaps an eccentric in another. Nonetheless, he is a master of his trade, and one of the last of a breed of tailors.

Son of the Soil

Son of the Soil


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about fame, it wasn’t about greed. I did it because I did what I did…”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons; New York City lays claim to many of the greatest artists in recent history. Catching my eye from across the pond, a certain artist first came to my attention as the renown Banksy of New York City. Amongst the names of these iconic NY artists that I refer to, street artist Bradley Therodore is a name to watch, with the potential to join a list of the greats. Famed for his murals throughout his home city, Bradley’s latest has come to find itself closer to my own home, making his debut here in London on Fitzrovia’s Little Portland Street.

Bradley was born in Turks & Caicos, an island group east of Cuba. Today he resides in Brooklyn, New York City, where he has integrated himself in the art scene, with a dedicated to making his art accessible for all to see. With his work having rapidly taken off, remarkably Theodore only started to paint in his distinct style about 3 years ago with his background in digital art, consultancy and experimentation with graffiti in the 90’s. “When I started painting, I felt that the world at the time was an ugly place. It was so full of processed art. Everybody at the time was trying to be Banksy, the amount of Banksy ripoffs was sickening. So, I wanted to do something that would clash with that. What makes your creativity special when everyone is doing the same and everything is so manufactured?” he says. “I felt no control. I was like, fuck this! I wanted to create something that I could control; I felt that art was something that I could control. I could control the look of it, I could control the when, where and how of it, you know? If you look at New York 3 years ago, everything was black and white. The city responded. Today, its covered in colours, experimentation and new ideas. If any any top artist puts something up, it gets covered. Its called tagging. In New York, I’m the only artist whose work doesn’t get covered up. In New York, I’m hot. I’m literally the Banksy of New York… but I don’t shove it in peoples faces.”

Painting in his signature bright colours, Theodore creates work that fuses fashion, music, technology, popular culture and street art, predominantly painting in the streets of New York and Los Angeles. In his paintings and murals, he has come to depict the likes of Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, David Bowie, Kate Moss and Cara Delevinge, having also produced art in the music industry for Def Jam, Universal Records and Sony, and many other media. With his work heavily US based, he came to forge a friendship with the founder of PR and Communications agency Exposure, Raoul Shah, via their New York office (The Supermarket), whom introduced Theodore to London’s art scene. “It was actually really random… we met at a party about 10 years ago. The Exposure office was amazing, the brands they represent are fucking amazing and so advanced” he says. “I had developed a relationship with the Exposure team for years, and in the past year Raoul and I ran into each other at an event. We were trying to plant to do something together. I came to London, where he introduced me to the curator of Maddox Gallery, James Nicholls, which was still under construction. I liked their vibe. The thing about galleries is museums and galleries are totally different; museums they welcome you, galleries try to treat you like you can’t afford the art. Thats a really bad thing, even if you can’t afford the art. You don’t want somebody to treat you in a certain way just because they think you have money. Maddox Gallery don’t do that. They’re really positive, they give everybody the time that they deserve.”

Having been introduced to James Nicholls at Maddox Gallery, Bradley came to be represented by the gallery, with his work first being on display at the gallery late last year in December. Early this year, Bradley and the gallery were beginning to prepare for his first ever solo show ‘Son of the Soil’ which ran April to June. “I would not sell my work to anyone, and I mean anyone. I’d had people offer me whatever I’d ask for, and I still wouldn’t sell my work. A lot of the pieces in that show, I wouldn’t ordinarily have parted with, but I had to because it was my first show. I chose to take work off my walls from my home back in Brooklyn for the first time. It was definitely hard for me” he says. “It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about fame, it wasn’t about greed. I did it because I did what I did… art takes time and emotion, in art every stroke is special. I didn’t give a fuck about money, I’d chosen to start a career that’d probably make me poor. I quit everything to do my work and felt that I didn’t want to fit into a system of greed, the money system. I didn’t paint to get rich, I didn’t paint to get money, I painted because I wanted to prove a point.”

Shortly after the opening of ‘Son of the Soil’ at Maddox Gallery, Raoul and Bradley discussed the possibility of his first mural here in London. Bradley and Raoul cited the wall outside of the Exposure London office on Little Portland Street as a great location, which became his first mural in London, painting it late April earlier this year. “I love Raoul and the Exposure office in Fitzrovia. The idea of the mural outside the Exposure office came about from me wanting to make drinks for the Exposure team which turned into me painting my first London mural. It was a great location, a great wall and a great thing to do” he says. “New Yorker’s don’t like to waste time, you either say you do or you don’t want to do something, and I wanted to do it. There were a couple of gigs that people were trying to give to me in London, though Exposure does everything very straight, so it became my first. Painting at a location for me is worth more than money. Exposure has a culture of creativity, you know? Its a place where they’re nice to their employees, people like working there. Corporate assholes are running the world, and Exposure follows the true street culture of London. Street culture crosses from New York, to Tokyo and London. Exposure symbolises all of that to me, and suddenly I had an opportunity to paint on its doorstep. Thats kinda cool, don’t you think?”

Embodying Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour surrounded by butterflies, Theordore’s Fitzrovia mural marks his passion for the area, Exposure and his friendship with Raoul Shah, painted in his bright signature colours. Bradley is now across the pond back in Brooklyn, though his heart is never far from London. He is now experimenting with new possibilities with his work, and even mentioned the possibility of creating 3-D printed frames for his work for future exhibitions. Theodore is humble, well-styled and known for his signature dreadlocks. He lives and breathes his work, with much of his clothing showing some remnants of the signature colours used in his work, dripped onto the garments. He’s an artist to watch, compared to the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, for his unmistakable style with many high profile collectors acquiring his work.

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“If we can transport someone to a seaside memory for a couple of hours in the middle of a busy day in W1, then I know we’re doing things right”

When I had my first taste of an oyster in summer 2015, I was instantly hooked. Standing just outside a tiny seafood shack on Foley Street, I ordered two fresh oysters sourced in Britain, and washed them down with a glass of white wine. This tiny seafood shack, the location of my seafood revelation, was Bonnie Gull – their “Outdoor Kitchen”, to be precise. The Fitzrovia-based seafood restaurant created an outdoor space for patrons and passers-by to grab fish and chips for lunch, or oysters and canapés in the evening. On a stall decorated with old wooden barrels, the inviting pit stop was impossible for me to avoid whilst en route to my local supermarket, and I soon forgot my shopping list after a few hours spent sat on a bench in the sunshine outside the cosy restaurant.

Spurred on by the lack of great seafood in London, founders Alex Hunter and Danny Clancy launched Bonnie Gull in its initial pop-up incarnation. The duo wanted to remind everyone about the multitude of amazing produce that we have on our doorstep by serving up exciting dishes with the best seafood our shores can offer in a fun atmosphere. As Alex told me, “I find it odd that we live on this island surrounded by seas that produce some of the best fish in the world yet we send most of our catch abroad”. What started as a relaxed pop-up in an old pie ‘n’ mash shop in Hackney, where punters brought their own booze and sampled delicious seafood that didn’t break the bank, has grown to become a Fitzrovia mainstay. The concept was focused from the start: “serve quality, fresh, sustainable, British only fish but in a fun environment”. The idea was a hit, as it seemed diners were starved of a more relaxed seafood experience. A second, longer residency with another Fitzrovia favourite of mine, Mac & Wild, and wine merchants The Sampler, consolidated their brand identity even more with the focus on showcasing home-grown talent in a party-like setting. This in turn led to further success for the team, and the decision to create a permanent space seemed a natural progression.

Mounted on one wall of the restaurant is a blackboard map of the British Isles, updated daily to show where the day’s catch has come from. This map embodies the unique appeal of Bonnie Gull and the reason it continues to stand out amongst competition. As Alex says, “it’s all about championing British seafood”. During a recent visit, I toured British shores via oysters from Dorset, crab from Salcombe Bay and haddock fresh from the North Sea, as well as tucking into my dining partner’s Scottish langoustine ravioli. With the emphasis placed proudly on their great British seafood, the team undergo a challenging process of sourcing produce via a range of boat suppliers who bring the best of their catch straight to the restaurant. They only use a product when it is at its best and is sustainable, meaning that the menu changes almost daily, requiring a level of creativity and quick thinking from head chef Christian Edwardson. Alex knows that this complicated process is part of Bonnie Gull’s appeal, as he puts it, “most chefs wouldn’t dream of doing it but our guys know it’s what sets us apart from other seafood restaurants”.

“A seaside restaurant in the city” nestled on the corner of Foley Street, the blue and white striped awning of Bonnie Gull cuts a sunny and inviting figure for residents and passers by looking for refuge from the bustle of Oxford Street nearby. The restaurant itself is a refined, subtle love letter to seaside dining, and by avoiding gimmicks they able to create a timeless dining experience. Details like the appliqué rope-covered wall, fisherman’s bell, a bar lined with old merchants’ crates and even antique suitcase filled with oysters ready to be shucked make the small space seem familiar without being twee. By avoiding gimmicks, Alex says that they have been able to create a timeless dining experience with broad appeal.

Fitzrovia seems a perfect location for the intimate, familiar atmosphere that the team is aiming for, because of the village-like qualities of the area. Alex calls it the “the forgotten corner of the West End” because it has managed to retain its charm and the quirks of its history whilst becoming a hub for exciting local businesses. It’s easy to see why the “cute little corner site with a terrace on a quiet uneventful street” was a natural choice as the permanent home for their seaside oasis.

I might be a little biased because it was the spot of my own seafood awakening, but for me, Bonnie Gull is the pearl in Fitzrovia’s oyster. Despite growing from a pop-up to the restaurant on the corner the concept and attitude to quality seafood has remained the same – their passion for sharing great seafood is evident in ideas like the “Outdoor Kitchen” and their “Shore to Door” dining experiences, for which they again team up with The Sampler for wine pairing and tasting sessions. With a second Seafood Shack on the horizon in Central London, Bonnie Gull will be branching out from their sunny corner in Fitzrovia to transport even more diners to a seaside memory.

The Larder

The Larder


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…we are proud to be serving the local neighbourhood and the residents of Fitzroy Place as an all day café, wine bar and store.”

From Old French lardier, larder originates from Middle English, denoting a store of meat. A room or large cupboard for storing food; the newest addition to the recently unveiled Pearson Square, Fitzroy Place, is sat opposite restaurant Percy & Founders, with both being founded by Open House, whom also opened The Lighterman in King’s Cross earlier this year. Having been well-received when opening earlier this year in February, neighbourhood café and store The Larder based at the heart of Fitzrovia are greeting summer by extending their opening hours into the evening to create a casual dining vibe.

Located less than 5 minutes from Oxford Street, The Larder offers all day food and drinks, from morning coffee through to breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks, with all available to eat in or take away. Giving stunning views of the recently restored Fitzrovia Chapel, The Larder is a wonderful and carefully crafted addition to the first public square to have been built in London in over 100 years. It has come to establish itself among local residents and those working in the area, as has the square which it is in. “We are proud to be serving the local neighbourhood and the residents of Fitzroy Place as an all day café, wine bar and store.” says Open House director, Justin Thomas. “The evening vibe changes to create a chilled wine bar experience with charcuterie and cheese boards to share, accompanied by a wealth of wine by the glass and bottle, as well as craft beers and cider.”

A regular trend among like-minded independent cafés, the decor is well styled and refined. The Larder feels like a home away from home; a place to indulge, to work or relax. Entering from Pearson Square, for a lunchtime retreat or an evening drink, the environment is welcoming and tasteful from corner to corner. Staff are friendly and genuine, the environment is relaxed and informal. Though what is primary in defining The Larder here in Fitzrovia, is its place as a café and both a store with the aim of becoming an alternate outlet for Fitzrovia locals. With many cafés, bars and restaurants having begun to fluctuate between being cafés by day and speakeasies by night, The Larder is all of the above much more. Changing on a seasonal basis to adapt and cater to the needs of local residents, The Larder’s offerings vary from strawberries and clotted cream, to organic milk, butter, cheese olive oils and pastas. Their aim is to be a destination for Fitzrovia residents and those working in the area, adapting to the needs and requirements of those whom frequent it. “…we’re also your local store for home and office provisions, anything from a pint of milk or bottle of wine to a loaf of bread or a corkscrew” says Justin. “We strive to source all our produce from as little distance away as possible, concentrating very much on the British Isles.” In line with this, it is encouraged that regulars feedback on exactly what they feel would sit well on their shelves.

Host to a range of provisions from charcuterie to freshly ground coffee and cheese, artisan chocolate and vegetables, The Larder offers a respectable and modest array of home essentials. Using sustainable produce from local British farms, The Larder has created a menu which offers carefully balanced health-conscious options and daytime snacks. With their breakfast menu ranging from granola & yoghurt to fruit salads, the scrambled eggs on toast has become a notable favourite of my own, as has their specialist blended coffee, produced in Dorset by family-run Reads Coffee Roasters (perfect when accompanied by a gluten-free sea-salt caramel brownie). A range of options are available that encourage healthy eating, from dishes high in protein to a range of freshly-squeezed juices. Takeaway or eat in salads change on a daily basis, varying from grilled chicken breast to marinated salmon, with other popular lunchtime options including freshly baked quiches, pies and sandwiches. Come the evening, the daytime café buzz transitions into a relaxed and casual evening vibe, accompanied by music and candles.

With summer now well underway, The Larder has welcomed in the season with a new evening menu. With summer drinks a focus in-store, a selection of biodynamic and organic wines are on offer, with monthly wine tasting take place on the 1st Thursday of every month between 5.30pm – 10pm. The Larder’s own house red and white wine are sold in returnable glass bottles at £13 – modestly refillable for just £10. Their inaugural event took place on June 2nd coinciding with English Wine Week, with a flight of 3 wines having been available to guests produced by small estates on British shores. Their events, under the guise of ex Head Sommelier at Murano, Beverage Director Marc-Andrea Levy, shall continue to explore a range of topics in the coming months.

A modest and required addition to the newly unveiled Pearson Square, The Larder is a well executed and thought out creation by Open House based in the heart of Fitzrovia, and the West End. Whether yours is a craft beer or a white wine, The Larder is a refreshing pitstop for breakfast, lunch or evening supper. Pearson Square itself is very much in its infancy having only opened to the public early this year. During this years summer, and on into the months to come it is set to be the familiar stomping ground of anybody living or working in the neighbourhood, with The Larder as its centre.

Carleen Anderson

Carleen Anderson


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“…if I live a little bit longer, I’ll need something to do with my time.”

Coming from musical royalty can make some singers comfortable and complacent, unwilling to stray into artistic realms that might stretch their abilities and tax them unduly. But this isn’t the case with Carleen Anderson. For her, it’s been a long journey from Texas to London, and it’s a story she now wants to tell.

Born and raised in Houston, Carleen received a music scholarship to go to school, but back then had no intention of entering the music industry. But fate had other ideas. Carleen had been surrounded by musicians from the get-go: her godfather was the late, great James Brown, whose band numbered her mother Vicki Anderson and her late stepfather Bobby Byrd among its members. So when ‘Pops’ (Byrd) asked her to go on the road with him to Europe, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

When she subsequently crossed the pond to London, moving here in 1990 with her young son, she found a city that was busily conducting a love affair with the rarest of grooves. It was the time of warehouse parties, acid jazz and a freer fusion of musical styles, as soul, jazz and funk were resurrected by a new generation. In Soho, in clubland, and on radio stations like Jazz FM and Kiss FM, things were looking up as a rebooted music scene recovered from the dissipation of the 1980s. And for Carleen, it was the breath of fresh air she needed: she formed The Young Disciples, with Marco Nelson and Femi Williams, and then went on to work with the Brand New Heavies, Paul Weller, Nigel Kennedy, Bryan Ferry, Paul McCartney and many more.

The fact that it was England, and not the US, that provided the fertile ground for this extended period of creativity is not lost on her: “I couldn’t have done this anywhere but in England,” she tells me over a coffee on Frith Street. “And make no mistake, I am very blessed. But today, I’ve had enough of that, of the three-minute song. What I’m doing now is very different from anything I’ve done before as far as a project is concerned.”

She helped write the modern Soho soundtrack – the clubs, bars and restaurants of the area still pulse to songs like Apparently Nothin’Mama Said and Woman In Me. But today she’s looking to the future with a new project – Cage Street Memorial – that represents her first foray into theatre. After a successful reception at the Albany Theatre in March 2015, which was funded by an Arts Council England grant, she is looking to take the piece into full production for a 2017 tour.

Having experienced the confines of industry-friendly musical formats and found them too restrictive, she says, “It was never my thing, but something that was offered to me at a time when I had a young child that needed taking care of. But writing for The Young Disciples was a great job.” It was a job that gave birth to the seminal Road To Freedom LP (Talkin’ Loud, 1991), but having been an independent artist since 2001 and a recurring resident at Soho’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s since 2006, now’s the time for a gear change as this project moves her into new territory.

Cage Street Memorial is completed. The book has been written, the album has been recorded and the script has been developed to take it to the next stage of the workshop. The book has to find a publisher and the album has been courted by a couple of record companies, so now it’s decision time.

“I call Cage Street Memorial a theatre production because it’s hybrid in nature. Digital media arts will play a significant role to accompany the story telling. Opera has embraced digital art, but plays and musicals are less inviting for this new kind of media. So that’s what I’m leaning towards… an opera setting, of sorts.” She tells me it’s a unique project that will mix music, opera and spoken word.

Cage Street Memorial’s story begins in 1960, when a young girl called Cassie, being raised by her grandparents, begins her journey through the American scene just as the Civil Rights movement erupts around her. Based on Carleen’s own life, the tale resonates today as America continues to experience political convulsions. It’s an artistically courageous move to make, and Carleen agrees: “I can’t look at this as my last piece of work. This is not a summation of my life. I look at Cage Street Memorial as the template of how my work will be from now on.

“I want to engage the audience in a way that makes them feel it was worth it to leave home and come to the theatre; it’s different from anything I’ve done before, mainly because I’m telling stories in the way I like to tell them. The work I’ve done, from my Young Disciples days up until now, was all in the ‘music industry market platform’. That’s the template of writing songs with the intention of them being played on radio.”

This change of direction springs from her desire to re-engage with her profession after having achieved so much in the traditional music industry. Today, she has the benefit of all that experience, and her emotional connection to music is steadfast. But are there sacrifices to be made in pursuing something new?

“Sleep. You can’t sleep because there’s always something to fix, be it words or musical arrangements. You sacrifice having a social life, but it’s something I’m willing to do. You have to deal with non-stop politics in the theatre world because the work is living, it’s continuous, and one which affects your spirit. But these sacrifices are worth it because I’m able to express the art of life in a way that I’ve never been able to do before.”

As Soho experiences a rebirth, so too does an artist who knows these streets only too well. In seeking a new way to tell stories, Carleen Anderson’s horizons have broadened. “Cage Street Memorial is not a story that could be told in America because people would be uncomfortable hearing what it has to convey – because of the truth it reveals. But I’m hoping this is a new way of building a platform where I can continue to tell my stories. And from these stories I hope will come a new way of composing music. And also,” she laughs, “if I live a little bit longer, I’ll need something to do with my time.”

Clothing by SOBOYE

www.soboye.com

The Groucho Club

The Groucho Club


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


“Its like The Muppet Show with Fraggle Rock waiting in the wings. Its a place like nowhere else I know, a place of huge forgiveness…”

Behind a yellow door at 45 Dean Street, it’s easy to forget that only 30 years ago Britain was a different place when it came to recreation. In the mid-1980s, with the amendment of the wartime licensing laws, a restaurant and bar revolution was underway. At this time, private members’ clubs were archaic, men-only retreats at opposite poles of the social scale – think stuffy Pall Mall on the one hand versus rowdy Northern working men’s clubs on the other. It was during this period that a group of publishers that included Carmen Cahill, Ed Victor, Liz Calder and literary agent Michael Sissons had an idea. Imagining a place that welcomed both men and women to meet, work and socialise, they created The Groucho Club.

Tony Mackintosh, of the famous chocolate family, had opened a new sort of members’ bar in Covent Garden on the back of the success of Dingwalls Dance Hall in Camden Lock. It was called The Zanzibar, and was usually full of rock stars and rich bohemians taking advantage of its late-night licence. Approached by the aforementioned group of publishers, Mackintosh was taken with their idea. Already working with wine dealer John Armit on a restaurant in Notting Hill, he thought this new conception of a private club might allow further scope for his idea of mixing the modern and traditional. The next step was to find the right location for this new kind of club.

At the time, Soho was still the West End’s bohemian quarter, a colourful mixture of the seedy and the sophisticated. Well established as London’s red light district, it also harboured a number of gentlemen’s establishments, dancing clubs, illegal drinking dens and Italian coffee shops. Having been a restaurant since 1880, 45 Dean Street was best remembered as the home of Gennaro’s, where the Kings of Greece, Yugoslavia and Siam dined alongside Enrico Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba. The restaurant is commemorated today in the Groucho’s first floor Gennaro Room; supposedly once the scene of a fatal shooting, and, some say, haunted, it’s now famed for its beautiful vaulted roof and glass ceiling.

After the demise of Gennaro’s, the property fell into disrepair and became an Italian restaurant, with few reminders of its glamorous past to be seen. The cost of the freehold and the renovations required to transform 45 Dean Street into the comfortable modern club we know today meant that the creatives behind the initiative needed to pool their contact books. An unorthodox financial prospectus was created, complete with cartoons by Quentin Blake, and sent out to all their friends and associates to find funding for the project. Over 400 people put their hands in their pockets. The shared vision of Mackintosh and his literary associates became The Groucho Club, and was quickly adopted as Soho’s living room and the approved watering hole for the creative industries.

The Groucho opened in 1985 with bars, offices, two restaurants, private event rooms and 20 bedrooms. Mackintosh’s new members’ club was granted a both a daytime and a late-night license to sell alcohol; of course, it was soon attracting committed drinkers and post-show punters. The premise was a simple: a modern interpretation of stuffier and more traditional establishments, welcoming both men and women. Those who joined tended to be, like the club’s founders, from creative backgrounds – the arts, publishing, film, music and advertising – and many worked in the Soho area.

Despite welcoming both men and women, the early days of the club were particularly male-dominated. Writing under the pseudonym of Jan Siegel, British fantasy novelist Amanda Hemingway is often referred to by staff and club members as the First Lady of the Groucho. Joining in the club’s opening year, Amanda was an infrequent visitor until the late 1980s, when she became something of a regular. “It was a very male dominated club. It still has a lot more male than female members today, but in those days there were very few regular female members,” she recalls. “If women came in on their own, as I did, they tended to get friendly with staff, and the then manager, the great Liam Carson. Liam would always take care of you – he was lovely. He always introduced everybody in the same way. No matter how famous somebody was, he would say ‘Oh, Amanda, you know so and so don’t you?’ on the assumption that if you didn’t know each other, you ought to. I think Liam is the guy who is responsible for the success of the Groucho. Kind, friendly and unpretentious, he knew everybody in those days. He was a magic person.” The first manager and host of the Groucho, Irishman Liam Carson is widely considered to have established the club’s unique social character. He was one of London’s greatest professional hosts, a prominent figure during the Groucho’s heyday in the 1990s. He and Amanda remained close friends until his untimely death in 2005.

It was in the 1990s that the Groucho really established itself as the favoured watering hole for the famous and infamous. It became a hot topic, mentioned regularly in the media as the place for actors, comedians and artists to work, rest and play. “It’s got a very wide membership. It’s the unwritten rules at the club that people abide by,” Amanda says. “I often refer to it as fight club; the first rule of the Groucho Club is you don’t talk about the Groucho Club. What happens at the Groucho, stays at the Groucho. Living in London, its my adopted living room.”

After Liam Carson, came glamorous Mary-Lou Sturridge, who as Managing Director often acted as friend, counsellor and even landlady to the club’s members. Today’s gatekeeper and host, South London born Bernie Katz, was originally invited to work at the club by the late Dick Bradshaw, the inventor of the espresso martini, to cover a waiter’s paternity leave. When the person he was covering for failed to return, Bernie found himself in a permanent role at the club. Having spent his whole life in the hospitality business, Bernie has worked his way up through the ranks at to become the slickest, best-dressed and most charming addition to The Groucho Club and one of London’s most famous hosts. Despite describing himself as having been an awful barman and waiter, Bernie has now been working at the club for 22 years. “This is named after Bradley Adams – this is his favourite place. Luckily he’s still alive to enjoy it,” says Bernie, as he and I sit and chat about the club in Brad’s corner. “If you look at the membership, it’s quite balanced. Although it does feel male-dominated, the average woman who does come here is quite powerful – they make up more than one man! For it to remain quite light-hearted, you need likeminded people from the same fields to become members, otherwise all you’ve got is oil and water. I really don’t think that things have changed that much, people look at this place through rose-tinted glasses and have a romantic idea about it. It’s beautiful and colourful. It’s like The Muppet Show with Fraggle Rock waiting in the wings. It’s a place like nowhere else I know, a place of huge forgiveness…” Nicknamed the ‘Prince of Soho’ by Stephen Fry, Bernie is not only a prominent figure at the club but in the wider Soho neighbourhood as well. While the future may take him in a different direction, he doesn’t see himself as ever leaving the Groucho completely. Today, working alongside current managing director, Matthew Hobbs, Bernie oversees the club that changed the rules of the game and that has for 30 years been the benchmark for a new generation of members’ clubs both in London and internationally. With the club now approaching 5,000 members from across the globe, its place as the most desirable arts and media members’ club in the world remains unmatched.

Anne Pigalle

Anne Pigalle


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Any stance that goes against the grain will be seen as provocative. I can only write and perform what I feel…”

In my late teens, though more fixated on electronic acts like Depeche Mode or the Human league, I had a sort of obsession with an artist whose career seemed at the time an exquisitely incongruous one. As the only French singer ever signed to a UK label, Anne Pigalle was already unique, but it was her languorous tone, marrying romance and debauchery to a nocturnal soundtrack of jazz-tinged chansons, which made her even more special. Pigalle was a Piaf for the New Wave, and at the height of the 80s, posters announcing her first album covered Soho.

Anne had moved here from Paris, borrowing her name along the way from the French capital’s Pigalle district. It was an area famed for its nightlife, sex shops and prostitutes – much like Soho in its heyday. And Soho was therefore always destined to become Anne Pigalle’s spiritual home. “The first two places I landed in when I first came to London were the famous Sex Pistols squat in Stoke Newington and my boyfriend’s office on Berwick Street, which was an ex-brothel. Yes, everything seemed exciting and fast, but fast in a good way: fast with real life, important life. We used to go and see the porn films in Soho and laugh at the dirty old men. We felt very naughty.”

It’s a naughtiness she’s never really lost. Straightforward, sometimes difficult in a charmingly Gallic way, but always passionate, Anne’s aim seems less to provoke than just to be unapologetically herself. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given her roots in the Punk scene. “I was involved with Punk in my teenage years in Paris and then in London. Punk was very much New York-Paris-London, starting with the whole New York Dolls thing and the great influence of the Situationists and May 68 on Malcolm McLaren.”

After Punk died, Anne collaborated with luminaries such as Adrian Sherwood and Michael Nyman, but her focus was on her own career. “I wrote my songs, put my new ideas and concept together, played a few clubs in London while looking for a label. This was the beginning of things.” In the summer of 1985, she signed a record deal, and joined the roster of one the era’s most unusual labels, ZTT, whose stable included the perfect pop confections of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda alongside the more experimental likes of Andrew Poppy and Art of Noise. And Anne Pigalle was just as bewildering an offering. While Frankie singlehandedly ruled pop, defying Radio One’s banning of Relax to dominate the charts for months, Pigalle brought a more subdued French allure and introspection to the proceedings.

But though her album, Everything Could Be So Perfect, remains one of my favourites, for Anne it was a difficult birth. “The whole ZTT period feels like a messy time, ending in a divorce. I always felt artistically suffocated in that environment. I had ideas that were not understood.” Anne may have been misunderstood, but one can’t fault Paul Morley and Trevor Horn’s (co-founders of ZTT) good taste and clin d’eoil as they no doubt relished the audacity of launching a French chanteuse into a UK chart dominated by electronic and dance music. “I wanted to mix both cultures to create something new… that’s why I decided, after leaving ZTT, to produce my albums in the end, and the result is so much more successful.”

In 2011 Anne Pigalle released L’Âmérotica, enjoying the creative freedom and the chance to really put into music her current state of mind.  “This album was very experimental and linked to my visual work. I had great success with painting and photography, especially the 2006 show of Polaroid self-portraits called Âmérotica, which inspired many young ‘popsicles’. This developed into the 2013 Art CD Madame Sex, on which I used guitar and toys and the occasional piano.” This last offering is very DIY, with each cover individually hand painted, an album a friend producer in NYC refers to as “Anne Pigalle à la maison (at home).”

“My influences are always real life in terms of lyrics, so you have some romance there, some surrealism and some sex. In terms of music, it was important that it should be spontaneous.” Anne Pigalle’s recent shows in Soho deliver on that promise of surrealism and spontaneity. A live gig in the hallowed halls of the National Portrait Gallery saw her mix Baudelaire, Bowie and sexually suggestive poetry while at the Lights of Soho in Brewer Street, she opened her own birthday celebrations in typical Pigalle style with a rather morbid rendering of My Death by Brel, via Bowie. That famous Gallic charm was still alive.

“I don’t go out of my way to be provocative. Any stance that goes against the grain will be seen as provocative. I can only write and perform what I feel – it is never an exercise in style. Honesty is what shocks people most.” Famed for her trend-setting Nuits du Mercredi at the Cafe de Paris in the 80s, Anne Pigalle also recently launched a Soho concept night: La Nuit Amérotique. “I guess I was telling people to wake up, be less hedonistic, to unite under the banner of art music and freedom. It featured guests that had lived or worked in Soho. Of course it was also a comment about what I see around me, beautiful buildings full of history being destroyed.”

But this history under threat goes much further back than the neon lights and sex clubs Soho is now known for. “In the 17th century, Soho was called the French quarter. The spirit of freedom and Bohemia had filtered across from France. 40,000 French Huguenots came to Soho and Spitalfields, bringing with all types of knowledge, from silversmithing to medicine to the silk industry, as with the Courtauld family. Many people spoke French in Soho and used French currency. I read somewhere that England has never really acknowledged this debt – but, hey! I’m waiting for the Huguenot ghosts to have their say!”

David Abrahamovitch

David Abrahamovitch


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


“We were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked…”

Since his father died unexpectedly five years ago, leaving him with a dwindling mobile phone business on the Old Street roundabout, David Abrahamovitch has gone on to become one of the leading entrepreneurs on London’s café scene. Breathing new life into his father’s old phone shop – from which Shoreditch Grind was born – was just the start of David’s journey, one fuelled by passion for the coffee industry and a sense of possibility.

As we sit and discuss the ever-expanding Grind & Co., David demonstrates his newly developed Grind App, which enables customers to order their coffee en route and skip the queue. “It defaults to your nearest location; you select your coffee and customise it ready for collection,” he says. “It’s taken us so long to develop this. It’s primarily developed for takeaway, for the Londoner on the go.” He sips a piccolo as I down a flat white in the basement of Soho Grind. David, who’s also featured in Investec Private Banking’s Restless Spirits campaign, has his life centred around Soho and the West End; we discuss evenings spent at Soho House, the changing face of Beak Street and the café scene in the neighbourhood.

He was born into an entrepreneurial family. His father, also called David, operated a mobile phone business and bought the domain name mobilephones.com – a valuable asset – in the 1990s. On completing an economics degree at University College London, David helped found legal claims firm InterResolve, beginning his love affair with creating things. He met his business partner Kaz James, DJ and former band member of BodyRockers, at King’s Cross nightclub The Cross, and their friendship became the foundation of a new venture. Even with no previous experience in hospitality, the two were ambitious, with Australian James seeking to bring Melbourne’s café culture and love of independent coffee to London and David determined to take on major chains like Starbucks.

Their fledgling venture begun to take shape at what had been David’s father’s phone shop on the Old Street roundabout. “Essentially, my father left me with a declining mobile phone firm, that I had to turn around,” says David. “I worked in there when I was 13 with my Dad selling phones. After meeting Kaz, it became our first outlet, Shoreditch Grind. Kaz always went on about the coffee shops back home in Melbourne, and he and I joked about doing it here. Personally, I felt the building I’d inherited was a wasted opportunity. A number of times we had the conversation about turning it into a cafe or a bar, which turned into us opening a coffee shop.” This was nearly five years ago, before the boom in independent cafés, when if you knew what a flat white was you were in a minority.

Despite their inexperience David and Kaz were confident, believing they knew how to create a successful and popular café environment. The refit of David’s fathers shop began, with Shoreditch Grind opening in June 2011. “We were clueless about running a café. But we were good customers, with experience in what mattered. We understood what looked good, what felt right and what worked,” says David. “We obsessed over the coffee, though there was so much we didn’t get right at first – and that’s why we built a team to help master those things. We employed young, interesting and vibrant people, who brought so much to the place. At first, we got the coffee right, but most of all the environment and vibe were key to the success of Shoreditch Grind.”

With the success of their first incarnation, David sought outside investment in order to fund the growth of Grind & Co. Settling on a deal with John Ayton (founder of Links of London) and private equity veteran Diarmid Ogilvy, David received an investment that topped £1M, and the planned expansion went ahead. Though admittedly Grind & Co. is a chain, David has stuck to his original vision of an independent cafe and aesthetic across all the Grind sites, with each new branch as on-trend as the others. To date, there are six shops across London, stretching from Shoreditch to Borough Market, and from Covent Garden to Holborn. In Soho, of course, there are two separate incarnations. A café by day and a speakeasy styled bar in the evening, Beak Street’s Soho Grind is one of the few places you can get a caffeine high by day and a decent tipple in the evening. Last summer saw the opening of Soho Grind X Soho Radio on Great Windmill Street, continuing Grind & Co.’s policy of opening cafes with a difference.

Having begun with the goal of creating amazing coffee in the right environments and locations to match people’s lifestyles, Grind & Co. has gone from strength to strength, moving from coffee to cocktails, to food, and now even a recording studio. David’s father is perhaps his greatest inspiration, and I can’t help but wonder what David Snr would think of the café that has replaced the shop where he once sold mobile phones alongside his young son. With their Royal Exchange site due to open in May this year, Grind & Co. looks to continue its expansion London-wide, with David expressing an interest in opening a Grind outpost in the US.

Milroy’s

Milroy’s


Words Jason Holmes

Photography Archives


“I think Soho is different, neither for better nor worse…”

As you drift up from the neon of Theatreland to encounter the landmarks of Kettner’s and Norman’s, Greek Street becomes a portal to the past, offering you a glimpse behind the arras of modernity. Here, the old and the new intertwine to form one of Soho’s many tableaux, and Greek Street possesses a sort of telescopic quality that sucks the visitor up to its northern end where, at No 3, sits one of the last great independents: Milroy’s of Soho.

As a shop founded in 1964 – and which today stocks approximately 500 whiskies alongside spirits, wine and beer – it’s a one-off establishment in a corner of Soho that evokes the forgotten embraces and vanished yearnings of a distant era. But with the area’s ongoing transformation providing cause for concern among the remaining independent traders, can such historic businesses as Milroy’s survive the changes?

“I don’t see why not,” says Angus Martin, the retail manager. “As long as independent traders are willing to adapt, that is. Things change and, if necessary, so must businesses. The key thing for me is preserving Soho’s character and sense of community, which I think is crucial in attracting people to the area.”

Martin is equally upbeat about the potential effects wrought by the nearby Crossrail project, which he hopes will make Soho a busier place. “The more people, the better. Plus, I’ll be able to get home faster!” Despite doom-laden proclamations in the national press about the permanent transformation, even loss, of Soho’s quintessential character, footfall throughout this historic quarter is increasing as the area becomes a prime location for residential real estate and leisure. The revival, for which Soho has long waited, is underway as restaurants and cafés have begun to appear on street corners that once languished in twilight.

But how has Soho changed over the years since Milroy’s was founded in 1964? “I think Soho is different, neither for better nor worse. Soho still has a strong community feel which should be celebrated, and if a facelift brings more people into the area, then that’s great.” Martin adds that the charm of Soho is its hedonistic history: “Watering that down too much would be a shame, as I think it still lures people in.”

When Soho habitué Francis Bacon declared, “Real pain for your sham friends, champagne from your real friends,” he knew whereof he spoke. But the era of the hard-drinking artist is receding, as a 21st century Soho becomes a place where financial acumen supersedes the struggles of the starving bohemian. Things change, and Martin attributes the enduring success of Milroy’s to “never being afraid to embrace change”. He says he has been proactive in utilising the “knowledge, passion and approachability” that have been what he calls “the secrets of Milroy’s 50 years of success in the business”.

“Over our history, we have been a wine shop, sherry mart, whisky shop and a wholesaler, often flipping between different priorities depending on demand. We’ve recently put the [whisky] bars back in, which we had in the 1970s; that, I believe, has added another string to our bow. Plus we increasingly sell online.” Martin believes that Milroy’s appeal has been maintained by being a tourist destination. “The key is not to stagnate and to constantly innovate, whilst celebrating our heritage. We’ve always sold whisky. However, in our history we have often sold more wine than whisky. Due to our location, shelf space will always be a challenge, so we try to adapt to what our customers want. Currently, that’s whisky – and lots of it.” So small is beautiful? “People go out of their way to visit us to try some whisky, share some knowledge and buy a bottle. I think that is part of our appeal. Being independent is very important to us.”

 

What does he think of the capital’s currenmt cocktail boom? “I’m not sure that the cocktail boom is pervasive or gimmicky: tastes change with each generation. Personally, if mixology is introducing people to new spirits, then I’m all for it. In fact, the cocktail boom has done wonders for American whiskey and Scotch whisky alike. But I’m not sure the closing down of pubs, however sad, is related to the enduring appeal of whisky.” Perhaps, then, it’s a question of taste, no more, no less: the drink, the shop and the area, all contribute to the appeal of a London many are fearful will be lost in the march of time.

No doubt the loyalty of Milroy’s large overseas clientele is attributable to this sense of continuity; loyalty, says Martin, comes high on his list of priorities. “Customer loyalty is very much at the heart of what we do. It is absolutely mandatory, and we love the fact that we get to know our customers very well over the years. Many have become firm friends.” Milroy’s and Greek Street – perhaps the most characterful of all Soho’s streets – shall be forever linked, the thoroughfare graven and worn with time, the shoulders of its buildings sloping with the weight of years. Moving from here would be a wrench. “We’ve been here for 51 years,” says Martin, “although we used to have a shop on Beak Street too. But we aren’t considering moving any time soon. Back in 1964, I don’t know what the motivation was to open a shop on Greek Street over busier streets such as Old Compton or Wardour. Jack Milroy worked in Kettner’s before opening Milroy’s, so maybe that’s the reason. “We love our location and we would never want to leave Soho. Greek Street has had many new openings over the past couple of years, and now it feels like an exciting time to be here.”

Raw

Raw


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Ross Becker


“I’ve always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific.”

Famed for work that often reflected the human spirit’s boundless capacity for self-destruction, Francis Bacon’s relationship with Soho was an important and appropriate one. And nothing better exemplifies the artist’s love of the aesthetic and desire to capture the human in motion than the time he spent at Muriel Belcher’s The Colony Room at 41 Dean Street. But how did Bacon come to frequent this exclusive establishment that also played host to the likes of Jeffrey Bernard and Peter O’Toole? Well, the simple answer is this; he was the owner’s “daughter”.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Although he was born in Dublin, Bacon’s family relocated to London in 1914 to accommodate his father’s work with the Territorial Force Records Office. Bacon later attributed the strong references to violence in his work to this early experience of war, saying that: “I was brought to London during the war and spent quite a lot of time there, because my father was in the War Office then, and I was made aware of what is called the possibility of danger even at a very young age.” Danger would follow him back home after the war as well: “I went back to Ireland and was brought up during the Sinn Fein movement.” As an artist who saw painting as a way of reporting on the human condition, Bacon wasn’t surprised that some saw his work as being full of horrors. He “always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific.”

The inter-war years saw Bacon travelling, from Dublin to London, from Paris to Berlin. The primary cause of this vagrancy was his sexuality. In 1926, Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer Bacon walked in on his son to witness the 15 year old modelling his mother’s underwear in front of a mirror. That was the final straw, and efforts were made to ‘make a man’ of young Francis, including farming him out to family friend Harcourt-Smith. Suffice to say, the two men spent their time sharing a double bed at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin – hardly the life lessons his father had in mind. “’We settled in Berlin for a time, it must have been 1926, and by way of education I found myself in the atmosphere of the Blue Angel.” The reference to the 1930 German film conjures up images of sexual promiscuity, decadence and punishment. After spending two months in Berlin, Francis decided to head to Paris. Harcourt-Smith had by now “grown tired” of him and “went off with a woman”. It was in France that Francis began to discover his true flair for painting; learning from masters such as Valazquez and Poussin, he began developing his own distinctly modern style out of a classical technique.

After a year and a half, he returned to London and set up a studio to work in. Unfortunately, prosperity did not follow – not least because World War II broke out not long after. The resourceful Bacon, however, had a trick up his sleeve to deal with this distraction: when conscription became mandatory, he borrowed a dog from Harrods and slept beside it for a night. Bacon suffered from asthma. Suffice to say, the dog hair worked wonders on ruining his health, and when it came time for his medical, he was in no fit state to fight for King and country. Instead, London in wartime became for him what he called a “sexual gymnasium”– blackouts provided particularly useful cover for him to engage in taboo acts; “Yes, and married men too,” he would joke.

And so we come to 1948 and the birth of a private members’ club in the heart of Soho, created mostly as a way to avoid strict licensing laws. Green was the colour chosen for the walls, an inspiration arising from that most potent beverage – the devil in a bottle – absinth. To enter into the tiny attic room you first had to climb a staircase lined with putrid bins. On the opening day of this less-than-esteemed establishment, Francis was to instantaneously become a permanent member. Muriel Belcher did not care for art, but she liked artists, mostly because they are usually last people who want to talk about art when trying to relax. It helped that Francis had some links with fame and fortune too. Muriel paid Francis £10 a week for him to “bring people you like”, and he would often spend £10 a week on the bar bill. Although free drinks were involved in his Colony Room ‘pay packet’, he was a strong advocate of picking up the tab: “real pain for sham friends,” he would announce, “and champagne for real friends.”

The clientele Bacon attracted to the Colony came in the form of other personalities from the art world; the most important of these were Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and Tim Behrens, a group that very soon became known as ‘Muriel’s boys’. She had a way with names: ‘cunts’ were those she disliked, those she liked were given the sobriquet of ‘cunty’, those she really liked were ‘Marys’; but only one received the highest honour, and this was reserved for Francis, for he was Muriel’s ‘Daughter’. In return, Muriel was honoured to be the subject of three portraits by Francis: his Three Studies for a portrait of Muriel Belcher. She was a woman of such complexity that her multiple personality traits demanded to be represented in multiple ways. 

All was not as it seemed however, and Francis Bacon did not always find comfort and solitude as centre of attention at the Colony. His friend Daniel Farson remembers clues that betrayed the tortured soul of the artist: “When he wandered off to the lavatory with his glass in his hand as if he could not bear to part with it, when he threw the contents away; he drank less while filling the glasses of those around him.” Other times, a discomfort with his self-made notoriety was expressed in more destructive forms. “An artist… came into the Colony one afternoon to present the club with his latest painting, which was still wet. This generous gesture was accepted politely until Francis made his entrance. He shook his bottle of champagne, aiming it at the picture, whose colours dissolved into an even more frightful mess than it was in the first place.” Of course this did not distract from a sometimes charitable and supportive side. “One afternoon an art student naively showed him a leaflet he had produced. Francis asked if he could buy a copy, adding that he would be grateful if the young man would sign it for him.”

Of the numerous private members clubs that sprouted in Soho after the wars, Muriel’s was different, and this is due in no small part to Francis Bacon. It was a place for those who identified as misfits, outsiders. With a lesbian proprietor and openly homosexual founding member, the Colony Room provided a safe space for those who wanted to remove themselves, even for a short time, from the norms of society and spotlight of modern celebrity – a true escape from the horrors of the world reflected in Francis’s art. It has been almost four decades since Muriel Belcher passed away, almost 25 since the death of Francis Bacon, and, despite outliving its founders, the Colony Room finally shut its doors in 2008. But the spirit of freedom from societal oppression can still be found in the nooks and crannies of Soho. The flame of decadence still burns, and sexuality is, if anything, more fluid and openly expressed than ever before. When Bacon shuffled off this mortal coil and the Colony Room closed its doors, it wasn’t the end of the flamboyance they had distilled: Francis and Muriel had shared it around in all its rawness, and their values – once hidden – have become values still to be found in Soho to this day.

Maison Bertaux

Maison Bertaux


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


“The Croissants are heavy, more substantial, more of a meal. That recipe we’ve been using since 1871…”

Maison Bertaux in Soho. To a confirmed Cappuccino Kid, it looked much more suitable for tea and cake. Should you judge a book by its cover? Can you judge a café by its cake? I met the editor, the chocolate éclair was superb, and in an upstairs room, the art was raw and the decor retro. It was Soho Bohemia, and certainly not twee. “One of the reasons the cakes are so nice now, we never bastardised the recipes. We never went over to sponge mix or anything like that, all the shortcuts you can do with pastries. Everything is made upstairs. There’s nothing in here that’s not made here,” says Michele Ward, the current owner.

“Even some of the staff are made here, conceived here,” she adds cryptically, with a laugh. “The cakes and recipes are the key. The Croissants are heavy, more substantial, more of a meal. That recipe we’ve been using since 1871.” Maison Bertaux, a Soho institution: I’d seen it reviewed and revered, but had never been. I even knew they once had a shop called Shop in the basement run by part time pop stars. Now I sit with Michele and, in between coffee and croissants, the story begins to emerge: how Monsieur Eduard Bertaux came here from France and began to write the first chapter in a great Soho story. The doors first opened in 1871 and Maison Bertaux has been here ever since; in 145 years, it has been owned by just three families.

“In 1909, Bertaux put it up for sale with an advert in the Paris Soir, a daily newspaper in Paris, and a Monsieur Vignaud came and took over. It was his son that I worked for. When I was in my teens, in the late 1970s, I only worked on Saturdays. Then I went to college; then I worked a little bit. I studied theatre, went to RADA and by the time I left I had a lot of jobs and a little money. Madame said she wanted to sell the business and I thought, to run a cake shop, that would be lovely.” Madame was Madame Vignaud, an Englishwoman who’d met her husband on a blind date. “At first, she said ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ But I managed to raise the money and bought the business in 1988. I worked side by side with Madame Vignaud for such a long time. She was very strict and very severe, but she was good to work with, she was always the same. She didn’t have any flowers or anything in here. She had a white apron with a zip up the middle – she was completely no nonsense, which was good. She was a good person. She believed in the quality – it was all about the quality.

“The way I tie the cake boxes. I still tie them in the way Madame Vignaud taught me. She was taught by Mr Vignaud snr, who was taught by Mr Bertaux. I like the idea that in 1871 someone was here tying the boxes in the same way I do it now.” Steeped in history but not stuck in the past, Maison Bertaux has moved with the times. Michele tells me about the famous chefs who come for tea with their mothers before the theatre, and the kitchen staff of numerous famous food establishments who are regulars at this petit Maison. As the night-time economy in Soho has grown, Maison Bertaux now stays open until 10pm on weekdays and 11pm at the weekends.

“Soho’s got later and later. When I was young we used to close at 5.30 – there wasn’t any business after that – but now we are very busy from 5.30 onwards. Sometimes we’re very busy after 8 o’clock. I remember in 1992, sitting outside at a long table and making everyone pasta. There weren’t many people around. Someone was playing the guitar, strumming and singing along. It was almost like a little village.” Soho hasn’t lost its edge for Michele. She still sees that young gay man on his own, new to London, new to Soho, arriving in Maison Bertaux – although perhaps not so often since Central St Martins moved. Gwen Stefani, Kylie Minogue, McQueens from different eras… in the 60s it was Steve; in the 90s it was Alexander, sitting upstairs furiously sketching, inviting Michele and her sister Tania to see his first collection. Although Michele misses the students from Central St Martins, she wonders where they would sit now. No regrets, she says, as the Maison fills up again with young Asian, Chinese and Japanese girls. Michele stows their Rimowa ribbed luggage cases safely out of the way for them, as they look a bit nervous.

“We have a big Oriental clientele. We’re very lucky. A lot of students, they appreciate cakes and things. I love all the customers – even the tricky ones.” She’s the perfect host, looking after everyone, keeping up a natural flow of conversation with customers from different tables and different lives, with different reasons to be cheerful, or not, as the case may be. Maison Berteaux is full of Soho’s spirit, the drama of daily life. There are chairs recycled from Kettner’s famous champagne restaurant round the corner, and a table that Edward VII played cards at. Paintings by The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding – tribal faces in bright colours, strong powerful pieces – hang on the walls of the rooms and up and down the stairs. ”My sister looks after all the art. She met Noel Fielding in the street outside.” Across the road, a new breed may claim the title, but this is a real Soho house. Although I don’t drink tea, I’ve found a new Soho stop – a Maison that’s been a second home to many Soho denizens over the years.

Dupsy Abiola

Dupsy Abiola


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


Whereas I was once solving problems in law, today I’m solving problems in tech…”

Plenty of passers-by don’t even notice Newman Passage, tucked away between Newman Street and Rathbone Street; but if they were to turn down this obscure alley, they might discover something else that’s equally well hidden: the award-winning creation of one of London’s leading female entrepreneurs. Dupsy Abiola’s Fitzrovia-based company Intern Avenue is a leading online recruitment platform that has revolutionised how employers find the qualified students and graduates they seek.

Modupeola “Dupsy” Abiola was born in 1982, the daughter of Moshood and Dele Abiola, and raised in North London. On graduating from Oxford University she begun working as a barrister for a leading law firm, working on a number of high profile disputes. Dupsy comes from an entrepreneurial family background. Her late father Moshood was a successful Nigerian business tycoon and philanthropist, and had a notable influence on her interest in business. “I started out my career as a barrister, which is a wonderful thing to be. It’s a very traditional career in which you learn a really great skill set, she tells me. “You’re presented with wonderful challenges, and really what you are is a problem solver, which I think at heart is who I am. Really though, I think I always knew I was a technophile. Whereas I was once solving problems in law, today I’m solving problems in tech.”

In her time as a barrister, Dupsy was involved in finding the best entry-level employees for her law firm. It was here that she began to recognise the importance of putting the right people into the workplace, and the difficulties of sourcing the appropriate talent. “In many careers, and in almost every company, who your people are effects your productivity and your everything. If you don’t have the right people, you’re screwed,” she points out. “Every single business owner, the world over, is thinking: how can I get better people and how can I make the people in my organisation happier, better and more productive. Getting in the best and brightest people really early is the best way to do that. So, if you can find and attract the best people fast and early, many of your problems kind of resolve themselves. Doing that however, is really hard. Hard in a way that later on, when you’re finding more established talent, doesn’t occur; people have history and a company reputation behind them – you already know what they’re capable of. The diamonds in the rough are the ones at the very entry-level stages and typically only very large companies have the pick of the bunch.”

Dupsy saw how huge companies spend thousands attending university events in order to cherry-pick the best talent, long before individuals even graduate. “I felt that every business could use that. I was very much struck with the fact that if you’re not the kind of company that wants to hang out at universities and poach people two years before they leave, then where are you going to find this talent?” At this point, her own sister was leaving university and intending to get into finance, but wondered how she should go about it. How might she be discovered by the right employer without having to do endless applications? It was a question that inspired Dupsy. “I wanted to create a meeting place where people could more easily find one other without going through a lot of the more problematic elements of the hiring process. So I had this epiphany moment about what would eventually become Intern Avenue,” she says. “I was at the stage where I could’ve easily continued as a lawyer, which I did enjoy greatly, but I think when you’ve got something in your mind and the set of talents to achieve it, it doesn’t easily go away. I’m the kind of person who always likes to bite off more than I can chew. So I thought, why don’t I just quit my job and do this instead?” She laughs, but insists: “It made complete sense to me. All of my friends thought I was nuts, but nuts in a good way. You only live once, and you’ve got to look back and be able to say you did something or went off and took a couple of shots. So, I quit my job and started from scratch.”

So began Dupsy’s new venture. Positioned to fill the large gap between Facebook and LinkedIn, Intern Avenue is designed to connect the most talented students and graduates with employers. At first, indeed biting off more than she could chew, she downloaded Python and tried to build and create the website herself. “I called it my crazy Python week,” she says. “Not a reasonable use of my time, as it turned out! I built the first site myself, but it was nowhere near as technical as the site we use today. It’s interesting – when you quit your job, you suddenly become very interested in what other people do. It turned out that a lot of my friends actually made websites for some of the biggest companies in the world.” Seeking help from these friends and other contacts, she begun to learn much from other entrepreneurs about how to get a project like hers off the ground. At first, her tech advisor was the head of technology for Yahoo in Europe, instrumental in helping Dupsy build her online platform. “I was really fortunate that I had people around me who could point me in the right direction and give me a glimpse into what best practice looks like, and point me at really good people to help me start building things,” she says. In 2012, her platform received a well-earned push after she successfully pitched her business on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, becoming the first recruitment business to successfully pitch on the show. Dupsy was described as a “real entrepreneur in the making”, and received £100,000 in investment from telecom giant Peter Jones.

When setting up office, Dupsy found herself looking at various locations in the West End, rather than the tech scene that seemed to cluster around East London. “Fitzrovia is great!” she says. “There are a couple of different creative central working places that are in the area, that have this wonderful combination of technical talent and creativity, which is why I think I love it so much here. I was looking at a couple of places when I found this space on Newman Passage. I walked in, and straight away there was something characterful about it.” Today, Intern Avenue’s client list includes the UK Government, Lloyds Banking Group and AOL. The platform has also been featured by the Financial Times, CNN and in Investec Private Banking’s ‘Restless Spirits’ campaign, in which Dupsy appeared. She is passionate about promoting diversity, open access, and reducing youth unemployment and is an active advisor on these policies. In the coming years, she is determined to expand her multiple award-winning platform throughout Europe and globally.

Peter Werth

Peter Werth


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Sandra Vijandi


“Eastcastle Street is the hub of the brand…”

In recent years, I have often stopped to peer into a showroom on Eastcastle Street, my attention caught by the clothes on the other side of the window. Peter Werth has been part of the British fashion landscape for just over 40 years, showcasing a range focussed on men’s outerwear and quality knitwear, with a number of pieces made in Italy as well as a ‘Made in London’ line. I’m sure other passers-by on up-and-coming Eastcastle Street will be as pleased as I am that the label – synonymous with great British design that’s both affordable and premium – has recently opened a store here in Fitzrovia showcasing high quality contemporary clothing, footwear and accessories. I spoke to creative director Phil Jones about his vision for the new venture.

Founded in Islington, North London, Peter Werth has always primarily been a knitwear brand. Founder Peter Werth took a job at a relative’s nightclub, the Astor, on Mayfair’s Berkeley Square, having been asked to leave art school after just a year. “He was a jewish Londoner. He was a keen drummer and musician, and his family was in the entertainment business, which he got drawn into; the clubs, the nightclub scene and 1960s London inspired him,” explains Phil. “During this time, the Kray twins and the Richardsons were prevalent. At the club, he found his fondness for clothing. Peter was inspired by the clothes people were wearing at the Astor, particularly the fine Italian knitwear.” Attracting an eclectic mix of aristocrats, showbiz personalities and gangsters, the Astor exposed Peter to bespoke finery, and was the inspiration behind his idea for a brand. “We’re ultimately a knitwear brand. That’s how it all started. That’s where the brand built its reputation. What we’ve done is carried that through. It’s the cornerstone of all the collections we build,” says Phil. “I joined about eight years ago now. Peter was looking to let go of the brand. I think maybe that is one of the reasons why he brought me in – so that there was somebody to take over on the creative side of things, and to ensure that the branding and the ranges were right.”

It was during the mid-1970s that the style-obsessed, and often violent, subculture known as the Perry Boys appropriated the Peter Werth brand as their own, cementing its relationship with the British youth movement. For Phil, the last five years has been all breathing new life into the brand without sacrificing its authentic core and rich heritage. “People had a lot of preconceptions about where it used to be. The thing we’ve tried to do over the years is minimise that and change the brand into something that is right for today. For me, it’s all about quality, product and fabrics at a very affordable price. I think that’s where we hit the mark,” he says. “We deliver a brand that is very versatile – it can be worn through different times. It’s suitable for work, though it can be worn to the pub: we make clothes for life. When we get that versatility within a product right, or within anything we do, that’s when it really works for us.” Today, Peter Werth has evolved from its foundations in knitwear into a modern, relevant and current menswear brand.

When Phil joined the company, it was based in Brimsdown, near Enfield. Phil and other team members felt that a fashion label was not going to work being based so far out of Central London. So Peter Werth opened a Fitzrovia showroom at 26 Eastcastle Street, and soon the design and creative studio followed. “Eastcastle Street is the hub of the brand. Everything creative and sales-related goes through this showroom and design studio,” says Phil. “We wanted to utilise the space. We used to get lots of people knocking on the door asking where they could get the clothes they could see in our waiting area.” After directing people, including myself, to their Earlham Street store and other outlets that carried the label, it seemed a natural progression for Peter Werth to transform the front of the studio into a store. Opening in September last year, 26 Eastcastle Street is now truly the home of the Peter Werth brand, with the showroom, design studio and concept shop all on one premises.

As I wandered along Eastcastle Street late last summer, I nearly walked straight past before realising that the showroom I’d peered into so often had been replaced by the newly opened store. Stepping inside, subtle references to the Perry Boys and other aspects of the brand’s heritage signal that this really is Peter Werth. Throughout the store, knitwear is displayed among modernist furniture, reflecting the period during which the brand was originally founded. Showcasing a range of seasonal styles, as well as being used as a testing ground for new products, Eastcastle Street is firmly at the centre of Peter Werth’s continuing evolution. “I think the street is becoming very interesting… there’s something to watch here,” Phil says. “It’s starting to bubble under, the footfall is building, and all we need is for people to recognise that this is becoming a destination street. There are interesting people around and interesting things going on, and that’s what drives any area up.” When Getty Images Gallery moved here in the early 2000s, the street found its feet as a gallery area. Today, it’s full of galleries, as well as like-minded stores such as Kaffeine, Tokyobike and now, of course, Peter Werth, all adding to the rich mix; and with Market Place at the end of the road, Eastcastle Street is fast becoming a destination in ever-changing Fitzrovia.

Black Eyewear

Black Eyewear


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“The ‘Bird’ was dedicated to Charlie Parker, the ‘Chet’ was dedicated to Chet Baker, and off I went… I had decided that black wasn’t enough.”

It’s said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. If that’s so, then when they’re covered, it should be delicately, and with style. I wear the ‘Bird’ in two-tone brown: the frames are dedicated to the great jazz musician Charlie Parker, the saxophonist and composer who was a leading figure in the development of bebop, admired for his limitless powers of improvisation and beauty of tone. Such was his cultural impact that he helped personify the jazz musician as an intellectual, rather than just an entertainer. It’s all reflected in the Bird frames. But I know what you’re thinking: how does jazz relate to eyewear?

Optician turned eyewear designer Robert Roope is as knowledgeable about glasses as he is about jazz. Roope was born in Hull in 1943 and was raised in a house next to a railway line with the tracks on one side and the river Humber on the other. He lived there with his mother, father and six siblings (three brothers and three sisters) in the midst of the flat East Yorkshire landscape. “Growing up in Hull was very bleak. It wasn’t a very enjoyable place to be,” says Roope. “I was born into a bombed building – it was really tough going, I must say. I was pretty pleased to get out of the place.” From here, he embarked on a career in the navy, attending Trinity House Navigation School for two years, and later becoming a Happy Snap photographer in Bridlington, where he encountered two people who had a major influence on him. “I met two successful jazz musicians, Chris & Mick Pine. I chatted to them and they told me about London,” he says. Leaving behind his roots in Hull, Roope made his way to the capital with a friend to begin a new life in the city. Wowed by London life, which offered quite a contrast to his northern upbringing, he began to develop a relationship with jazz. “I was stunned when I got down here. My friend’s sister had just one record, Johnny Mandel’s ‘I Want to Live’, with the music by Gerry Mulligan. She played it over and over again,” says Roope. “From that moment I was hooked. I got interested in the music, which was all down in London. I was carried away… I’d even call people over at the Birdland Club in New York just to listen to the music over the phone.”

In 1962, Roope began to study optics at what was then Northampton College (now the City University), during which time he had a Saturday job with Dollond & Aitchison on Seven Sisters Road. At this point, he began collecting the vintage eyewear that would, much later, influence his own designs. He began to purchase a few frames at cost price for his mother, who suffered from poor eyesight. After 50 years working as an optician, Roope pursued his passion making the transition into eyewear design. In 2006, he began launched his first collection, partly in frustration at the 25-year dominance of poorly made and poorly designed oblong frames. His brand, Black Eyewear, initially did what it said on the tin: it made black frames. It was never his ambition to become a designer; it happened purely by chance when his six original black eyewear designs immediately drew positive reactions. “God knows where I got the idea from. I was fed up with the bigger brands not making designs that were available in black. So I called up an Italian company and made six black frames. When I looked for design inspiration, I looked at 1950s optics,” he says. “One day, a motorbike stopped outside my St. Albans shop. A guy got off and said to me ‘I’ve come to see those six black frames.’ I said to him: ‘Where’ve you come from?’ He said he’d come all the way from Belgium. At this point, I felt like I’d got a brand going!”

Perhaps it was inevitable that Roope’s lifelong passion for jazz and wealth of knowledge about the music would find a reflection in the design of his frames, which reference the classic eyewear worn by many of the jazz musicians of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. As a token of Roope’s admiration for their music, each of his designs is dedicated to a different figures from jazz history. To date, Black Eyewear offers more than 100 models of glasses and sunglasses. With its notably extra large frame, ‘Miles’ is dedicated to the trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis, who played a trailblazing role at the forefront of several developments in jazz music, from bebop to fusion.

“I decided one afternoon that I would dedicate each model to a jazz great. Obviously they’d never worn them, but I wanted to find some sort of friendly connection to each,” he says. “The ‘Bird’ was dedicated to Charlie Parker, the ‘Chet’ was dedicated to Chet Baker, and off I went… I had decided that black wasn’t enough.” Roope’s array of designs also includes frames dedicated to Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and many more. I recently discovered a new favourite of my own, which also happens to be one of Roope’s most popular designs – ‘Buddy’, dedicated to virtuoso drummer Buddy Rich and currently available in 28 different colour variations. In 2013, Roope’s son made him aware of a vacant shop space at 38 Goodge Street. “We started here on Goodge Street as a pop-up and quite soon people were visiting us on a regular basis; quickly we became a permanent fixture,” he says. Since then, Roope has continued to showcase his designs in his Fitzrovia-based store as well as in his shop in St. Albans.

You have to admire Robert Roope. Now in his 70s, at an age when many feel that their best work is behind them, he has created a successful new brand: Black Eyewear is a testament to his enthusiasm and energy as well as his passion for the music he loves. He’s showing no signs of slowing the tempo either: right now, he’s developing new designs inspired by the sounds of Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott.

Middlesex Voices

Middlesex Voices


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


“I want it to be immersive and to resonate. I want people to feel something…”

Voice by voice, Fitzrovia has come to reveal much about itself in recent years. Independent, creative, and far from the madding crowd: this is the Fitzrovia we know today. Among the many voices of today’s Fitzrovia, though, many of us have also heard those of its history – a history often bound up with medicine and healthcare, and especially with the Middlesex Hospital. It was a place that took on a deeply personal significance for many people, both local and from afar, and now the past of the hospital and its many stories are set to come back to life. This June will see the launch of a new annual Fitzrovia-based music festival called FitzFest, helmed by festival director, Fitzrovia resident and musician Daniel Bates. Through the musical talent of Robin Rimbaud, alias Scanner, the memories of people whose lives were intertwined with the Middlesex Hospital will be explored through an installation at the recently restored Chapel.

Scanner has created a body of work that explores the connection between sound, space and image. He makes absorbing, multi-layered sonic pieces that manipulate technology in bewildering ways and across a range of genres. Since the early 1990s, he has been involved with producing various concerts, installations and recordings, often collaborating on projects with the likes of Bryan Ferry, Wayne MacGregor, Steve McQueen and many more, as well as putting out acclaimed albums of contemporary electronic music, such as Mass Observation (1994), Delivery (1997), and The Garden is Full of Metal (1998). Now, turning his attention to Fitzrovia, he is creating a work for FitzFest that will evoke memories of the now demolished hospital that stood for so long at the area’s heart and bring its only surviving building back to life.

Following the closure of the Middlesex Hospital 11 years ago, the future of its grade II listed chapel looked uncertain. Now, with the Fitzroy Place development finalised and the chapel incorporated into the design of the new structure, what once stood at the centre of the hospital will be open to visitos again, having benefitted from a thorough £2m restoration. The chapel was built and designed by one of the great Victorian architects, John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897), after whom the newly unveiled Pearson Square is named. Built in red brick and decorative marble, with later mosaic additions, the chapel was completed in the mid-1920s. It is laid out as a simple rectangular nave with a small ante-chapel at the west end, lined with white marble memorial tablets with incised inscriptions that provide a valuable record of the building’s past. As you enter today, a newly added plaque greets you – a prominent reminder of the Middlesex Hospital. Now, the trustees of the Chapel Foundation will ensure that its long history, which began over a century ago, is preserved for the future.

Originally opening as an 18-bed infirmary on Windmill Street, the Middlesex Infirmary moved to Mortimer Street in 1757, where it became the Middlesex Hospital. Various extensions were added to the original building, but by 1924 the building was found to be structurally unsound. It was replaced by a completely new building (constructed in stages to avoid having to close the hospital), which was completed in 1935. Back in the hospital’s heyday, many nurses, nuns and hospital staff lived locally in Fitzrovia. In December 2005, after almost 250 years of being based on Mortimer Street, Middlesex Hospital finally closed its doors, with the main building and three-acre site earmarked for sale to developers. When the hospital was demolished in Spring 2008, the unconsecrated 1890 chapel was preserved, along with the historic facade on Nassau Street and corner building on Mortimer Street.

The work that Scanner plans to create for his installation will be an attempt to evoke the past, present and future of the chapel and the memories and voices of all those for whom the Middlesex Hospital was an important place. The piece will grow out of a series of recorded interviews with people connected to the hospital, prepared by festival director Daniel Bates, forming the basis of a soundscape which will run 24 hours a day throughout the festival. Launching on the first evening of FitzFest, the soundscape will be accompanied by improvisations from a variety of musicians throughout its tenure, responding to the music composed by Scanner. The musicians will work continuously in shifts throughout the day, true to the working patterns of the medical staff of the former hospital. Open to the general public up until the closing concert several days later, this is likely to be the longest period for which the chapel will ever be open to visitors.

For Scanner, events in his recent family life have made the atmosphere and acoustics of hospitals significant, transforming the Middlesex Voices project into something much more personal: a reflection on the beginning and end of life. “It is interesting how sound works: you sort of listen to it, but you kind of don’t,” he tells me. “I want to create something that is contemplative. I would still argue that music today is something that is crucial in life – something that has to be experienced. Whether you buy music, whether you attend concerts, it still plays such a vital role in the well-being of people and in bringing them together,” says Scanner. “Hospitals are very much about allowing space for people to heal. I want to use a combination of voices that tell stories, but with the use of electronic and acoustic instruments, which I record and process, that will actually be very warm. To me, it needs to be engaging, it needs to draw you into the space, it needs to keep you there… in a sense, it won’t have any sharp edges. I want it to be immersive and to resonate. I want people to feel something. I want it to resonate with the passion people felt for the hospital. I want it to touch the heart and the mind. I want it to make people think about time.”

As a creative response to a building with many emotive memories and associations, a place at the beginning and end of many peoples’ lives, Middlesex Voices will be very much be at the centre of the festival. Both Daniel and Scanner express hopes that the installation could even become a regular feature during what will hopefully be an annual event.

FitzFest kicks off in June, and as well as Middlesex Voices will include a performance by celebrated German clarinettist Jörg Widmann of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet – in the very room on Great Portland Street in which Weber is thought to have died. Supported by the Arts Council of England and backed by a number of local businesses, organisations and partners, the festival is set to become an annual addition to the Fitzrovia calendar, staging a series of concerts and events that will celebrate the music and art of the neighbourhood. In addition to the festival’s musical focus, a number of community-led events, including workshops at All Souls Primary School, talks, exhibitions, and guided walks highlighting the cultural history of Fitzrovia, will be added to the schedule.

Lily Simpson

Lily Simpson


Words Jane Singer

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


With two branches of The Detox Kitchen in Soho and Fitzrovia (and 10 more planned), countless stockists, including Selfridges, carrying her ‘grab + go’ range, and a cookbook, Lily Simpson is no stranger to success. I’m curious and excited about interviewing her. Having sold my soul to finance, 13-hour+ days are the norm and the thought of coming home and cooking is usually low on my priority list. I want to hear how to create quick and healthy meals for those, like me, who are time-poor. Lily makes it sound so simple; all you need is five ingredients and a bit of seasoning. She recommends a vegetable stir-fry with chicken, seasoned with some lemon juice, salt, pepper and coriander – “simple, delicious and healthy.” Lily genuinely wants to pass on her love of eating healthily and to show us that it can be done with ease once you’ve mastered a few basics. Having tried a few recipes – like the Cajun Chicken – from her wheat, dairy and refined sugar-free book The Detox Kitchen Bible, I can honestly say that preparing quick and healthy meals already seems like less of a challenge than it used to.

But affordability is another concern for me. I point out that time isn’t the only thing many of us are short of: with living costs on the rise in London, it’s tempting to reaching for a ready meal or sugary snacks as a cheaper option. Lily reassures me that The Detox Kitchen tries “to keep recipes affordable” and doesn’t use loads of “obscure, expensive ingredients.” She recommends using “red lentils in every stew or soup, as they are inexpensive and a good thickener, as well as adding texture and flavour.” She also suggests buying cheaper cuts of meat, in particular chicken thighs instead of more expensive breasts. Lack of education about food is a factor that prevents so many people from eating healthily, and Lily’s simple tips could easily make a big difference to those on a budget.

She gives me some useful insights into the staple fridge and cupboard ingredients that make for a simple and healthy lifestyle. With a kitchen stocked with red lentils, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, noodles, smoked paprika, ground ginger, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, bay and curry leaves, it’s easy to create a base from which to start cooking. She recommends using “as much fresh food as possible. I always keep tomatoes, avocado and cucumber to hand so I can make a quick salad; and I always have a good variety of vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, carrots, celery – so I can make a soup or stew.”

It might be tempting to dismiss Lily as just one of the many chefs, food bloggers and cookery writers who fill our inboxes, Instagram pages and kitchen counters with the latest superfoods and trends, encouraging us to be super-healthy, super-positive, super-everything. However, since starting The Detox Kitchen, Lily has maintained a strong client base by sticking with the same basic principles and steering away from fads. She believes, and rightly so, that it is the quality of the produce that keeps customers returning to her food delivery service and London delis. If you haven’t already, try one of their beetroot brownies – delicious!

She cites her parents as role models, and it’s clear that family plays a large role in Lily’s life. Her passion for food and cooking began at an early age. Learning to cook at home she “would help mum and dad cook, and later insisted on cooking on most of the family dinners.” She tells me that her father taught her to cook with love, and this is evident in her approach and the whole ethos of The Detox Kitchen. When she first began her catering company, she took a couple of courses to improve her knife skills and understand how professional kitchens work. Putting theory into practice, she also gained experience by spending some time at Michel Roux’s restaurant Roux, on Parliament Square, and continues to learn from the “talented” chefs at her Kitchens.

As a mother of one, Lily says she wishes that she had always known how amazing a woman’s body is, and adds that we should be proud of our own shape, whatever it may be. Refreshingly, she admits that she has finally started to feel comfortable in her own skin and hopes that she can teach her children to feel similarly happy in themselves. Her honesty makes me wish that every young person could meet her and listen to her advice – she would be a great role model. I ask her about George Osborne’s recent proposal to introduce a sugar tax. She thinks “it’s a really great step forward,” but adds that “there is still so much more that needs to be done… and now that the government have acknowledged this, hopefully the message will filter down.”

Lily touches on how hard we all work and how hectic life can be. Just as in her approach to food, the theme of love seeps through again as she talks about loving the simple things we have in life. She cites the area’s calmness as one of the reasons why she likes Fitzrovia. Constantly on the go herself, she tells me about a little gold tortoise pendant given to her by husband. The gift was accompanied by a note: “I hope he reminds you to slow down”. Lily assures me that it does!

Another of her other role models is Nigella Lawson, who – together with Jack Black, Audrey Hepburn, Leonardo DiCaprio and Nelson Mandela – would be one of her ideal dinner guests. What would she serve this eclectic group? The menu would include vegetable tempura with a miso dip to start, followed by a big sharing vegetable curry with cauliflower rice, homemade lime pickle and cucumber raita. Pudding would be a classic apple and rhubarb crumble. I left feeling inspired to eat better and cook more often, although it was reassuring to hear that even Lily has her little food vices – a Kit Kat and a cup of tea!

Tokyobike

Tokyobike


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Yu Fujiwara


“…essentially it’s just a simple mode of transport, for anyone and everyone”

Eastcastle Street is Fitzrovia’s “gallery row”. Wide glass shopfronts reveal white space after white space, each filled with colours and lines and forms and frames. Number 14 is no exception. But here the brightly coloured frames do not enclose paintings; rather they hold shiny spoked wheels, grasp toothed rings and support gleaming chains. This is Tokyobike. At first glance, you might be forgiven for assuming this is all just eye-candy at elevated prices, fancy design with just a nod to effective function, but you’d be wrong.

In the words of Neil Davis, the brand’s UK director: “Tokyobike is just a simple bike to get around on. And yes, there’s lots of nice details and beautiful colours, but essentially it’s just a simple mode of transport, for anyone and everyone”. That might sound like an obvious statement regarding a piece of technology that’s nearly two hundred years old, but such apparent simplicity often costs a lot of money. You see, if you’re a Tour de France fan, there’s a plethora of sleek road bikes available to suit your budget. If you like to ride cross-country or tear down hillsides, there are plenty of fat-tyred, shock-absorbing beasts available, at a range of price points. And if you want to make like the 1940s, in a gingham frock with a wickerwork basket, there are vintage bicycles galore — most of them, of course, vintage only in look rather than age. But there is a surprising lack of choice for the everyday urban rider who just wants to cruise about town with efficient ease astride something stylish, but without breaking the bank.

Tokyobike was founded in the tranquil Tokyo suburb of Yanaka in 2002, and there are now a dozen stores across the world. In 2012, they opened their first London shop (in Shoreditch), and in 2015 they arrived in Fitzrovia. Both addresses have workshops attached. It is of course no coincidence that the company should choose Fitzrovia for their second store, since the many PR and advertising agencies, architecture and design firms now located in the neighbourhood are just the sort of folk who are Tokyobike’s core market.

The basic Tokyobike model is sleek and relatively compact, thanks both to the frame design and the wheels, which are slightly smaller than one would usually find on a bicycle of this type. The smaller wheels also improve acceleration and manoeuvrability — particularly useful in narrow city streets where there can sometimes be much stopping and starting — not to mention making the bike easier to store at home or the office. And with just six basic models (four multi-speed and two single-speed), as well as a children’s model, the process of choosing your next ride couldn’t be easier. The brand has clearly worked hard to achieve a balance between quality and price, with standard models costing from £490 to £680; and while that certainly seems expensive, it is, in fact, quite good value for the great ride and sleek design you get for your money, not to mention the attentive service Tokyobike provides both before and after purchase. Every model comes in its own range of colours, for as Neil points out: “In the same way as you’ll spend a bit of time choosing the colour of a nice new jumper or jacket, why not choose a nice colour for your bike that you’re going to ride every day?” And there are further options, such as handlebar style, saddle and gearing, to suit each person’s riding style and aesthetic preference. In addition to bikes, the store sells a range of accessories, many of them of Japanese design, from bags to books to clothing to bicycle bells, even a clever rollaway mudguard.

The more time I spent at Tokyobike chatting to Neil and looking at the models on show, the more I began to appreciate the subtle differences between the various bikes arranged around the space. One in particular caught my eye, and I asked Neil what it was: “Oh, that was designed for the Ace Hotel in London, when they opened. They came to us saying: ‘We love bikes, we always have bikes at our hotels, we want some for our guests to ride around on: what can you do?’ So we actually designed a brand-new frame just for them, we chose all the components for it, and then we also produced a limited run of it to sell.”

I asked Neil about what sort of customers come to Tokyobike: “We get two different types of customer. There are those who are new to cycling, they’ve maybe never owned a bike as an adult, but they want to start cycling. This is probably their first bike and they’re not very knowledgeable, but they like the look of the bikes. We’re quite an approachable bike store because we don’t bombard the customer with choice. I think that’s appealing, to girls especially, because traditionally bike shops have been quite masculine, sporty, and focussed on that side of things. But we also get people like one of the guys who’s been with us since the beginning. He owns about ten bikes, a real cycling nut, but he wanted to get a Tokyobike, and that’s how we met him. He was after something a bit different – the wheel size, the shape of the frame. For him it was like another slightly quirky bike for his collection. And now we do kids’ bikes, too, which I think is kind of cool!”

Just then, our chat was interrupted by the ding-a-ling of the shop’s door opening, as a customer walked in to pick up what seemed to be his first ever bike, or perhaps his first for many years. I was struck by Neil’s warm and friendly manner, as he ran through a few basic maintenance tips. And as the man wheeled his new pride and joy out the door, adulterous feelings of desire for those sleek, petite frames surged within me. I hope my battered old beater locked to a lamppost outside didn’t notice…

Anna Laurini

Anna Laurini


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


To me, it’s just like a blank canvas. It’s an opportunity for me to do something…”

Over six months ago, my curiosity was aroused by a series of faces. They weren’t the faces of my fellow Londoners, passing by on the city’s crowded streets, although they did appear in the most ordinary of public places across the West-End. Their painted eyes looked out from hoardings wrapped around buildings in Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia, and Soho; it seemed that the city’s many unappealing building sites and demolition zones had become an unlikely home for one artist’s work.

As I continued to come across these curious visages, I wondered what their story might be. Were they the graffiti of a spraycan-wielding madman, or yet another Banksy wannabe? Were they part of some widespread demonstration against rapacious London property development? These were some of the ideas that crossed my mind. When I discovered the faces were the work of the kind-spirited and energetic artist Anna Laurini, I had to abandon my previous theories and meet the woman who had created them. Anna arrives to meet me for coffee on a brisk Sunday morning, mid-January. I reach out my hand to greet her, and she extends her own, covered in blue, black and white paint. “I just did one now. I saw a space and wanted to do it,” she explains.

Having grown up in Milan, Anna’s adult years have been spent living in London and New York. The idea for her faces came two years ago. At first, she began to experiment with a face only occasionally, drawing one over in East London from time to time. By summer 2015, her faces project had become very much a full-time one, and Laurini was well on the way to becoming an unconventional street artist. It soon becomes clear to me just how full-time her work is: she rummages through her bag, revealing her brushes and pots of paint, ready to be utilised whenever she spies a new painting spot somewhere in the city. “To me, it’s just like a blank canvas. It’s an opportunity for me to do something,” she says. And it’s London’s cultural and architectural diversity is that often inspires her choice of location for a new work.

Much of Laurini’s artistic output emerges from a small studio in East London. Her faces, which she insists are entirely impromptu creations, are often accompanied by intriguing phrases which reveal a relationship with modern day consumerism and capitalism, prompting observers of her works to look at the world through her unconventional vision. A slogan beside one particular face read: “Soul instead of gold”. For Laurini, her life and work is a testament to the notion that “all good things are wild and free”, a motto that sat happily beside another of her many faces. She finds comfort both in canvas and in London’s winding streets when creating her faces. Despite their similarly bold approach, they don’t really resemble the Surrealism of Cocteau or the Cubist portraits of Picasso; Laurini paints with a distinct elegance, strong strokes and sleek lines. Although they are visibly feminine, she insists that not all of them are women, even though drawing a female face feels instinctive to her. From her travels on both sides of the Atlantic, she has come to draw inspiration from the sights and sounds of the modern metropolises of New York and London.

The first time I noticed her work was after it graced the hoarding of a building on Fitzrovia’s Cleveland Street. It captivated me – but it was only the first of many similar encounters. A hoarding in Fitzroy Square and Charlotte Street; another on Soho’s Peter Street and Berwick Street; a whole fleet of hoardings on Oxford Street, others hidden away in the side streets of Bloomsbury, Shoreditch, London Bridge, Portabello Road. Laurini’s faces have become to be a regular fixture of my London, just as they are of hers. “They go where I go. They’re part of my day-to-day life,” she says. And where Laurini’s faces go, the developers follow, keen to repaint their hoardings. “One of the first places I did them was on the hoarding of the Sorting Office on New Oxford Street. I did them all around the building, I covered it. Within a few days they’d painted the whole thing black – that really bothered me,” she says. “I’ve never actually gotten into any trouble for doing it. People understand that it’s art – it isn’t vandalism. They understand its message. I’ve had people ask me why I’m doing it… they’re surprised to realise its just one person doing it. They think it’s a group. But no, its just me!”

Laurini’s pieces have been sold via online platforms like Saatchi Art, as well as exhibited internationally in galleries, warehouse spaces, restaurants and bars. She has produced a number of commissioned works, and also graced private houses with her creations. I’m no expert, but she doesn’t strike me as a typical street artist. She pursues her vision by utilising the urban space itself to frame her work, presenting a creative and alternative perspective to Londoners, with each face being unique and specific to its location. Through them all, though, runs her message of soul instead of gold.

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“In those days, place was everything. You couldn’t find your tribe unless you went out the door…”

He explains to me, “Now, you can find it on your laptop. In those days you couldn’t.”Gary Kemp is talking about the reality of his youth. He goes on to say that where the internet has triumphed, the place has died out. “Any important youth movement was based around a place. Our place was Billy’s, The Blitz Club and then Le Beat Route club.”Guitarist and chief songwriter for new wave band, Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp unravels his own youth at the epicentre of the new romantic era and the origins of Spandau Ballet here on the streets of Soho.

Born and raised into a working class family, Gary grew up alongside his brother and fellow bandmate, Martin Kemp, in a council house in Islington. Kemp began acting in 1968, appearing on TV and film from an early age. When he was just 11, his parents bought him a guitar that they’d seen on Holloway Road, for Christmas. “I still can’t work out to this day why my father thought it was a good idea” he says, “but it was an immediate epiphany of wanting to write songs from the age of 11. I didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs so instead I wrote my own. I think in truth I quite like being alone, I quite like the company of a guitar. When you’re a creative person, you sort of make your own friends, whether it’s a piece of art or a song.” Here, moving away from acting, Kemp began to concentrate on a music career.

Kemp began his relationship with Soho as a youngster. The neighbourhood has been an integral part of his life–forward from his upbringing and into his career as a musician and songwriter. During the 1960s, after a screening of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’at what was then The Cinerama on St. Martins Lane (now London Coliseum), Gary’s mother and father walked him and his brother through Soho for the very first time. “My father was completely confused by the artistry of Stanley Kubrick’s movie,”he says. “On the way back, we walked through Soho to get a bus. In those days it was incredibly seedy. There were pictures everywhere of various models and naked women. I remember having this red face. There was this silence in the Kemp family; my parents were old working class Islington people, and anything remotely to do with sex wasn’t spoken about. I remember Soho having this danger about it.” And, of course, inevitably post-pubescent Kemp was quite excited by the place, unlike the child who had seen it in the mid-sixties.

Kemp recalls his first solo trip to Soho as a teenager very clearly. “I went to buy a pair of trousers that looked like the pair Bowie had on the back of the Hunky Dory album sleeve, sort of big loons, and then I bought one of those long-sleeved big scoop neck t-shirts covered with stars trying to look all glam-rock”he says. On another later visit, he attended a David Bowie gig at The Marquee Club when it was based on Wardour Street, Bowie’s last ever gig in Soho. After the gig, The 1980 Floor Show, he wandered with a girl and some of his friends about the streets of 1970s Soho, which was to be his first real glimpse of the neighbourhood. “I really felt it that day. There was this frisson of sexuality in Soho when wandering around its streets.”

With music becoming an ever-prevalent part of his life, he was quick to form a band with school friends, called The Gentry. His brother, Martin, who was more a sportsman than musician, was later to join the band as a bassist. The band started to make their mark on Soho’s club scene, and Kemp regards Billy’s as the club that changed everything. At this venue, the band became acquainted with the late Steve Strange – who, in 1978, began organising ‘Bowie Nights’, a club night that was later moved to The Blitz Club. At this time, The Blitz had been a normal wine bar in Great Queen Street. Soon, a mass of outrageously dressed former punks, soul boys, rockabillies and art students descended on the club. Thanks to Steve Strange and ‘Princess’ Julia Fodor, The Blitz Club became a thriving realm of creativity – the beginning of the Blitz kids. “Soho was a very scary place for us to dress up in,” says Gary. “We’d arrive looking like space men from the 1920s. There were teddy boys, punks and skin heads patrolling the area. To me it was just full of rats and old rubbish. It was very, very seedy.”

The Blitz was a collective – the most out-there of former punks. It became a hotbed of talent for new music and fashion. The club boasted an array of rising pop-stars, from Boy George to Steve Strange. After a friend of the band, DJ Robert Elms, saw a phrase scribbled on the wall of a nightclub lavatory during a visit to Berlin, The Gentry was to be renamed Spandau Ballet and became a staple act of the club. “Steve Dagger and I decided this was our time. I bought a synthesiser and wrote what became the first album. We became a household band. We’re more of a 70s band, really – the blue plaque is still there where The Blitz Club was, to say we played our first gig there in 1979.”

Their first album, ‘Journeys to Glory’ (1981), propelled Spandau into the limelight, with subsequent albums seeing them rise to worldwide fame. “Our band started on the steps of a club in Soho. As the band succeeded, became globalised, and our lifestyles changed, so did Soho,”he says. During the 1980s, Spandau Ballet’s success went from strength to strength, with Kemp writing many of the band’s early hits in his parents’council house. In 1990, the band split –the same year that both Gary and Martin Kemp appeared in lead roles in The Krays, with Gary starring as Ronnie Kray.

Tensions between the former band mates spiraled over the publishing rights to songs, with singer Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and saxophone player Steve Norman taking legal action against Kemp. “There were various no-go areas on the map in fear that we might run into each other,”he says. “The day I won the court case was the same day the Admiral Duncan was bombed in 1999. I thought to myself, ‘my band is destroyed and somebody is trying to bomb Soho back to the dark days’. It was a bad day. Nobody really won, I just didn’t lose.”

With Gary taking on a number of acting roles in-between living his life and having children, 19 years since Spandau’s break-up had soon passed. “I was remixing a live DVD of the band about 10 years ago and I couldn’t believe the legacy of the band. I felt that the records that got played on the radio weren’t a true representation of the band and what we were best at. We gave a good show, my God we were good, and we had so much fun.” In 2009, the band reformed, with their coming together documented in ‘Soul Boys of the Western World’ (2014), which Kemp co-produced.

After a nine-month world tour and relationships between band members stronger than ever, Fitzrovia-based Kemp expresses a desire to record a new album and continue to play live. At present, he is starring in the suitably entitled play ‘The Homecoming’by Harold Pinter, directed by Jamie Lloyd, at the Trafalgar Studios. And Kemp is walking to work, through his old haunt of Soho, six days a week until the end of its run in February.

 

Liberty

Liberty


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


“Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper…”

At the faint ringing of the clock tower as it strikes ten, the figure of St. George revolves from above the timepiece to slay the figure of a dragon from a valiant steed. If you enter Liberty’s central atrium and step upon its wooden floor, you can just make out its distinct comforting creak. While its wooden beams tower up to the rooftop, its grand windows nestle within pure white walls – more than a façade,  a building or a place, Liberty is a familiar character in Soho. Below the timepiece is inscribed ‘no minute gone comes back again’ and that it shan’t.

Born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire in 1843, Arthur Lasenby Liberty’s first job was at the age of 16 assisting his uncle, a lace merchant. At 19, he went to work for Farmer & Rogers’ Great Cloak and Shawl Emporium in Regent Street. With the experience and acumen he’d picked up from 10 years of service there, in 1874 Arthur decided to become an entrepreneur and start his own business. Having borrowed £2,000 from his future father-in-law, he took over a section of 218a Regent Street and with 3 dedicated staff members set up his business. The store hosted a realm of fabrics, ornaments and objets d’art, with Arthur determined to bring his idea of an Eastern Bazaar to London. His vision proved a success. Within just 18 months the loan was repaid and Arthur soon purchased the second half of 218a Regent Street, as well as neighbouring properties 142–144 which became known as Chesham House, after his birthplace.  Liberty quickly rose to become one of the most fashion

Liberty quickly rose to become one of the most fashionable stores in London, forging strong relationships with a variety of British designers. Its Liberty Art Fabrics a notable success, being used for both clothing and furnishings and in the store itself. In the words of Oscar Wilde, a friend of Arthur Liberty’s and one of the store’s first loyal customers, “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.” By 1884, Arthur was creating in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris. “I was determined not to follow existing fashion but to create new ones.” He collaborated with Costume Society founder Edward William Godwin, appointing him director of Liberty’s first ever costume department, a successful venture which would soon feature a clientele as prestigious as the famous Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Thanks to its dedication to the quality of its goods, the store soon became a Royal Warrant holder; a level of quality that still can be found in-store today. Arthur continued to build strong relationships with English designers during the 1890s including Archibald Knox, and many others whom practiced Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Having helped to develop Art Nouveau through its support of such designers, Liberty became synonymous with this trending style. And in Italy, they even coined a term for the shop’s distinctive style: Stile Liberty.

By the 1920s, Liberty was undergoing a renovation that would become one of its hallmarks. The new emporium was designed at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival by Edwin Thomas Hall and his son Edwin Stanley Hall. Incorporated into the design, two decommissioned ships; HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The two ships were up-cycled, making for the mock-Tudor facade we know today. Grade II listed, the frontage of Liberty on Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan ship. The father and son duo engineered the design of the store around three light wells that form the main focus of the building. These were surrounded by smaller rooms to create a homely feel. Many of these rooms had functioning fireplaces, with some still visible today throughout the store’s four floors and basement. Though trading continued during the construction, sadly Arthur Lasenby Liberty never saw the finished product. He died in 1917, seven years before the building was completed in 1924.

In the post-war years of the store, Liberty continued its tradition of fashion foresight and eclectic design. The store’s myriad departments had collections of contemporary and traditional designs, many featuring new designers whose work reflected Liberty’s taste for handcrafted work. In the 1950s, Liberty blossomed beyond London opening stores throughout the country: Manchester, Bath, Brighton, Chester, York and Norwich all once had Liberty stores. However, in time, the closure of all department stores outside London meant the company would once again focus on its London flagship address.

Liberty’s Art Fabrics remain one of their most successful creations. Originally manufactured at former textile factory Merton Abbey Mills, they can now be found throughout an entire wealth of brands, from Paul Smith to Barbour. Its association with artists such as William Morris and Gabriel Dante Rossetti in the 19th century, and Vivienne Westwood in the 20th century shows the breadth of the brand’s artistic remit. Recent collaborations include Hello Kitty, House of Hackney, Manolo Blahnik and of course Nike; a particularly successful collaboration, fiercely sought after in-store and online. Liberty’s Art Fabrics have also found popularity in the Far East over the years. In 1988, the company opened a subsidiary in Japan which wholesales Liberty-branded products to major Japanese department stores. And it sells its Art Fabrics to international and local fashion stores in the area.

Today, very little about the mock-Tudor building which we all know and love has changed. And its 4th floor still feels much like a wander through Arthur Liberty’s vision of an Eastern Bazaar: ornaments, carpets and furniture that beguile and comfort in equal measure. ‘No minute gone comes back again’ but Liberty have managed, under the guidance of managing director Ed Burstell, to preserve a time and place true to their founder’s vision.

Mark Hix

Mark Hix


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“There are a lot more restaurants and different styles of cuisine in Soho. You can eat anything at almost any time of the day here…”

In and around our city, Hix restaurants have taken up home in some of London’s most evocative locations. From Smithfield Market to Shoreditch and, of course, Soho, celebrated chef, restaurateur and food writer Mark Hix is renowned for his original take on British gastronomy and firm thumb on the London restaurant scene.

With an exceptional knowledge of ingredients with provenance, Mark Hix is frequently lauded as one of London’s most eminent restaurateurs. He has a monthly column in Esquire, a weekly column in The Independent, and is the author of a number of cookbooks on British cuisine.

Hix was born in West Bay, Bridport, about 10 miles down the coast from Lyme Regis, where he now owns a restaurant. “I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid,” he says. “When you’re brought up by the seaside, you never do. I spent a lot of my time swimming, fishing and playing golf, but I just took it all for granted.” When he moved to London, where he still lives, he became distant from the coast that’d been at the centre of his upbringing. “I go down to Dorset about three times a month now to keep an eye on the business and have a bit of time out,” he says. “I really appreciate the area now – there’s nowhere else like it.”

After spending 17 years at Caprice Holdings as Chef Director, Hix made the decision in 2008 to go solo –opening his first restaurant, the well established Hix Oyster & Chop House in Smithfield. Following the success of his first restaurant, he has since gone on to open a further seven establishments, including Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, the chicken and steak concept restaurant, Tramshed, in Shoreditch, and the well-known HIX Soho.

Hix has known his business partner, Ratnesh Bagdai, since the beginning of his restaurant career at Caprice Holdings, where Bagdai worked as finance director “In 2008 we heard about a site opportunity we couldn’t resist and got together to open Hix Oyster & Chop House”. The two decided to make the break, with the first Hix Restaurant appearing on the London restaurant scene. “I resigned and at the same time Rocco Forte asked me if I’d do a restaurant in Brown’s Hotel (Hix Mayfair). Suddenly, we had that and the Oyster and Chop House.”

With the success of Hix Restaurants in full swing, it wasn’t long before Hix came to launch another venture in Soho –the eponymous Hix Soho. The restaurant opened its doors five years ago to much acclaim, despite being surrounded by hefty competition such as Chris and Jeremy’s Zedel. The restaurant business is a funny old world – just when you think consolidation is the order of the day, the opportunity to acquire a great new site comes up and you find that you cannot turn it down” says Mark. “And what I mean by a ‘great site’ is this: somewhere where you don’t have to dig too deep into your pockets to do a good refurbishment, which has the added bonus of being a perfect central location.”

Mark has always had a relatively simple approach to food and cuisine, with each of his restaurants themselves having happened organically when the time and location were a perfect match. Hix has a hard and fast rule: no more than three main ingredients on the plate. “Then there’s the seasonal element, obviously. We tend not to mess around with the food too much. It’s just about showing off the main ingredient. Sometimes you only get one ingredient on the plate, so it’s just about being simple and carefully sourcing the ingredients.”While each restaurant has its own distinct character, they all share the same experience of simple British cooking.

Mark Hix has long been an advocate of the Soho neighbourhood and its restaurant scene, citing Soho as, historically, the capital of London dining. Hix has watched the various as different styles of cuisine have come and gone over the years in Soho, an area once saturated with Italian restaurants.“You can eat anything at almost any time of the day here,”he says. “It attracts a lot of good chefs and restaurateurs – the business is there. I remember, when I was working at Le Caprice, Quaglino’s opened, and we all wondered where everyone was going to come from for a big restaurant like that. But now there are so many restaurants and they all seem to be busy. There are obviously more people eating out because there is more choice –I don’t know where they used to go in the old days.”With Hixter Bankside having opened its doors July last year, I remain curious as to the next location of one of Hix’s restaurants. Whatever the case, it is certain his place as one of London’s most prolific restaurateurs is set in stone.

 

Lights of Soho

Lights of Soho


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Max Clarke


…we wanted it to be a members club, we wanted it to be a space for likeminded creatives to enjoy.”

The images that pass through your mind of Soho during the 1970s and 1980s may first begin with erotic clubs, prostitution and shadowy streets. But they all glowed under a neon light. From Madame JoJo’s to the Raymond Revuebar, Walker’s Court’s catwalk of adult shops to The Blitz Club, not to mention a trail of brothels, neon lighting has bathed Soho in its notorious aura. And there is one establishment that has made it their business to celebrate the lights that, over the years, have given Soho its distinct character.

Fostering itself as a hub for London’s creative community, Lights of Soho is a leading light art gallery and with a members lounge: think creative hangout meets Soho House. Attended by an elusive array of artists, designers and fashionistas, the membership at Lights of Soho is restricted to 2,000 members, and is cheaper than that of the Groucho Club or the Soho House Group. The upstairs of Lights of Soho operates as a gallery for pop-up exhibitions and offers a space for creatives to work during the day. From 6pm onwards, the entire venue is strictly members only. To be considered for membership, applicants must fill out an online form explaining their contributions to London’s creative scene. This is then subject to approval by the club’s founders – Dudley Nevill-Spencer, curator Hamish Jenkinson (former artistic director of the Old Vic Tunnels), and managing director Jonny Grant, all from London. “We wanted a space that welcomed creatives, an antidote to the currently held wisdom that a person is only valuable if they are rich or famous” says Dudley, “We don’t value people by the size of their bank account but by their cultural contribution or creativity – and some of the best creatives I know are penniless! The funny thing is that this attitude seems to have attracted a lot of big name talent and some high-network individuals to the club –  I think they value its authenticity.”

In May last year, the gallery became a permanent fixture on Brewer Street, having begun the previous year as a pop-up with an exhibition honouring the late God’s Own Junkyard art pioneer, Chris Bracey. The founders of the gallery were proud and excited to position Lights of Soho within one of the most exciting areas of the city, citing Soho as emblematic of London. And Brewer street couldn’t be more emblematic of Soho, with the last remaining independent Italian delicatessen (Lina Stores) as well as countless famed eateries thriving next to neighbouring ‘massage parlours’ lit by the flickering neons of adult entertainment shops. Originally founded as a pop-up gallery, Lights of Soho in now a permanent fixture at door no. 35 and celebrates the spirit of the neighbourhood and its neon past.

To celebrate becoming a permanent fixture on Brewer Street, their launch exhibition last year, entitled ‘City Lights’, for the first time sat Bracey’s work alongside artists like Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk, Christian Furr and Rob and Nick Carter. The exhibition was not only to mark their opening, but also their vision: to bring together lesser-known and well-established artists in the heart of Soho.

The most recent exhibition at Lights of Soho, in November 2015, saw the gallery revisit their roots, with God’s Own Junkyard’s ‘My Generation’. When Chris Bracey’s remarkable neon artworks first made an appearance, they redefined Soho, transforming it into a nocturnal playground. Chris was an ambitious young designer who went on to change the landscape of London’s Soho, making money from advertising sex. When he joined the family business, his father, Dick Bracey, had already laid the groundwork having produced a number of Soho’s iconic neon signs, such as the original Raymond Revuebar sign (which was re-made by Chris in 2013), and the neon clock outside Bar Italia. Chris, with a plan mapped out in his head, went from place to place in the neighbourhood, selling the Technicolor typography that promised titillation to those who sought it. At the height of his career, Chris had a monopoly producing signs for almost every sex establishment in Soho. For Chris, this wasn’t a seedy endeavour – it was an artistic one. His later works made their way onto the silver screen, featuring in Bladerunner (1982), Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Batman (1989). The exhibition returned work from Bracey’s 40-year career to the neighbourhood that launched his talents, with a display of pieces borrowed from his Walthamstow-based gallery of signs, God’s Own Junkyard. The recent show at the gallery closed late January.

Despite their infancy, Lights of Soho has flourished in a short period of time. From songwriter Sam Smith’s GQ shoot at the venue, to God’s Own Junkyard and their latest exhibition, ‘Love Hz’ – an explosion of neon hearts, tunnels of love and vintage posters given the ‘neon’ treatment. The founders have expressed an interested in expanding overseas with further venues in either New York or Shanghai, with talks of a restaurant and a neon workshop in the not-too-distant future. ‘Love Hz’ opens to the public as of January 28th.

David Newell

David Newell


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“My values are all based around quality and comfort. I won’t compromise either for fashion.”

      David Newell’s mantra: does your suit speak for you? To David, a well-cut suit or jacket should enhance the features of the wearer and disclose flaws. His tailoring is likened to the precision of a plastic surgeon: reflecting and highlighting the persona of the subject.

Though born and raised in Birmingham in the 1970s, growing up, David felt the city’s grey and industrial backdrop was at odds with the creative instincts he wanted to pursue. Fortunately, his father, who had come to England from Jamaica in the 1950s was a picture of sartorial elegance and provided ample inspiration to help shape David’s ambitions. David’s first experience of Soho in the 80s had him totally hooked; he had set foot into the creative powerhouse of the world. He soon moved to London to live with his brother, to pursue his creative mission. “Soho was changing when I first came here and it will continue to change, mutate and evolve,” he says. “Therefore, in a strange way, nothing has changed!”

Newell began his career in fashion working for Michiko Koshino in the early 90s, later heading up the Gieves & Hawkes flagship concession store in Selfridges. He worked there for almost 10 years, running the most profitable business per square feet in the company. His success there spurred him onto bigger ideas. Newell wanted to become an entrepreneur in tailoring and begin his own business. During his decade-long tenure at Gieves & Hawkes, David had measured thousands of clients. This nurtured his ability to instinctively recognise combinations of measurements – which he would then feed back to his pattern cutter in order to achieve the desired look, style and fit his clients were after.

“I studied International Product Design at Central Saint Martins for four years, so I was designing accessories for Michiko Koshino way before I started sartorial design,” he says. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the institute of Savile Row, as I have learnt from the best and now have my own vision from looking through centuries of sartorial tradition. My values are all based around quality and comfort. I won’t compromise either for fashion.”

All established Soho tailors are defined by their own distinct vision, style and values. When starting up Newell Bespoke, David aspired to create an understated style: a quietly confident look with a kick of insolence. And declaring himself to be “in amore” with Italian tailoring, Newell singles out one notable talent that had a huge impact on his career: Soho’s own Raffaele Candilio. “He was a great influence on my take of Italian tailoring. He would show me how they worked back in Napoli and how jackets in particular are constructed in comparison to the English methods,” he explains. “We would have fruitful debates on which method was best. A lot of high voices and higher arm-waving – priceless!”

While Candilio preferred the softer Italian chic style, Newell sides with the more contemporary, structured British look. He has a good understanding of what it takes to successfully conduct a sartorial consultation, determining his clients’ needs and requirements – which he is able to skilfully interpret in order to achieve the desired suit. “There is no use in a beautifully crafted suit if it doesn’t fit right” Newell says. “You can have the best tailor in the world, but if the measurements aren’t correct, all you’ll end up with is a beautifully-made, ill-fitting suit – and what’s the point in that?”

Select clients of his include Formula One racing driver and 2015 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, and American actor and songwriter, Jamie Foxx. Newell Bespoke operates from a small studio space on Dean Street, right in the centre of Soho, a place he shared with Candilio up until his death. Stooped in Neapolitan history, the studio is set within Candilio’s classical Italian tailor’s workshop. And Newell assures me that Soho will always run through the DNA of his brand. “Soho is the trunk of the brand. Although I strive to have many branches beyond Soho, this, in turn, will grow my roots stronger in Soho,” he says. “Newell Bespoke is passionate about making its world a smarter place, almost like a crusade, preaching the sartorial faith to the un-initiated.”

His rich source of inspiration, coupled with Italian sartorial influences, has enabled Newell to develop a multitude of styles and cuts in order to create the perfect look for all of his clients. From the traditions of Savile Row to the likes of fellow Soho tailor, Mark Powell, David has developed into a tailor that asks one question: “Does your suit speak for you?” His vision and his aim is to make sure the answer is always yes.

Glare

Glare


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


In the basement setting of Berwick Street’s Lights of Soho, portrait photographer Sandra Vijandi captures the persona of Soho Journal readers and key Soho figures. Employing the phosphorescence of neon light, Sandra’s studio series explores how light can be adapted, manipulated and used utilised in order to be expressive of an individual.

 

 

Cathi Unsworth

Cathi Unsworth


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I can still remember the thrill of going down the steps to Gerry’s for the first time and the secret life of this alluringly small and smoky basement club unfolding in front of me…”

On the drabbest of winter nights, the recollections of a forgotten Soho engulf the top floor of the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place. The Sohemian Society has transported the pub and its guests back to a time and place where characters inhaled louche living and exhaled intrigue. Among tonight’s guests, crime author Cathi Unsworth has already captivated the audience, if only with her remarkable look… a teleported likeness of Ruth Ellis meets Pat Phoenix as painted by Tretchikoff. Reading from her current book, Without the Moon, she drops us into 1940s London: blackouts, the Blitz and grotesque murders. In her work, Derek Raymond’s acid bite and languid swagger collide with Patrick Hamilton’s fluent sense of place and time, and you quickly understand why Unsworth has established herself at the forefront of the new generation of crime fiction writers.

But Cathi’s interest in London, and in particular, the darker pockets of Soho, can be traced back to an adolescent crush. Her initial introduction to the area happened not in person but through an album that brought Soho’s seamier side to enchanting life. “I was 13 years old and lived miles away in Norfolk but I had a record player and a copy of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret by Soft Cell. It filled my head with romance, decadence and sleaze, a land of bedsitters, nightclubs and strip joints, an inter-zone where the great and good went to get down and dirty…”

“When I listen to it now, it seems like a novel, about a youngster from the provinces heading for the Smoke and both losing and finding themselves in Soho. As if Billy Liar – whose author, Keith Waterhouse incidentally started out from the same place as Soft Cell – actually did get on that train from Leeds, and met Crepe Suzette from Colin MacInness’ Absolute Beginners. Now I’ve learned more about Soho’s history, I see myriad resonances. Soft Cell were spiritually akin to writers like Waterhouse and MacInnes who also made Soho their home. I was lucky enough to interview both Marc Almond and Keith Waterhouse, which were two of the greatest thrills in my life as a journalist.”

From the age of 19 to 26 Cathi Unsworth worked as a music journalist on Sounds and then Melody Maker. “I spent those years on Charing Cross Road running between The Astoria, The LA II, The Borderline and The Marquee.” Sadly, only one of those venues remains today, and the NME is the only print survivor. This speaks volumes of the changes happening in the area. “All that dumbing down of pop culture and the way it’s sold has not been good for anyone. And Soho’s reputation as the refuge of the outsider is genuinely under threat, I think.”

One outsider whose work marked Cathi was the noir novelist Derek Raymond. “He was like the Johnny Rotten of literature – angry, outspoken and on the side of the mistreated. His book I Was Dora Suarez was about a tragic girl who worked in Soho and could easily have featured in Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.”

Cathi met Raymond when he made an album based on that book with the band Gallon Drunk. “He lured me into a life of crime fiction. He also lured me into what he referred to as ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ – The Coach and Horses pub, The French House and, most importantly, Gerry’s Club. I can still remember the thrill of going down the steps to Gerry’s for the first time and the secret life of this alluringly small and smoky basement club unfolding in front of me…”

Cathi recreates this subterranean enclave in her first novel, The Not Knowing, with good reason. The landlord, Michael Dillon, hired her and she worked there for two years, soaking up the surroundings. In the book, a young journalist is shown into the thinly disguised ‘Deansgate Club’, complete with a landlord who is obviously Dillon. Her Soho education was continuing apace. “The members in those days included so many from the Soho in the Fifties world, including Dan Farson himself, Waterhouse, Bruce Bernard and many other stars of the page, stage, screen and sports… I got to hear a lot of folklore.”

The weirdest stories were the ones that inspired her writing. It was the beginning of a fascination for documenting strange but true crimes, largely set in London’s underbelly. In Cathi’s books, the unloved and the unsolved have a friend and the unknown an enemy: a bleary eye of providence peering through the fog. “One of these was the unsolved case of the so-called ‘Jack the Stripper’ murders, which happened between 1959-63 and which I turned into a book called Bad Penny Blues. Which was brought on by a non-fiction account of the murders, Jack of Jumps by David Seabrook. A shocking book in many ways, which opened my eyes to the fact that where I live in Ladbroke Grove was once the biggest red light district in London and all these women either lived or worked there. I tried to do something for their memories that was better than the treatment they had received in life, death and the literary afterlife.”

Despite what was then the biggest manhunt in Metropolitan Police history, the killer vanished into thin air and one of the many urban myths was the actual identity of Jack… “I’d heard it might be the former heavyweight boxer Freddie Mills, who himself died in very mysterious circumstances, outside the restaurant he owned in Soho in 1965.” Cathi doesn’t think he was culprit, but such folktales spurred her to inventing her own solution.

Without The Moon is also based on two true crime stories, one of which also remains unsolved, and quite bizarrely so. “I wanted to investigate the case of Gordon Cummins, the ‘Blackout Ripper’, a trainee RAF pilot who murdered four women and attempted to kill another two in one frenzied week in February 1942.” No sooner had she started when a historian called Nick Pelling offered Cathi his own research into a crime that took place just days after Cummins was caught – the murder of a woman called Maragret McArthur on Waterloo Bridge, which was, unbelievably, still under construction in 1942, despite the Blitz. “A Canadian soldier had been arrested with the woman’s handbag on him, was tried but acquitted – despite solid evidence he was the murderer. Nick had no luck discovering what happened to him next, so he very kindly let me have a go at finding a plausible solution in the parallel world of my fiction.”

Soho looms large in Without the Moon “The detective who investigated the Cummins case used to like to hang out in a jazz club on Archer Street, which was also popular with journalists and villains – a perfect place to start casting around for the supporting actors who bring the whole period back to life.” Cathi used the same methods she’d employed on Bad Penny Blues to write Without The Moon: she relived that time period through its art. “My soundtrack was the sublime big band swing of 1942. I watched as many films and read as much popular literature of the day as I could, until I felt I had stepped into that world. Which is why this sort of writing is so addictive and, with so many centuries of stories woven into its bricks and mortar, Soho is the perfect setting…” Cathi Unsworth’s Without the Moon is published by Serpent’s Tail.

Cloth House

Cloth House


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


“There are treasures to be discovered everywhere you look.”

I’d always been slightly intrigued by the window displays on Berwick Street, up near the Oxford Street end. What exactly went on at the Cloth House? Was it an undercover meeting spot for a secret tie-die society of Soho, or a triad of sewing ninjas who specialised in reading illegible messages printed on the squares of delicate fabrics strung along lines in the window? “The collection is sourced all over the world. It is an inspiring mixture of new and vintage products, always changing, and carefully curated.”

I’d always walked past, despite being a man of the cloth myself. Brought up in the land of wool, tweed, and cashmere I spent many an afternoon from a young age in material shops, factory stores and mill shops, waiting while my Mother picked skirt lengths, yards and metres of cloth to make her own clothes from paper Burda, sometime Vogue patterns. The whirr of the sewing machine, brown paper shapes being laid and pinned onto cloth, pinking shears cutting through cloth, it was a regular feature of my childhood home. These shops were filled with older women, or younger girls who looked like they wanted to be older. My parents eventually opened their own fabric store, and I helped with the buying. Trips to warehouses in Edinburgh, cloth merchants in Manchester became part of my days, helping out in the shop when I could. It was just something I did.

In Soho the Cloth House seemed to have been there forever. “Cloth House is a family run business established in 1984 by husband and wife Jay and Niki. We are one of the original Cloth Stores in Soho and have been in the street for over 25 years. Many things on the street have changed over the years, but the fabric shops are what Berwick Street is famous for, and we feel part of the original Soho.” One day I walked in. This wasn’t the remnant kings of my childhood, the shop felt bright, felt vibrant, felt right. Whitewashed brick walls, wooden floor, and rolls and rolls of cloth. Tubes of buttons in old wooden furniture, the shop was busy and there was a buzz about it. Young girls buying, and the staff, young girls selling. Bikes parked in tucked away corners and up on platform mezzanines. This was the spot for fresh faced girls who made their own clothes for cycling down country lanes, or at least cycling home from Soho through Clerkenwell to London Fields. Spots, daisies and repeat pattern prints on the dresses they had sewn themselves.

“Our customers range from home sewers and crafters, to design students, clothing and costume designers for film and theatre. We have such a wide range of customers, it’s always inspiring to hear about what visions each individual has for a material – one customer may imagine a material into a jacket, whilst another might plan for a quilted blanket and cushion from the same fabric. We love to see what’s been fashioned from our materials. Every week we meet new sewers and first time visitors to our shop, and every week we see old customers and friends who have been buying from us since the 80s! Many of our customers are from overseas. Being in London we have a large fashion student clientele. We’re also lucky to meet fashion students who visit us from all over the UK, and the world! Our student customers never fail to surprise and inspire, manipulating our products to create their vision. Some of our staff members are also current fashion students, and the majority of our staff have completed fashion/textile courses.”

You could see it was the spot for fashion students putting together their toiles and their graduate pieces at Central St. Martins Though now not so central over in Kings Cross, once it had stood as a cornerstone of Soho looming over Charing Cross Road. “Cloth House stocks a huge variety of beautiful fabrics, but we are perhaps best known for our collection of cottons and linens. From hand printed cotton to washed linen and crisp denim we have a huge variety of natural cloths. The Japanese and Indian collections are perhaps some of the most beautiful, unusual and inspiring fabrics. It is important for a shop to have personality. A unique feature of Cloth House is the vast mixture within the shop. Japanese materials sit next to French, and beautiful polyesters drape alongside crisp cottons. The longer you look, the more you will find, from the bejewelled Indian sari trims to vintage buttons.”

The fabric selection at The Cloth House is inspiring and stunning. Cottons, poplins, chambray and selvedge denim, prints that I kept thinking would look great on a shirt. “I think it’s possible to walk into Cloth House with absolutely no idea or inspiration, and find a print or a texture that really gets you thinking and wanting to design and make.”

There is huge choice, a massive selection. The staff provide friendly smiles and hellos and group themselves around the till. Down the stairs and others hold court over small batches of girls in the corners, helpfully, and with a smile offering advice, choices and options. It’s a happy place, a happy atmosphere, I had to stop myself from smiling. “Our staff are always available to help and inspire. All of our staff have a creative background/interest, and one of the most fun aspects of the job is discussing projects with customers, and coming up with creative ideas and solutions. We offer a sample service for customers where we send out swatches and take telephone orders. We have a blog for textile inspiration and making ideas and recently started a ‘what are you making?’thread where we invite customers to send us images of their creations using Cloth House materials. To inspire and be inspired is such a rewarding part of this creative industry, customers like to share pictures on Instagram and email us.”

Wandering amongst the props around the shop, you might find girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, others with the knowledge to tell you what the pattern is or piles of old books that are tied up with string, but these are not my favourite things. In the Cloth House it is definitely the cloth. The fabric, a social fabric that brings together a fresh young sewing circle of people to Soho, at the House of Cloth.

 

 

Exposure

Exposure


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


I simply did what I did – making connections, bringing people together and seeing how that resulted in brand fame, media visibility and positive brand perceptions.”

Exposure is the agency responsible for marrying Diet Coke with fashion, Converse with the music industry and Levi’s® with music, art and design. Creating mutually beneficial collaborations on this scale is no walk in the park, but a self made challenge that this Fitzrovia-based communications agency has taken on with moxie. Bringing cultural relevance to brands since 1993 and with a portfolio that reads like a guidebook for the world’s leading superbrands, the title above the door at 22-23 Little Portland Street really does mean what it says. Like any endeavour, networking and collaborating has a history of starting out small and this is something Exposure’s founder, Raoul Shah, is all too familiar with.

Raoul was born and raised in North London, his parents born in Nairobi from Gujarati origins. “They moved to London in the 1950s and were lucky enough to meet each other on a visit to the Reeves paint factory organised by the British Council,” he says. It was serendipitous that Raoul himself became a trustee of the British Council between 2008 and 2014. As a youngster, Raoul developed a passion for music – a love that remains today. He lived out his youth in venues like The Lyceum, Camden Palace and Subterania, and in his late teens he was immersed in the sounds of The Clash, The Jam, and The Specials. “I think I had a brief phase trying out every youth culture style of the moment – Mods, Rude Boys, Punks and New Romantics,” says Raoul. “In the late 80s, Buffalo became the really enduring style reference for me thanks to magazines like The Face, i-D and Arena.” Raoul now lives in Belsize Park and is proud to call London his home, citing it as the greatest capital city in the world – a distinction due in no small part to its rebellious spirit and creative originality that led to sub cultures that went global.

Raoul started out his career at Pepe Jeans where he began to build his network, connecting with a variety of brands and individuals. In October 1993 he went solo and founded Exposure from a desk in Sedley Place, just off Bond Street.His initial idea: to create a business that specialised in networking. “I wanted to bring people and brands together to see the impact one can make via word of mouth and mutually beneficial collaborations. I guess you could call it ‘social media’ in the original sense of the words,” he says. “I was connecting brands like Converse with bands and music festivals, Coca-Cola with fashion designers and Levi’s with design and creativity.” Networking produced content that delivered earned media. Raoul started out small and the progression of Exposure was organic. In his early days he was unaware of the industry terminology and labels associated with agencies. “I simply did what I did – making connections, bringing people together and seeing how that resulted in creating brand fame, media visibility and positive brand perceptions.” As the business began to develop, Raoul soon recognised that Exposure was in the PR and product placement business and opted to create specialist units within Exposure. Today, he explains, “These departments have grown considerably and they now sit alongside other specialist teams handling events, brand experience, digital marketing and social media. We have dedicated communications teams that work in specific sectors such as fashion, beauty, drinks and entertainment.”

As Exposure began to expand, higher profile brands approached the agency. Raoul sought out somebody with experience handling global brands in the marketing sector. With his proven track record, Tim Bourne became an equal partner in the company in 1997. “Tim set us on an incredible trajectory that has, today, created a group with 200 employees and a global revenue of £25,000,000,” Raoul explains. Exposure’s expansion was far from set in stone, or confined to London; in 2003, the company handled a campaign for British car manufacturer Jaguar in California. This campaign led to the beginning of Exposure’s US expansion and the opening of its New York office in 2005. “Dr. Martens and Casio were our founding clients in New York. I was always inspired by the cultural relevance and connectivity between London and New York, so the next step was to open the Tokyo office in 2008. In 2014, we opened The Supermarket in New York, a space dedicated to art,installations and events. Todate we have converted it intoa skate bowl, a radio stationand an auction house. We referto it as a ‘gallery of ideas.’”

Prior to the overseasexpansion of Exposure,towards the end of the ragtrade era in May 2000, Raoul relocated the UK company to Little Portland Street, Fitzrovia.At the time, the area was unpopulated by businesses in the creative industry. With characteristic foresight Raoulsaw Fitzrovia as an area with potential. Here was a chance for the company to stamp its personality on the building, and the area. “North of Oxford Street was still a little vacant and certainly not hip but we were keen to move here and establish our roots in an area that had so much potential,” says Raoul. “Langham Estates has always been very supportive and often showcases our space as an example of what can be achieved with a few ideas, a little creativity and some talented people. Fitzrovia has a great independent vibe to it – there’s still the alteration tailors in various basements and the remnants of the rag trade. When we moved here, Sergios, Efes and Franks were the go-to places to eat or have a cuppa. The truth is that they still are for me, although now we have plenty of other choices. Back then, Oliver Peyton had still had Mash on Great Portland Street which was a really hip place to eat and drink for those in the know. Like Mash, we wanted Exposure to become a destination.” And so it has: Exposure’s presence in Fitzrovia and its strong relationship with The Langham Estate has resulted in Little Portland Street often being referred to as ‘Exposure Street’.

Raoul has noted the influx of media and marketing agencies that are now dotted around Fitzrovia. Their arrival heralded a new, creative and more dynamic perspective that attracted many businesses to follow suit and take up residency in the area – Workshop, Portland and Bonnie Gull amongst them. True to form, Exposure recently collaborated with independent coffee shop Mother’s Milk (founded by James Wise and Will Hilliard) by giving it a new home in the Exposure bar. The move welcomes Fitzrovia residents into the world of Exposure and has given rise to a shop front for this hybrid creative and communications agency.

“Gallery, library, bar, coffee shop – our reception has always been designed to be a little ambiguous. We did actually convert it into a charity shop in 2013 so the idea of revisiting a retail format is definitely a real possibility.” Raoul tells of a range of Exposure products that are currently in development so there’s every chance that the addition of an Exposure shop front may one day become a reality. It’s a case of “watch this space,” he says.

2015 was a year of transformation for Exposure having simplified its business model in order to focus on the agency’s core earned media skills: consumer PR, brand experience, events, digital communications, social media, fashion, beauty, consumer insights and brand strategy. 2016 is set to be a strong year for the whole group with a forecasted 15% total growth. Select projects for the next year include campaigns for Coca-Cola and Nike leading up to the Olympics, plus the Heineken Champions League final in Milan.

Levi’s and Anthony Burrill. Uniqlo and Benji B. Dr. Martens and Buffalo. Diet Coke and Marc Jacobs. Star Wars and Christopher Raeburn. Microsoft and D*Face. Nike and Clothsurgeon. The Tudor Watch Company and Mark Ronson. Exposure isn’t just a communications agency, it is about producing great ideas with cultural impact that resonate with consumers. On the subject of further oversees expansion Raoul says “never say never.” He has looked at opportunities in Amsterdam and Berlin, but confirms that there are no immediate new European offices on the horizon. “I think the next step for Exposure will be to expand its presence in the US with a west coast base in either Los Angeles or San Francisco.” For Raoul, Exposure is defined as a creative communications agency and he maintains the company’s guiding principle: to continue to make brands culturally relevant by producing ideas that engage the modern consumer.

Sofia Strazzanti

Sofia Strazzanti


Words Victoria Drysdale

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“This is the perfect area… Fitzrovia has a beautiful way about it.”

Tucked away between Cleveland Street’s bustling cafes and exotic restaurants is the Innocenza studio, an independent multi-brand sales and retail agency founded by Sofia Strazzanti. I meet Strazzanti on a crisp, clear morning in Fitzrovia. She is beautiful; wild-haired and eloquently spoken. As we enter the world of Innocenza, it becomes clear why Strazzanti would never want to leave.

Bayode Oduwole

Bayode Oduwole


Words Kirk Truman

Portaits Erin Barry


“…creative, secretive. I describe it as far from the madding crowd, which says it all really.”

Upon entering the Pokit studio, a wall to wall display of mannequins hung on wires, dressed in an array of utilitarian outfits for the modern man, greets you. “In a word it is the ‘unsharp’ suit, deep and modern”says Bayode Oduwole, co-founder of Fitzrovia’s contemporary menswear label Pokit. “We designed them to look threadbare but not worn out. Understated, but progressive too, traditional yet unorthodox. You have to see it. We call it the Pokit paradox. We’re done trying to pigeon hole it.”

 

Independents United

Independents United


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Joseph Lynn


“We felt that in taking away job titles and departments within the working environment, people would be forced to talk and collaborate with one another.”

There are no job titles here. Although this is almost unheard of in most working environments, it has been used to the advantage of Independents United (IU). Although there are specialities within the collective, there is also happiness and productiveness among the team (known as the independents’) – after all, happy people are scientifically proven to be more successful. At no. 19 Fitzroy Street, you won’t find any managers. Instead, you’ll find the right people assigned to the right job. Made up of non-hierarchical, multi-talented individuals who aren’t just employees, but co-owners, this creative and business solutions agency is built on collaboration and individuality. The strength of their independents in unity allows the business to function as a unit, allowing each independent united to have a say.

The Georgian Group

The Georgian Group


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Illustrations London County Council Survey of London Vol. XXI


“There is something about Georgian architecture that appears to be ingrained in the British psyche; perhaps because it was a fundamentally pragmatic, yet modestly graceful, way of building.”

The Georgian group exist to preserve Georgian architecture and landscapes. There are other dedicated architectural preservation societies – one for ancient buildings in general, one specifically for Victorian buildings. So what is it about the Georgian era in particular? Allow me to present a criminally expurgated version of that period in history to set the scene for the far reaching passions of this active and determined group, based in our very own Fitzrovia.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“…a retired spot, not of the choicest kind, leading into the fields.”

An unassuming birth, to an unassuming family, at an unassuming address; it’s hard to believe that Charles John Huffam Dickens would become the most recognisable name in English Literature from such humble beginnings. From Nicholas Nickleby to Great Expectations, some of Dickens’ most famous works were influenced by the immediate areas within and surrounding Fitzrovia. It’s understandable how this corner of London captured Dickens’ imagination. In 1815 when he was just a toddler, the Dickens family found lodgings at 10 Norfolk Street – now 22 Cleveland Street. John Dickens was a naval clerk and his duties found him relocated to the capital. Although they only stayed here for a few years, Charles later returned in 1829 as seen on an old reader’s ticket for the British Museum where he gives the same address of 10 Norfolk Street as his own. There is, however, an oddly different piece of evidence that suggests his address was in fact Number 15 Fitzroy Street (now 25) between 1830 and 1833.

Robi Walters

Robi Walters


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Erin Barry


“Secretly there was always an artist inside me waiting to be explored…”

I remember the distinct shiver that ran through me when I first listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973). One of the best-selling albums worldwide, it’s a modern classic and one of the first original pressings I ever purchased. So I was both horrified and strangely intrigued to learn that artist Robi Walters smashed numerous copies of this and many other albums I am fond of… all in the name of art!

 

Fitzrovia Bicycles

Fitzrovia Bicycles


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Kirk Truman


“…we try and have as many British companies as possible. Bikes that are designed for this country.”

One of the beautiful things about living in an area like Fitzrovia is how easy it is to get around. Walking is usually the preferred option, but if you’ve got errands to run, or need to roam further afield, across Soho, perhaps, Bloomsbury or Marylebone, then a bike is quite a nifty piece of kit. And there is one address that has been loyally serving the community for some time.

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I love the romance of old Soho, it’s a world I never knew and that had vanished before I was born…”

Martin Freeman tells me upstairs at Little Italy on Frith Street. “…so I look back and, of course, I romanticise it.” We’re across the street from Ronnie Scott’s, the spiritual home of British jazz, and Freeman is cutting a sharp, pensive figure in wayfarers and loafers that wrap a tattoo across the tiled floor and make him look as if he’s travelled back in time from 1966 to take a look at what has become of old Soho. A waiter appears and pours him a glass of mineral water from which he sips.

He’s a BAFTA award-winning actor, yes, but also a man with a deep and not oft publicised love of music that began in his childhood. To those in the know, therefore, his involvement in a new documentary about the life and times of an all but forgotten jazz legend comes as no surprise. Narrated by Freeman, written by Mark Baxter and directed by Lee Cogswell, Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry is a documentary that hopes to do for one of this country’s jazz greats what Searching For Sugar Man (2012) did for Sixto Rodriguez. Half a century ago, Soho was a place of light and dark, of neon and shadows, a world of vice and art, of love affairs conducted against the soundscape of a new post-war music. It was a world in which the crash and burn story of Tubby Hayes took root.

Edward Brian “Tubby” Hayes was a tenor sax master, vibes player and multi-instrumentalist of rare sensitivity and talent. Born in St Pancras in 1935, Tubby led his own groups in England from the 1950s and made his first US appearance at the Half Note in New York City in 1961. Throughout his brief, intense life he played with the very best from Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Roland Kirk to Henry Mancini and played on over 60 LPs, solo and with other artists. His legacy, though largely forgotten by a modern world, cannot be overlooked.

“A certain period of jazz, certainly the Tubby Hayes period, is absolutely knockout,” says Freeman. “And that music, which was new and rooted in all the jazz that had gone before it, was brave and played by men who looked incredible. That aesthetic had a huge influence on me. Men wore suits back then, you know, and I miss that, that sense of tribalism and taste.”

With the documentary comprising 21 interviews with people who knew Tubby, including one with pop art king Peter Blake, the life of this extraordinary musician has been resurrected; and it has taken a genuine music fan like Freeman to help do it. “My thing was the rude boy thing when I was young,” he says. “I’ve been buying records since I was 9 and 2 Tone was my first love. Then I moved onto reggae and r’n’b and soul. I bought my first jazz record when I was 16. It was an old Blue Note sampler that, I guess, I bought from Our Price in Kingston. Then jazz became part of that journey that, I suppose, all of us are on all the time. Once you become a huge fan of music, your search never stops. In fact, it was The Style Council that I went nutty over. That band made complete sense to me.”

It was in the early 1980s when jazz became an informing, constituent part of British pop music that gave freer rein to songwriters of the day. “Jazz is an enormous world, and every branch of that forest leads on to somewhere else. Most good musicians who have been making music for twenty or thirty years always allow influences in. They soak it all up. People like Paul Weller, Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder have made music drawn from many disparate sources. And so because there is blues and gospel in so many forms of American music, hearing jazz as a young man was not alien to me.

“I’d heard of Tubby Hayes when I was younger, but like many of us I didn’t know who he was. He was a white jazz player, he was English, and so I asked myself whether I was going to dig him.” But dig him he did, music for Freeman becoming a riptide that has lent momentum to his creative life, flowing beneath all his performances and through his private life.

“I’ll never get to hear all the music I want to hear. I like all kinds of music because I’ve got too catholic a taste,” he says, clearly not wanting ever to be creatively stifled. “I began visiting Soho in my 20s. The first time I visited Bar Italia was when I met my mum and brother here one day. My mum first came to Soho in the 1950s to spend the whole day and be surrounded by something that wasn’t suburban.” He smirks. “I think she liked a bit of trad jazz back then. But in the past 20 years I’ve begun to feel very at home in Soho. It’s also coincided with how long I’ve been a professional actor. All my meetings were here, all my auditions were here. It’s where struggling young actors would come to hang out. Soho is definitely my engine room because this part of the West-End is truly alive.”

He says there’s a modernist thread that runs through his life and through his engagement with the cultural world at large and adds that “he likes to be the only one”, not ever wanting to be pigeonholed, sub-culturally speaking. Mercuriality, after all, is an actor’s currency. Freeman appears to be a man interested in everything, alive to life’s possibilities while remaining wise enough not to trust any of it to the hilt. He watches the shifting terrain and adapts accordingly, somewhat disaffected by a world that has never quite lived up to its own apparent high standards. “This world of ours is grey, not black and white,” he adds, “and one has to think for oneself.”

With the passing years, he says that he feels mortal but that he’s felt that way since his early 20s. “I know I should take life one day at a time, but whether I actually do is another thing. I’m very fuelled by anger at a lot of things, and not even things that are political. On the one hand I wish that were not the case, but it’s what I am. But usually it’s directed inwards, and somehow it works for me. In my job – which has something to do with self expression – without that sense of the wolf scratching at the door, I’d be bored and I’d not get very far. But I think that goes for anyone in all walks of life anyway. We all need that urge to keep going.”

And then he pauses, smiling ruefully. “Tubby Hayes was a household name for 15 years, but he has been forgotten. And that’s a lesson for someone like me as to how fleeting fame can be. Tubby was riding high for so long and then, without warning, along came four scallies from Liverpool. And the rest is history. It’s a sobering thought, because you never know how long you’ve got.”

Simone Butler

Simone Butler


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I sometimes used to bunk off school for the afternoon and come up here. I loved Soho. Back in the day it was dirtier and filthier and scuzzier. Being young it felt kind of risky being up here.”

Simone Butler smiles as she remembers this unholy pilgrimage to a place so many younger people travelled to hoping to escape their suburban lives. “When you’re allowed to go out on your own as a teenager, everything’s kind of an adventure. So coming up to Soho was amazing. I’d come up when it was getting dark and all the trannys would be outside Madame JoJo’s, it was like another world really.”

Simone is now a familiar face in these parts but she is most well known for landing one of the most coveted jobs in music as Primal Scream’s bassist. But how and where did the journey begin? A journey that has seen her tour the world, play the main stage at Glastonbury, sing live on stage with Jesus & Mary Chain at Austin Psychfest (as well as being the opening DJ at their London shows) and curate part of this year’s Secret Garden Party… “It was The Bass Cellar on Denmark Street where it began in many ways” she says,“I thought ‘Where can I work? Where I can play bass every day and learn about the instrument?’ I was already playing in bands but I wanted to meet as many musicians as possible and they totally took a chance on me. I blagged my way into it. There was one guy who kept trying to get me sacked because he didn’t like the fact that a girl was working there. He would say; ‘what’s she still doing here? I told you to sack her!’ I would set up a sale and then he would come in and go ‘I can deal with it from here’ and then take the sale and commission from me. It prepared me for the industry in the sense that if anyone has a problem with you being female you know how to deal with it.”

She stuck it out and found mutual musical respect and friendship with current Primal Scream guitarist Barrie Cadogan also of Little Barrie who worked at another instrument shop. She paid her dues and eventually when the call came from Bobby Gillespie inviting her to audition, without hesitation she accepted. Rumour has it that she was asked to learn 3 songs but she learned 25, in 4 days – could it be true? Simone smiles and then very seriously says “I did yeah.” When Bobby called I just thought ‘Wow! This is just a fucking incredible opportunity. In my opinion when you really want something you don’t learn just what they tell you, you go in with every bit of ammunition you’ve got, you own it and you make it happen. I put the phone down and thought I’m not going to learn the bare minimum. I’m going to be the bass player of that band. It sounds really arrogant but when you really want something you just go into battle mode.”

At the time, there was lots of press asking who was this unknown person who’d replaced Mani. How did she feel about that? She says “No one knew who the fuck I was”she laughs, “I didn’t want anyone knowing anything about me. I just wanted to get on with the job at hand and not get distracted. NME kept asking to do an article but I declined. I just sort of slipped in the side door. It’s been three years and I’ve only ever experienced love and support from Primal Scream fans.”

When her Scream commitments allow, she also fronts her regular lunchtime show on Soho Radio, The Naked Lunch. I’m interested to know how the title came about and what her approach is to the show. As she says, “It’s a total play on words but I felt like it fitted in to the whole ethos of Soho, an element which is missing, debauched & ravenous. The energy at night in Soho, that’s when it comes alive and I wanted something that hinted at that. I love doing my show. It’s totally organic and doesn’t adhere to a play list. I choose every track myself. The current music scene that’s being sold to the masses is really full of a lot of shit and not stuff that inspires or interests me. But don’t get me wrong, there’s some great bands around right now. I’ve always been interested in what’s going on in the underground scene. For me I feel really passionate about it. It’s really important because music changes & enhances people’s lives. Buying an album you absolutely love makes your week. It can be life changing. Plus, it’s a very sensual thing, the physicality of vinyl. I’m a weird person, I even smell old guitars!”

Having been a regular in Soho for some time, how does she feel about the ongoing modernisation of the area? She sighs and says “I’m all for modernisation and things moving on but not at the cost of the original identity of the area. Soho is such a hugely historical place in terms of music, art & performance. I really think you can preserve the integrity of that without ruining the whole ethos and identity of it. I don’t want to see our cultural history sacrificed for the sake of more multinational chains!”

As an admirer of Primal Scream, I’m also intrigued to know what it’s like play in one of the biggest bands around. “It’s a very special energy you get from playing with the Scream. I’ve never met people who are so immersed in music. It makes me want to be the best musician I can be. I feel really blessed to be able to do that with these people. It’s not really like any other band I’ve been with before. It’s not just about playing music you love it’s about playing music that actually touches you as well. Higher than the Sun is a really beautiful track. I get goose bumps every time I play it. It takes my breath away because it’s such an incredible song!”she says.

It’s refreshing to hear someone speak so honestly and passionately about her work and the area she has given so much of her time to. As she concludes “it’s where I come all the time, even if I’m not working round here I feel like it’s my point of contact for Central London. It’s where I meet people, it’s where I do my radio show, it’s where everything is changing at a really accelerated rate as well. I like the energy around Soho and I like the buzz.”

Soho Radio

Soho Radio


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“It’s like a glue for the community where all the different parts of Soho meet on neutral ground…”

I wouldn’t say that I’m anything of an expert when it comes to music, though I do have my favourites: classical, jazz, classic rock and of course, hip hop. And until I became a regular listener of Soho Radio some months ago, I didn’t realise music could be at the centre of a community or how it might open my eyes and ears to a broader spectrum of styles.

Having turned a year old in May this year, Soho Radio serves its neighbourhood well, providing an eclectic mix of everything its world renowned creative hub is famed for. With its ingenious front-of-house coffee shop peering out onto Great Windmill Street and its live radio studio visible through panes of glass at the rear, this truly is a radio station like no other.

Operating from a tiny former mini-cab office, musicians and founders Adrian Meehan, Dan Gray and Finlay Morton began their endeavour out of their mutual love for music and the Soho community. The station’s vibrant and diverse content reflects the area’s culture and brings together musicians, artists, film makers, chefs, poets and the generally creative and curious. Inspired by the type of American community stations portrayed in films like “Do the right thing”, “Vanishing point” and the late East Village Radio in NYC, Soho Radio is broadcast online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, live and direct from Great Windmill Street.

Drummer and studio producer, Adrian Meehan has operated ToolShed Music underneath the shop front we know today as Soho Radio for some years. When the previous tenants in the shop space above ground were due to vacate the premises, Adrian and his co-founders saw the opportunity to create a radio station with a difference; Soho Radio was born in May 2014. “It’s like a glue for the community where all the different parts of Soho meet on neutral ground. We’ve had Public Enemy in at the same time as the local school next door. Stephen Fry of Save Soho was in one week, while John James of Soho Estates came in the next”says Adrian.

The station boasts a diverse weekly schedule that is reflective of the Soho community, its residents and the musical tastes of the neighbourhood. From Wednesday’s weekly morning The Soho Society Presents slot, to Primal Scream’s Simone Marie’s Naked Lunch and Scotsman Keb Darge’s Friday evening, this furiously independent station showcases its community and brand new talent daily. With the station fostering independent voices, up-and-coming underground acts as well as being a must-visit for big label stars, Soho Radio is the true voice of the Soho community. But it interests and influence extend beyond the confines of its area, with world class talents such as Boy George, Howard Marks and The Cuban Brothers also part of the mix.

In its first year, the station become well known throughout the neighbourhood as well as further afield. One only has to wonder where the station might be being played at any given time of the week; in offices, shops and homes throughout Soho or anywhere in the world for that matter! Just people looking to get a fix of the vibrancy of Soho. As Adrian would put it: “You can’t force people to listen to it. We’ve just got to be there taking part, that’s what counts.” And indeed, a focus for the station now has become growing the listenership. With over 120,000 listeners tuning in every month, the next steps include deciding on how the future of the station will look and how to grow the business. On founding the station, Meehan says “it was the fact that Soho needed and demanded it. Soho Radio is a great trademark, if it was called society radio or music radio, it wouldn’t work. I’m very grateful that people choose to tune in.”

A Soho based radio station produced by the people of Soho, for the people of Soho, is something that should be celebrated in itself. A personal favourite slot of mine happens to be The Soho Society Presents, hosted by Leslie Hardcastle MBE and Clare Lynch, where the neighbourhood’s current community topics are discussed, alongside an occasional guest. The station’s mix of community engagement and showcase of musical and creative talent is rarity in itself, as is its radio station/coffee shop concept. Embedded in the heart of the community, Soho Radio has found a novel way to be seen as well as heard.

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“I have been commissioned to write an autobiography and I would be grateful to any of your readers who could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.”

There are many things you think about when entering into journalism, a thought process which is based on a series of emulations, influences and personal style. There have always been two names that spring to mind when spending long dark days wondering what I’m doing with myself: first of these is Hunter S. Thompson, the infamous American writer and self-styled Doctor Gonzo, secondly, and closer to home is Jeffrey Bernard, the grand bohemian, alcoholic miscreant and for some time, the literary face of Soho.

We’ll get the relevant, if not perhaps colder, information out of the way first. Jerry Bernard was born in London on the 27th of May 1932. His father an architect, his mother an opera singer, his middle class upbringing was not to prepare him for a life of notoriety. Self-styling came early for young Bernard, who changed his name to Jeffrey whilst still a young boy, and at the age of 16, Jeffrey Bernard decided it was time to move out of his parents’ home and make for the bohemian lifestyle offered by Soho. It was 1948, a time when youth cultures were throwing down the shackles of the past in hope of a new world following two world wars in quick succession.

Bernard’s life is mixture of fact, speculation and myth, not helped by the production of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (original showing 1989). The play starred the late and talented, Peter O’Toole. Reliance on his own words is of course problematic in this search, as he himself once said that “I have been commissioned to write an autobiography and I would be grateful to any of your readers who could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.”

The title of the play, which came to be seen as Bernard having “written his own eulogy,” is based on a long running joke from Bernard’s long-time place of employment: The Spectator. This tenure lasted from 1975 until his death, spearheading the Low Life column (which has since been led by Jeremy Clarke). When he felt unfit to write, the paper would simply publish the by-line “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell,” or at least words to that effect, in order to explain the absence of his column in the issue.

When in a fit state to send it in, Bernard would pen a column which usually consisted of what, to the naked eye, appeared as humorous ramblings of a drunkard which contained many philosophical musings on everything from class differences, “But you’ve got to have money for comfort, which obviously doesn’t matter as much when you’re young, but even so. I always like to bloody eat well and be warm. Have a drink when I want it.”, to what he saw as the perils of ageing – “One of the things that goes with getting older is that one becomes more conservative, and I emphasise that when I use the word conservative I do not mean politically.” – an interesting take considering who he was writing for.

These lines, of course, do not exist in a vacuum and a single piece from the Low Life column allows us a glimpse into what made the celebrated journalist tick, whilst he sat ‘sipping’ on ale in his favourite local Soho pub: The Coach and Horses, Greek Street. Of course this is an unassuming place for his work to come from; it was called “the office and habitat of Jeffrey Bernard and other Spectator journalists,” by Richard West, Bernard’s contemporary, in 1984. It is, therefore, only fitting that the setting of Keith Waterhouse’s play is set entirely within this most infamous of public houses, exploring the most infamous of public characters.

Unfortunately, like the boy who cried wolf, Jeffrey Bernard’s lifestyle eventually led to him becoming truly unwell. In fact, it was in 1965 that the first signs of deterioration due to lifestyle occurred. He was admitted into hospital sometime in this year and subsequently found himself diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, a condition where inflammation of the pancreas occurs and persists for many years; this is due to the enzymes in the gut which begin to attempt digesting the organ itself, causing intense pain for the sufferer. Of course, this initial diagnosis could not dissuade Jeffrey Bernard, nor did the (to most) sobering news that he was given just a few years to live. “For years I drank whisky until it caused me to get pancreatitis and subsequently diabetes. Now that I am not supposed to drink at all, I find vodka to be the next best thing to abstinence,” is how Bernard described how he dealt with his condition in 1988, a good 20 years after his supposed death sentence. This was not for lack of trying to leave the devil’s drink behind and one article concludes with “I only wish I could get out of tea what I get out of vodka.” Proof, if ever there was one, that Jeffrey certainly understood his problems.

Alas, all miracles must come to an end. And in 1994, Jeffrey Bernard finally succumbed to his ailments and was found, because of his diabetes, to have developed a gangrenous leg which required amputation. The spiralling loss of health had him write in his column on August 13, 1994 that “A certain amount of loneliness is beginning to creep into my life — very different from being alone, which I like, and it has prompted me to put an advertisement into the personal columns of this journal, stating quite simply; alcoholic, diabetic amputee seeks sympathy fuck.”

Not two years later, he was admitted as an inpatient at Middlesex Hospital where he would remain until he succumbed to renal failure and died fighting against his liver at the age of 65 on the 4th of September 1997. I like to think this giant of Bohemian Soho lived his life to the fullest. He wrote his Low Life column from his hospital bed and the final line written by the soon to be stopped force goes as this, “In Bridgetown, Barbados, they have the equipment for dialysis and I suddenly realise that what cures any itch and most complaints is £1 million in your current account.” And now, in memory of such a great man some of us might have known, most of us would have heard of, I’m off to have myself a bit of a drink, and tomorrow morning worry not, for I just might be unwell.

Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Achieve(s)


“We never closed… We never clothed.”

Today this staple of performance goes by the name of The Windmill International, though some years ago its Windmill title was synonymous with its ‘keep calm and carry on’ nature and Revudeville ways. Once upon a time, as Britain entered into the midst of war, skimpy see-through outfits and suspender belts thrived in one particular Soho-based theatre. At The Windmill Theatre, as a front-row seat would to be vacated, men stuck at the back of the theatre would rush forward over the stalls in a frantic bid to get close to the scantily clad performers and quietly escape the terrors of the chaos around them.

The once renowned Windmill Theatre in Great Windmill Street was for some years both a variety and revue theatre. The venue takes its name from a windmill that stood on the street from during the reign of King Charles II until the late 18th century. Having originally opened as a cinema in 1909, The Palais de Luxe, where early silent films were shown, in 1930 wealthy and eccentric widow Laura Henderson bought the Palais de Luxe building with other intentions in mind.

Hiring architect Howard Jones, the interior was soon remodelled into a small one-tier, 320-seat theatre. Renamed the Windmill, it opened as a playhouse in June 1931. Unprofitable, its existence as a theatre was short-lived. Henderson soon hired a new theatre manager namely Vivian Van Damm with whom she produced Revudeville, a continuous variety that ran from 2:30pm until 11pm. Putting on shows with dancers, singers, showgirls and specialty numbers, the first Revudeville act opened in February 1932. However, the theatre still continued to be unprofitable all in all causing significant loses during the theatre’s first few years under Henderson’s guise.

Incorporating glamorous nude females on stage into the shows, Van Damm had finally found his breakthrough, inspired by the likes of Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge in Paris. These shows however did not come without difficulty or complication. Due to the restrictions at the time on theatrical performances in London, the display of nudity in motion was illegal. The shows went on to feature motionless nudes, or ‘living statues’, which at the time could not be credibly regarded as morally objectionable, or as it went: ‘if you move, it’s rude.’

Other local theatres such as The Piccadilly soon copied the theatre as The Windmill’s shows became a huge commercial success and the Windmill girls took their show on tour to other London provincial theatres and music halls. Van Damm then produced a series of nude tableaux vivants which were based around themes such as Annie Oakley, mermaids, Native Americans, and Britannia. Later, movement finally was introduced in the acts, in the form of the fan dance: this involved a naked dancing girl’s body concealed by fans held by herself and four female attendants. This was to be another crafty way in which the spirit of the law was evaded, satisfying the demands of the audience by moving the props rather than the girls.

The theatre went by the famous motto of ‘We Never Closed’ which has often been humorously modified to ‘We Never Clothed’. This acted as a reference to the fact that the theatre remained open thought the duration of the 2nd World War. Performances were to continue throughout the war even at the very height of the Blitz with cast members, showgirls and crew moving into the safety of the theatre’s two basement levels during some of the worst air attacks on the city.

Many of the patrons of the theatre were families and troops, as well as celebrities who visited as Henderson’s personal guests, including Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise, granddaughters of Queen Victoria. For a period, on the opening night of every new show at the theatre, the Royal Box was reserved for the Hon. George Lansbury (a member of His Majesty’s Government).

Aged 82, Henderson died in November 1944. In her will, she left the Windmill to Van Damm. During his time at the theatre, the venue was home to many famous variety artists including Freddie Eldrett, with a number of well-known comedians and actors having their first real success on the Windmill’s stage: Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsyth and the unforgettable Tommy Cooper. Van Damm went on to run the theatre until his death in 1960, leaving it to his daughter, Sheila Van Damm. She struggled to keep the theatre afloat with the Soho neighbourhood having become a much seedier place, and a wealth of competitors on her doorstep. Having run for over 30 years, the Revudeville shows finally came to close in 1964 amid competition from private members’ strip clubs.

Changing hands, the theatre went on to have a stint as a cinema incorporating a casino for roughly 10 years. Closing in 1974, the cinema’s lease was bought the same year by the late Paul Raymond who returned the venue to its seedier roots. Raymond’s first production at the venue was Let’s Get Laid starring Fiona Richmond and John Inman. Much in keeping with Raymond’s reputation, this no doubt would’ve sat well with Henderson and Van Damm.

 

 

Picturehouse

Picturehouse


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

“Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this.”

The Opening Scene. A black screen. A voiceover; “Something incredible happens when the lights go out and the film starts.” The Picture House. The name stirs up a vague recollection. I can picture the logo. Not trendy, not fashionable, a touch quirky, slightly retro. Harking back to the peak celluloid era, the seventies. That decade’s version of Jay Gatsby’s jazz age. Discreet. The Picture House. It used to be a common phrase “I wonder what’s on at The Picture House?”

The screen opens to a montage; “The idea has always been to create an alternative to the multiplex experience. Each Picturehouse cinema is unique in it’s own way.”I’d been to the Gate in Notting Hill and I’d seen signs out in Qxford and darkest Dalston. Survivors, independent, keeping the Hammer Horror werewolves from the door. This was the impression I got. Cinemas run for fans by fans, staffed by students, motivated by pleasure not profit. Marketing Manager, Toby King explains “Picturehouse is 25 years old, co-founded by Lyn Golby who remains Managing Director. The first cinema acquired was the Phoenix in Oxford. Since, Picturehouse have been acquiring and building cinemas, and now have over 20 sites across the country and more on the way.”

So this was the same people, now opening in a prime London property – one block from Piccadilly, in the old Trocadero – with seven screens to provide screams, laughter and tears. An amusement park full of emotional rollercoaster rides, using what someone once called, and a million have repeated ‘the greatest art form of all’. “Soho is an essential part of the UK’s film and creative industries and we’re proud to be rubbing shoulders here. Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this. It might be a bold statement but it’s one we’re ready for and we’re thrilled to be here. We know we have something to offer the cinema scene in the West-End. We’ve hit the ground running.”

A white tile exterior at ground level shows how this corner has changed. Under the pillars that support the white tiled ceiling hang large lampshades that on a foggy London night could make quite a noir-ish rendezvous for men in trench coats and fedoras to meet femme fatales in hats, coats and heels. Kiss them curtly, capture their hearts and hurry them inside to watch Humphrey and Greta in black and white. A boulevard of hopes and dreams. And Toby King hopes the cinema’s selections reflect its aspirations. “What’s important for us is playing the best films. At Central on any given day we could be playing the latest blockbuster as well as a surprisingly fantastic documentary about sheep breeders in Yorkshire or a strand of LGBT films or the latest quirky US comedy or a new release of a classic.”

A quick look to see what’s on reveals a real variety show. From music documentaries to blockbusters and classics for the kids to smaller quirky indie films, the signs are looking good. Glancing into the lobby,  I see a majestic staircase, adorned with amazing illustrations and lit by a meteoric shower of glowing. The ground floor cafe looks impressive with its wooden floorboards, 50s style furniture in pastel hues, young smartly clad staff and the white and silver all important retro coffee machine. ”We want people to relax and enjoy the space in cinemas.”

In the cafe there is a little buzz, but not overly busy, easy to find a seat. I sit back and try to decipher the story of what the illustrations on the walls are trying to say. Modern and edgy interpretations of cinema’s colourful history. I’m drawn to see a film. Up the stairs, a spacious colourful bar on the left, on the right the donuts look delicious but we settle for popcorn, always a winner. Up to Screen 7, up multiple escalators and floors adorned with original frescoes and a soon to be opened members bar promising what should be incredible roof terraces. “The Members Bar should be opening in October. It’s a stunning space. Located over 2 floors with a roof terrace offering wonderful views over Piccadilly and Haymarket. It’s going to be a beautiful cocktail bar.”   This Picture House is a work in progress, but the final result should be a real hot ticket.

Arriving at our cinema, we settle into the comfy sofa style seat for two in the back row. Finally we made it to our destination! After the film, it’s back to the First floor bar. This is a cool space. Yellow leather low lying sofas and green upholstered chairs are spread out across the room. It’s open, relaxing and not too loud. The food tested and tasted is good and it’s a great place to talk, with great views on the street life below. As Soho fights to retain it’s sense of uniqueness, this cinema has taken one of the biggest and boldest moves yet. In every sense it’s Rocky taking on Apollo Creed, it’s Mission Impossible is to survive in the centre of the West-End with an independent style swagger. Support your local cinema, and they’ll give it back to you in left field selections, special events, and tasty popcorn and donuts, and so much more. “We are holding special events, premieres, various film festivals, Q&As, party’s almost daily as well as our regular programming. We are also a main venue for this years London Film Festival and we’ll be hosting Sundance Film Festival London in June 2016.”There is a whole crew working behind the scenes to make Picturehouse Central a success and they deserve credit. Soho wills and needs them to succeed. As the credits roll on the wall with the names of early supporters of this immense effort, remember this was really only the beginning. The screen fades to black. The End.

Shaftesbury

Shaftesbury


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Natalka Talkowska


Shaftesbury Avenue… This is the seventh heaven street to me” Wild West End, Dire Straits

The birthplace of Cat Stevens and a film location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Shaftesbury Avenue is in the heart of the West-End. Just shy of a mile, this road was once the home of slum dwellings and now boasts world-class theatres showing hit musicals and links several areas of London together.

In the 1860s and 70s, the need for improved communication between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross, and between Charing Cross and Tottenham Court Road was frequently discussed, but little more was mentioned of the Piccadilly to Bloomsbury route until 1876. By then, a long line of improved east-west communication from Shoreditch to Bloomsbury was almost complete, and the Metropolitan Board of Works realised that the amount of additional traffic which would be brought into Oxford Street and which would make its way towards Charing Cross would require the formation of a direct link from Oxford Street to Piccadilly and to Charing Cross. The board therefore applied to Parliament for the necessary powers, which were granted by the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act, 1877.

This Act authorised the Board to form the streets now known as Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. The line of these new streets was drawn up jointly by the Board’s superintending architect, George Vulliamy, and the engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Unfortunately, nearly 10 years elapsed between the passing of the Act of 1877 and the opening of the two streets. When Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue were finally opened, they marked not only the formation of over a mile of main thoroughfare 60 ft. wide, but also the abolition of some of the worst slums in London and the rehousing of over 3000 of the labouring classes.

Parliament had placed on The Metropolitan Board of Works, the obligation to provide housing for all displaced members of the labouring classes before work could begin. It wasn’t until December 1884 that the Home Secretary certified that the Board had now sufficiently provided artisans’ dwellings for more than 2000 of the labouring classes. Shortly afterwards, demolition work began at the south end of Shaftesbury Avenue. The gross cost was £1,136,456 and after deduction of the value of the land acquired, the net cost was £758,887. Opening in January 1886, the board named the street Shaftesbury Avenue, in memory of the recently deceased 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, much of whose work for the poor of London had been done in the area traversed by the new street. Charing Cross Road was opened in February 1887.

An abundance of architectural styles form Shaftesbury Avenue. The segmental sweep for the first stage of its progress from Piccadilly Circus to Cambridge Circus, offered the opportunities of another Regent Street Quadrant. The fronts were of red brick, dressed with terra-cotta or red sandstone or Portland stone, the heights varying from three to five storeys with a skyline of gables or turrets of French or Flemish Renaissance derivation.

The south side, at the Piccadilly end, begins with the London Pavilion, its style, though ornate, and its chief material, Bath stone, relating it more closely to Nash’s buildings than to the rest of Shaftesbury Avenue. Nos. 26–32 east of the Trocadero have a front of Portland stone finished with Baroque gables derived from Norman Shaw. On the east corner of Rupert Street is an example of Martin and Purchase’s insipid work. Beyond is an interesting group that has been attributed to Thomas Harris, probably built about the same time, in 1889, and all featuring the motif of elliptical-headed arches; Nos. 58–60 are of brick, now painted, No. 62 is faced with stone, and No. 45 Wardour Street, forming part of the group, is of red brick dressed with stone.

On the north side, between Piccadilly Circus and Denman Street, three buildings were erected during 1888–9. From west to east these were first, Piccadilly Mansions, an elaborate but bland design again by Martin and Purchase, with ‘P.M.’ figuring on the terra-cotta gables; then came the Café Monico extension, by Christopher and White, with more character than its neighbours, and then Piccadilly House, with a fussy elevation, both these last have now been demolished.

Four theatres; the Lyric, Apollo, Globe and Queen’s—occupy almost all of the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue between Denman and Wardour Streets. No longer in existence, is the Saville Theatre which became a cinema in 1970, first known as ABC1 and ABC2, and since 2001 as Odeon Covent Garden. Another, the Curzon cinema, is located in the middle of the Avenue. Shaftesbury Avenue is also the beginning of London Chinatown. The number of Chinese businesses on the avenue has been on the increase with the present Chinatown not emerging until the 1970s. Up until then, it was a regular run-down Soho area. The area boasts over 80 restaurants showcasing some of London’s finest and most authentic Asian cuisine.

Shaftsbury Avenue, like much of the surrounding areas, is imbued with history and despite its traffic, noise and dirt, it still remains a focal point of the capital, drawing in tourists and locals. Whilst musicals and plays enjoy a healthy turnaround on Shaftsbury Avenue, they are minor in comparison against the façade of history and sublime architecture of this wonderful street.

Colony

Colony


Words & Photography Robert Chilcott


“It was late afternoon. The place was freezing. Six or seven older men in overcoats were barking insults at each other. Suddenly the place went silent. One of the men looked at me and said “I like your face, would you care for some champagne?”

Mark O’Rourke was 19 or 20 when he found it “I stumbled up the stairs and poked my head in – there were three, maybe four faces, one behind the bar, with the daylight haze coming through the afternoon light. There was a beauty and a fear, all very palpable. I ran away immediately, and it was quite some time before I went back”. Michael Peel went there the first couple of times with Jeffrey Bernard, and remembers, in 1979, “…this little wizened woman sitting on what I came to know as the ‘perch’, looking up at me and saying “Hello, you fat cunt. Who are you? Twiggy?”. I believe it was the last time Muriel was ever in the Club – she died a few weeks later. The nickname stuck… Indeed, very few people in Soho knew my real name until 2008″. Sophie Parkin was taken there by mum Molly when she was 14 “Francis Bacon gave me champagne and I kept my mouth shut”.

Poet Brian Patten once described the venue as “a small urinal full of fractious old geezers bitching about each other”. The Colony Room opened its doors at 41 Dean Street in 1948, founded by Muriel Belcher, as a private members bar with an afternoon licence. Attracting a social mix gelled together by drink, it was a refuge for resting actors and rent boys, and over its 60 year history its clientele included Lucien Freud, Peter O’ Toole, George Melly, Tom Baker, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

The walls of The Colony may have been painted in luminous projectile absinthe vomit. “A perfect finishing touch from the Green Fairy”, says Jupiter John. “I thought that this is how Dorothy must have felt when entering the City of Oz. It was a wonderful combination of the inebriate intelligentsia – artists, jesters and fools. Royalty and criminals, prostitutes and movie stars, market stall holders, shysters, transvestites and used dwarf salesmen.”

No-one could decide themselves to become a member. Darren Coffield was a student at the Slade School of Art when he first went there with Joshua Compston in 1988. “Most of my tutors had been abused and thrown out by Ian Board, they couldn’t quite believe I had successfully become a member. Ian took me under his wing and would often ask at the end of the evening “How’s your handbag dear?”, meaning are you going to be okay getting home or do you need money for a taxi. Francis Bacon was arguably the clubs most famous patron, and would do a daily morning stint at the canvas before coming out to lunch. Recalls Peel “He actually drank somewhat less than most realised. He tipped a lot of champagne on the floor by always holding his glass at an angle. He was very shrewd”.

Most artists like to drink heavily, and a lot of the younger artists went there because of Bacon. Coffield agrees “As an artist you have to feed on the painters that have gone before you, so you might as well feast on the best, of which I would regard the painters of the Colony to have been the greatest post-war figurative artists of the 20th century. Alcohol is one of the few intoxicating substances you can take and still produce visual work of a reasonable standard. Bacon would often paint whilst drunk, or with very bad hangovers. The problem getting intoxicated with other substances is that critical faculties are impaired by drugs but not necessarily obliterated by drink.”

John Hurt recently stated that “People go out today with the intention of getting smashed. We hated binge drinkers. They were boring and if you slipped into it, you’d be told to pull yourself together. We wanted to seek, to find, to be interested, heighten awareness, talk.” Coffield suggests the rot set in earlier “Hurt is partly right but I think he might be slightly over romanticising it. The great shame about Soho was in the late 1990’s it was completely taken over by the Brit Pop and YBA crowd, who flooded the area with cocaine. They were far more interested in ruthless self promotion and what they could get up their nose rather than pour down their throat. Drugs killed the conversation. People ranting high on drugs are never witty and make poor listeners.”

The Colony closed in 2008, amidst a characteristically unpleasant narrative of pro and anti Michael Wojas factions and a campaign fronted by dandy Sebastian Horsley. Considering Soho’s fate in 2015, did it just see the warning signs and bow out early? Peel disagrees “No way. It was a major beacon of the old Soho and its closure, at least for many of its older members, was the start of Soho’s decline”. Jupiter argues “It’s time was up because its lease was up. Nobody would have willingly given up the Colony. Those green eyes put up a fight but bowed out in funeral black”.

“Michael Wojas was a very astute man so probably yes” suggests Coffield “But no one else saw the warning signs and his decision to close the club ultimately cost him his name and reputation in some circles.” Peel continues “Wojas took it upon himself to close it – I suspect mainly to avoid too many questions about what had been going on and why the books hadn’t been done for several years. Cheques were being cashed fraudulently, Wojas was faking the Treasurer’s signature – presumably to fuel his rampant drug habits. Sebastian, Ian Freeman, Hamish McAlpine and others fought to keep it going. I sort of initiated and ‘led’ this but tried to keep in the background to avoid personality clashes with Wojas – so Ian & Sebastian were the face of the Save the Colony campaign. For Coffield “If the Club relied on the money Horsley put across the bar it would have shut down almost a decade earlier! Wojas had the lineage, through Ian Board to Muriel Belcher. The club could have probably been saved but it would have been a pale shadow of its former self without Wojas. He really had no heir apparent anyway to pass the club on to.”

Parkin simply states that “…It wasn’t up to Sebastian (who died of an overdose, poetically, on the day of Wojas’ funeral). The leaseholder didn’t want it to be a club. He wanted to get rid of the hassle and sell it off as flats”. Jupiter sees it all as merely a sign of the times “There is a callous disregard for London’s history. Damien Hirst could have stepped in, but he had sobered up by then so the Devon surf was more his brew”. Others are more pragmatic about its demise. O’Rourke surmises that “Saving it would arguably have meant turning it into some kind of museum showcase. The fundamental reason for its existence was drinking and working around the licensing laws! Now you can go into any supermarket and buy booze anytime and get sick in the gutter as you see fit. We are all in the gutter. The Colony was many clubs to many people, that was its great power. It was, in a sense, another England, one which the establishment was actually quite threatened by. Why would you save something that shows you an alternative when all you want is straight lines.”

 

Suzie Kennedy

Suzie Kennedy


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“…I’m only pretending to be someone else, which sounds completely crazy, but by doing this I’m bringing so much pleasure to people.”

From a certain angle, in the half light of the dressing room, she looks just like her. The platinum hair wreathing her face, the mirror’s bulbs making her teeth gleam, her eyes creasing just so as she laughs between applications of lipstick. She stands before me as a portal to the past, a modern-day Norma Jeane, or better, a spirit guide to an era upon which we all tend to cast our nostalgic glances. It could be 1956 all over again, but for the bitter London wind that blows outside through the streets of Soho.

“I make a living out of pretending to be somebody who is no longer alive,” says Suzie Kennedy, this country’s pre-eminent Marilyn Monroe impersonator. “At the beginning I thought ‘How does that even work?’ I always wanted to either be an actress or singer, but after college I got spotted and someone said I looked like Marilyn Monroe and that I should go along to an audition on Wardour Street for a commercial.”That day the room was full of Marilyn’s, she says, but she landed the job and realised an unexpected revenue stream which has kept her ever since in the manner to which Marilyn might have approved.

“My job is a complete fluke, but it’s the best fluke ever.” Her manner is light and uncomplicated, yet I am struck by the complexity of the person before me; I’m talking to Suzie filtered through the persona of Marilyn as portrayed by the performer Suzie Kennedy. But I let the duality side of things ride. We’re snugged away inside The Hippodrome. It’s taken a staircase, a lift and a couple of dog leg turns to get to the dressing room known as the Sinatra Room. Suzie walks from the mirror to the chaise longue and perches upon its edge, hands folded in her lap.

“I used to bunk off school and hang out in Soho,” she says. “I’d go to the theatre and enjoy the cafés. But Soho now is not the same. People say the old Soho was grimy and dirty but to me it was real. I felt safe. No one ever bothered me. People looked out for me. I’ve learned my stage craft in the Soho streets, from the old faces and how they spoke.”She says the old Soho has been ripped out and replaced with a lookalike. The irony isn’t lost on her and she laughs.

As a Brit born in Grants Pass, Oregon in the United States, her family later returned to London. She was raised in Bermondsey and later attended the Urdang Academy in Covent Garden. By her teens her sensibility was firmly a transatlantic one. “I learned from the best,” she says, “I learned from Marilyn Monroe. She was the first female celebrity to create her own production company. She did that in 1956. All the subsequent films saw her hiring the actors, including Laurence Olivier [The Prince and the Showgirl, 1957]. She was their boss.”

Of Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer once wrote: “She was our angel, the sweet angel of sex…Marilyn was deliverance, so gorgeous, forgiving, humorous, compliant and tender that even the most mediocre musician would relax his lack of art in the dissolving magic of her violin.”But an old-fashioned sense of femininity can be at odds with today’s entertainment world. Suzie agrees. “To the public, Marilyn was this girl-woman, this dumb blonde, but the real Marilyn was sharp and witty. I have learned a lot from studying her life. From the real woman, the woman that Arthur Miller fell in love with and married. She taught me how to be a good businesswoman while staying feminine, because the best asset you have as a woman is your femininity and charm. A lot of women don’t realise this in business and prefer to kill their greatest asset by acting cold.”

Suzie began performing at The Hippodrome when it reopened three years ago after a £45m refurbishment and performed her first one-hour, one-woman show with a live band for The Hippodrome crowds in August. All this she fits in between domestic and international engagements. “I’ve been doing this for 18 years. When I started out I made myself a limited company.”

Then she tells me the story of her father who shot himself dead in The Sands casino in Las Vegas in 1994. She’s driven, intent upon living a fuller life, perhaps to restore balance to one that is marred. “I’ll retire when the phone stops ringing. Or when I drop dead,” she laughs. “Whichever comes first. I’ll never get bored of doing this. If I’m called a tribute act, an impersonator or a lookalike, it doesn’t bother me because I’m only pretending to be someone else, which sounds completely crazy, but by doing this I’m bringing so much pleasure to people. If I bomb on stage, then I bomb as Marilyn, rather than myself.”

This, perhaps, is the insulation from critics to which she is attracted: they love her before she even appears, such is the enduring interest in Marilyn Monroe. “I don’t have massive insecurity about my ability to do the job, but I am careful of comparing myself to Marilyn because, make no mistake, I am not her. But I do try to replicate her as much as possible.”Discernible in Suzie is a need to lose herself in the persona of another. She has done it with Marilyn as Norma Jeane Baker also once vanished into a myth not of her own making, a myth so gargantuan and prismatic that, when viewed from the distance of half a century, it still fails to shed adequate light on the inner workings of the entertainment industry. So it could only be into the streets of Soho that Suzie first ventured in search of the answers she craved. It is in Soho, after all, where the rarer soul finds a permanent home.

Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“The Mod thing for me has always been this sense of adventure, doing something no-one else was doing…”

He takes another sip of his cappuccino and regards the creatures of the Soho night walking past the brightly lit frontage of Bar Italia where we are sat. For a moment we are both staring at the present but thinking back to a past which still feels very close. As a young boy of 7 from the relative calm of Hertfordshire, Andy Lewis first came to Soho with his parents in 1977 and the memory of it seems to have had a lasting effect,“I remember coming to Carnaby Street when it had that big sign –Carnaby welcomes the world and all that. It was just after The Jam shot that ‘News of the World’cover down there. It was just an amazingly colourful and vibrant place.”

Flash forward another ten years and Lewis would be discovering and slowly making the place his own stomping ground buying records from the now sadly departed Cheapo Cheapo, splashing the cash on threads from stores like Merc on Carnaby Street, and attending the ubiquitous Northern Soul all nighters at the 100 Club. From here on music consumed his life. It was only a matter of time before Soho became the place to be for this well educated Mod from the suburbs. When the glorious Brit-pop years of the mid 90s were in full swing Lewis was to be found as a regular DJ at The Wag on Wardour Street with nights such as Blow Up and DJing on Blur’s Parklife tour. As he says of that heady time;“That was almost a second, possibly third heyday of Soho. A very exciting time for people to come here. I’m sure that if you’ve never been to London before and you come through Soho, it’s got this notable energy and history about it, but nowadays it’s more like an artificial theme parky kind of energy.”

Next up for the talented Lewis was a stint as a solo artist producing two critically acclaimed albums for Soho stalwart label Acid Jazz. On his debut release Billion Dollar Project he got the chance to work with Mod legend and former vocalist with The Action, Reg King. Lewis must’ve thought he’d hit the Mod jackpot but that was just the start! Whilst doing a spot as a roadie, he met the man he now plays bass for and calls his boss; Paul Weller. And though Lewis is a well turned out man with an impeccable taste in tailoring, I wanted to know what it was like working for the man who has his own clothing line and is constantly being labelled as a style icon;“One of the things I like about working with Paul is, it’s the only job that I’ve ever had where my boss has been better dressed than me. He shows you how to go as a man of a certain age. He still looks great. Not always does he look Mod, but he always looks great.”

Mods have been an ever present fixture on the streets of Soho ever since the days of The Small Faces back in the 1960s when Steve Marriott & Co. had their wages paid in clothes from shops such as His Clothes and the wonderfully named I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. But is it still possible to be a Mod in the days of Brand Consumerism that we find ourselves living in now? Lewis seems to think it is. “The Mod thing for me was all about keeping an eye on the future as much as having an eye on the past. Nowadays it’s all about buying a brand identity. The Mod thing was never about who made it, it was about what it looked like on you. The Mod thing for me has always been this sense of adventure, doing something no-one else was doing.”

The Mods are still here but life is changing in the dark heart of Soho. The dirty, sleazy and ever so slightly seedy element that has defined Soho as a popular haunt for creatives like Andy Lewis has transformed in recent years. Andy says, ”The problem is when people start knowing the price of it all and the value of none of it. Soho was a place that creative industries moved into because it was cheap and then people wanted to move here because it was creative and that pushed the prices of everything up and now it’s trading on its past. So if you locate in Soho it’s as if you’re buying into this period of history which isn’t here any more. It’s got a past but not a future and that’s what worries me.”

So what now for Soho? Every day more high street brands & the same old coffee shops arrive. As a visitor to Soho for over 30 years this is something that has obviously played on his mind;“All these little coffee shops that are opening up are essentially the same thing. Bar Italia is Bar Italia but people don’t want to come here they want to go to Starbucks and places like that because they feel comfortable with the Starbucks brand. It’s great but it’s also terrible as well and I think if we’re not careful we risk losing the reason why people want to come here. We’ll lose the reason why people think London is special”.

The temperature drops a degree or two and as the door to Ronnie Scott’s swings open for a moment the sound of a jazz refrain catches the ear. Lewis orders another cup of coffee and says “I’ve always been a cappuccino drinker. I’ve always liked a nice & strong, Italian frothy coffee and you cannot beat it. First thing in the morning and even last thing at night when you’ve got a gig to go to. That’s why I keep coming to Bar Italia, it’s just around the corner from all the places that I come to. When I was going for a night out in Soho and even working I’d come here first, have a couple of espressos or a latte and then go to Madame Jo Jo’s and be fit for a night’s DJing!”

India Rose James

India Rose James


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“…the way in which my grandfather sought to push boundaries are now obsolete; they’re no longer provocative. I want to continue his avant-garde legacy through the arts.”

We owe much assumption to age. The older we grow, the weaker we are regarded; whereas the young are assigned wild clichés of unproductiveness, disorganisation and impracticality. Though I cannot thoroughly assure you that this young lady is wholly a Venus, there is no denying that age is no measure of assurance, guarantee or reliability. With a heritage almost like no other here in Soho, the remarkable 23 year old India Rose James is riddled with the charm and experimental nature of her grandfather, with an undeniable affection for her neighbourhood and a fleet of ambitions her age is sure not to halt.

There is no denying India’s youthfulness, though she is by no means uncaring or typecast for her age. Her beauty, the pink-tinge to her lengthy blonde hair is captivating and her height startling, it is no wonder she has found herself modelling for minimalist streetwear brand Goodhood, and a line of swimwear by Sorapol. It is easy to note that India is as ambitious and courageous as all young women, though equally it is difficult to distract oneself from the unimaginable privilege of her life which still has neither acted as obstacle nor distraction from her youth or ambitions: a youth that, despite its privileges, has also seen tragedy with the untimely death of her mother when India was just 9 months old.

Whereas the reputable Paul Raymond began his career applying his talents to showcasing sexual entertainment throughout Soho’s clubs and creating a chain of top-shelf publications, India has re-fashioned his legacy via the arts as a gallerist staying true to her family heritage in entertainment, pushing the limits and making ideas a reality. “I think people realise that the times have changed, and the way in which my grandfather sought to push boundaries are now obsolete; they’re no longer provocative. I want to continue his avant-garde legacy through the arts,” she tells me.

After Raymond’s passing in 2008, his legacy was handed down to India and her half-sister, Fawn. With Fawn and her father John James operating Soho Estates (the company which helms Raymond’s Soho property empire), India’s dream to turn her long-term passion for the arts into a career has been realised in the form of a business venture, the newly opened Soho Revue Gallery: a joint project between India and Will Pelham. India’s motive for starting the gallery is neither strictly for it as a business venture nor passion as a project, but from an underlying want to support young talent, and keep the ideological spirit of Soho itself alive. “I’d always been interested in the arts and, specifically, in Soho’s place within an artistic conversation. The area has always had a strong counter-cultural imperative, but young artists ran the risk of losing ground to the cultural establishment. I wanted to give the best in young talent a platform to share their ideas; to allow non-establishment artists an establishment space. It’s so important to me to keep the vigour and dynamism within Soho’s artistic practice,” she professes.

Its title, a nod to the now diminished Raymond Revuebar, being a reminder of Soho’s heritage; the gallery based on Greek street has been well received by the Soho neighbourhood. India is keen to work with the people of the area in helping to promote and protect the culture and identity of Soho as a whole, not to mention support young artists in their careers. “The response has been fantastic. It’s rare that people respond negatively to any sort of cultural injection within an area. However, because our raison d’etre is to support artists at the beginning of their careers, we’ve garnered even more good will. Everyone pops in to say ‘hi’; there’s a real sense of community spirit in the area. We’re always keen to get involved in any projects that promote Soho, particularly as a cultural destination. The aim of the gallery is to help to keep the arts in Soho fresh and sustainable. I think we’re fulfilling that role.” She says on the gallery.

It is easy to forget that India owns much of the Soho we know and admire. I was surprised, for instance, to find out that she’s not only the youngest owner of a Howard Hodgkin piece, but numerous other pieces of art. It is safe to assume that her desire for collecting art rivals that of her grandfather’s, who sought to collect properties.

Her grandfather’s legacy is one India is sure to not only continue, but redefine in Soho’s years to come. Not only by helping to promote the neighbourhood as a cultural destination, but in its preservation – playing a significant role in the reopening of Madame JoJo’s. Though, running the gallery is currently the primary focus. “My grandfather’s legacy was one of having fun and pushing boundaries. This is exactly the legacy that we want to continue within the Soho Revue. I think it’s important to maintain focus and not to get ahead of myself. Right now, my only thought is to promoting the careers of the artists that the gallery represents. It’s too new a venture to allow myself to get distracted by other plans. I have to give the Soho Revue all of my attention.” Her home and her playground, India insists she plans to remain in Soho for the long run. Soho has indeed found its queen.

Sohoites

Sohoites


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


Caught up in the midst of the heritage and chaos of London, Soho’s relationship with bohemia, occasional controversy, the wild and the experimental has for long been a creative institution. The launch of Soho Journal saw the coming together of a wide variety of individuals reflective of Soho, current and past.

Specialising in fashion and portraiture, London-based photographer Sandra Viljandi brings her distinctive style to capture the eclectic array of personalities gracing the Soho Journal’s first-issue launch party. Sohoites from actors to photographers, and designers through to artists who are defining the heritage of the neighbourhood, through their style, wit and sophistication.

A graduate from the renowned professional photography program at Edinburgh College, Sandra Vijandi is originally from the Basque Country (Spain).

*Exhibtion at Mark Powell Bespoke, Marshall Street, until late summer 2015

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Jazz and Soho go together. There were basement dives here and there. It was the culture of Soho. We’re trying to build on that.”

Jazz. For those who choose to follow those tracks, there are many destinations, but there is one stop where you must get off. As a civilian or a soldier in the Jazz fraternity you must pay homage, make the pilgrimage, visit Mecca. Frith Street, Soho. The Jazz Club, Ronnie Scott’s. Jazz can mean many things to many people, but to many people Ronnie Scott’s only means one thing. JAZZ. A cliché? Perhaps, but I want to click with that clique.

Soho, bright neon lights, dark nights, a switchblade smell of danger, caffeine and an occasional reefer, fuel for nocturnal night owls. West Indians, American GIs, and sharp young London boys fill Soho’s side streets looking for life with a modern edge. Aristocrats and sophisticated cats dip into the lowlife where things are looking up. High aspirations, high times, hijinks and good times. Chinatown, below Shaftesbury Avenue, where the theatre crowds provide the cinema-scape captured in Absolute Beginners, to a Gerrard Street basement. No 39, sharp suited, shirt and tie, this is the modern world, the modern world of modern Jazz. Music with fire, the Be-Bop doesn’t stop. It stays up all night. Pete King and Ronnie Scott – it’s 1959. “30th October, when they opened, they didn’t even have a liquor license, they just had a license to play music,” says Simon Cooke, the current Managing Director of Ronnie Scott’s.

Ronnie could play and Pete loved Jazz, and when the club opened in Frith Street on December 17th 1965, Jazz began to love Ronnie Scott’s. “We’re coming up to 50 years in Frith Street and we were 55 years as a club last year. There’s still people around who went to and played at the old club. To a lot of the jazz world, it’s still really Ronnie’s club. You’re just looking after it. It makes you want to remain pure to its initial ideals, or people’s perception. It’s important.”

From the cellar where they started, the new club was uptown, upscale and upright. The music was out of sight. The low stage right in the centre, surrounded on all sides by the graduating steps of tables lit by table lamps with red shades, checkered tablecloths and velvet seats. The crowd sitting facing, waiting, anticipating. A low ceiling, seats at the front inches away from the musicians. The black and white portraits of legends look down upon the honoured, gracing the stage. A ripple of applause as the musicians take their places. A 1 2 3 4 arrrrrrrr-rat-at-at. A-rat-at-at-rat-a-tat, the drummer rolls, the bass begins to swing and the piano player starts to do his thing. “Gangsters were still running protection rackets, they were running gigs ‘til four, five in the morning, the whole Soho thing was very different.”

The house band, echoing the past, Ronnie Scott’s Soho spirit rises, as the nature of improvisation dictates, different every time. Drinks clink and dinner is served, smart staff weave between the tables. Feet tap to every hit, hands clap at the end each number. Once upon a time it was always smoky but those days have gone in the dizzy haze of a past daze. The walls don’t talk, they listen, rebound the sound. Art Blakey, Roland Kirk, Buddy Rich, Pharaoh Sanders, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, legends everyone, and everyone has played in Soho at Ronnie Scott’s, and they still do. Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, whoever might be in town might just turn up late one night and join in the jam. The 200 people who paid for seats didn’t see that coming. “We created the Late Late Show, putting a band on at 11 o’clock and they would play through to three. Halfway through it would turn into a jam session. It grew and grew and we have great nights. You do get guys coming and sitting in, you don’t know who it will be. All of Beyoncé’s band turned up one night, took over the stage.”

A trip to Ronnie Scott’s was a treat for me the first time, it was everything I wanted it to be and probably more. How often do things actually match and exceed what you hoped for. I always mean to go back more than I have. If you live in London and love London life, London lives, you have to go to Ronnie Scott’s. It should be compulsory. What goes on there, Georgie Fame every year for weeks at a time, Yeh Yeh. Charlie Watts and his Big Band, slicked hair, sharp suit and sticks. Friends tell tales of walking past, ‘Miles Davis playing tonight’ reads the sign. Nina Simone creating an atmosphere and her own agenda, working on her own timetable. Ronnie Scott’s has seen the lot, and seen a lot.

Now it’s slightly more upmarket, the food’s better, the cocktails are better. “Now we have a proper Head Chef. We sold 79,000 cocktails last year,” says Simon“Ronnie always did it, but we’ve made it better. The club itself is a family affair. Our floor managers have come up from being waiters or bartenders.”Look closely behind the bar though and you will see one bottle that harks back to the serrated edge that was Soho in the sixties. The Krays had tried to lure Ronnie and Pete out of Soho, but they decided to stay. “Opposite was a Maltese Gambling Club. This guy called Albert Dimes set up there and he was the local protection and he protected the club from anyone else. It was his turf. Albert was a bit tough, good with a knife. He gave the club a bottle of champagne, a magnum of Mumm’s champagne as a symbol that this was a safe house. It was neutral territory. We’ve still got it unopened behind the bar.”

The discreet club upstairs lets in the new Jazz generation to play, learn in public and polish skills, gain confidence. “We run a Wednesday jam up here, because the whole thing about Jazz is improvisation and sitting in with each other. On a Wednesday we have one up here and one downstairs as well. We are Jazz Central. One of the owners has quite left-field taste and we push the boundaries. If in doubt, go more jazz.Jazz and Soho go together. There were basement dives here and there. It was the culture of Soho. We’re trying to build on that. We’re working harder on that Soho and Jazz thing. In the homogenisation of Soho that’s taking place at the moment, what’s going to set Soho apart? Perhaps jazz is the answer.”At the centre of the scene, still creating a scene. The legend of Ronnie Scott’s continues its Soho story.

Paul Raymond

Paul Raymond


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“There will always be sex – always, always, always.”

There is no denying it, I did not know him and neither did you. Though, still his methods and his legacy are forever lingering and echoing about this neighbourhood. About the vibrancy of the evening along Brewer Street, the un-glowing neon beacon of the Raymond Revuebar is hung high above the street unnoticed by the people that tangle below. The Box Soho screams obscenity; nudity and sex before our very eyes unravelling. But from whom did this idea prosper: the world centre of erotic entertainment? Sex, publishing, property and Soho – Paul Raymond shall be forever renowned as the king of Soho.

The man who pioneered Soho strip clubs and the soft-porn magazine trade for more than 40 years began his career as an entrepreneur selling nylons and hairnets from a stall. Born into a Roman Catholic family in Liverpool, Paul Raymond was an early continental stage name he had chosen for himself – he was born Geoffrey Anthony Quinn. His mother wished for him to have a sound job in life, such as a railway ticket office clerk, thus never fully accepting his somewhat obscene chosen career path. As a youngster, Raymond’s father absconded from his life when he was just five. Despite his success and the confidence which his trade is known, as a youngster Raymond was shy and often stammered. His childhood would’ve taught him the deep requirement to establish his own independence which ultimately led to define his character.

A working-class boy, Raymond left school at 15 and started working at the Manchester ship canal as an office boy. His first passion was devoted to percussion – though he would claim he was rather good, it wasn’t enough to make it as a professional. Under the direction of wartime labour laws, he went down a mine as a Bevin Boy for one day only with the police bringing him back. After a stint in the RAF he left legitimately, beginning to move toward theatricality. In Liverpool, Raymond became a theatrical agent and a theatrical impresario in a small way later in Manchester. He then humorously purchased a mind reading act for 25 pounds though he was ‘never quick enough’ as he would describe it. The manager of a theatre said to Raymond that he would allow him and his two female colleagues on to his stage with a catch; only if the females were to be entirely nude. He offered the two girls an extra 10 shillings a week and they agreed. At this point, the law stated that on-stage nudity was permitted providing women didn’t move whilst on stage. Being a man who sought to find a way around any obstructions in his path, Raymond found a way to make the women rotate in order to make his earlier shows a success. Here began Raymond on a path through a changing Britain and Soho that would lead him to become the richest man in the country, going on to present risqué sex shows such as Yes, We Have No Pyjamas, Come Into My Bed and Let’s Get Laid.

Raymond saw that the Lord Chamberlain’s restrictions surrounding on-stage nudity could be simply bypassed by turning theatres into private clubs. The old Doric Ballroom in Walker’s Court soon became the makings of The Raymond Revuebar, hosting an array of daily explicit shows. The club was one of very few legal venues in London offering full frontal nudity. Though homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, the Revue bar was also able to incorporate a Sunday night show aimed at a gay audience. Amid the controversy of the club and Raymond’s reputation, the chairman of the London Sessions called his show “filthy, disgusting and beastly,” fining him £5,000 in 1961. The publicity for his shows was, of course, worth many times £5,000. By the late 1960s the venue was solely hosting striptease performances. This in turn made way for big budget erotic shows of the type presented by continental clubs such as the Crazy Horse. With a small number of male dancers, performers were mostly female. Performances involved a mixture of solo striptease acts mixed with simulated boy/girl and girl/girl on-stage sex. Pieced together with as many as three performances nightly, they were known as The Festival of Erotica which ran for many years.

Raymond became a British institution and in his own words, “there will always be sex – always, always, always.” His realisation that the beauty of the live female body could in fact do better at the box office if relocated from the dark sweaty cellars of Soho to be rejuvenated within the world of theatre was key to Raymond’s success. When taking over the Whitehall and the Windmill theatres, the formula he continued was to provide nudity without actionable crudity, which he too applied to publications such as Men Only. Raymond’s wealth and empire began to spread throughout Soho rapidly with the purchasing of buildings throughout the area.

At an early stage in his career, Raymond refused to have partners or even a board of directors, thus leading to his organisation of theatres and magazines, sitting alongside a mass of around 400 properties in the Soho area, becoming a commercial giant that dwarfed other theatre managements. Come the late 1980s, profits from the numerous clubs he owned, his West End theatres and girlie magazines totalled more than £6m a year, continuing to rise yearly. Having acquired the lease of numerous other properties throughout Soho, they went from making Raymond into a multimillionaire then later into a billionaire, with the values of properties in the UK ever-rising. With an estimated fortune of more than £1.5bn, by 1992 he had ousted the Duke of Westminster as Britain’s richest man. Still, Raymond was simply ill-equipped to constructively employ or enjoy such wealth, remaining shy and often stammering in company. Despite his insistence that he was an entertainer, a show business man, he was frequently coined a pornographer and a crook by the British media, leading him to dismiss the much harsher claims made by journalists that he had little interest in anything other than his cabin cruiser, drink and his iconic gold-plated Rolls Royce.

Despite his overwhelming success, his personal life was often problematic, even tragic. In 1974, his wife Joan divorced him after 23 years of marriage after Raymond confessed to adultery with the well-exposed star of some of his shows, Fiona Richmond. With him and his ex-wife not nearly on speaking terms, his turbulent relationship with his son and presumed heir, Howard, had bettered until his drug problems ensued. The year Raymond became Britain’s richest man in 1992, his daughter Debbie Raymond, who had helped him run his business, died of a tragic heroin overdose.

Tortured by the untimely death of his daughter, Raymond came to confine himself in his Green Park penthouse, located next door to the Ritz hotel. Though still his story of financial success continued on. The receiver in 1994 accepted Raymond’s £15m offer to buy the Café de Paris, the Rialto cinema site and shops and offices in Rupert Street and Coventry Street in Soho, with him also buying the Queen’s House leisure complex in Leicester Square for £12m two years later. When appointing Joe Daniel, a Barclays banker, as his managing director it wasn’t long until rumours of cancer and bad health started to spread. In 1997, he sold his legacy, the Raymond Revuebar, to former Marseilles Ballet dancer Gerard Simi. The Revuebar dwindled with its eventual closure in 2004.

Raymond progressively thinned his connection with the organisation he had built, despite insistence that he was still in charge with his brother, Dr Philip Quinn, becoming a director of his Organisation in 2000. Falling out of the media limelight in his later years, aged 82, Raymond died of respiratory failure in 2008. Forward to today, his granddaughters, Fawn & India, continue his legacy and love for the neighbourhood that brought the success of his career amid a changing Britain and Soho. The sign of the Raymond Revuebar may no longer glow high above Brewer Street, but his methods and his legacy shall forever last in the neighbourhood which he helped shape. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Carnaby

Carnaby


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


Really, London started here for me. As a teenager and a then indie/MOD-type some 5 years ago, I started my first job here in London, along the brick pathway of Carnaby Street. Though it wasn’t The Jam soundtrack roaring out of Liam Gallagher’s newly launched Pretty Green flagship store, likely as my new employer that took my attention, but my undeniable fascination with a street so poignant and defining of this corner of Soho.

Seemingly, the 1960s have become overwhelmingly synonymous with a certain street that runs between Beak Street in the south and Liberty of London in the north. Though, this area has a rich history and accounts of land exchange dating from the 16th century. Thomas Poultney, a landowner, came to acquire two then adjoining fields. These together were to be known as Six Acre Close on which there was a well and windmill, thus making for the site of Carnaby Street as we know it today.

Taking its name from Karnaby House, originally erected in 1693, Carnaby Street was laid out around 1685. The street itself has gone from fashion to fashion and has always been synonymous with trade; with a market having begun in the 1820s. In his 1845 novel, Sybil, Benjamin Disraeli referred to a once famous carcase butcher in Carnaby market, which would’ve no doubt sat among a mass of traders. From 1850 to the early 20th century, the area became heavy populated by tailors, dressmakers and ancillary trades, thus serving West-End shops and Savile Row tailors nestled behind Regent Street. Trade, however, was soon encouraged with the opening of clubs and music venues around Carnaby; The Florence Mills Social Club (a jazz club and gathering spot for advocates of Pan-Africanism) being opened by Amy Ashwood Garvey and Sam Menning in 1934 at no. 50.

By the late 1950s, men’s fashion had begun its lasting descent upon Carnaby when His Clothes was opened in 1958 by Glaswegian John Stephen. He was the first entrepreneur to identify and sell to the young menswear market which began its emergence in the 50s and 60s. A widely regarded pioneer, Stephen became one of the most important figures of 1960s fashion, voicing the bold claim “Carnaby is my creation” in 1967. Stephen was widely regarded as the founder of men’s Mod fashion, whether Carnaby was indeed his creation is a matter of debate. Nonetheless, he was a purveyor and designer of sharp tailoring and clothes for the 1960s Mods, with his exuberant array of clients including staples of the era such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces and Jimi Hendrix.

By the mid-‘60s, Carnaby Street had become the UK’s thriving home of men’s fashion, with Carnaby, Newburgh, Ganton and Kingly quite literally inundated with fashion boutiques all chasing Stephen’s own endeavour. Stores such as I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, Kleptomania, Mates and Ravel, to name a few of the array, honed in on the area. Soon designers such as Mary Quant, Lord John, Merc, Take Six, and Irvine Sellars were to come to locate themselves on Carnaby also.

The trend that Garvey and Menning began in 1934 with The Florence Mills Social Club continued below the very surface of Carnaby, with a variety of underground music bars nestled beneath the boutiques above. Music bars, such as the Roaring Twenties, in the surrounding streets became the norm: with bands such as the Small Faces, the Who, and the Rolling Stones frequenting the area to shop and socialise. Infamously, Carnaby quickly became a staple destination of the Swinging London of the 1960s. Awareness spread to North America and internationally in April 1966 when Time magazine published an article detailing the role of the street in Swinging London, describing Carnaby Street as three-blocks crammed with a cluster of boutiques.

Amid this clustering of boutiques and clubs along the buzz of Carnaby and its many corridors, it is no wonder that it came to be pedestrianised in 1973 by the Greater London Council, and now vehicular access is restricted between 11am and 7am. A comparison of the number of pedestrians entering the pedestrianised area indicated a 30% increase of a flow into Carnaby Street as a result of the pedestrianisation. A campaign commenced early 2010 to call for a similar exercise to be undertaken in the adjacent area of Soho.

On into the 1970s and 80s and Carnaby continued on as a destination for youth subculture. From the likes of punks, including the Sex Pistols, to rockers and goths; Carnaby continued to be a home for youth and inventiveness, where individuals flocked to leave their shells. In the late 70s, a Mod revival struck, helmed by bands such as The Jam, led by Paul Weller who was as much of a regular face of Carnaby in his teenage years as he still is today. This again brought the humming sound of a small army of Lambrettas and Vespas to the area, a humming which is still heard today on Carnaby from time-to-time. The energy itself is captured in the very fibre of the area in its distinction, quality shops, pubs and restaurants.

The narcissistic Mods that came to Carnaby to be seen and heard in the 1960s have come to helm the face of Carnaby’s history. Though still, beyond the heyday of this street which lasted but 10 years is a well- hidden tale of Soho’s rich heritage of trade and craftsmanship. Though it seems oh so tempting to cross thoughts of Carnaby with the Mods and peacocks of an era we shan’t forget, Carnaby is more than just a place, it is a rich heritage of the Soho we know today – a dedicated follower of fashion, a welcomer of the world.

George Skeggs

George Skeggs


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“There used to be a saying about old people that when you become old you become invisible. Some old people are invisible; they’re just waiting for that last step into the grave…”

They have become a rarity in recent years… Soho’s characters. Where dandies and mods once hung at street corners to be noticed, people now go about their routines, unaware of the eccentric creatives that flourished in this area. Though there are still, in present day Soho a handful of the old brigade of artists and writers wandering the streets of Soho, many luminaries have passed while countless others have started to face their untimely extinction. But one seemingly immortal Sohoite stands out. Though well known well by residents and transients alike for a curiously chic sartorial sense, this man has a lot more under his hat than a distinctive taste for clothing by fine tailors.

To the many that espy him day-by-day, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine George Skeggs had some work related link to fashion, what with his eye-catching choice of tailoring. Little do those who stop to stare and photograph him realise that behind this impressive veil of style is a brilliant pop-art/surrealist artist. From a working-class background, George is one of four children. As a youngster, he was urged by his family to find a serious job that would keep him afloat. Though he never attended art school, a teacher recognised his talents at an early age, and recommended a creative vocation. Some early work was included in the London Schools Exhibition touring China. He then went to join in art workshops at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, while years later, his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Museum of Wales.

As a youngster, George long aspired to be in a skiffle band, having played a homemade bass instrument. His relationship with music is coincidentally what led him to Soho for the very first time. A Rock ’n’ Roll enthusiast at the mere age of 14, George came to Soho upon hearing that 1950s Rock ’n’ Roll BBC television show,‘Six-Five Special’, was to be broadcast live from The 2i’s Coffee Bar, Old Compton Street. “It was like another world; there were girls on the street propositioning men and pimps on the street,”says George on his first trip to the area. Later, he returned with a friend, arriving at Tottenham Court Road tube station. “It had that edge; it was dirty, flashy and seedy. You could always smell Soho, it always had that special smell. When you were walking up from Oxford Street, you could literally smell it. It was the place to be, it was our playground.”

His younger years in Soho brought him face-to-face with the often dark reality of the neighbourhood. From the scene of a shoot-out between drug dealers at the Nucleous Coffee Bar, forward through to befriending a young prostitute who’d had her throat slit by a client, George has come to witness the true nature of the neighbourhood first hand. Despite these memories, there is one that is particularly significant. George and friends had come to regularly frequent the amusement arcade Lots of Fun on Wardour Street. It was here that a man offered him and his friends free-play on the pinball machines as well as cigarettes, proceeding to ask where they lived (the East-End) and offering them a lift. Little did they know that this man was the henchman of the Kray twins, who were parked outside in a black car:“Being streetwise, we enjoyed his hospitality and decided to leg it by sneaking out of another door and running right across Leicester Square to safety,”he recalls.

George first moved to Soho in 1963. “I married a local girl, she worked for a famous shoemaker’s in Drury Lane.”He went on to find work with West One Studios, the offset printers and commercial artists. By the 1980s, his marriage having faltered, he succumbed to drink. So badly, that one careless night, he drank so much, he fell and broke his neck. This ended his relationship with the bottle, leaving him with scaffolding around his neck for 3 months.

Having never been to art school, it was at this time that he became involved with the Arts Laboratory scene in Covent Garden and Seven Dials, which was frequently raided by the police. “In being a creative and artistic person you are there to be picked at, you’re there on the wall. Personally, I don’t care. All I care about is just doing it,”he remarks on his work. In addition to his work in recent years having been exhibited in Paris and Caracas, he also produced the album cover sleeve for ARK of the Covenant, based on a painting from his King Arthur series.

With his self-confessed obsession with clothing, from his Stephen Jones hats and Mark Powell Bespoke suits, George has always made style an important part of his life. “Fashion is the enemy of style. Age is no barrier to style, some people just can’t work that out. I’ve become more refined and particular about what I look like as I’ve got older. There used to be a saying about old people that when you become old you become invisible. Some old people are invisible, they’re just waiting for that last step into the grave.”

Soho has become a part of the social fabric of George’s life and many in the neighbourhood think of George as one the area’s characters. Though superficially he feels much of the area looks much the same, he feels it’s very different today. “You walk up Old Compton Street now and see brand new shops appearing. I think of other shops in the area and then realise that they’ve gone. I think it’s lost its edge, its saucy, sleazy side. It feels more interesting to live in a world where you have to take chances or be streetwise.” Now living near Seven Dials, George spends much of his time these days visiting art galleries throughout London. And though he might describe himself as retired, he has recently begun work on his self-proclaimed ‘swan song’; a detailed pop-art/surrealist series centring on Soho. Though keen to keep the details of the series a secret, he revealed that the first piece he has started on will feature the Kray twins, and reflect a highly personal point of view, based on his own experiences in the neighbourhood. “Creativity shines in the dark. You’ve got to bring it out of the dark and put it out there!”