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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

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

Charles Fort

Charles Fort


Words David Sutton

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…he was determined to unlock whatever weird secrets the British Museum hid behind its imposing neo-classical façade.”

As editor of Fortean Times magazine there are two questions I tend to get asked. The first, unsurprisingly, is: why is it called the ‘Fortean’ Times? I explain that the magazine is named after the American writer Charles Fort. The second question: Who was Charles Fort? Despite being something of a cult figure, Fort remains little known to the wider public, even though he coined the word ‘teleportation’, imagined alien invasions long before the dawn of the UFO age and inspired hit TV shows like The X-Files. Flying saucers and ancient astronauts; mysterious animals and troublesome poltergeists; psychic powers and strange disappearances; rains of blood and spontaneous human combustion; pick these or any other sufficiently weird subjects and the chances are that Charles Fort wrote about them nearly a century ago. Those famous falling frogs in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia? A homage to Fort, of course.

So, who was Charles Hoy Fort? And what connects this visionary American writer to Bloomsbury? Fort was born in Albany, upstate New York, in 1874. Rebelling against his domineering businessman father, the young Charles became a writer, starting out as a reporter on the Albany Argus and the Brooklyn World. Having married and moved to New York City, he tried his hand at novels and short stories, holding down jobs as a joke writer or a dish washer to pay the rent. Many of the results are lost to history – burned manuscripts, abandoned novels – but, in the end, he found his own unique voice in four books, published between 1919 and his death in 1932, that pretty much set the template for the study of ‘strange phenomena’. The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo! and Wild Talents were dense, difficult and funny by turns, full of bizarre facts, mind-blowing philosophical speculations and humorous assaults on stuffy scientific orthodoxy. They were like nothing before or since, although every subsequent work on the paranormal owes a huge debt to Fort’s pioneering efforts.

He’d started off reading old newspapers in public libraries, in search of ideas for stories, but found something far more interesting: real-life events so unusual they made fiction seem redundant and suggested our world was far stranger than anything dreamt of by novelists. He became fascinated by what he called “damned data”: the unexplained and often inconvenient facts that the high priests of mainstream science – who preferred to chop reality into reassuring artificial categories – sought to exclude or ignore. He pored over collections of scientific journals in reading rooms and libraries, marshalling his army of anomalies, recording thousands of notes on cards stuffed in shoeboxes. Once in a while, he’d destroy them and start, obsessively, all over again.

It was this search for “damned data” that brought Fort and his wife Anna to Bloomsbury. He had already ransacked the New York Public Library; now he was determined to unlock whatever weird secrets the British Museum hid behind its imposing neo-classical façade. Arriving in early December 1920, the Forts took a small furnished flat at 15 Marchmont Street for six months so that Fort could conduct his researches. It was to prove nowhere near long enough, so they returned to Bloomsbury in the December of 1921, this time taking a longer lease on a flat above a greengrocer’s at 39A Marchmont Street. Here, they quickly settled into a pleasant routine. Charles would rise at eight each day, “knock around the rooms” and work on his notes all morning; after Anna had prepared a midday meal, he’d go out at two, walking the short distance to the British Museum. Here, in the great domed reading room, he would continue his “grand tour” of old newspapers, astronomical journals and scientific periodicals. He’d return home around five, and after a modest supper he and Anna would either go to the cinema to enjoy the silent features and newsreels or for an evening stroll in Hyde Park. Fort enjoyed listening to the men who held forth at Speaker’s Corner, usually finding a group to argue with about the future prospects of space travel or other unlikely topics. Anna later recalled that her husband would often stop in their evening walks and stare up at the night sky, pointing out the planets and constellations above their heads. Once back at the Marchmont Street flat, “he would throw open the windows and stand gazing at the stars. That was his delight for a long, long time”.

As Fort’s daily researches in the British Museum continued to yield more anomalous data and throw up new avenues of explanation, his notes grew apace, the shoeboxes overflowing with gathered weirdness. Unsuspected correlations between phenomena revealed themselves. Some of them were close to home: “There is a triangular region in England, three points of which appear so often in our data that the region should be specially known to us, and I know it myself as the London Triangle…” Sometimes, oddities would crowd even closer, as when, between 1924 and 1925, the Forts were subjected to a spate of apparent poltergeist activity in their flat – pictures would fall from walls with loud bangs but no obvious explanations. Charles suspected that he and Anna were somehow unconsciously causing the phenomena themselves.

In the end, their London sojourn lasted far longer than the couple had ever envisaged: it wasn’t until early 1928 that they finally boarded a transatlantic steamer bound for New York and home. By then, Fort’s eyesight was failing – worn out by years of squinting at yellowing papers – and his health in decline. He died on 3 May 1932 at the Royal Hospital in the Bronx, aged 57.

Fort’s London adventure had yielded much in the way of material for his books, but the years he spent here left no discernible mark on London. He was a shy man, neither overly find of company nor remotely fashionable or well connected. It’s strange to think of him carrying on his obsessive quest and dining on beer and strong cheese through the 1920s, while just around the corner the self-styled and rather better-fed Bohemians of the Bloomsbury set held court. There’s no record that either was aware of the other, but it’s hard to imagine Fort finding much of interest in Mrs Dalloway; and Virginia Woolf or Lytton Strachey would have thought The Book of the Damned the ravings of a madman.

Belated recognition of Fort’s time in Bloomsbury came eventually. In 1997, Fortean Times founder Bob Rickard got an unofficial plaque put up at 39 Marchmont Street. Now, a more permanent blue plaque commemorates Fort’s years at the address. Commissioned by the Marchmont Association, it was largely financed by Brij Parmar, the owner of Bloomsbury Building Supplies, the business that now occupies No 39. and unveiled on 28 March 2015 by the Mayor of Camden and FT’s co-founding editor, Paul Sieveking.

The plaque calls Fort the “founder of Forteanism”, which he would have hated, being mistrustful of all ideologies and -isms; when a Fortean Society was founded in New York the year before his death, Fort refused to join it. Nonetheless, it was a sign that his influence would be a lasting one, and Society members included Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller. Rechristened the International Fortean Society, it continues to this day. Meanwhile, here in the UK Fortean Times has been publishing continuously for nearly half a century. We continue to pursue Fort’s search for anomalies and can count among our subscribers over the years writers like Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Jack Womack and Phil Rickman; film-makers such as Guillermo del Toro and Paul Giamatti; and musicians including Jerry Garcia, Rat Scabies and Kate Bush. So, next time you’re walking down Marchmont Street, look up when you pass No. 39 and remember the weird and wonderful legacy of Charles Fort: you’ll be among very good company.

Giovanni Spezziga

Giovanni Spezziga


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“…you know, I guess you could say it’s a grand café, and I’m the gatekeeper.”

Just off Bedford Square, right in the heart of Bloomsbury, is a bar like no other, and today I’m getting the grand tour from its general manager, Giovanni Spezziga. We’re at The Bloomsbury’s Coral Room, where Gio, as he’s known, is looking as sharp as ever in a double-breasted velvet jacket as he takes me from room to room and floor to floor, greeting and charming guests and staff alike. Gio is well known in the industry as an established host and manager, and since late last year The Coral Room has been his stomping ground.

I recall my first visit here when, oddly perhaps, I was reminded of the bar which features in the Stanley Kubrick film of Stephen King’s The Shining. I assure you, it was meant as a compliment! You may remember the scene where Jack Nicholson sits and has a drink at the Overlook Hotel’s grand bar. The key difference is that The Coral Room, while equally grand, couldn’t be less sinister. In fact, the environment is both relaxed and glamorous. The vibrant coral walls are decorated with the works of acclaimed artist Edward Luke, while from the double-height ceilings are suspended five bespoke Murano glass chandeliers. The luxurious interior, designed by the acclaimed Martin Brudnizki, is redolent of the Bloomsbury of the 1920s, or of an exquisite country house transported to the heart of Central London. It’s candy for your eyes, and the food and drink offerings a true delight for your taste buds.

Gio was the perfect choice to helm this new venture. He has well established roots in hospitality, having spent seven years of his career in London, prior to which he had gained valuable experience back home in Italy. “I guess I’ve moved around since being in London. From the W Hotel in Leicester Square, to the Rosewood over in Holborn, I’m lucky enough to have worked in some of the best venues in the city,” he says. “After working with the Rosewood, an opportunity arose which interested me, and I think I knew from the off that I wanted to be involved. I couldn’t ignore the idea of the The Coral Room. Restaurants and bars have always been like bread and butter to me, you know? This felt like the beginning of a place which I wanted to be associated with.”

Gio was first introduced to The Bloomsbury last year when he was invited to meet with members of the team about the upcoming project. “The vision was clear. I was very happy to be given the opportunity to helm The Coral Room – and just to be invited in! The dream was always to be able to open a place afresh – it’s exciting to be part of a new opening, and to watch something unfold in front of you like that,” he says. Once on board, Gio worked closely with the team at the hotel and the interior designers in order to help perfect the vision that would become The Coral Room. From the trademark coral walls to the elegant fused marble bars and other immaculate details, Gio has been at the centre of the project, ensuring that functionality and good looks went hand in hand.

It’s an attention to detail that has paid off. The bar inhabits what was once a handsome but underused reception area. With its incredibly high ceilings and wooden panelling – now updated in striking coral – it was fitting that this huge Edwardian space should be brought back to life as a grand salon bar for the 21st century. The dining options, I’m pleased to say, are as desirable as the location itself, with a fantastic brunch menu, a selection of fine English sparkling wines and an inimitable cocktail list for the evening – I’d especially recommend the Barber & Barrel whiskey sour, a personal favourite.

Gio and I are passing back into The Coral Room via the terrace when he observes: “You know, I guess you could say it’s a grand café, and I’m the gatekeeper. We’re open from 8 o’clock every morning until late. The food and drink offerings are amazing, and the location ties it all together. It’s a meeting spot for Bloomsbury.” Gio goes on to explain how The Coral Room is used as an office away from work, or perhaps a living room away from home, by many people within the creative industries, agencies and companies in the surrounding area. As he greets guests around the room, it seems that he has got to know quite a few of them already.

Visit The Coral Room at The Bloomsbury, 16-22 Great Russell Street or alternatively visit their website to read more or to enquire about bookings

Redemption Roasters

Redemption Roasters


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Despite us only working with a relatively small group of individuals, we’re having a much wider impact overall…”

Everything is (almost) like most noteworthy cafes I know. There is coffee in a great location and an array of great people flurrying in and out of the doors. We’re on Lambs Conduit Street, which is arguably one of the greatest streets in London. However, the backstory and spirit of this newcomer to Lambs Conduit Street is distinctively different to other roasters in London. Head of Coffee & Operations, Harry Graham, is telling me about the backbone of this unique new opening; great coffee meets 17-21 year old young male prison inmates. I know what you’re thinking; maybe the two sound like they shouldn’t be in the same sentence?

Nestled amongst the diverse businesses on Lambs Conduit Street, Redemption Roasters looks like any other successful London café: a great location on one of the city’s premier streets, a steady stream of customers enjoying top-quality coffees and an inviting array of snacks and pastries. But there’s a twist in the story of this particular coffee shop – one that really does mark it out as quite unique. After all, you don’t normally expect to find the terms ‘great coffee’ and ‘young offenders’ in the same sentence, but that’s the surprising backstory behind Redemption Roasters – perhaps I’d better start at the beginning…

Harry Graham is Redemption’s Head of Coffee, and he’s telling me how it is that the company came to offer a fresh start to young male prison inmates aged between 17 and 21. He gives me a bit of insight into the plight of young offenders like this: 50% of them are highly likely to reoffend after being released without skills or a job to go to. They return to the only thing they know: a life of crime. With this in mind, Redemption Roasters were approached by the Ministry of Justice to help address the problem of reoffending. The result was that they started operating a roastery and barista training centre within Aylesbury Prison, as well as a café for the prison community and visitors. The young inmates not only pick up useful skills but learn the importance and value of a job and a routine. The end result – to go back to that surprising sentence – is the creation of great coffee made by young offenders.

The process means that inmates are able to apply for roles at Redemption Roasters within the prison walls of Aylesbury, join their training program and earn a wage. This is the beginning of teaching inmates how to create coffee, work as baristas and, more importantly, offer them real jobs when released.

“It’s a way to take these guys out of the habit of reoffending and show them respect for something. Despite us only working with a relatively small group of individuals, we’re having much wider impact overall in stopping these individuals from reoffending,” says Harry. “So far, we’ve had a 100% success rate with the inmates we’ve worked with. Most roles offered within prisons are more like chores than actual work – things like sorting rubbish and doing laundry. What we’ve been able to offer is far more substantial.”

After the success of the roastery and the wholesaling side of the business, planning started on launching the first Redemption Roasters café in the heart of Bloomsbury. “It became obvious that there was a missing link in our business structure,” says Harry. “There we were, training these individuals and giving them all of this knowledge, but potentially leaving them with no way of putting it to good use. We felt that it would be a natural progression for the business to launch our own café. That way, we could be there when inmates were released and be able to offer them a job as a barista outside of the prison. It was a conscious decision, and the perfect way to offer roles to members of our training program. The case with many young offenders who leave prison and go into an employment situation is that they lose the job after a number of months. Employers aren’t typically familiar with prison culture. There are little routines and procedures within prison walls that don’t apply to day-to-day reality outside, and this can lead to employees losing their jobs. The difference with us is that we already understand prison culture, so we know how to work around issues such as these.”

The search for Redemption’s first café was on, although Harry stresses that they weren’t in a rush: it was all about finding the right place at the right time. “For us, Lambs Conduit Street had a strong identity behind it. It’s one of those London streets which is unforgettable – it’s proper London. We wanted it to be taken seriously, to fit comfortably with the other unique tenants on the street, but also to stand out from the crowd and have its own distinct personality.”

The café launched last July, and all the indications are that it’s been well received by local residents and neighbourhood businesses alike. Perhaps that’s because people can understand the social impact of the idea and see that it makes Redemption Roasters a special place – after all, getting these young men out of reoffending benefits not just them but wider communities. This isn’t your ordinary café; I guess you could call it a landmark. And the idea of giving young offenders a second chance via caffeine? Somehow, there’s an element of genius to the idea.

Visit Redemption Roasters at 84 Lamb’s Conduit Street or visit their website

Cathy Ward

Cathy Ward


Words Cathi Undsworth

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“The Internet has revealed much that was hidden. It is its own dark mirror by its very nature of conjuring up secrets and knowledge. But not everything can be googled. There has to be mystery out there somewhere…”

“It was random, if not magical circumstances, that brought me here,” says artist Cathy Ward of Bloomsbury. “Family from many generations gravitated here, all within streets of each other, none born Londoners. My mother trained as a nurse at UCH in WWII and I’d grown up hearing how a bomb shattered her bedroom, killing her roommate. Her mother was a talented painter and attended The Slade, across the road, at the start of the century – quite something for a woman then. The Suffragette movement undoubtedly played a part in her ambitions.” Cathy’s works – which range from immense canvases of mesmeric monochrome megaworlds to tiny, ink-on-mother-of-pearl sculptures that seem to have the sea and sky captured within them – are so intricate in detail that they transport the viewer into a different realm. Something that echoes the fin de siècle ideas of The Yellow Book and the occultist Austin Osman Spare: the Bloomsbury of her grandmother’s age.

“I feel I’m a direct descendant from her struggles, she was my one beacon of hope as, growing up in the 1960s, a career as an artist wasn’t encouraged,” she says. “Her ambitions were in conflict with the man she married and she died at 40 after bearing nine children. Such was the fate of many women. I live among reminders of that: The Women’s Freedom League in Bury Place and Hawksmoor’s St George’s, the only church that would take the body of Emily Davidson after her death under the King’s horse.” Cathy herself arrived early in the 1980s: “I hung out in a Bohemian scene. I went to raves at the YMCA and squat parties in Great Russell Street opposite the British Museum. Marchmont Street had forgotten, dusty charms with a stock of eccentrics. I’ve been lucky to have known many artists, including the great sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. He gifted me pieces of his work in the late 1980s related to his vast iconic commission for Tottenham Court Road station. I’d never imagined decades later this would be my home stop. Every time I use that station I think of him and that association. It is magical. I’m still sad his entrance arches were omitted in the redesign, as everything he did was so interconnected. There was always something memorable about coming through them on the journey down to the underground.”

London is changing so rapidly; has the area been irredeemably damaged? “The city’s reconstruction has seemed almost as destructive as the Blitz this past decade,” Cathy considers. “It’s been a task for residents checking the planning notices. Over the past decade our small team, headed by Helen McMurray (South Bloomsbury Association) and Jim Murray (Bloomsbury Association), have helped preserve buildings. We’ve had jubilant wins and crushing losses. South Bloomsbury faces the most relentless building programme and we can’t predict the full effect of Crossrail.”

What are the things that keep you going? “Walking to The Wellcome via the green corridor of squares. Independent bookshops like Atlantis on Museum Street, Treadwell’s on Store Street and Maggs Rare Books’, now relocated to Bedford Square. On Great Russell Street, the most romantic art store, L Cornellissen & Son, which is delightful to just wander into and gaze at all the glass bottles of pigments.”

Which brings us back to Cathy’s work. The one thread that links it all seems to be the search for the magical. The first exhibition I saw by her, in collaboration with American artist Eric Wright, was at the Horse Hospital in 2000, the fairytale forest of Transromantik. “I went to the first exhibition at the Horse Hospital,” Cathy recalls, “Vive le Punk, with the clothing of Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren. At the Horse, they set their own rules, screened cult films and grew an audience of writers, photographers, musicians and art oddballs which I am lucky to count as friends. When they wanted us to do an exhibition it was a real affirmation. Transromantik took two years to make and was one of the best experiences. Sacred Pastures with myself, Eric and Norbert Kox, was a great success. Later this year I will be presenting a solo exhibition. It’s a great honour.”

History plays a big part in Cathy’s output. Her TRYST exhibition featured Home Rites, a piece incorporating her corn dolly sculptures, alongside works by medium Madge Gill, whose automatic drawings were made to communicate with her son and daughter, tragically lost in the flu epidemic of 1918. “She is one of our most prolific women artists, though still relatively unknown. I have a definite interest in history of the intuitive, visionary and marginalised because is not part of academic or theory-based practice. The occult is similar, it plays on emotions and is associated with women, so it is feminist in its own way. I try and incorporate mystery into my work and make things that can function like talismans. If your work has meaning that is not the art world kind of meaning, then it can either be ignored or explained away with theory. But here has to be mystery out there somewhere…”

I love the fact that you like to bring in the work of other women whose contributions may have been forgotten, is that important to you?

“Yes, it is. It feels like we’ve come full circle in our conversation. So many women in past decades who were not given the chance, were disregarded or plagiarised. It still happens, but visibility is improving. If I’m given the opportunity to introduce more talented women, I will. One of the things I have learnt is patience, and that is a virtue.”

To read more about Cathy, go to her website 

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.

Made of Stone

Made of Stone


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alice Chiariello


If you recall one of our earlier issues this year, you’ll remember illustrator and artist Alice Chiariello’s Walking feature back in May. Originally from the South of France, Alice is now based in Bloomsbury and uses her talents to capture the character and spirit of the neighbourhood’s architecture. For this issue, Alice has chosen to focus on the area’s less travelled corners, the secret places most people may be unaware of.

Susan Collins

Susan Collins


Words Matthew Ross

Photography  Kirk Truman


“I always tell other people that having the opportunity to make the work you want to make has to be success.”

 

From a Jerusalem rooftop, a camera looks across the West Bank towards the Jordanian mountains. It records time. Far away, the peak of Mount Nebo, where Moses stood to view the Promised Land. Closer, the Mount of Olives, the West Bank, the impassive trees of Israeli Jerusalem. Pixel by pixel, over 12 hours, the camera lays down the timeless landscape. Centuries of history in a single frame. Behind the camera is Susan Collins, British artist and Director of the Slade School of Art. In her echoing office, hidden beyond the neo-Grecian half-rotunda that ceremoniously fronts the Slade, she tells me the about the latest in a series of commissions that, over 15 years, have become an enduring illustration of her art.

The pieces place network cameras in remote locations, where they construct images one pixel at a time, from left to right, top to bottom, and then write them over again. The images might be seascapes, made in the time it takes for the tide to go in and out. Or they might be landscapes, recorded in just under a day. The Jerusalem camera sits atop Mount Scopus and, in a nod to Halachic time, which divides the hours of daylight into 12 equal periods, creates its landscape over 12 hours. The works are slow reflections; palliatives to the snowballing speeds of digital existence, the tones of their horizontal bands gradually encoding slow changes in light and movement through the day. “I choose my time frames according to the subject. The images that emerge – the image that’s emerging from Jerusalem – are timeless. They unify landscape in a single frame, which for me is a quiet response to a very particular situation.”

A gallerist looking for an easy label might describe Susan’s practice as ‘new media’. Susan would demur. “I work with media, but my materials are time, the network and transmission, and my subjects are landscape, seascape and the natural environment. It’s not about technology at all; it’s about looking over time, which is actually very old fashioned.” When Susan returned to the Slade in 1995 to create the School’s first programme in electronic media, eight years a Slade alumna herself, she had a vision that would, she hoped, quicken the interface of art and technology. The Slade she knew as a student in the 1980s defined its categories crisply. “The ethos was: ‘Well, are you a painter or are you a sculptor? What are you?’ I was neither; I was a very awkward student. Later, within a mainstream art setting, artists working with technology were either celebrated too much or denigrated. My whole idea when I came back to the Slade was that artists working with technology would be judged alongside others on equal terms.”

Susan resists the notion that her practice and leadership have already left their enduring mark on the Slade. The observer might disagree. Her forebears as Slade Director constitute a heavy mantle of eminent, male, establishment pedagogues: Alphonse Legros, Henry Tonks, William Coldstream. As a student, Susan likely passed Coldstream himself on the Slade’s sweeping stairway, and she feels his influence on British art education keenly. But she wears the mantle lightly and refuses to take sole credit for the integration of art and technology she has overseen: a wider cultural transformation, she claims, was at work. Similarly, not once does she mention that she is the first woman to be Director of the Slade and the Slade Professor of Art at UCL. Some truths speak for themselves.

Fostered as an art student by the Slade, allowed to burn the midnight oil night after night in UCL’s computer science basement, Susan came of age stateside. On exchange in New York in 1986, she met her first Macintosh Plus. She began drawing with early Mac Paint and discovered the redemptive power of memory. “As an artist, learning to draw and paint, you have to push it to learn anything. You have to take a drawing as far as you can, and there comes a point when you’ve pushed too far and the work is destroyed. The beauty to me, who wants to have my cake and eat it, from that very early encounter with computing, is that you can do a drawing, save it, take it in different directions, destroy it, but still have it.”

Throughout her career, Susan has valued interfacing with the real world above commercial audiences and markets. Her early experiments with computer drawing soon evolved into animated sequences but, faced with the echo chamber of animation industry audiences, she began experimenting with interventions in public spaces. And there her focus has remained. “I want to make work that interrupts people’s everyday; not something that people choose to look at as a spectacle, but something that might be a surprise or an intimate moment; something that you could stumble across and feel like it was talking only to you.”

Has such ambivalence about the commercial art world been a hindrance? “I always tell other people that having the opportunity to make the work you want to make has to be termed success.” The artist who has been picked up by a commercial gallery often has to vault the huge gulf between working on their own terms, alone and small-scale, and running a studio the size of an aircraft hangar with a team hanging on their next flash of brilliance. “To develop work, you need to be private at times, to fail and actually make mistakes, and not have to articulate everything immediately to someone else.”

Are there really no great frustrations or regrets in her heart? “I would have loved to be a singer. There’s something so uplifting and energizing about it. It’s just you and your voice and that’s all it takes. Still now, there are times when I wish I could just do it, only everyone else would run screaming. I mouth ‘Happy Birthday’ because I don’t want to ruin people’s birthdays!” The response, I come to understand, is pure Susan Collins. Coursing with energy, she tempers her distinction with a keen sense of the ridiculous and a deep-rooted belief that her art is for people, not rarefied white cubes. The previous night, an email from a colleague had dropped into Susan’s inbox. “She said simply, in an aside, that she still finds my Jerusalem images so haunting and so very moving. Your colleagues are your best, your worst and your scariest critics. And from someone I’ve worked alongside for years, who didn’t have to say that, it means a lot.”

Cockpit Arts

Cockpit Arts


Words & Illustrations Sophie Pelissier


“When you study your art or your craft you aren’t taught how to run a business…”

There is an air of quiet industriousness down the wooden hallways of Cockpit Arts. You could be forgiven for thinking the ghosts of the original 1920s furniture workshop were still working behind the studio doors were it not for glimpses of colourful textiles, bold typography, or polished ceramics. True to its legacy of craft manufacturing, this discreet white-brick warehouse in Holborn is home to 90 ‘makers’ of various craft professions: tailors, jewellers, potters and more. With the squeeze on central London studio spaces, the resident designer-makers have been handed a golden ticket by Cockpit Arts, an award-winning social enterprise and the UK’s only creative business incubator.

“What I’ve noticed is that people find their way here at different stages or with different intentions for their products, and this place allows you to get it together.” Ian Scott-Kettle, 49, sits on his work table with his hands in his lap, contemplating the role of Cockpit Arts in his varied trajectory through the fashion world. He was granted a studio space at Holborn five years ago in partnership with a textile artist, but they found that their initial product idea was floundering. “Cockpit very graciously gave us the space to try and figure it out. So, we both re-grouped and we’re both still here but doing very different businesses. Still very good friends.” And after three years on his own it would appear that Ian has indeed figured it out, having developed a scale-able business making and marketing bespoke men’s accessories made using traditional pattern cutting techniques. Now he sees a steadily growing stream of clients making their way to his studio. So how exactly does Cockpit Arts work to help designer-makers launch their businesses so successfully?

There have been ‘starter’ craft studios on the premises of Cockpit Yard since 1986, but it wasn’t until 1993 that Cockpit Arts was formally created as a social enterprise. It offers talented makers the means of growing their businesses, providing them with an affordable studio space at one of two sites in either Holborn or Deptford. Cockpit’s current CEO Vanessa Swann explains how having a hub of creatives under one roof delivers the first “informal layer” of support, “a cross-fertilization of skills and contacts”, which is then combined with a “formal layer” of business development advice. This is tailored to makers’ needs, no matter what stage they are at in their careers, and delivered via one-on-one mentoring from a small, full-time business incubation team. The Cockpit package provides further support from Associates, a network of external professionals in sales and marketing, accounting and intellectual property. Getting help with their business strategy is all the more invaluable since, as leatherworker Candice Lau says, “When you study your art or your craft you aren’t taught how to run a business”. It’s a sentiment I hear echoed in the experience of other makers I meet. Candice arrived at Cockpit in 2015 having won the Leatherseller’s award, one of many such schemes that sponsor studio spaces for around 20 applicants each year, providing them with access to equipment and industry contacts. “I wouldn’t be where I am without Cockpit. It’s helped me to become very professional, and there are other people around me who are designing and making products. We feed off each other so much creatively.”

This community spirit at Cockpit is enabled in an important way through shared studios, and not necessarily between makers who are cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Onome Otite came to Cockpit in 2016 through the Creative Careers Programme, which works in partnership with The Prince’s Trust to help young people between 18–30 establish a career in craft. Her figurative illustrations using textiles and printed materials started life in her living room, and she admits that pre-Cockpit she would never have considered a shared studio. “But actually… you get so much more out of it. You see more, you share more ideas… You learn a lot, whether that’s a new technical skill or about a show, stockist or supplier.” The transferral of knowledge has come full circle now in the large, airy studio she shares with three other jewellers and milliners from the new 2017 Creative Careers intake; after her first year at Cockpit she can now pass on her own experiences and advice about business strategy.

Shared studio spaces are one of many ways in which Cockpit fosters an open dialogue about running a craft business. Makers are encouraged to be vocal and engage with each other through the social enterprise structure and using digital tools like Google Groups, which functions as a Cockpit instant messenger for makers to find out about shows and possible commissions, or even just to ask for a lift to a specific event. It all goes towards building a mind-set that encourages them to seek out opportunities for themselves. “You get into the habit of talking,” Onome tells me. “I’m constantly talking about myself and my work as everything is so shared, so you’re forced to. I’m not somebody that was comfortable with sharing my own personal experience… but luckily this is a safe environment.”

Building a business from your passion isn’t easy; but neither is building a business and sustaining it. That is why Vanessa Swann is so keen to insist that Cockpit Arts is also about “acceleration… in case there’s any misunderstanding about incubation and it being solely for makers just starting out. We’ve always been about supporting makers at different stages and ages.” Theo Wang, for instance, has been at Cockpit for nine years but had to re-launch his letterpress business in 2017 in order to adapt to his business partner leaving London. “Being a maker and running your own business is all about evolving and developing, whether it’s your skills, your markets, the way you promote yourself. You need different kinds of support and advice at every stage.”

But every small business needs customers and local supporters, thousands of whom are welcomed to Cockpit Arts during the twice yearly Open Studios. Makers decorate their workspaces to introduce their products to customers and buyers, while the public have the opportunity to dodge the high-street and buy unique, tailor-made creations with their own narrative attached. One of many long-standing local residents and supporters is Anne Beresford, who has spent the last 20 years buying homewares, jewellery and clothes for herself and as gifts at Open Studios. “I was fortunate enough to win the raffle one year, so I put that towards a one-off sample jacket that I’d been coveting. I love the fact that things are made close by, and that I know at least some of the people involved in the making.” In the face of diminishing local businesses in Holborn and Bloomsbury, there is a sense of pride amongst residents to have witnessed and supported Cockpit’s development. Josie Firmin, owner of a china painting business nearby, has employed many freelance artists working at Cockpit Arts over the years. Jane King is another resident in John’s Mews and reiterates how much inner-city areas need cultural centres and independent businesses “in order to be a balanced community – I do not want to see my neighbourhood become just an investment and a dormitory for the very rich.”

 

Every maker, employee and resident I speak to comes back to the importance of community – one that encompasses the internal structure, the Associates, Trustees, Sponsors, then of course the enthusiastic buyers of beautifully designed, handmade products at Open Studios. “You get the feeling that everyone is on your side”, is the way Ian Scott-Kettle puts it.

It is a structure that exists not just to help makers create a viable business but also to realise their dreams, as Vanessa passionately affirms: “There is nothing more satisfying than thinking ‘could we help this person realise what it is that deep down they want to do, and have the capability to do, even though it appears to them to be very difficult’.” Under the guardianship of Vanessa and her team and with the support of their fellow makers, the future is bright for anyone honing their craft at Cockpit Arts.

Roger K. Burton

Roger K. Burton


Words Cathi Unsworth

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I never had the opportunity to go to university or the desire to… I became a jack-of-all-trades and wheeler-dealer.”

When Roger K. Burton first stepped inside The Horse Hospital on the Colonnade, it was not a pretty sight. “The building had been unused for about 10 years when my friend Guy Adams found it on a recce to Bloomsbury in 1993. When we first got in the door there were pigeons flying about, rats and mice everywhere and ivy growing through the collapsed roof; not to mention a thick layer of printing ink completely covering up the fabulous floor.”

By that time, Roger had made his name styling iconic music videos, and supplying original period clothes for films such as Quadrophenia, The Rutles, The Wall, Dance with A Stranger and Sid & Nancy. He had an unerring eye for detail – and the Contemporary Wardrobe, the largest youth fashion collection in the world, which had taken him an eventful lifetime to amass. Although it would take six months to get the place shipshape, he had finally found both the perfect home for his Wardrobe and the Capital’s last truly independent arts space.

Today, fashion students are flocking to The Horse to see the exhibition Rebel Threads that complements Roger’s luxurious new book, a catalogue of the collection and insider’s view of the styles that adorned successive generations of tearaways, from Spivs, Teds and Mods to Skinheads and Punks. But Roger was never a student. Everything he learned began in the Mod clubs of 1960s Leicester.

“I never had the opportunity to go to university or the desire to. Hating authority, I just wanted to leave school as quickly as possible,” he says. “I became a jack-of-all-trades and wheeler-dealer.”

Those trades included restoring antiques, which led Roger through the flea markets and junk shops of the Midlands in the 1970s, to the opening of his first shop, Pioneer Antiques in Leicester, later Hollywood Fashions. Now making a living from vintage clothing, Roger’s path crossed with two up-and-coming designers, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. By 1976, there was a buzz in the air, which the couple had anticipated. Punk damaged Roger’s business – but he loved it.

“In 1977, Rick Carter, Steph Raynor, Helen Robinson and I opened a shop called PX selling military clothing. We were offered this old fruit-and-veg warehouse on James Street by Andrew Czezowski, of Roxy club fame. I had a clear idea of what I wanted it to look like, and just happened to be passing a closed-down building in Mayfair when they were clearing it out. We paid £20 for all this industrial ducting and metal cages, which fit perfectly with the low-tech boiler room/submarine vibe I was after – all courtesy of MI5.” After that, he took a stall on Portobello Road, where destiny came calling, in the form of the art director for Quadrophenia.

“It was great to be able to supply most of the clothes for the film and use my first-hand knowledge of original Mod style,” Roger reflects. “But thanks to Punk and the New Romantics, period authenticity as a fashion was disappearing and led me to another way of thinking about restyling period clothes.” One way in which Roger developed this was with McLaren and Westwood in the redesign of their shops, World’s End in 1980 and Nostalgia of Mud in 1981, the latter being described by Peter York as the most innovative of the decade.

“Malcolm and Vivienne were going through one of their most creative periods, so it was very exciting to be able to spend time with them. Everything was drawn upon, from my favourite Midlands pub, the Crooked House in Himley, to pirate ships, Alice in Wonderland, Hogarth prints and the Sony Walkman.”

It was also the dawn of the pop video age and Roger styled both The Specials’ Terry Hall (in ‘Ghost Town’) and The Kinks’ Ray Davies (‘Come Dancing’) in the same 1940s pinstriped suit. “It’s funny, looking back. Both Terry and Ray were true professionals and generally bands were respectful, but of course, some tried it on. Debbie Harry didn’t want to give back a leopard print dress, until I put a huge price tag on it; likewise, Keith Richards tried to hang on to a beautiful old biker jacket. But George Harrison was a proper gentleman. He loved a Victorian frock coat I styled on him in a Traveling Wilburys video so much that he had me copy it exactly so he could wear it all the time.”

Since discovering the Horse, Roger has been a host and inspiration to two decades’ worth of fashionistas, film freaks, writers, artists, musicians and bohemian types. But life has not always been easy. “The owners have been trying to prise us out of the building for 15 years. First, they wanted to redevelop it, but we managed to get it Grade II listed. Then they tried to make me forfeit the lease. We got it listed as a Community Asset and, as the owners didn’t want to take on Camden Council, they have left us alone for over a year now. So, I’m optimistic about the future, particularly as 2018 marks a double anniversary, 25 years at the Horse Hospital, and 40 years of Contemporary Wardrobe.” The publication of Rebel Threads is a landmark for fans of real style – but does Roger see any new youth cultures on the horizon, or are we doomed to endlessly recycle ourselves now? “I wish I did, but you never know, in these less-than-certain times,” he considers. “One lives in hope!”

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.

rickyrichards.com

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.

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


Russell Square is Bloomsbury’s watering hole, where all creatures great and small converge. Some live locally, others just come to peer at the neighbours and sniff out the competition. From a Greek-food loving pooch to a paper-shredding parrot, this autumn Journal comes face to face with Bloomsbury’s cosmopolitan creatures.

David Moore

David Moore


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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 and showcases David and head chef Andy McFadden’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 an illustrious crowd. Mackerel with fennel, mustard and frozen parmesan; John Dory with grapefruit, miso, quinoa and brassicas; a chocolate, mandarin, honeycomb and stem ginger dessert: each of them is a delicious architectural wonder – as if Zaha Hadid and Joan Miró had decided to open a cooking school. “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 program 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!”

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 his wife 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. One of Bloomsbury’s hidden gems is The Cockpit Arts Studio, an award-winning social enterprise and business incubator for craftspeople, which soon became one of David’s favourite haunts. “I saw the sign for their open studio and went in. Cabinet maker Toby Davies (Hunky Dory Furniture), immediately caught his eye. “I saw this beautiful sideboard with this pink inlaid leather on the front of it – very camp! You opened the drawers and it had purple leather on the bottom of each one –  it was magnificent!”  He later commissioned Toby to design tables for his restaurants, as well as some pieces for his home. Another favourite at the Studio is milliner Karen Henriksen. “Fabulous designs and each one crafted piece, such love and dedication to making!”

Following an article in the Evening Standard in which he’d sung Toby’s praises, Cockpit Arts chief executive Vanessa Swann offered him a position as a trustee. “I’ve been there three years and signed up for another two. We’ve done a couple of dinners here, and they brought movers and shakers in the craft world. It’s also a great opportunity to discover new craftsmen.” David also was also one of the first volunteers in Bloomsbury’s People’s Supermarket, a local food co-operative. “It’s such a good idea, the community coming together to work for everyone’s benefit. I had some real OCD issues when I was on duty though. I’d want all the canned drinks to face the same way and had to fill gaps immediately as it messed with the aesthetic!

“McKenna butchers. They have an old-fashioned craft that’s dying out and needs supporting… and they have great banter! It’s one of those amazing little spots where you go in and say ‘do you have some sweetbreads’, and they say how many kilos would you like? They’ve helped out Pied-à-Terre on more than one occasion!” At the end of our stroll around the neighbourhood, David jumps onto a Boris bike, his regular mode of transport, to head back to Pied à Terre. “We should get Phil Oakey to join us next time!” he shouts as he cycles off.

Karen Henriksen

Karen Henriksen


Words Sophie Pelissier

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


It’s a Saturday morning in June, and the Bloomsbury cafes are filling up with brunch orders and locals doing their weekend coffee-and-croissant run. Runners pound up and down Lamb’s Conduit Street and the small shops are beginning to open for summer trading. But further down the quieter Regency streets I find that milliner Karen Henriksen is already at work in her little studio. “I don’t mind it,” she says with a broad smile as she shows me inside. “There’s no-one else around and I have the radio on, so it’s a productive time to work.” We are in Cockpit Arts, site of the award-winning social enterprise and business incubator for UK crafts makers hidden away in the streets of Holborn. Flat caps and ladies’ cloche hats from Karen’s ready-to-wear collection line the walls, alongside rolls of fabric, jars of pins and paper patterns covered in black marker pen. But beyond the clutter there is calm orderliness to Karen’s workshop. “I’m a bit of a control freak”, she grins. It’s partly what drew her to millinery at the prestigious Royal College of Art: “I like having complete control over the whole process from start to finish. Whereas in fashion you’re always passing on work to pattern-cutters or seamstresses.”

It was during her post-graduate degree in millinery at the Royal College that Karen won the Hat Designer of the Year award, with her first collection later being bought by Selfridges when she launched her label in 2004. Her personal style remains true to her original MA collection: sculptural yet wearable re-workings of traditional hats for men and women, but especially the English country flat cap, which inspired her iconic ‘Windswept’ collection. This is Karen’s USP: a range of large, asymmetrical flat caps which provide the basis for her ready-to-wear collections. “It kind of happened almost by accident,” she explains when asked how the idea to urbanise the quintessential country hat came about. “When I did my Royal College collection, that was inspired by really functional styles of headwear but they turned in to these sculptural, dramatic pieces with giant headscarves and giant caps. I featured a flat cap that I then started to develop into a more commercial idea, and it evolved from there really.” She admits that the original Windswept styles are possibly still “too out there” for a lot of customers, but the flat cap variations that she has developed since are growing in popularity. I tell her that I’d recently spotted one in a selection of flat caps in the menswear section of a well-known newspaper’s magazine – undeniable evidence of the cap’s transition from country-wear to the London man’s casual wardrobe.

While the caps form part of Karen’s ready-to-wear collection, using pattern-cutting, she also produces a range of couture pieces employing the art of a traditional milliner. “This is most peoples’ perception of millinery, which is blocking – so either steaming or wetting a fabric like straw or felt over a block, then wiring and trimming it. It’s a much more elaborate process and a completely different technique to pattern-cutting.” To show me, Karen picks up a small red piece, no larger than a tea cup, which she is making up for an order to send to Melbourne. She found the vintage fabric in Paris, where she goes twice a year during Fashion Week to present her collections at the leading fashion accessories trade show Premier Classe.

Despite people’s willingness to embrace casual headwear in the last decade, couture millinery is still largely constrained to smart weddings and events or race meetings. But if anyone is going to turn heads with their choice of headwear, all eyes are undoubtedly on the Royal Family; not always kindly, if one remembers the media frenzy about Princess Beatrice’s ‘pretzel hat’ at the Royal wedding in 2011. It is Zara Tindall, however, who has gracefully donned some of Karen’s elegant couture designs at high-profile occasions like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Christmas Day services at Sandringham.

Karen’s fascination with asymmetrical, structural design is especially apparent in these couture hats; with their swathes of fabric ruched in layers, curves or angular lines, she seems more like a sculptor than a designer. It’s no surprise to discover, then, that her formative years after leaving school began with an art and design foundation at the Leeds College of Art, in the extraordinary footsteps of alumni Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. “They certainly did influence my designs later on, and knowingly so. But even back then I think there must have been some sort of influence through osmosis,” she agrees, when asked how far these sculptors shaped her own style.

Eventually, our conversation turns to Bloomsbury and Cockpit Arts, where she has been able to develop her work and her business since 2005. There are two sites, the original one in Holborn and a second site in Deptford. The craft studios within the Bloomsbury building can trace their creative history all the way back to 1745, when Cockpit Yard was taken over by a cabinet maker. It wasn’t until more 200 years later, in 1986, that Camden Recycling created the first five ‘starter’ studios for young craftsmakers trying to start their own businesses. Now with around 80 ‘makers’ working in single or shared studios in Bloomsbury alongside Karen, there is what sounds like a merry and bohemian community of jewellers, typographers, picture-framers and designers in the heart of London: a welcome success story among the growing concern over a shortage of studio spaces for artists and designers in the capital. “We open the doors to the public twice a year, in June and November. Cockpit Arts was actually one of the first places to start doing open studios.” In the run-up to Christmas, the November opening normally welcomes thousands of people to the studios, and it seems to be an important ritual through which the makers can reaffirm their relationship with the local residents of Bloomsbury.

Surely working in a part of London with such a rich creative history must be another source of inspiration? “Literature and architecture have both always been common themes for me. My ‘Two Cities’ collection for winter this year was inspired by the different architecture and history of London and Paris during the French Revolution, as in the Dickens novel. Then I did actually do one collection in 2015 that was influenced by the Bloomsbury set called ‘Night and Day’, after Virginia Woolf’s novel, and I did the photo shoot around the British Museum and Russel Square.” It seems fitting, as a Bloomsbury local, that she also enjoys playing on words, and making up names for her hats based on word associations. “One of the cloche hats that’s been the biggest best-seller was named for Debbie Reynolds’s character Kathy in Singing in the Rain.” In fact, there is always a touch of silver screen glamour in millinery, she tells me. “Ask any milliner and they’ll always cite those old Hollywood actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo as inspiration.” But as a designer she stresses that she is “appropriating vintage styles, as opposed to copying them. I enjoy thinking of ways to make them more relevant and contemporary.” It’s a formula that is clearly working, with her hats now catching the attention of international fashion editors and stylists and being exported to specialist boutiques and stores around the world. And imbued as their work is with little dashes of Bloomsbury history, one hopes that Karen and the other makers who have brought Cockpit Yard back to life have many creative years ahead of them.

The Life Goddess

The Life Goddess


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“You know, the Greek tradition and culture of cultivating, preparing and sharing food is a ritual to us…”

George Nyfoudis, founder of The Life Goddess, is giving me a lesson in Greek culture and cuisine. Bear with me here because I’m going to start by telling you how we ended our conversation – with the legend of The Life Goddess. According to ancient Greek legend, a sacred goat named Amalthea nurtured the infant Zeus, making him into the strongest deity of his time and later ‘king and father of the gods’. From Amalthea’s magical horns, Zeus made the horn of plenty, or cornucopia, which was always filled with whatever was desired. The goat Amalthea was and is a symbol of nourishment, abundance and life. A life goddess. This is where our story begins.

The Life Goddess was born around five years ago when George began to develop an idea for a Greek deli in the city. “After the crisis in Greece, I started to think about beginning a new venture that celebrates the spirit and tastes of my origins. I’ve always loved the character and structure of London, and knew Bloomsbury was where I wanted our business to be. We wanted to be a deli in the city showcasing the best in Greek tradition. Absolutely everything was sourced from Greece in the beginning, whereas today we have a mix of Greek and UK-based suppliers. Our suppliers are both our left and right hand… we’d be nowhere without them!” he says. “I didn’t feel that you could easily buy traditional Greek products in London. I wanted to bring small independent brands and produce to our store. When we opened, we stocked dozens of Greek brands that had never been available in London before. It began as a deli and slowly we started to adapt and become more of a restaurant. This was what we found our local customers wanted us to be, and so we listened. With time, as we have grown, we have begun to focus more on homemade food, though the deli element is still a huge part of what we do.”

In Greek culture, preparing a meal for someone is the ultimate token of respect, gratitude, friendship or love. As a passionate Greek, this is a quality that George was determined to bring to his London venture. “You know, the Greek tradition and culture of cultivating, preparing and sharing food is a ritual to us. The journey of the senses starts from mother-earth and finishes at a feast on a table where all the family, friends and companions share the same nourishment and enjoy the sublime result of their efforts,” he says. On the menu, everything diners can expect at The Life Goddess is prepared with 100% fresh Greek products: feta cheese, olives, aubergines, and lamb – although meat is not the focus at The Life Goddess, with much of the menu deliciously vegetarian or not too meat-heavy.

The restaurant has settled comfortably into its Bloomsbury home, bringing the best of Greece to the beautifully designed space at 29 Store Street. “Our landlord, The Bedford Estates, shares the same vision as us. They want to create a destination for local people and build a relationship with the Bloomsbury area. It is the relationships on Store Street between customers and businesses which has built its name as a Bloomsbury destination,” says George. Lining each wall is a seemingly endless array of Greek products, with a particular focus on fantastic cheese and, of course, wine, which is perhaps one of the most renowned specialities on offer at The Life Goddess. “We love wine… it’s one of our defining factors, and of course, all our wine is Greek. Why would we sell anything else?” he laughs.

The restaurant has built a name for itself serving sublime Greek breakfasts, exquisite cold tapas-style dishes and a wide selection of fresh sandwiches and baguettes. By night, you can enjoy an evening sampling some of the finest Greek wine and cheese. “I believe if you want to stay somewhere for many years you must have many loyal customers. Our customers are our friends, and the community element is hugely important to the success of what we do here,” George says. “Although we are a Greek deli and restaurant, we are a Greek deli and restaurant in London, with the pace and feel of London living and dining. The philosophy of The Life Goddess is always to use the best quality ingredients and create healthy products.” With a second site having opened recently in Soho’s Kingly Court, George, along with his brother Nikos Nyfoudis and Elias Koulakiotis, has made his mark on London in less than five years, creating a deli-cum-restaurant that brings the very best in Greek produce to the city’s diners. If you haven’t yet experienced the culinary plenty that the Life Goddess has to offer, then I suggest you pay her a visit soon.

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.

Walking

Walking


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alice Chiariello


Originally from the south of France, Bloomsbury-based illustrator and artist Alice Chiariello has turned her talents to capturing the spirit of her adopted home. In this series of illustrations, she uses the streets and landmarks of the neighbourhood as a backdrop to scenes of everyday life in this corner of the capital.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…too beautiful and too romantic to survive.”

This is no ordinary hotel. It’s a London icon, a spectacle; there’s something undeniably romantic about the sight of its fairy-tale towers rising above the eastern end of Euston Road. If its distinctive red exterior is High Victorian splendour, then its interior is the stuff of gilded fantasy – at every turn it reveals some new treasure. The Midland Grand Hotel, now once again resplendent as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, is one of the masterworks of architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who spent most of his time designing cathedrals and places of worship. It has been the face of one of London’s major gateways for almost 150 years. Firmly embedded within the British psyche, it has stood through two world wars and narrowly escaped death at the hands of 1960s planners. There is history and wisdom in the building’s red brick and coloured Midland stone, and quite a story to tell.

By the 1860s, the Midland Railway was thriving, connecting the industrial heartlands of the East Midlands and Yorkshire with the capital but, lacking a southern terminus, was forced to share tracks with other companies to get its trains into London. So, the decision was made that the Midland would create its own line into the capital. A site for the company’s new London terminus was chosen on the northern side of New Road (today known as Euston Road) in the largely undeveloped district of St. Pancras. Once William Barlow’s spectacular single-span train shed structure was in place, the Midland selected the prominent ecclesiastical architect George Gilbert Scott to design a hotel that would form a spectacular frontage for the station. Scott had recently received a commission from Queen Victoria to create the memorial in Hyde Park to her late husband, Prince Albert. Barlow planned for a large luxury hotel extending westwards along Euston Road, with Scott’s designs making the most of this huge canvas. Taking inspiration from Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s Gothic Revival Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament), Scott’s designs were grand, costly and far beyond the expectations of Midland: the imposing and ornate structure he was planning was more palace than railway station. In the face of scepticism, Scott persisted, feeling that he was creating an entirely new style as opposed to reviving an old one.

Scott’s audacity paid off, and he promised the Midland that his vision for the hotel would completely eclipse every other terminus in London. Red brick came to be the signature material for his creation; manufactured in the Midlands, it helped create new wealth to the region. While still unfinished, St Pancras Station began operating in 1868. By this time, construction of the neighbouring hotel was under way, and over the next five years, builders, stonemasons, artists, craftsmen and tradesmen laboured to bring Scott’s vision to life.

When the first guests saw the hotel in May 1873 its lavish interiors must have seemed plucked from the realm of fantasy. The grandest rooms on the lower floors included spectacular, 18ft-high decorated ceilings, neo-classical murals and vast south-facing windows to maximise the penetration of natural daylight into the deep floor plans. There were ornate Gothic fanlights over every door, wall-to-wall Axminster carpets, huge fireplaces with carved marble surrounds and Walnut furniture with gold inlay. In the Dining and Coffee Room (today The Gilbert Scott restaurant), pillars of polished limestone lined the walls, their gilded capitals carved with conkers, pea pods and bursting pomegranates. The Ladies’ Smoking Room, the first public room in Europe in which women were permitted to smoke, boasted a breathtaking painted ceiling as well as granite pillars, carved stonework and a magnificent terrace overlooking New Road. Walking about the corridors of the structure today, the grandness of the architecture still makes a powerful and lasting impression; compared to to Scott’s masterpiece, most modern London buildings seem dull and unimaginative.

Perhaps the greatest spectacle of the entire building is the Grand Staircase. This High Victorian, neo-Gothic explosion of extravagant decoration creeps up three storeys before reaching an extraordinary vaulted ceiling. At the time of opening, The Midland Grand was a masterful showcase not just of architecture but technology, featuring flushing toilets and hydraulic lifts. In its heyday, guests paid between three-and-a-half shillings and several pounds to spend a night here, with only The Langham on Portland Place being more expensive.

For over 30 years, the hotel thrived; but rival establishments around London had opened around the turn of the century, and by the 1920s the Midland Grand’s once revolutionary design features were considered to be behind the times. In 1935, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway accepted the inevitable and the hotel closed. Becoming known as St Pancras Chambers, the building survived all attempts by the Luftwaffe and London’s modernising planners to knock it down, being used as offices by British Rail and its hospitality business, British Transport Hotels. During the 1960s, city planners sought to sweep away ‘inefficient’ swathes of London’s architectural heritage, replacing them with system-built blocks – and they had St Pancras and the hotel firmly in their sights. Sir John Betjeman called the plan to demolish St Pancras “a criminal folly”. A founding member of the Victorian Society, along with architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, Betjeman was able to mobilise a popular campaign against the demolition plans, fearing that St Pancras was “too beautiful and too romantic to survive”. Thankfully, he succeeded in securing for it a Grade I listing in 1967, ensuring its preservation.

The hotel building was eventually abandoned in 1985, standing empty and neglected for almost two decades. It made occasional onscreen appearances, including scenes in Batman (1989) and as the setting of the music video for the hit Spice Girls single ‘Wannabe’. By the mid-1990s, change was in the air, and the largely empty and under-used St Pancras Station was chosen to become the new terminus for the Eurostar service. Again, work began to turn St Pancras into the most advanced and admired station in the UK. In 2002, new life was breathed back into the hotel, with work starting on luxury loft-style apartments on the upper floors. Supported and advised by English Heritage, the Manhattan Loft Corporation (MLC) partnered with Marriott International in restoring the building, and operating the remainder of it as a hotel once more. Hundreds of specialist craftspeople, painters and conservation experts from across the UK started to restore the Midland Grand to its former glory. Today, from the fiery, rich reds and golds in The Gilbert Scott Restaurant (taken from the 1892 interior scheme) to the lighter, calmer greens and golds of the Ladies’ Smoking Room ceiling (a replica of the original 1870s design), the hotel’s historic heart beats on, meeting modernity as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

Gillian Mosely

Gillian Mosely


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“As I get older I realise I absolutely love the Ancient Egyptian aesthetic,” says Gillian Mosely. “That’s the art I choose to collect. Maybe it’s a past life thing.” Reincarnated or not, her current life has certainly encompassed a wide variety of interests and passions.

Though Mosely was born in London, her parents emigrated to the States when she nine. While returning to the UK as a visitor over the years, it was only when she was 22 that she moved back to London full-time and started working as a freelance journalist, covering such disparate topics as the rave scene in Goa, martial arts and shamanism. A far more personal piece was her article on the Marchioness disaster – the catastrophe on the Thames in which the 1,800-ton dredger Bowbelle collided with a 90-ton pleasure steamer – from which she barely escaped alive. The official investigation concluded that the Marchioness was completely submerged just 30 seconds after the impact: 51 of 131 people on board died, including the host of birthday party being held on the boat and two of Gillian’s friends. “I had gone under and I’d started seeing stars, and literally started saying goodbye. And then I came back up in an air bubble and someone opened what turned out to be a door above my head”.

I first met Gillian many years ago in Fred’s bar, a hideout for artists avoiding the limelight of member’s clubs like the Groucho. It boasted one of the most celebrated cocktail makers in Soho, the sadly missed Dick Bradsell, and an eclectic mix of pop culture movers and shakers: Pete Burns, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees rubbed shoulders with club kids and budding talents like Hamish Bowles, David Collins and Mosely herself. Many of them were also regulars at the notorious Kinky Gerlinky and Taboo clubs. “Taboo was always my favourite. At this stage I was 17 and there was a huge posse of us that used to hang out together. I didn’t know who Leigh Bowery was at the time, so I just wandered up and started chatting to him. I think he might have just been charmed that somebody was so unconscious around him, and so we struck up a friendship!”

By the mid-1990s, Mosely wanted a change, and television presented itself as the next logical step. “The subjects I was covering as a print journalist weren’t necessarily the subjects I was most passionate about,” she says. “I wanted to do things like history and science.” She began pitching to television commissioners, and eventually an idea for Channel 4 was shortlisted. Her fascination with ancient Egypt, harking back to childhood and a brief spell studying the subject at University, led her to produce a series of documentaries on the subject for the BBC, fronted by Professor Joann Fletcher. While producing another series on Egyptian mysteries, the unusual prospect arose of actually mummifying someone. This germ of an idea transformed into a documentary that took nine and a half years to complete, going through five commissioning editors, three companies, several co-producers, and, last but not least, two potential subjects for mummification. “All of which,” she points out, “is unique in television history”.

Though initially rejected as too sensationalist, the project soon found development funding from Channel 4. The long gestation period it went through helped identify some genuine scientific questions that could potentially be unravelled by proceeding with the experiment, but it also revealed that the legal and moral knots involved would be as labyrinthine as an Egyptian tomb, since the living subject willing to be mummified – in this case a terminally ill patient – would have to consent to the filming, as would their family.

After responding to a newspaper advertisement placed by the production team, former taxi driver Alan Billis became the first person to be mummified using this technique in 3,000 years. In the end, Mummifying Alan ended up winning a BAFTA in the specialist factual category, along with a slew of other awards. It was a welcome validation of Mosely’s supposedly ‘sensationalist’ approach to bringing the past to life: “The thing that I feel is most important about history is that you need to contextualise it so people understand why it relates to them here and now”. It’s an ethos she has carried through the 19 films she has made about ancient Egypt over as many years, for the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, National Geographic and others.

Her involvement in all things Egyptian extends further than television: she spent five years on the Committee of the Friends of the Petrie Museum of Egyptology. “It’s an underappreciated resource in Egyptology, right here in Bloomsbury. It’s full of rare and special things – everyday objects that give you an intimate portrait of life in ancient Egypt that you won’t get from anywhere else, other than perhaps the Cairo Museum.”

Witnessing Marylebone’s burgeoning gentrification 12 years ago, Gillian decided she needed to relocate to somewhere “more integrated, less homogenous, less relentlessly upmarket”, and she settled on Bloomsbury. Her home certainly reflects her passions: imagine the secret chambers of the Great Pyramid (one staircase lies under the watchful eye of a Pharaoh) mixed with Sir John Soane’s Museum and you’ll have some idea of its colourful, eccentric charm. For Mosely, Bloomsbury has been a fertile place where she’s forged strong personal and professional bonds; but it’s also an area whose rich history acts as a constant inspiration and where having the British Museum, University College London and Senate House Library on her doorstep has been invaluable for her work.

Bloomsbury is also host to medialab, a venture she started to advance her own vision of the future of media production. “Back in 2006-7 it was becoming obvious that making full-length programmes is fantastic and writing articles for magazines is fantastic, but really there should be a way to join everything up”. This concept of creating ‘joined-up’, 360-degree content has seen the company working across various media as it has evolved, as well as in partnership with other production houses, bringing together professionals with contrasting sets of experiences and knowledge. Upcoming projects include focus on contextualising important historical subjects, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or examining big themes, like the impact of technology on human lives. Mosely is also currently editing her first novel, which is set in London and also deals with the interface between humans and technology.

Gillian Mosely has never looked back since moving to Bloomsbury. She feels confident that the area is insulated against the gentrification that pushed her away from Marylebone: “You get this mad mixture of £4 million townhouses and a lot of council property, and what that means is that you get to live with everybody – which is just what I wanted!”

Foundling Museum

Foundling Museum


Words Matthew Ross

Illustrations Sophie Pellisser


Stroll past the tall white walls at the north side of Guilford Place and you might hear the innocent racket of children at play coming from Coram Fields, the protected children’s park and playground. Two centuries ago, you might have heard a different strain: from an imposing Georgian edifice, the swell of an organ and children trebling the remorseful hymn: Left on the world’s bleak waste forlorn; In sin conceiv’d, to sorrow born; By guilt and shame foredoomed to share; No mother’s love, no father’s care.

The voices were those of children given up by their mothers out of poverty, destitution or shame; the building was the legacy of sea captain and philanthropist Thomas Coram. Distressed at the plight of Georgian London’s countless abandoned infants, Coram created the Foundling Hospital to save as many of them as he could. From its completion in 1747 until its demolition in 1926, the Hospital took in thousands of foundlings. It renamed, nursed and fed them, and through a disciplined, wholesome upbringing gave them best chance they had to make a respectable way in the world.

The grand building is long gone, its history enshrined in the Foundling Museum to the north of the old Hospital’s site. But as you thumb the pages of your Bloomsbury Journal over a quiet pint in The Lamb or emerge from Bon Vivant after a working brunch, the walls around you vibrate with foundling histories. Scroll back to 1750, and the land north of Guilford Place was open field and pasture, where the thwack of willow on leather or the dying cry of shot snipe might be heard. Come 1789, the Foundling Hospital’s governors voted to let its land holdings on building leases to provide the Hospital with income. They set out the street pattern of a tract of Bloomsbury now bounded by Tavistock Place to the North and Guilford Place to the South. Georgian London’s mastermind builders, Thomas Cubitt and James Burton, bought the bulk of the leases. And so, for 200 years, the bricks and mortar that still stand today kept the Hospital’s young wards fed and nourished.

The governors assembled weekly to approve the Hospital’s expenses. Page on stiff, faded page of their archived minutes detail the coming and going of tradesmen and their bills. Douglas for Bread, Hilson for Pease, Flaxman for Butter, McTaggart for Rice. The loops and ligatures of a secretary’s hand tell of the porridge and plum pudding set before generations of children in the Hospital’s silent dining hall.

Curator Dr Jane Levi passed countless quiet hours tracing the Hospital’s food history though these archives for the Museum’s Feeding the 400 exhibition. “It was so moving to turn the pages of those faded leather-bound books and discover the great pains these eminent gentlemen took for the children; that their food should be nutritious, and that they should like it.”

The distinguished governors also decreed that this new corner of Bloomsbury was to be respectable: residences for gentlemen like them and no common, noisome trade. Behind Burton’s handsome new facades on Guildford Street lived lawyers, surgeons and clergymen, the Hospital’s governors, the surveyors of its estates, its physicians and preachers. Scores of foundling girls spent their teenage nights in servants’ rooms behind the same facades, since most were apprenticed at sixteen to domestic service, many surely to Bloomsbury’s better households.

But even gentlemen cannot live by cash alone, and soon traders inveigled themselves into the new town’s streets. The governors read complaints of sheep, lambs and calves driven for butchery into premises in Compton Mews; in Hunter Street, a certain Mr Cartwright and his poor family were assailed by the smell of warm blood rising from this unlicensed slaughterhouse. The oldest trade of all brought silken vice to the doorsteps of Hunter Street and the grand Mecklenburgh and Brunswick Squares. More upright tenants petitioned the Hospital to turn their premises into butchers, bakers, cheesemongers and public houses. Gradually the governors began to acquiesce.

Lest all the new town go to the dogs, some streets were to remain residential, but Marchmont and Kenton streets would now be for shopping. Milliners, chemists and coal merchants moved in, and so began the ever-shifting microcosm of northern Bloomsbury’s enterprise that still thrives today. The Marquis of Cornwallis started loosening the tongues of liquorous traders in 1804. Balfour the bakers laid claim, one cold January day in 1900, to houses that for years still bore their old tenant’s name in their new guise as a bistro. Their rents trickled back to the Hospital’s lease books and onwards to the Flaxmans, Hilsons and McTaggarts whose foodstuffs fed the foundlings behind proprietous walls.

Enterprise is far from the only cloth to carry the silver thread of foundling history. How many matrons, apothecaries and gardeners of the Hospital entered its gates at Guilford Place? How many foundlings were chaperoned to the houses of Bloomsbury gentlefolk to entertain them with their musical skills, which they learned at the hands of music masters who lived and taught within the Hospital? How many of Bloomsbury’s society, high and low, visited to hear the children sing their chapel services and see then dine in their silent, serried ranks, as was the popular custom?

Once, the beer-blunted eyes of drinkers staggering from The Lamb would have seen a statue of Thomas Coram towering above the Hospital gates on Guilford Place. Now, little more than the gatehouse remains. The grandest rooms of the razed building have been preserved in suspended animation in the Foundling Museum, where the visitor can whisper studiously before artworks that Coram elicited as donations to his cause from Hogarth, Gainsborough and their peers. So as you order your pint in the Marquis of Cornwallis, remember the children its bricks once clothed and fed. And as you pass those high walls on Guilford Place, listen as the ghostly voices sing down the years from the vanished chapel: Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done; that with the world, myself, and thee, I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Noble Rot

Noble Rot


Words Matthew Ross

Photography Kirk Truman


51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, May 1706: On a site that was lately fields of cress and winter rocket, Mr Jos Walker takes the very first lease on four handsome storeys of London stock townhouse. For seven pounds, nine shillings and sixpence a year, his tenant will be a certain Mr Chisledon.

51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, October 2015: The Rugby School Estate grants the lease of the same handsome townhouse to Messrs Andrew and Keeling, vinters and restaurateurs. Noble Rot hits Bloomsbury.

One bleary morning eighteen months later, Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling sit in the window of their wine bar and restaurant Noble Rot and tell me over plentiful coffee how it all happened. “The magazine started out with me and him writing a couple of pieces and thinking: hang on, where do we get some images from?”

It’s a well-reported story. Keeling, the A&R man who signed the undiscovered Coldplay, and Andrew, buyer for Kensington wine merchant Roberson, launched Noble Rot magazine in 2013 backed by a motley crew of Kickstarter donors, from expert winos to Popbitch. Now fully fledged, the magazine is blessed with golden contributors, with Marina O’Loughlin, Giles Coren, Francis Ford Coppola and former Beastie Boy Mike D in the latest issue alone. But it’s not been easy: contacts don’t hang like apples on the tree of knowledge.

I wonder whether Mark and Dan see Noble Rot as the Drew Barrymore of wine magazines. “We grew up in public, if that’s what you mean”, Mark replies. “But we genuinely love the fact that we’ve come from a humble beginning, and we cut our teeth along the way. I don’t think you learn anything unless you make mistakes. Remember when Guy Pierce was going out with Mrs Mangel’s granddaughter in Neighbours? Now look at him.”

“I thought he was better in Neighbours, actually,” says Dan. For him, Noble Rot’s Ramsay Street days are its mark of honesty. “When I worked in music, the Arctic Monkeys had this demo tape. Most record companies would posh that up and get it out, which a lot of the time would strip the essence of the band. But not them. They got a lot of traction with their demo. A lot of music lovers just got it because it seemed a lot more real.”

Above our heads hang framed back-issues of Noble Rot. On one cover, a bulldog chews a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. It’s an issue that pitched English sparkling wine against Champagne in a garrulous blind tasting (the bulldog won), interviewed Mark Ronson and rhapsodised over star Loire valley domaines. That’s Noble Rot’s ethos to a T. Mark explains why. “We want to be entertaining as well as to write about wine in an intelligent way. The product that’s created in this world can be incredible, but then you get some toffee-nosed twat in the corner who wants to ‘educate’ you about it. F*@k off! We never want to hijack the conversation in that way.”

It was never the plan to open a wine bar and restaurant either. But with a growing reputation, Andrew and Keeling started to suspect that if they threw their own doors open, people might come. Dan recalls the days they spent walking London’s streets searching for Noble Rot’s temporal home. “All the places we loved were in old buildings with lots of character. We knew about Lamb’s Conduit Street, but we didn’t know it. And when we saw this place at number 51, we thought it was amazing. We sent the owner some copies of the magazine in an Uber, and three weeks after getting the keys we opened the doors.”

The shared spirit of enterprise that permeates Lamb’s Conduit Street has made it the ideal terroir. “We love the combination here of old and contemporary Bloomsbury”, Mark reflects. “Lamb’s Conduit Street is this closely knit mercantile community, where food, drink and fashion all complement each other. We’re part of that community, and we really believe there is potential for it to be even better. We’re also a destination for people who are interested in what we’re doing and want to come back time and again.”

Best mates, first dates, great loves; Noble Rot is the place whenever a bottle of wine needs to be shared by an open fire. Built as a Georgian home, first let to our mysterious man Chisledon, scraps of its eighteenth-century wood panelling and an original wine cellar still remain. It’s also a serious destination for its magnificent Franco-British menu, devised with the tutelage of The Sportsman’s Stephen Harris. Lincolnshire Smoked Eel, Yorkshire Rhubarb and Soda Bread. Braised Rye Bay Turbot, Watercress and Alsace Bacon. Pistachio Cake, Blood Orange and Mascarpone. Each a perfectly tuned triad.

Is Noble Rot the place an embodiment of Noble Rot the magazine, with its spine of anarchism? Mark prefers the word disruptive to anarchic. “We’re classicists. We love the classic wines of the world, the great domaines of the world; we love the great cuisines and the great craft and art that goes into those wonderful dishes. But neither of us are posh lads. We’ve just never been prepared to leave all the good stuff to the blue bloods. We want to get stuck in and stake our claim. We want to have our own take on it, and our own opportunity to enjoy it, to talk about it and share it with people in the way that we want to.”

“Irreverent is a good word too”, Dan adds. “Irreverent of the status quo of the wine trade, which is and has been a very stale thing for decades. From 1800 to 2017, has it changed that much? Wine is a great thing. It encompasses so much – history, art, geology, physics, travel – that you can bring into your own life. But you don’t have to be pretentious, status-driven or affected with it. That’s the fundamental point really. Just don’t be a twat about it.”

After so successful a start, Andrew and Keeling could be tempted by quick wins.  But wisdom trumps temptation. “What’s next?” Mark reflects. “Lunch at two o’clock! For now, we’re still cracking on with this place and when we’re comfortable with what we’re doing, we’ll kick on from there.” Something bigger? “Not necessarily”, Dan replies, “because bigger isn’t always better… but something.” Something that’s not being a twat? Mark is adamant: “There will be no twatification about it.”

Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding


Words Robert Chilcott

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Of course, being dressed as a prostitute meant that everybody was terribly interested to have a word with you and so forth…”

The husky, seductive voice is unmistakeable after all these years: no one else sounds like Fenella Fielding, who remains a unique and much-loved figure of British stage and screen. You can hear for yourself: she’s currently reading her memoirs at a Saturday matinee residency at the Phoenix Artist Club on Charing Cross Road.

Fenella’s first credited television role was as a lady of the night in a BBC Sunday Night Theatre in 1957, ‘The Magnificent Egotist’, now missing and the tape presumably wiped. “I didn’t have very much to do, but I had a lot of hanging round. Of course, being dressed as a prostitute meant that everybody was terribly interested to have a word with you and so forth… It was a very distinguished director… I can’t remember his name. Everybody in it was terribly important, except for people like me who were totally unknown. Rupert Davies – he was the leading man – swept me up in his arms and carried me across the room. As he got to the door he banged my head on the frame. But I thought it doesn’t matter. I was still in one piece, and I had a lovely time!” That same year Fenella had a part in three episodes of a TV police show called Destination Downing Street. “I can’t remember anything about it at all,” she confesses.

Her first memories of Soho date back to her time at drama school in the 1950s. “It was like going abroad. It was wonderful! All these different shops – all foreign, with huge cheeses and racks of clothes – every different thing you could think of to buy, all pushed together. Of course, it’s a bit like that now – but not really.” She remembers The 2i’s coffee bar on Old Compton Street – where Tommy Steele was launching his career as Britain’s first teen idol in the basement – but she didn’t dare go in. “There were all kinds of naughty ladies walking around in Soho, which I thought was very thrilling”.

“There was a lovely eating place that’s still there called Mildred’s. Oh, and I liked Ronnie Scott’s, very much! I remember doing the first night of a revue. I was with my agent who said, ‘Oh, don’t let’s go to a restaurant to go over your performance. Let’s go to Ronnie Scott’s and have a lovely time.’ And so we did!” On another occasion Fenella met Jeffrey Bernard at a party, “and we started trotting about”, although she insists that their relationship was not really much of an affair, “because he was always so pissed”. Bernard, of course, took her to Soho drinking club the Colony Room. “Muriel Belcher was terrifying. I kept my mouth shut,” Fenella recalls, although she still has a memento of the Colony – she got the upright piano when it closed down.

I ask Fenella if it was Ron Moody who gave her her first break? “No, no, it wasn’t. Did he say so? Balls!” In 1954, Moody was putting on an amateur revue at the London School of Economics, where he was a student, and Fenella got a part in it, replacing a girl who had fallen ill. Soon after that, though, she decided that going on the stage was ridiculous and that she needed a job that would bring in regular money every week – so she answered an ad for an apprenticeship at Robert Fielding on Regent Street. “I came down from Edgware. It was deepest winter, bitterly cold on the tube. I came out into the snow, which was all over Leicester Square, and there was Ron. And he said, ‘You’re just the person I want to see. Remember those guys who came to the London School of Economics? Well, you can come with me now to the new Lindsay Theatre club in Notting Hill and I’ll do some sketches with you for them – the ones we did then. So I said ‘I’m ever so sorry darling, but I’ve got an appointment for an interview to work at a hairdressers shop, so I’m afraid I can’t come.’ But in the end I thought, ‘Oh what the hell, manicurist be bothered!’ So I went with him.“

In 1958, Fenella became an instant star in the Sandy Wilson musical Valmouth, and by the following year was appearing with Kenneth Williams in Pieces of Eight, a comedy revue written by Peter Cook and Harold Pinter. She was an habitué of Cook’s Establishment Club on Greek Street, where she recalls rehearsing for a show and seeing rather thickset men in belted overcoats and squashed hats walking around. “There was a gang that was quite famous at the time, the Nash Brothers, and these chaps were walking round the foyer. I don’t know if they were the Nash Brothers or if they were some other brothers, but that’s why we were a bit worried about going to do our show there. Anyway, we went on rehearsing, and the thing was that Nicholas Luard, Cook’s business partner, spoke terribly ‘like that’, very high society; and the Nash Brothers, or the something-or-other brothers, spoke very ‘like that’, very cockney. It turned out that the only place in Greek Street that didn’t have to pay protection money was The Establishment, and that was because Nicholas couldn’t understand a word these brothers were saying. And in the end the man who was trying to get the money went away in despair!”

Her film career also took off in tandem with her stage work, with notable appearances opposite Dirk Bogarde in the Doctor films. If there’s one screen role with which Fenella will forever be associated it’s that of the vampish Valeria in the 1966 Carry on Screaming, where she appears reclining on a chaise-longue and asking “Do you mind if I smoke?” as clouds of dry ice billow around her velvet-clad bust. The Carry On films – she’d earlier appeared in Carry on Regardless – were made quickly, and budgets were tight. For Screaming, she even had to pay £9 for her own ring.

Other appearances in the sixties and seventies, none of them exactly conventional ones for such a talented stage actress, cemented her cult status. She was the voice of Caroline the Cow in Anthony Newley’s television masterpiece The Strange World of Gurney Slade, and the voice of the Blue Queen in Dougal and the Blue Cat. Perhaps her most memorable, if uncredited, voice role, though, was as the Village announcer in The Prisoner. “Patrick McGoohan was simply lovely. On the day, he just came into the sound room and said ‘Don’t make it too sexy’. So I didn’t, and that was it. The mere fact of being in it was like getting a medal.” There were numerous other television appearances, including several on The Morecambe and Wise Show. “When you worked with somebody who did comedy, what they usually wanted was for you to support them but not to be funny yourself. But I found with them that they definitely wanted you to be funny – they didn’t want you to be dreary, just hanging about being a famous presence. They wanted you to be part of it.”

Fenella has also done plenty of serious theatre, from Shakespeare to Sheridan, and most notably a performance in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler that was described by the Times as “the experience of a lifetime”. “The writing in the play is so incredible, and the fact of it is that she is such a cow, such a beast, but she’s riveting. And the audience, when everything goes wrong for her at the end, they are very upset. It’s so unusual, and marvellous.”

While film roles may have been rare in recent years, Fenella has kept busy with stage, radio and recording work – including readings of JG Ballard’s Crash and T. S. Eliot’s poems. Among her more recent roles, in 2012, was a return to television in Channel 4’s Skins. “If only I hadn’t died in that episode – I would have loved to have gone on and on doing it. But they can’t bring back the dead, and that’s that!” she observes philosophically.
Fenella’s memoirs ‘Do You Mind If I Smoke?’ will be released as an audio book in May and will be available from www.fenellafielding.com. Fenella will be reading chapters live at The Phoenix Artist Club every Saturday afternoon in June, and there’s an evening show at Crazy Coqs on 11 July.

Vulgar Tongues

Vulgar Tongues


Words Cathi Unsworth

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Cant – thieves’ slang – is the oldest slang we have, and Soho in the past was never short of characters who were living on the far side of the law…”

Soho and its environs, with its hostelries, clubs, ‘vaulting academies’ and nefarious street trades, can be credited as one of the greatest sources of slang. Through its ‘rookeries’, teeming with ‘jades’, ‘footpads’ and ‘mollies’, once strolled a venerable gentleman named Captain Francis Grose. Despite the dangers around him, the Captain was on a mission – to compile a dictionary of the cant of criminals that would arm the unwary with a guide against being fleeced. His resultant Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, first published in 1785, is the inspiration for Max Décharné’s wonderful new book, Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang.

Pictured in the frontispiece, the Captain (1731-1791) appears an avuncular cove, whose impressive girth would preclude sudden flight from menace. Which is what makes his achievement all the more impressive to the svelte and dapper Décharné, an author whose previous work includes Straight From The Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang, and a musician who fronts the cinematically noir Flaming Stars. “An artist, antiquary, ex-military man, and most of all, the kind of man you’d want to prop up a bar with, he spent many a late night on the wilder shores – and he didn’t need the protection of a detachment of soldiers, unlike Dickens half a century later,” Max says with a smile. “Two thirds of the world’s trade was coming through the Port of London in his day, and Covent Garden and Soho specialised in parting all those sailors from their money. Imagine the language that accompanied that!”

The result of years of research, Vulgar Tongues has its roots in Soho and the area’s proximity to those two pillars of justice, The Old Bailey – in Grose’s day, Newgate Prison – and Tyburn Tree. “Cant – thieves’ slang – is the oldest slang we have, and Soho in the past was never short of characters who were living on the far side of the law. If you hung around the late-night hostelries, this would have been a large part of the way that people talked.”

Max’s evident delight in his material stems in part from how many of these phrases have survived. “It’s incredible how 17th and 18th century London slang has spread around the world,” he says. “They were already calling a stomach your ‘bread basket’ and illicit brandy was known as ‘moonshine,’ because it was smuggled by night. My favourites are ‘fly’, (knowing, aware), which rappers are still using, and ‘shag’, which then, as now, was a slang term for a bout of horizontal athletics.”

Another form associated with Soho is Polari, the secret language of homosexuals. “It started out as showmen’s and carnival slang, with no particular gay focus,” says Max. “The Punch & Judy men in Covent Garden are quoted using it in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour & The London Poor (1851), but it only starts to be closely associated with the gay scene after World War II. Indeed, the majority of gay slang of any kind dates from after 1900, though gay men referred to each other as ‘mollies’ in the early 18th century. The high point of Polari was undoubtedly the 1960s, thanks to Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick’s radio characters Julian and Sandy and the final legalisation of homosexuality towards the end of their run in 1967.”

Kenneth Williams was a good source – “All his diaries should be required reading,” Max considers – as was another Soho face, Derek Raymond, who augmented his debut 1962 novel, The Crust On It’s Uppers, with a glossary of slang. Interestingly, some of his terms – ‘screwing’ and ‘having it off’ – had a different meaning only a few decades previously, while ‘charvering’ meant the same. “In that other fine London novel, James Curtis’s The Gilt Kid (1936), ‘having it off’ was pulling a robbery, and ‘screwing’ specifically meant burglary,” Max explains. “‘Charvering’ (having sex), however, goes back at least as far as the classic Victorian The Swell’s Night Guide (1846).”

And what of today’s Soho – will it go on providing new expressions that will be heard centuries from now? Or will it all be buried under concrete? “Very hard to say. There’s still a hell of a lot of life in Soho, but it’s heart-breaking to see how the local authorities are allowing significant sections to be bulldozed and redeveloped. Whoever’s signing off on these deals should be made to ride a foal sired by an acorn – and yes, that’s some more slang that 18th century Soho residents would have known. To give you a clue, the way to take such a ride was down the western end of Oxford Street, when pushed off a cart at Tyburn by the hangman, Jack Ketch.”

Max Décharné’s Vulgar Tongues is published by Serpent’s Tail, as is Derek Raymond’s The Crust on its Uppers. James Curtis’ The Gilt Kid is published by London Books.

Joe and Co.

Joe and Co.


Words Matthew Ross

Photography Kirk Truman


It was 1997, and Soho was down to the roach of its truly gritty days. Joe Mills bought the lease on a debt-ridden Peter Street cobblers and opened The Lounge, his first hair salon. The door was kept locked, and female clients were chaperoned to the salon from Wardour Street. DJs, Maltese gangsters, working girls and celebrities: Joe worked his craft on all comers. Two decades later, the neon sex-shop signs may be flickering out as the sanitising hands of investors sweep old Soho away, but Joe’s light shines more strongly than ever.

With its concrete floors, chilled beer, and Playstations for the clients, The Lounge blazed a trail that others would follow, with iPads replacing consoles as the digital revolution exploded. But after twelve years of styling at the same chair, and with women gazumping men for the lion’s share of his scissor-time, Joe struck out again in 2010 with a new, dedicated barbers. Joe and Co. was born. While the mainstream renaissance in men’s barbering wove its ubiquitous tweedy pastiche, Joe and Co. cut a distinctive cloth of its own. Right down to its logo and signage, Joe and Co. riffs in a graphic, geometric style on the traditional idea of a barbershop.

It’s a riff with pedigree. After a three-year apprenticeship under Dutch New Zealander Gert Renzenbrink, Joe took a job in the oldest barbershop in the City of London, perfecting traditional barbering skills as the only young buck in a company of retired Jewish barbers. Come the early 90s, it was time for change. Joe blagged an interview with Paul Burfoot at Fish on D’Arblay Street, and turned his craft to the punky energy of the salon that gave the decade many of its eponymous cuts. It’s no surprise that the openings of The Lounge and Joe and Co. were quickly lauded by the likes of Vogue, GQ and Monocle.

An inimitable pedigree runs through Joe the man too. He claims everyday dressing is his comfort zone, but Joe’s everyday is another man’s envy. From the peppery temples and close-clipped beard to the selvedge denim and vintage Vans, he inhabits a style somewhere between Walker Evans Americana and GQ urbanity. Vintage cars, motorbikes, a touch of rockabilly that belies the 1980s Margate of his teens: they’re all layered through Joe like multiple exposures on old celluloid film.

Jamie Dornan, Russell Tovey, Zayn Malik: icons for many but a day’s work for Joe. Surprisingly, for a man with a talent for making the handsomest even handsomer, and with two legendary salons, Joe is humility itself. “If this work teaches you anything, it’s that people are people. You see people at their best, and you see them at their lowest, whoever they are. Famous or not, barbering is about working with a person, finding a mirror to their personality. A friend once described me as being a facilitator, a gentleman’s gentleman. That captures it exactly.” Visit Joe and Co. and you might find yourself seated in one of their classic Japanese barber’s chairs next to a well-known actor or the hottest young band getting spruced up ready for a tour. When the Journal photographed Martin Freeman for our third issue, he arrived freshly coiffed from Joe’s chair. It’s a democratic style that comes from Joe himself.

It’s also evident that the ‘and Co.’ is as important as Joe. “It’s the hardest thing to take creative people and help them to gel. It starts right at the beginning. It’s not about how cool you are. I want inquisitive, questioning people. And it doesn’t stop here in Peter Street. It’s great that barbers who spent time cutting and learning here at Joe & Co. have gone on to become main players at new salons like Taylor Taylor and The Lion & The Fox. The ‘and Co.’ is far bigger than me.” Speaking of ‘Co.’, Lead Barber Hayley comes over between cuts to tell us about The Spiderman. “He’s this well-known Soho character, must be in his late 40s, comes in wearing a full Spiderman outfit.” Is he some kind of performance artist? “Nah, I think he just likes the slinky feel against his skin or something. It takes all sorts.”

Does Joe think Soho is losing these characters and its own special identity as the area changes? “I have an issue with not embracing change and being blinkered about the future. No one wants the crack dens back again. Soho has to be forward-thinking and diverse. Look at Paris and its mix of old and new architecture. Great cities change. Soho is changing. Joe and Co. is part of that. When everyone went east, we stayed in Soho. We had to weather the exodus and it took a while to regrow, but we’re here for the long term. The beauty of Soho is that it will always be an interesting place. We want to bring something to the area, not take it out.”

And Soho remains a constant inspiration. “I still cut hair at every opportunity. It’s what I love. And there’s an arsenal of knowledge in everything I do. Now, it seems like everyone wants to be a barber, but it takes so much more than twelve weeks of training. Behind the technique, barbering draws in culture, film, fashion, history, street style. Soho has all these things.”

“It takes more than twelve weeks” could be Joe and Co.’s mantra. Step through the door and the salon is simple and functional in the best way. But behind each cut there are decades of history populated by gangsters, ladies of the night and latter-day matinée idols. Stories to tell the grandkids for most of us. For Soho’s finest men’s stylist? A day’s work.

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.

Alex Zane

Alex Zane


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“A little bit of luck, and a little bit of talent. It was the right place and the right time…”

It’s early on a cold December morning in London. “It’s been a while since I’ve walked through Soho at this time. It’s wonderful: you get to walk about and see last night’s decadence splattered all over the pavements. The bottles being collected ring to the sound of the mischief, mayhem and dismay of a rollicking good night out on Dean Street,” says comedian and presenter Alex Zane, toying with his tie and dressed head-to-toe in Joshua Kane Bespoke. We’re sitting in Blacks Private Members Club, switching between talking about the beginnings of his comedy career and the film releases of the past year. Alex started out in Soho, performing stand-up in tiny venues where his fellow performers often outnumbered the audiences. His career may have taken off, with diverse strands in comedy and television, but this corner of London remains close to Alex’s heart.

Born and raised in Leeds, he moved to London to study medicine at UCL in 1998, intending to pursue a career as a doctor. But, finding that he enjoyed the Bohemian lifestyle, he soon decided to drop out of university and embrace a radical change of direction. Telling his parents he was about to begin performing stand-up comedy in Soho clubs and bars for bugger all money wasn’t easy, and it’s probably not surprising that at first they had little faith in his chosen path. “I owe Leeds for a large part of who I am. 2017 is the year that I will have been living in London as long as I lived in Leeds,” says Alex. “I grew up admiring the whimsical monologues of rock-star stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard. I imagined that the words coming out of his mouth simply rolled off his tongue; little did I know that his style of humour was the product of scrupulous writing and planning.”

“Soho was where it all started. At this point, I was living in what was in essence a squat in Camden: a flat where when you took a shower, water streamed down the hallway. I would show up, along with other comedians, at these open-mic nights, which were mostly empty. There would always be that moment where someone would say, “So, shall we perform to each other?” And God, it was fucking awful. That was until one day I was in the right place at the right time…”

It was on Dean Street that Alex found himself an agent, on a night when comedian Ricky Gervais, in his pre-Office years, was in the audience. “It was the first time we’d met, and I just remember coming off stage thinking it had gone alright. I’d been playing around with some half-arsed joke about liking the boy band Five,” he laughs. “Quite often I’d start a joke without knowing where it would go; that was one of those that didn’t really go anywhere. Somehow, Ricky thought it was alright, and so too did the man who’s now my agent, who asked me to come for a meeting after that show.” With his stand-up career on the rise, and on the back of an introduction from Ricky, Alex got the opportunity to be a radio presenter on Xfm. “It was the graveyard shift from 2-5am. If there is ever a time that you don’t want to answer the phone in a radio studio, it’s when you’re doing the graveyard shift. The kind of people that were calling in were not the kind of people you wanted to be speaking to when you were on your own in a radio studio!” he laughs.

In 2002, Alex performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a three-man show, completely unaware that there was an MTV producer in the audience; after the show he was asked to audition for them back home in London. “A little bit of luck, and a little bit of talent. It was the right place and the right time,” he says. “Back then – this was when video rental stores were still a thing – I was watching films day and night from my local store in Camden. I was trained in how to be a presenter by producer Rob Lewis, and ended up presenting Screenplay. It was a critical movie review show, and remains to this day one of my favourite shows I’ve ever worked on.”

Alex later began work on a pilot entitled Dude, Where’s My Movie Quiz? In essence, it was Never Mind The Buzzcocks, but about film. Sadly, the pilot never went to series, but did lead to Alex being asked by Channel 4 to join a new comedy prank show entitled Balls of Steel. “I was asked to come and do the quiz element of the show, and the rest is history. It was great fun, and a great success. I’m not one for nostalgia, but I am particularly proud of that one. However, in terms of having actual balls of steel, what I did was at the lowest end of the spectrum! It was no way near as terrifying as some of the stuff that people did on that show,” he says. Hosted by Mark Dolan, special guests would perform stunts and try and hold their nerve during hidden camera set-ups in the presence of celebrities or the public.

As well as Balls of Steel, Alex went on to host Popworld with co-host Alexa Chung, and landed a number of acting roles in films including Dawn of the Dead (2004), Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005), Land of the Dead (2005) and The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005). After a magazine interview in which he discussed his love of movies, he was approached by Sky and offered his own show for Sky Cinema, Alex Zane’s Guest List. “We’d begin each interview discussing the film the actor was currently promoting, before moving on to discuss three of their favourite films. It was basically Desert Island Discs with movies! What’s really interesting for me is hearing from these people about the films that have really framed their lives – that’s quite something,” he says. “I feel like what I’m doing right now at Sky Cinema is where I want to be at this point in my career. Getting to fly around the world and interview movie stars for a living isn’t all that bad at all,” he laughs. “I’ve had some fantastic experiences with stars all over the world. From flying in a helicopter with Hugh Jackman, to meeting Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds, and nearly dying whilst standing on top of the BFI Imax cinema with Tom Cruise. I feel very fortunate to do what I do.”

As well as his presenting career with Sky, Alex is a keen scriptwriter and has recently finished work on a new sitcom entitled Friday Night Frights. He expresses both pride and pleasure in having written the script with friend and long-term collaborator Johnny Candon. After 17 years in London, Soho is still at the centre of Alex’s life and career, with his taste for rest and recreation in the neighbourhood bringing him back to Dean Street and its surrounding watering holes on a regular basis. “It’s just been one of those places, from the moment I arrived in London, that I’ve loved spending time in,” he says. “It’s tinged with some sadness, too: the thing about Soho is that it evolves so damn quickly – much quicker than the people that make it what it is.”

Aesop

Aesop


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality…”

Even on a crowded London high street, there’s a certain store that stands out from the crowd. There aren’t many brands that have successfully mixed aesthetically pleasing design with high quality skincare products, but Aesop has done exactly that, and much, much more.

It all started in Melbourne in 1987, when hairdresser Dennis Paphitis launched a small range of hair products that formed the basis of the Aesop brand; fast-forward to today, and Aesop has gone on to create some of the most thoughtfully designed and curated concept stores in the world, including one right here in Soho. Aesop’s brief is to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the very finest quality. With this in mind, they look far and wide to source both plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, using only those with a proven record of safety and efficacy.

Thomas Buisson, Aesop’s General Manager in Europe, tells me about the serious-minded brand with an eye for design. “I was always captivated by the product and concept. I was intrigued, and it led to a meeting through a mutual contact with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis and CEO Michael O’Keeffe, all the way back in 2008. I was convinced to join the European team and can thankfully say that it has been a rewarding and enlightening journey ever since.” It’s a role that sees him working closely with colleagues in deciding all aspects of new Aesop products, with everyone in the team giving their own local perspective and suggesting specific developments. “We are all involved in new product development. For instance, fragrances are of particular interest to us in Europe while our Asian colleagues are focused on the development of light serums for their hot and humid climate. Every region is able to make an impact, and new products are introduced only if they make absolute sense within the range and we are able to formulate them in a way that meets our standards of excellence on all fronts: sourcing, ingredients, quality and efficacy.”

The striking and highly individual design of Aesop’s retail outlets is the product of a similarly thoughtful approach. Each location first goes through a carefully controlled creative process, led by Thomas and Aesop’s talented design team. “As we go through this process we take into account the local environment, elements of the space itself, and of course our functional requirements. In this capacity, and depending on our inspiration, we work closely with our design team either in collaboration with external or in-house architects,” he says. In each of the brand’s unique spaces, consultants display the Aesop range to guide customers’ selections and decisions, in a setting as carefully crafted and curated as Aesop’s products themselves. Due to the strong cultural ties that Aesop has always had with the Old World, when the decision was made to open spaces outside Australia, Europe was high on the company’s priority list. “The first store in Europe opened in Paris in 2007, closely followed by London in 2008. When we move into a neighbourhood, our idea is to build something for good, both in terms or architecture but also in terms of establishing links with the community and neighbourhood. The first London store opened in Mayfair on Mount Street and was designed by Ilse Crawford. It was a homage to British elegance and savoir vivre that embodied our desire to build stores that celebrate the city and the area where we build them with a light and respectful touch,” Thomas says.

Aesop’s Lexington Street store opened its doors in 2011, in what was at the time a quiet corner of Soho. “The Soho store opened in a location that was previously occupied by a chicken shop and was stripped back so that we would really be able to reveal the simple and beautiful structure of the building. Located in one of the less touristy parts of the neighbourhood, it found its clientele among people working or living in the area, but at the same time it attracted international customers as well. It’s a perfect example of store that really belongs to the area – which means that people are comfortable walking in for a warm cup of herbal tea, a chat or to top up on their favourite skin care product. This is a good summary of what we are aiming to build with our stores: a place of interaction and discovery for the community.”

 

Thomas thinks of the Aesop brand as a set of ideals and beliefs translated into skin, hair and body care. The best ideas, he tells me, are rarely the ones that happen on spreadsheets or via structured brainstorming. “They’re about blood, sweat and many tears. We began with a small range of hair products in 1987. From there we explored the many variables of body care, and by 1991, we were ready to devote ourselves to developing the best skin care possible. Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality. It doesn’t matter what you do; the point is to do it well – with sincerity and conviction.”

Looking to the future, Thomas says that the intention is “to continue to open locations where we see the opportunity to focus on strong, meaningful and respectful retail. This takes time and means that we need to remain flexible and agile so that our development is always consistent with who we are. We will continue to develop innovative new products and will build appropriate capabilities to support our business.” In addition to this, Aesop aims to launch more initiatives and partnerships to further enhance its difference from other brands in the beauty industry. Continuing to support the arts is one avenue through which Aesop plans to inspire, learn and communicate; hosting exhibitions and events, collaborating on film projects and publishing new writing online are just some of the ways that Aesop continues to be about much, much more than just its fantastic products.

Lesley Lewis

Lesley Lewis


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“It’s an institution, but I’ve made it my own institution with time… I do with it what I feel is the right thing to do with it.”

When you walk into 49 Dean Street, it looks as though every inch of the walls is decorated with pictures evoking the memories and characters of the Soho of yesteryear. You soon realise, though, that it’s not just the walls here that tell a story of Soho’s history and spirit; you can feel in the air itself, taste it in the half pints of beer, and find it embodied in the landlady of one of London’s most iconic pubs. The French House is a Soho institution. During World War II it was a meeting place for the Free French, and exiled French leader Charles de Gaulle is said to have written his most famous wartime speech here, while the French’s reputation for playing host to an array of Bohemians – from Brendan Behan to Francis Bacon – is unmatched; for this is the neighbourhood’s ‘village pub’… as well as what is believed to be the biggest seller of Ricard Pastis in Britain. Landlady Lesley Lewis is part of the fabric of The French House; and you’ll find her picture on its walls too.

It’s no exaggeration to say that The French House and modern Soho have grown up hand-in-hand. Although it is believed to be of Victorian origin, it is not known for certain exactly when the building itself was constructed. Back in 1891, one Herr Schmidt, a German national, opened a venue here called The Wine House. With Schmidt deported at the beginning of World War I, the Berlemont family took over, importing barrelled French wine and signing the lease on December 30th 1914, a date still celebrated today. The pub, officially called The York Minster, took on a new lease of life, and quickly became a popular meeting place for Sohoites, among whom it was known, appropriately enough, as ‘the French’ or ‘The French House’.

Lesley arrived in Soho in 1979, in search of work. Her first job was running a strip show on Old Compton Street. “It had been run by my friend Dilly, and she then passed the job on to me. There were a lot of dark times in the strip shows – a lot of the girls got quite badly beaten up. This was the time back when the Maltese ran Soho, and there was a lot of violence and aggression stemming from the rivalry between clubs,” she remembers. “I came to London to study at college. I wanted to be an actress, but my father wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It was different back then – much different to today. It was lovely in those days. Nobody wanted to actually live here, so I had my own flat and studio where I choreographed the shows and made the costumes. I’m a Welsh girl, originally from South Wales. I’ve had a long love affair with Soho ever since coming here, and I don’t want to ever leave this place which has become my home.”

After moving on from the strip shows, Lesley worked in a number of different jobs. This included performing as a snake dancer; you can see this for yourself on the first floor of The French House, where she is pictured half-naked, dancing with a fierce snake. She also did a stint as General Manager for Theme Holdings, owners of premises that included Peppermint Park and Coconut Grove. It was all valuable experience. In 1989, Lesley became the new landlady of The French House, and she has happily remained here for just shy of 30 years. “The landlord was retiring, and they needed somebody to take over, and I was very lucky to have The French House handed over to me,” she says. “By this time, the place was very, very loved, almost adored. In the whole history of the pub there had only been two landlords before me. So for me, it was very difficult taking over from the previous landlord, Gaston Berlemont, who was born in the pub in 1914. We had to do some serious work on the place just to keep the licence, keeping it as close to the old place as possible. It took me a couple of years to be accepted by regulars, as I was constantly compared to the previous landlord, but since then it’s been wonderful!” she says, laughing over a glass of wine. “We’ve had such amazing people come through those doors, we really have. I did nearly give up at one time, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s an institution, but I’ve made it my own institution with time. It will always have its historic connections, but I do with it what I feel is the right thing to do with it.”

As Lesley says, there are ghosts here… ghosts of the past, and perhaps literal ones too. She tells me of the rumours of dead Frenchmen, buried under the cellars decades ago, and the cold air that passes through you in certain corridors. Mostly, though, it’s the spirit of place you feel here – the spirit of old Soho. The French House (officially renamed as such in 1984) remains somehow timeless: despite evolving over the years, it is indeed an institution with its own rules: no music, no machines, no television and no mobile phones – a rare haven in London for conversationalists. As in Gaston’s day, beer is served only in half pints (they have occasionally auctioned off a pint for an astronomical figure). Lesley sees her role as maintaining the continuity of this very special place, keeping a watchful eye on its legacy and its role as a pub for its Soho regulars, not to mention remembering everybody’s usual tipple. By the way, mine’s a glass of pinot noir.

A Soho Squat

A Soho Squat


Words & Photography Bob Aylott


“These are iconic images from this period in London’s history”

By trade, I’m a press photographer. I discovered in my attic some months ago this vintage collection of vintage black and white images, hidden away for some years. It’s unusual to find original wet prints of contemporary historical importance. This project was a labour of love that I’d put on the shelf. I knew I had one set of exhibition prints, but I’d forgotten about the box of extra prints and was amazed to find them. Back in 1972, I explored the seedier, dark and destructive yesteryear of a Soho squat. As a personal project, I spent a year recording life in one of the last squats in this part of London. Due for demolition, the Victorian tenement in Drury Lane was a haven for London’s homeless teenage runaways, junkies, winos and street thieves, including a convicted murderer, and a baby.

These subjects lived in the most squalid of conditions, often surviving on rotten fruit from the famous market. Rape, beatings, robbery, drug overdoses and death were common in a building overrun by rodents and with no running water, sanitation or electricity. These images are particularly special because they are not only iconic images from this period in London’s history, but were also printed shortly after the pictures were made in 1972. Only one or two prints of each subject have survived. The prints are un-retouched and show abrasions that would have been on the original negative, such as dust spots and scratches.

Aesop

Aesop


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality…”

Even on a crowded London high street, there’s a certain store that stands out from the crowd. There aren’t many brands that have successfully mixed aesthetically pleasing design with high quality skincare products, but Aesop has done exactly that, and much, much more.

It all started in Melbourne in 1987, when hairdresser Dennis Paphitis launched a small range of hair products that formed the basis of the Aesop brand; fast-forward to today, and Aesop has gone on to create some of the most thoughtfully designed and curated concept stores in the world, including one right here in Bloomsbury. Aesop’s brief is to formulate skin, hair and body care products of the very finest quality. With this in mind, they look far and wide to source both plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients, using only those with a proven record of safety and efficacy.

Thomas Buisson, Aesop’s General Manager in Europe, tells me about the serious-minded brand with an eye for design. “I was always captivated by the product and concept. I was intrigued, and it led to a meeting through a mutual contact with Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis and CEO Michael O’Keeffe, all the way back in 2008. I was convinced to join the European team and can thankfully say that it has been a rewarding and enlightening journey ever since.” It’s a role that sees him working closely with colleagues in deciding specific aspects of new Aesop products, with everyone in the team giving their own local perspective, and suggesting some aspects of development. “We are all involved in new product development. For instance, fragrances are of particular interest to us in Europe while our Asian colleagues are usually focused in the development of light serums for their hot and humid climate. Every region is able to impact on our new product. New products are introduced only if they make absolute sense within the range and we are able to formulate them in a way that meets our standards of excellence on all fronts: sourcing, ingredients, quality and efficacy.”

The striking and highly individual design of Aesop’s retail outlets is the product of a similarly thoughtful approach. Each location first goes through a carefully controlled creative process, led by Thomas and Aesop’s talented design team. “As we go through this process we take into account the local environment, elements of the space itself, and of course our functional requirements. In this capacity, and depending on our inspiration, we work closely with our design team either in collaboration with external or in-house architects,” he says. In each of the brand’s unique spaces, consultants display the Aesop range to guide customers’ selections and decisions, in a setting as carefully crafted and curated as Aesop’s products themselves. Due to the strong cultural ties that Aesop has always had with the Old World, when the decision was made to open spaces outside Australia, Europe was high on the company’s priority list. “The first store in Europe opened in Paris in 2006, closely followed by London in 2008. When we move into a neighbourhood, our idea is to build something for good, both in terms of architecture but also in terms of establishing links with the community and neighbourhood. The first London store opened in Mayfair on Mount Street and was designed by Ilse Crawford. It was a homage to British elegance and savoir vivre that embodied our will to build stores that celebrate the city and the area where we build them with a light and respectful touch,” Thomas says.

Bloomsbury’s Lambs Conduit Street store opened in 2015, giving the brand the ability to reference the history of the street and the space. “The water installation inside the store is a destination in itself and combines beauty with fascinating engineering. Residents and retailers alike have responded incredibly well to this project. Even though Bloomsbury is very much in the centre of London, it retains a village-like feel. It’s a true gem of the city, with some of the best retailers – and personalities – in London. We have very much enjoyed being a part of the Lambs Conduit Street Traders Association and always look forward to hosting the meetings in our basement; perhaps it’s a nod to the Bloomsbury Group of old.”

Thomas thinks of the Aesop brand as a set of ideals and beliefs translated into skin, hair and body care. The best ideas, he tells me, are rarely the ones that happen on spreadsheets or via structured brainstorming. “They’re about blood, sweat and many tears. We began with a small range of hair products in 1987. From there we explored the many variables of body care, and by 1991, we were ready to devote ourselves to developing the best skin care possible. Everything is driven by the product itself and the quest for superior quality. It doesn’t matter what you do; the point is to do it well – with sincerity and conviction.”

As to the future, Thomas says that the intention is “to continue to open locations where we see the opportunity to focus on strong, meaningful and respectful retail. This takes time and means that we need to remain flexible and agile so that our development is always consistent with who we are. We will continue to develop innovative new products and will build appropriate capabilities to support our business.” In addition to this, Aesop aims to launch more initiatives and partnerships to further enhance its difference from other brands in the beauty industry. Continuing to support the arts is one avenue through which Aesop plans to inspire, learn and communicate; hosting exhibitions and events, collaborating on film projects and publishing new writing online are just some of the ways that Aesop continues to be about much, much more than just its fantastic products.

Jack Bond

Jack Bond


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever…”

The first time I met Jack, I wanted to be him. In his late 70s, whereas many people might opt for a slower pace of life, Jack still continues to pursue his undying passion for filmmaking – an extensive career which has spanned six decades – along with other favoured pursuits, including drinking and smoking. He’s charming, handsome, oozing with wit, sophistication and an infectious energy – everything I’d hope to be in my later years! Film director Jack Bond remains one of Bloomsbury’s most creative residents – and one of its best storytellers.

A Londoner through and through, Jack was born, quite literally, at Hyde Park corner, in what was then St. George’s Hospital, and was raised in East Sheen, Richmond. His youth was spent observing the sights and sounds of a wartime city regularly bombed by Nazi Germany. “I was fully conscious of the war as a child,” he says. “My Dad was away fighting in it, and my mother and I elected to stay in London and not to evacuate. Every night, you’d hear the sirens going, and then the sirens would be followed by the droning of the bombs. We just sat there underneath an iron bed for protection. The windows came in, but we weren’t ever actually hit, except for one incendiary bomb, which didn’t go off. I pleaded with the air raid wardens to let me have it, but they wouldn’t give it to me. Bastards!” he laughs. “I spent the war talking to German officers through the fence at the prisoner of war camp in Richmond Park and dismantling bombs with my friends in my father’s shed. Now I look back, none of this did me any harm. These were life-forming experiences for me.”

Leaving school at 18, Jack found himself doing the then two years of compulsory National Service, something he didn’t much take to. “The Army loomed… In those days, the way it worked was if you didn’t want to go in the army, they’d throw you in prison. So, I opted for two years of obligatory military service. I thought: “Oh Christ almighty, this is going to be terrible. The first three months were pretty rugged. That was an ordeal, particularly if you weren’t inclined to be so obedient. One icy morning I slipped in my boots and made a mess of a turn. A very brutal Sergeant came up to me, stuck his stick in my gut and said: ‘I’ve got a fool on the end of my stick’. I replied ‘Oh really, which end?’ Straight in the slammer for a week I got for that,” Jack remembers. During his years in the military, he was offered the chance to go to Beaconsfield to train as a schoolteacher. On completing the training, he was based in Hong Kong, where he remained for the rest of his military service, later becoming headmaster at the school.

At the end of his time with the Army, Jack made the decision to refocus his energies in a new direction. “I got back to England, and that was it, I was out,” he says, “I thought, ‘I know what it’ll do, I’ll go and join the BBC and become a filmmaker.’ The only way to get in at that level was to have a university degree. Although I didn’t have one, they let my service as a teacher count as if I did.” With his foot in the door, Jack started off not making films but trailers, the first being for director Philip Savile. “It was for a television play called Mad House on Castle Street. My habit was to go and sit in the control room whilst they were rehearsing and take notes about what aspects would make for the best trailer,” he explains. “I was sitting up in the control room, and suddenly I heard a voice. It was American – a man singing and playing the guitar. I said to the PA, ‘Who’s the guy with the guitar?’ because I couldn’t make out from where I was sitting. She said to me, ‘I don’t really know, Jack, I think his name’s Bob Dylan, and Philip has put him in the play.’ Bob and I afterwards did some separate recordings in a different studio, and these were the makings of my first trailer. You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever. If you remember a great experience working with somebody, it means you’re benefiting from the talent they bring to the process.” After just four months, Jack moved on towards making full-length television films.

Directing The Pity of War (1964) and George Orwell 1903-1950 (1965), Jack next latched on to a dream project; making a film about Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. “They’d already been trying to get him for 15 years. Everybody at the BBC told me to forget it – nobody thought I’d get him,” he says. “I contacted Dali’s manager, who told me, ‘Its nothing personal, he just wont make a film with anybody.’ So I kept ringing him over and over and annoying him, until one day Dali came back to him and asked to meet me for tea, making it clear that there’d be no film.” Accepting the offer, Jack set off to meet Dali for tea in Paris. En route, he kept turning over in his mind a speech that might persuade Dali to work with him on a film about his career. “Tea arrived, and I was a bit awed by this startling figure of Dali sat in front of me. He was sitting in this high-backed chair with a cane in his hand. Nothing could prepare you for the shock of actually meeting him – he had such a powerful presence, and it was seriously unnerving. He caught me off guard, and said to me: ‘If we were to make a film together, which we never will do, what would have been your intention?’ And so I sat in a frozen position trying to remember the speech. Nothing came out – silence. I forgot everything I wanted to say. I said to him: ‘My intention would have been… my intention… err… to drill a hole in your head to destroy and penetrate your unconscious once and forever from the inside out! Where these words came from, I do not know” he laughs. “Dali went silent, and I was thinking about how I’d fucked it up. We sat for about three or four minutes and not a word was spoken… and then suddenly he pointed at me and said: ‘I will make a film with you.’” Jack and Dali’s collaboration, Dali in New York, was released in 1966, and remains one of the most notable films in Jack’s filmography.

Jack’s career went on to see him work on the South Bank Show, contributing films about figures ranging from Werner Herzog to Patricia Highsmith, directing a number of feature films, and not least making a number of documentaries about artists. Most recently, Jack completed a documentary about Essex-based Chris Moon, a self-taught artist who was formally a painter and decorator, with no prior training or experience in fine art. An Artist’s Eyes (2016) received a warm reception when it premiered privately at the Charlotte Street Hotel late last year. The film focuses on the creative process behind Moon’s work, tracking him from his studio in Essex to a London exhibition and another in the Chelsea district of New York, concluding with a road trip across Spain in Moon’s vintage Mercedes Benz. “There’s no talking to camera in this film. I really hate that as a technique. There’s no interviews, only talking and sound,” says Jack, “Chris is now a highly priced artist who discovered that he had the knack for art. I was particularly happy with the finish of this new film. As an artist, there is no greater critic than yourself, and watching the immense pressure and depression that an artist like Chris has to overcome to enable him to work was something I could relate to and admire.” Today, Jack resides in Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Centre, which he describes as like living in the sky. Jack’s energy and humour show no sign of dimming any time soon, and neither does his career, with a new film project already on the horizon.

Miles Copeland

Miles Copeland


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me….”

We’re on the third floor of a Georgian house on Lambs Conduit Street, where Miles Copeland and I are looking through a collection of carefully arranged records in his home. He passes me a few, and together we examine the sleeves. Zooey, Angelina, Luca: the names of just a handful of artists signed to the WONDERFULSOUND record label, founded by this charming and remarkably humble DJ and record producer. “It’s got a sort of 70s sound to it, a soul and feel that I don’t think you hear around anymore,” he says, showing me the sleeve of Angelica’s new album, Vagabond Saint. With his roots firmly in Bloomsbury, Miles has built a business that takes in music consultancy, publishing, and production. He’s built a reputation for working with new and independent artists, bringing love and passion to the journey of producing music, continually searching for that wonderful sound that remains the ultimate destination of all his projects.

Miles was born in London and raised in Bournemouth. His relationship with music began as a youngster, when he started collecting records; soon, his growing knowledge and passion for sound set him on an a whole new path. By coincidence, when he was just 14, he was asked to DJ, which begun to set things in motion for him. “It was a mate of mine, my sister’s friend. He used to work as a sort of jazz wine bar place, and he knew I was into my music; so he asked me to DJ for him. I turned up with a little bag of records, wearing a Miles Davis T-shirt, and DJed from 8pm until 1am,” he laughs. “God knows how I did it! I assume I must’ve started playing the same records over and over. That was it – that was the first time I DJed. After that, it began a semi-regular thing for me, and I became known among my friends as the one that was into music. I’ve stuck with it, and it’s become a part of my character. Music is embedded in me. I wouldn’t call myself a vinyl snob, but as far as streaming and downloading goes, I have my own preference. I like the idea and aesthetic of listening to a record – the actual process of putting a record onto a turntable and listening to it is a totally different medium of sound to me.”

Miles originally moved to the West End to study sound art, but he also began to learn about how to work in the music industry and become a sound engineer. “It was about thinking outside of the box, thinking about and working with sound from a more left-field, avant-garde point of view. I had tried to make my way into the music industry already at this point, but going to college was my way of trying to work out what I wanted to do.” On leaving, Miles came to set up the company that became WONDERFULSOUND. Many people in the industry at the time believed that artists could operate as individuals, without the support of record labels. “At this point I was actually in a band, and we sort of fell for it and begun putting our own records out under the label. About a year into it, the distributor we were working with was pressing for us to move forward with another record. Thus it became clear to us that you needed to have wider support to make a success of your own music,” he says. “This is where we really begun to redouble our efforts, and begin enhancing the record label side of WONDERFULSOUND. Naturally and organically, we began to start producing records through people we already knew and various contacts.”

His company brings together a number of specialisms under the umbrella of WONDERFULSOUND. “There’s a record label element, and also music consultancy. I produce music for fashion shows, providing help when clients require live music and mixes. It’s no doddle; producing six minutes of music for a fashion show can be really tricky work, and can easily be done badly, but you get there eventually,” he explains. “A big part of what I do is consulting with designers on music, including menswear label Oliver Spencer, whom I collaborate with on a regular basis. In essence, this involves me taking their vision of a fashion show and bringing a sound to it, which reflects the collection and the show. With Oliver, I’ve come to act as his ‘mouth’ when it comes to dealing with musicians and artists for his shows, on the day and beforehand,” he says. “I’ve been doing fashion shows for just over 12 years now, including Jasper Conran, Margaret Howell, Asprey, and assisting Paul Smith.”

Bloomsbury, and Lambs Conduit Street in particular, has been Miles’s home for just over 15 years. When he first arrived, the street was a very different place. Back in the early 2000s, many of the street’s celebrated stores were mostly empty shops, or businesses on their way out rather than their way up. “It’s an infectious area,” enthuses Miles. “It’s such a brilliant neighbourhood, I wouldn’t want to give it up for anywhere else. It was far from what it is today when I first came here. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, let’s leave people to be the judge. It’s certainly a conduit for artists and the creative, and no other street in London has amassed so much talent in one single place,” he says. “I try to live up to the street’s name too –to be a conduit for artists. I want the young, creative people that I meet to thrive. I want to promote, publish and record the work of those whose talents I truly admire. A lot of creatives are really struggling, so I try and enhance their talents however I can. From the artists that produce the sleeve artwork for my records to the people that work on them, that’s what WONDERFULSOUND is all about.” Miles is as enthusiastic about the work of others as he is disarmingly modest about his own, but his love for recorded sound and soulful pop, often on a budget, continues to shine and find new outlets. When he’s not producing records with his artists or providing the soundtrack for some of the biggest names in UK fashion, you’ll find him indulging his passion in yet another way – hosting a regular DJ spot on the independent station Soho Radio.

Christina Harrington

Christina Harrington


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Portraits 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 people go? How have people made sense of their world in the past, and how do they do it today? Welcome to Treadwells. Christina Oakley Harrington opened her bookshop 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. Christina’s 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 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 ever 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 was the actions that had survived, while the 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 of lecturer in medieval history at St Mary’s University College. Medieval art and culture are filled with rich symbolism and 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 Bloomsbury’s 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 locale.

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.”

Gay’s The Word

Gay’s The Word


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Kirk Truman


“You get a sense that people feel they are in a space of their own.”

A smile plays across Jim MacSweeney’s face as he sits, pensive, clasping a mug of tea in his nook at the rear of the shop. His eyes twinkle as he stares at a point in space just over my shoulder, contemplating visions of the past and future projected on the spines of the books packed tightly on the shelves behind me. Jim has been working here for nearly three decades, two of those as manager. What Jim doesn’t know about Gay’s the Word, the UK’s only remaining dedicated gay and lesbian bookshop, probably isn’t worth knowing.

Gay’s the Word opened in 1979, just 12 years after homosexuality was legalised in the UK. In those days, mainstream bookshops simply didn’t have dedicated sections for gay and lesbian writing. If you were lucky you might have been able to track down a particular book in one of the more niche independent or secondhand bookshops, but it was very hard to get hold of certain titles, particularly non-fiction. Mail order from the USA was often the only option. Gay’s the Word was a lifeline, even though it took a number of years for HM Customs and Excise (who carried out a raid in 1984, seizing hundreds of books) to finally accept that the place was a serious bookshop not a porn peddler.

The long, narrow space contains an astonishing breadth of content. The front part of the shop has a strong fiction section with the usual display of new titles, but keep going, past a slim revolving stand of DVDs (feature films and documentaries), and you’ll find works of non-fiction, poetry, plays, biography, art, erotica, theory, history, fashion and music. An important part of Jim’s job is scouring publishers’ catalogues for anything of “queer interest” (he explains that he uses the term “queer” to cover gay, lesbian, bi and trans, because it’s easier). “There are some novelists who happen to be gay, but the key thing is whether their books have gay themes or protagonists. If so, we’ll consider whether they will be of interest to us. Colm Tóibín is an example. Some of his books are gay, and a whole load of them aren’t. And we will sell less of the ones that aren’t gay because people are coming in here specifically to look for lesbian and gay writing. And obviously we’ll stock novels with gay themes even if the writers are not. Now if it’s poetry, John Ashbery or Mary Oliver, for example, both of whom happen to be gay and lesbian, their work doesn’t deal directly with passion or sexuality or desire, but we’ll stock them because they happen to be queer and they’re poets. We want to have as wide a range as possible, but we need titles that sell. Esoteric books, we might only get one or two copies in, while others like queer theory, will become part of our core stock.”

For many years, the shop was a focal point for gay and lesbian activists and community groups. The rear of the premises, including the very nook where Jim and I are chatting, was where many of them used to meet. There was tea and coffee, a piano for sing-a-longs and a large noticeboard where people posted ads, flyers and leaflets about anything and everything. The piano and coffee bar have long gone to make way for more bookshelves, but several groups still meet at the shop – the Lesbian Discussion Group has been meeting here for over 35 years – and there are regular events, readings and book launches. I am amazed when Jim tells me they can seat 45 people on folding chairs.

Gay’s the Word still plays an important role as a portal for those seeking advice or support, or simply exploring their own queer identity through literature, regardless of age or gender. Jim recounts how a woman recently came in with her 14-year-old daughter: “She sat down in the teen section and looked at the books, and the mum chatted to me and then went off for a coffee, letting her daughter work away. When she came back, her daughter had chosen and her mum paid for the books. And I loved how relaxed she was, and how things have changed. Because it’s so easy to think of difficult times, bricks through the window or homophobic abuse. We get very little of that now.”

I wonder what place there is for Gay’s the Word today, given how easy it is to find many of these titles in large bookshops or online. Jim is adamant: “A lot of the sections in mainstream bookshops aren’t very good, with a few notable exceptions, or else they focus on erotic fiction, more obvious stuff. They are also getting smaller as they run out of space. People come in here because we have an extraordinary range of books pulled in from everywhere. We really know the stuff, and we read. It’s also a non-judgmental space. There’s a community feel. I really like the amount of young women and men we now get coming in since the film Pride, which really made people aware of the history of the place. They ask for recommendations, they talk about books, they ask questions. You might see some of them holding hands, or stealing a quick kiss at the back. And of course we get people from abroad who search us out. You get a sense that people feel they are in a space of their own. Whereas if you’re in a mainstream bookshop, say, and you’re buying a book on coming out, or erotica, or gay spirituality, you might feel uncomfortable as you go up to the counter, but here this is what we do.” Love, indeed. Love of books and love of people. In these uncertain times, Gay’s the Word remains as special and as vital as ever.

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.

joshuakanestore.com

@joshuakanebespoke

A Bloomsbury Garden

A Bloomsbury Garden


Words Yvonne Craig

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


It has been said that one of the most beautiful private gardens in Bloomsbury is that enjoyed by the residents of Ridgmount Gardens. From the windows of their Bedford Estates’ mansion flats they watch the seasons changing the magnificent trees from spring gold to autumn bronze. When one of these was destroyed in a storm some time ago, its mighty branches crushing a resident’s car, his first words were: “Poor tree!” This love of our garden is shared by passers-by, who also delight in the summer fragrance of the cascading mimosa and stop to photograph it – just as the pilgrims do for the Bob Marley blue plaque outside my flat.

The garden has a fascinating history. The Bedford Estates have kindly provided archival information about its construction, after an earlier one, of unknown date, was demolished. The 1890 Surveyor’s Specification, “for His Grace the Duke of Bedford”, showed that he, like subsequent members of his family, was concerned to meet the highest standards, which should conform to those of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Master Builders’ Association. One example was the Duke’s insistence that “trees were not to be disturbed unless permitted by his Forester”, and that roots were to be carefully “bridged”. It seems that the garden’s construction relied on the Surveyor, it being too early for a landscape designer. The current Head Gardener, Thomas Abbott, devoted to arboreal care, now has fewer employees, although he has been able to plant new trees, including the Persian Ironwood and Chinese Sacred Bamboo. The North American Smokebrush has an alliterative Latin name: Cotinus coggygna! We always delight in the autumnal multi-coloured Maple, and are intrigued by the recent wood sculptures fashioned from trimmed upturned roots. Plants like the appropriate London Pride or Heuchera, the spring bulbs, and the glorious gardenias graciously add seasonal colour to the garden.

The garden’s wild life is as competitive as that of humanity, and swooping seagulls demonstrate this. The squirrels swing on our nut feeders and fight off the tits, which fly to the nearby fatballs. The ubiquitous pigeons are called avian rodents because they spread disease, so we discourage them by withholding our breadcrumbs, although we welcome the thrushes, blackbirds, starlings and occasional wagtails. These and smaller birds like the London sparrows, finches, wrens and our beloved robins, especially delight us, although they are scarcer now, as leaf-blowing sweeps away the tiny insects on which they feed. It is rumoured that many years ago nightingales could be heard, and we have occasional visits from exotic birds-on-the wing, while the colourful jays and jackdaws may hunt for eggs, and crows herald the dusk. The nocturnal foxes, with their vixens and cubs, chase up and down the garden and also the street, where they tear open the black refuse bags left overnight and devour the food scraps inside. Although our excellent porters place large-print hall notices warning residents not to “feed the foxes”, they always outfox us. Dog owners are compliant, however, as the Bedford Estates forbid the entry of our furry friends into the garden to avoid soiling of the grass and paths where residents and their children sit, walk and play.

Residents of all ages love and enjoy our garden. Babies roll about on rugs on the grass. Toddlers tumble, jump and run around, while older children play hide-and-seek among the shrubbery. They all delight in dancing under the hosepipe or splashing in their plastic pools. Parents relax, rejoicing that their children can play safely away from the traffic. Elderly people enjoy watching it all, and also the passers-by dressed in the colourful clothes of international and still Bohemian Bloomsbury with its surging numbers of students. Some of these reside in Ridgmount Gardens while studying at UCL, SOAS and RADA, and they grace the grass with their beautiful young bodies as they lie there with their textbooks before the summer seasonal exams. Residents also include permanent professors at Bloomsbury colleges as well as temporary visiting ones from overseas. These tend to sit in the shade with their laptops, perhaps composing their magnum opus.

Such diversity leads to a great variety of garden activities. There are all kinds of parties. Children’s birthdays are made magical by balloons and streamers festooning the trees, while the grown-ups have cocktail parties, and couples cuddle together with champagne when it grows dark. The Residents’ Ridgmount Garden Association (RGA) Committee regularly hosts soirees when we bring drinks and bites to share, while flags are hung on the railings for special occasions. One was the Queen’s birthday, when we all sang the national anthem. A long time ago, when I had tenure of the RGA committee chair for eight years, I bought a potted Christmas tree for the garden, decorated with apples for the birds, and we all sang carols around it. These events, and our private garden in general, always attract the interest and envy of passers-by, although residents are free to bring in their guests. Now, at the age of 91, my greatest joy is to rest in bed, watching the sun’s rising and setting illuminating the garden, its life, and ours.

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.

Eclectics

Eclectics


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“We formed a collective in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh.”

In the private gardens of the Bedford Estates, a strikingly beautiful young girl steps forward. She slips into a heavy REMADE Schneetarn Anorak by English fashion designer, Christopher Raeburn. First, she begins to shimmy from side to side, then to flex her body, the fabric following her limbs in their every move. Her face wears an elusive smile as she begins to dance. She is immersed in her passion: her name is Valerie Ebuwa.

I’ll come clean: dance is something of a riddle to me, simply because I can’t do it to save my life. Which only increases my admiration for the profound commitment and sheer passion for performance that this group of young artists share. Valerie and her team of urban contemporary dancers captivate me, so I’m fascinated to learn more about the origins of their Eclectics dance and performance group and hear about their relationship with the Bloomsbury area.

Valerie tells me that Eclectics was something she and her colleagues had always foreseen. The group is made up of a trio of close friends who met during dance training at Bloomsbury’s The Place, a powerhouse for dance development that leads the way in training, creation and performance. Though they all received frequent individual offers of work from a variety of different events and agencies, their shared interests in dance, music, and fashion led them to take their passion to the next level by becoming a group. “Having a variety of multidisciplinary skills, we formed a collective that performs, choreographs and teaches in order to reach our fullest potential and keep our craft fresh,” explains Valerie, “and having many different backgrounds within the group we often teach each other too – so it’s a constant, ever-growing collective.” The group comprises London-born Valerie Ebuwa and Ryan Munroe, and Claire Shaw from Wales. Together, they manage bookings, events, rehearsals and choreography, collaborating with a mix of independent businesses, venues and brands, including some international names such as Nike.

As individuals, the members of Eclectics naturally have their own personal ambitions, but as a collective their aim is to promote contemporary dance to new audiences who may not know much about this particular world; it’s a way to both inform and inspire others. “The contemporary dance world has a niche, elitist audience – usually contemporary dancers, their friends and families. It’s our aim to educate people about what exactly contemporary dance is whilst also changing the face of contemporary dance. Not too long ago, dance degrees could only be obtained by those whose families could support vocational training. As a result, contemporary dance companies have often been made up of people from similar backgrounds and ethnic origins,” says Valerie. “These people often do similar work because they have all been trained in the same way. Eclectics aims to have mixed ensembles of talented individuals from all backgrounds in order to change the perception of contemporary dance for good.”

The group spent three years in training at the London Contemporary Dance School (aka The Place), the UK’s number one school for contemporary dance. As the school is located on Bloomsbury’s Duke’s Road, the three then-students spent much of their time in and around the neighbourhood for the duration of the course. “Having spent three years here, we as a collective realised that Bloomsbury residents were still unaware of how the area plays such a huge role in the future of contemporary dance,” says Valerie. Once they’d graduated, they decided to make their keep their base in the area, choreographing site-specific works that would both educate people about contemporary dance and also pay homage to the area that had nurtured them and so many other UK dance artists.

When I asked Valerie to explain what makes Eclectics different from other contemporary dance groups, she emphasised just how multidisciplinary the collective is and how it lives up to the promise of its name. “We not only choreograph and train in contemporary dance, but we regularly perform hip hop, dancehall, samba, commercial, African and jazz choreographies. We integrate all of our different styles together, rather than just contemporary dance. We often travel to different countries to enhance our understanding of different dance styles and genres and also use other movement art forms such as yoga, capoeira, kung fu and other martial arts to enhance and inform our work,” she says. Eclectics also design all of their own sets, costumes and lighting: “So all the work comes from us.”

This is an exciting time for the group, who have plenty of plans for the future. “We are be looking to expand our connections with local residents and this year’s graduates of London Contemporary Dance School in order to keep the promotion of contemporary dance within the area alive and fresh. We hope to bring contemporary dance to the foreground in Bloomsbury, and get it out of its current somewhat backyard existence,” says Valerie. The group are also in talks for many more events, shows and residencies, as well as music video performances. As I watch Valerie, Ryan and Claire improvising together, I try and define what it is that makes their performance so captivating. It’s a matter of personality and spirit, of sheer love of dance, but of something else too. As they dance, jump and stretch, I notice that their eyes meet as they constantly observe and react to one another: and it’s clear that what makes Eclectics special is that they are three friends who share a close, courageous creative bond.

 

Louise Russell

Louise Russell


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

“Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn…”

We have left behind the leafy street corners of Bloomsbury and find ourselves in the green fields of Woburn, Bedfordshire. Through the country lanes full of ferns that lean toward the roadside, we make the approach to the 13,000-acre estate of Woburn Abbey. Although it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. As we walk through the corridors of the Abbey, soaking up the sense of history and admiring the many portraits that line the walls, a lady approaches with a small dog in tow. Her Grace, Louise Russell, The Duchess of Bedford, lives at the Abbey with her husband Andrew, the 15th Duke of Bedford, and their two children. Though it is 50 miles from London, this is the home of a family that has been integral in helping develop Bloomsbury into the place we know and love today. It soon becomes clear, as Louise talks about Bloomsbury’s Bedford Estates and her role as Patron of the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival, that this is very much an ongoing relationship.

The Russell family has been part of the fabric of the Bloomsbury neighbourhood for over 300 years. When William, Lord Russell, married Lady Rachel Wriothesley in 1669, the Bloomsbury Estate came into the ownership of the Russell family. Rachel had inherited the estate upon the death of her father, the 4th Earl of Southampton, two years earlier. He had died leaving three daughters but no male heir, thus his estates were divided equally between his children. William, Lord Russell, was the eldest surviving son of the 5th Earl of Bedford. He became implicated in the Rye House Plot of 1683 and was executed for treason. The family was later pardoned, and the Dukedom was created in 1694. The couple had lived at Southampton House in Bloomsbury with their children, including the future 2nd Duke of Bedford. Southampton House became the primary ducal London residence and was renamed Bedford House in 1734 and later demolished in 1800, facilitating the creation of Russell Square. Much of the landscape and architecture of Bloomsbury is the work of past Dukes and Duchesses of Bedford. It was the formidable Duchess Gertrude, widow of the 4th Duke, who created the much admired Bedford Square and Gower Street, while Tavistock Square takes its name from the courtesy title given to the eldest sons of the Dukes of Bedford: the Marquess of Tavistock.

Louise has a passion for Bloomsbury, describing its notable architecture, fine Georgian squares and rich history as captivating and unmatched in Central London. “I hate the term up-and-coming, though there is something really quite unique about Bloomsbury that defines it as different from nearby neighbourhoods such as Fitzrovia, Soho and Marylebone,” she says. “Bloomsbury is a centre of culture, joining together education, history and diversity at every turn. Iconic literary and intellectual figures throughout history have made Bloomsbury their home, from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf. The Bedford Estates is proud of this heritage.”

Since it was established in 2006, The Bloomsbury Festival has become a focal point of the neighbourhood calendar. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the festival is a creative explosion of arts, science, literature, culture and fun. It’s a unique event, representative of the neighbourhood’s spirit, bringing together over 100 world-leading institutions, from drama, dance and visual art colleges to creative businesses, theatres, cinemas, ground-breaking scientists, thinkers, and publishing houses. Led by festival director Kate Anderson, the 2016 Festival takes place over five days from 19th to 23rd October, with a schedule of about 150 events in venues across the neighbourhood – streets, parks, museums, galleries and public and private buildings are all involved. For 2016, the theme of the festival is language, marking the Centenary of SOAS and also reflecting the rich diversity of the neighbourhood’s population. The interpretation of the theme is broad, promising a varied programme that will bring it to life: expect street parties celebrating the language of dance, debates on the language of social change, poets battling it out against technology, a sound installation of endangered languages, and many more wide-ranging creative projects and performances throughout the festival’s duration. Throughout the weekend of the festival, Store Street’s unique independent shops and restaurants will remain open later than usual and will each house a different art or music experience.

The Bedford Estates is one of the lead partners of this year’s Bloomsbury Festival, and has supported the event for many years, with Louise acting as Patron. The Duchess is an ambassador for the entirety of the programme, meeting with the festival chair and director throughout the year to discuss strategic plans, development and fundraising. Louise takes an active role in all of these capacities, hosting a number of receptions to help raise the festival’s profile and support its fundraising drive. The Duchess is a particular advocate for work that involves the community at all levels, especially the Step Out Store Street event, which this year takes place on Friday 21st October. “I would love to encourage as many people to come as possible – it’s really worth coming along! It’s a happy, vibrant and relaxed atmosphere, which captures the essence of the neighbourhood. If this corner of London is accessible to you, it would be a shame to miss it. Last year’s event on Store Street was a huge success,” she says. “It was attended by some 3,000 people, and the street was lined with fire sculptures inspired by 2015’s theme of light.”

The 10th Bloomsbury Festival is set to both captivate and represent the neighbourhood over its five days, and it’s one way in which the Bedford Estates maintains its historical links with the neighbourhood and continues its work here in modern day Bloomsbury, working closely with various stakeholders and the local London Borough of Camden to enhance the public realm and celebrate the cultural heritage of the area.

Cathal McAteer

Cathal McAteer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“I fell in love with clothes, the idea and process of making the best clothes that I could…”

Folk is a word that can refer both to a sense of tradition and to the ordinary people who sustain it. Making your way along Lambs Conduit Street, it’s also a word you’ll see adorning two shop-fronts: one at No 49, and another at No 53. Here, on one of Bloomsbury’s premier streets for both independent shops and bigger high-street names, Scotsman Cathal McAteer, founder of Folk Clothing, has established a brand that is now a name for refined style and quality.

Folk offers elegance enriched by subtle details to its products for both men and women. In essence, it’s about style without the drama. Detail is key to the brand: from the stitching and buttons to the fabrics themselves, there are no shortcuts or half-measures.

“We don’t try to be mainstream. We’re niche – it’s all about the small things” says Cathal. “We don’t go to the button shop. We take care of every single detail ourselves: we never compromise. The thing we come back to quite a lot is to have more than you show. We like things to be instantly recognisable, without a label or a brand on them. Everything is in the details – and in the hidden details, the textures and fabrics too. Some people might say we care way too much, or waste too much time doing these things, but we think this finishes pieces off in a way that makes us satisfied with the garment. It just happens to be how I like to do things, you know?”

Cathal founded Folk in 2002, and has since navigated between streetwear and the architect-designer aesthetic, helping create a scene for well-made casual clothing with a modern British edge. Cathal grew up in Glasgow, where he started out working in shops from an early age. “I’ve been working in fashion since I was about 17. I’m not from a design background, I started out working in shops and then later on ended up working as a buyer,” he explains. “My friend told me I should call it Folk, so I did. Sometime later he wanted to call his brand Folk, but I was already too far gone!” he laughs. “I basically always knew it was going to happen. It was a natural progression from what I was doing before. I’d been in Japan with a friend of mine, and these guys had asked me when I was going to start my own brand. Some people offered to pay for their orders in advance, which helped me get things started. For about five years I’ve always had another business that helped to fund Folk. The profits went into the brand, until we began working with a selling agency further down the line. It kind of started organically, and from there it went on to become what it is now. I fell in love with clothes, the idea and process of making the best clothes that I could, and making them as accessible as possible to consumers.”

Beginning as a menswear line, Folk has since gone on to expand into footwear, accessories, furniture and womenswear. Bloomsbury has long been the backdrop for the brand, with the first store having opened on Lambs Conduit Street more than a decade ago and its head office based just round the corner on Emerald Street. “I guess I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart,” says Cathal. ”Our customer is really into clothes. They recognise quality and craft in products – they posses a real vanity for covering up vanity.” Looking back, he admits “the first few collections were truly shit. But as time went on we found our way. A friend of mine asked to meet me for a pint on Lambs Conduit Street way back. He told me if I was ever going to have a shop, I should have it here.” It turned out to be a wise decision. “Back then, there was nothing here compared to what there is today. To me, it’s a great position in London – it’s set perfectly in the middle of town. I’ve worked all over, but this is as perfect as it gets.” In the future, Cathal intends to evolve Folk and keep it embedded here in London, mentioning the possibility of a potential third store on Lambs Conduit Street in the near future. Whatever lies ahead for the brand, Folk’s roots will remain right here in Bloomsbury where it all started.

 

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution. Grant was his mentor…”

One of the great pleasures of living in Bloomsbury is its constant ability to surprise, to give up a new secret, to reveal another hidden gem. I’m almost ashamed to admit that it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered one such secret, a wonderful cabinet of curiosities that had hitherto gone under my radar. I speak of Bloomsbury’s Grant Museum of Zoology on University Street. I met Jack Ashby of the University College London Public and Cultural Engagement Department to learn something of the history of this remarkable collection.

Jack tells to me that the museum’s name derives from Professor Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874), who established the Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in 1827 to serve as a teaching collection at the then newly founded University of London (what you and I now know as University College London). Born in Edinburgh, Grant studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and became best known for his work on marine invertebrates, in particular sponges, sea pens and molluscs. “Nobody has ever heard of him. He’s not in any way famous, though he should be. He was one of the earliest evolutionary biologists. He was a biologist 30 years before Charles Darwin ever published. He taught Darwin evolution – Grant was his mentor,” says Jack. Grant was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in England, and upon arrival at London University found there were no teaching materials with which to conduct his courses – so he immediately began to amass specimens, material for dissection, diagrams and lecture notes. On his deathbed, he was persuaded by colleague William Sharpey (1802-1880) to leave his considerable collection of books, academic papers and natural history specimens to the college. This ensured that successive generations of students would have access to his knowledge. While, sadly, Grant’s personal papers have never been found, his collection forms the basis of the museum today.

The collection has grown organically over time up, getting considerably larger between the early 1980s and early 2000s when other colleges and universities throughout London began to donate their own collections to the Grant museum. “They had decided they no longer required any sort of collection of zoology,” says Jack. “Animal biology had begun to go out of fashion, with people just teaching molecular biology and genetics. Today many universities in London have realised that you can’t teach a student what a tiger looks like by looking at its genes – you actually need some whole animal bits too!”

In absorbing a whole variety of collections, the museum has effectively become a museum of museums. Today, it houses a collection from the Gordon Museum – a collection of animal brains from the comparative anatomy collections at King’s College London – and Imperial College London’s entire fossil, skeletal and spirit specimen collection, which was transferred to UCL in the 1980s. Soon after, in the 1990s, primatology and fossil hominid materials were donated from the Napier Collection, along with subsequent donations from a variety of other sources throughout the city. A large majority of the specimens in the collection originate from the Victorian era, with many others having been on display for over 180 years. Among them you’ll find one of the rarest skeletons in the world, that of the extinct quagga, an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. It’s the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK, and no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The museum also boasts a number of wax models used in teaching and around 20,000 microscope slides, many of which are displayed on a giant vertical light box – which makes for interesting viewing, to say the least.

Having been traditionally only made available to students, the collection was fully opened to the public in 1997 for two afternoons a week; today, teaching takes place every day in term time and the Grant Museum is open to visitors six days a week. In over 170 years much has befallen the museum. In 1884, a ceiling collapse destroyed a number of specimens; there were further ceiling collapses and flooding in the 1890s; and by the 1970s the roof was completely missing. During the dark days of the Second World War the entire collection was evacuated to Bangor, and in subsequent decades it faced numerous threats of closure. In recent years, however, the museum has gone from strength to strength.

The museum itself has relocated many times. When it was opened to the public in 1997, the collection moved to the UCL Darwin Building. In March 2011, the museum was moved again, this time to the wonderful Rockefeller Building on University Street, which was formally the Medical School Library. The museum continues to be used as a teaching collection, just as it was in Professor Grant’s day. Today, it is fully accessible to more people than ever before through outreach and through public displays. Remarkably, the museum remains something of a secret from the wider Bloomsbury neighbourhood in which it rests. Jack Ashby and the staff at the museum fully encourage visits from the general public and are always keen to raise awareness of this hidden gem. The Grant Museum is sure to stimulate the imagination of anybody who steps into its corridors and explores its numerous odd exhibits. After all, with such a wonderfully eccentric collection on your doorstep, you’d be mad as a box of quaggas not to pay it a visit!

 

Skoob Books

Skoob Books


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


“What makes Bloomsbury important is the culture that’s here…”

Exit Russell Square tube station, having conquered its seemingly never-ending steps, bypass the crowded Brunswick Centre, veer off the main shopping drag, and you will find one of the great treasures of Bloomsbury. In an unassuming location – next to Waitrose and down a flight of stairs – is Skoob, the second-hand bookshop that is home to possibly the largest privately owned book collection in the world. Venture down those stairs in search of a particular book and you will not only find it but most likely come away with several other titles you didn’t even know you were looking for. Yes, Skoob is a treasure-trove of a place, its tightly-packed shelves playing host to around 65,000 volumes on the shop floor alone, another 45,000 in basement storage, and around one million in a warehouse in Oxford. If you didn’t believe me when I said it was a large collection, those numbers should do the talking.

It’s fitting that Skoob – which opened 1978 on Sicilian Avenue, near Bloomsbury Square, and has operated from a variety of premises around London – is now back in the literary haven of Bloomsbury, where it has made its home for the past 9 years. With such a vast collection, your first question might be (well, mine was) where does it all come from? Chris, the manager and the man behind the seemingly endless rows of books, tells me that it comes from anywhere and everywhere. Oxford colleges, London academics, people downsizing, or their own lucky finds. Thankfully for Chris, we Londoners are typically short on space and always looking to shed a few volumes. The book collector of today is changing. Space is hard to come by, and even if you do have some room, downsizing is a reality. Not only that, but we’re constantly on the move. So as Londoners find themselves running out of space or leading a transient lifestyle that makes them reluctant to be weighed down, Chris and the rest of the Skoob staff are there to pick up the literary remains. They gather collections both great and small and of every conceivable genre to fill their shelves, which burst with books for every kind of reader.

“We undertake not to shred, and to find another read, another buyer, for a book,” says Chris. All of the books they collect, even yet more Jilly Cooper paperbacks, will eventually end up on the shop floor or on the carefully selected online shop. Skoob is committed to continually replenishing whatever sells with something better, so that customers are never at a loss to find something. Restocking happens every time a sale is made, but the process is not random. As Chris explains: “If I just replace that with any old book, then gradually the quality goes down. So what we need to do every time a book sells is replace it with a better one. Better than the gap that’s left.” It’s the sort of approach that demonstrates how much attention Skoob pays to its customers: the staff always want to find the right book for every shopper. “We recognise that all our customers are individuals and aren’t going to be herded into buying the latest fashion.”

I am one of the many customers to which Skoob caters. As a student I thankfully discovered Skoob not far into my first year of reading English Literature. I say thankfully because had I not taken a friend’s recommendation early on into my first few weeks of living a stone’s throw from Russell Square, my three years of education in London would have wound up being a lot more expensive. Even when I moved out of the area, I still returned to Skoob on a regular basis, not simply for practical reasons but out of a fondness for its packed shelves. I never left empty handed and rarely with just the items on my list; testament not just to my shopping habit, but also to how well stocked this shop is. If I went in looking for an affordable copy of Little Dorrit, I left with an armful of Faulkner as well.

The last decade has seen a huge change not just in the make-up of Londoners, but more specifically in the capital’s student population. They buy fewer books, and when they do, they go second-hand, both online and in penny-saving sanctuaries like Skoob. This is great news for the shop, whether students have grouped together and shared the cost of one reading list, or whether they go solo as I do. It’s great news for impoverished readers too, and makes Skoob an utter haven for people like me, looking to shave off some academic costs so there’s something left for cocktails. The easy atmosphere, extensive back catalogue and low prices make the shop a destination for London’s students, particularly given its location close to many university halls.

For regulars, students or bibliophilic tourists, Skoob is more than just a Bloomsbury institution and a shrine to the area’s literary history. As the shop continues to evolve and grow, as the staff forever restock the shelves, Skoob continues that history in the best possible way. Chris will keep buying books because of his desire to always delight his customers and to maintain the literary legacy of the area.

“One of the things about Britain is the vibrant literary culture”. Bloomsbury, synonymous as it is with the names of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and other key members of the Bloomsbury Group, has played host to much of that cultural history. The plethora of blue plaques and famous landmarks are a testament to this, and people flock here for that very reason. Despite its celebrated history, the area is increasingly in danger of being homogenised. Seventeen bookshops have closed in the area in the last 10 years. That’s why Skoob, in its dedication to continually cultivating its collection and looking to the future, is one of the most important treasures of Bloomsbury. Long may it remain here – if only to convince me that I need more Faulkner.

 

Store Street Espresso

Store Street Espresso


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent”

Walk down Store Street and you leave behind the roar of the West End and cross the bridge into the more peaceful world of Bloomsbury. Starting at Tottenham Court Road in the west and ending at Gower Street in the east, Store Street is one of the most diverse in the neighbourhood, indeed in all of central London. Just a short walk from the British Museum and some of London’s top universities, Store Street Espresso has become a favourite with students, locals and visitors alike, making it a serious contender on London’s independent café scene.

Serving delicious artisan coffee since 2009, Store Street Espresso has fast became an institution on the street from which it takes its name and one of the best coffee shops in Bloomsbury. Boasting an excellent selection of sandwiches and pastries, as well as consistently delicious coffee, Store Street Espresso caters for a growing band of loyal customers. As you’d expect, they’re a diverse clientele, drawn from the neighbourhood’s mix of academia and commerce. The café was the brainchild of friends Rog and Jack. Having identified an impending coffee explosion in the city, they opened up with a simple aim: to offer great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

“Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it is always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have influence on what we do,” says General Manager Momo. Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which on any given day is full of shout-outs to their most popular suppliers. “I’m open to all suggestions,” says Momo, “and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which has brought us a lot of success.”

It was this success that led to the opening of a second branch, closer to King’s Cross. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own popularity. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had, the second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for customers. It was a chance to try something new and different from the original, but to keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has facilitated this. The second Store Street Espresso can be found on Tavistock Place, not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape King’s Cross and enjoy a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different.” This signature minimalist style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students escaping the library, busy freelancers seeking a bit of human interaction and tourists and locals in search of sustenance and a break in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street Espresso sources from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach fits well with the community vibe that the café shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Arriving at 40 Store Street, you’re quickly lured in by the distinct aroma of coffee. The skylights at the rear of the café make it feel a bit like an airy workshop, while the bright walls add to the cheerful feel. At present, those walls also illustrate Store Street Espresso’s dedication to the local community, hosting an art exhibition in conjunction with the upcoming Bloomsbury Festival.

Is Store Street Espresso Bloomsbury’s living room? Perhaps. What is certain is that it guarantees excellent service and some of the best coffee in the area – not to mention the perfect vegetable quiche. It continues to be clear about its aims: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for people to visit. As Momo puts it, “We’re one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent, Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.

 

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.

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.

oliverspencer.co.uk

@oliverspencer

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.

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!

Brunswick

Brunswick


Words Mary-Rose Storey

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…it’s as though you’re living in the clouds, not just looking at them.”

A 1960s concrete housing estate is not an image that springs to mind when picturing the architecture of Bloomsbury but The Brunswick Centre has more in common with the elegant Georgian squares of the area than one might think.

As the architectural journalist Steve Rose wrote in The Guardian “By anyone’s standards, the Brunswick is a radical building. It would be a great setting for a sci-fi movie, with its huge concrete frame, elevated walkways and stepped ranks of apartments with curious angled windows. It’s such an odd building, variously called a “superblock” or a “mega structure”. Its banked ramparts and soaring service towers bring to mind the fantasy designs of the Italian futurist Antonio Sant’Elia; but more commonly, the Brunswick’s raw concrete and structural articulation put it firmly in the new brutalist school, alongside other ambitious structures of the time, such as Sheffield’s Park Hill housing estate or London’s Trellick Tower.”

Built in 1964 by architect Patrick Hodgkinson, based on studies by Leslie Martin, The Brunswick has had a troubled history. Initially it was intended as a private development and planned to be much larger, extending all the way to the Euston Road, but the Ministry of Defence, whose Territorial Army headquarters was in nearby Handel Street, refused permission for Camden Council’s compulsory purchase, using the excuse that the building contained a very large, hydraulically mounted gun – what if war should break out during the moving process?

Another problem for the development occurred when, in 1964, the newly elected Labour government brought in rent controls and agreed to rehouse all tenants evicted by compulsory purchase. Camden Council signed a 99-year lease in 1966, and the potential buyers of The Brunswick flats pulled out when they realised they would be sharing the building with council tenants. The developers still kept ownership of the structure and the shopping areas but the original designs were compromised due to lack of funds.

The concrete exterior was designed to be painted Crown Commissioners Cream, in keeping with the Georgian buildings of the area, but the concrete was left unpainted, resulting in unattractive streaking and water seepage problems. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair, shops began to close and it became litter-strewn and uncared for. Only the Renoir Cinema remained as a beacon of culture.

But salvation was at hand. Allied London Properties bought the freehold in 1998. Luckily, the founder, Michael Ingall, liked the property and hired Patrick Hodgkinson to submit a revised scheme. He brought in David Levitt (who actually lives at The Brunswick) and David Bernstein, who both worked with him on the original design and in November 2002, the £22 million project began. The exterior was cleaned and painted in a cream colour (Desert White). A large Waitrose store opened and The Renoir Cinema became The Curzon Bloomsbury.  New shops, cafes and restaurants were attracted to the centre and it began to be used as the architects’ vision had intended: a London village with a thriving mixture of flats and businesses, the sloping glass roofs giving the residents hours of light and sunshine.

The Brunswick is now Grade II listed and though adored by most of its residents, it has always had a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from the wider public. It has been variously described as a “Bloomsbury Prison”, “Alcatraz”, “Planet of the Apes” or, more affectionately, “Like some giant spaceship landed in genteel Bloomsbury – really cool”. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni, who used locations of bleak urban landscapes to depict modern alienation, featured the Brunswick Centre in his 1975 film The Passenger. Its star, Jack Nicholson, can be seen striding across the square to meet Maria Schneider, who waits for him on the (since demolished) steps.

When reviewing Todd Longstaffe-Gowan’s book The London Square, A.N. Wilson remarked on its failure to mention The Brunswick, stating: “It managed to achieve the sort of living space provided by the ideal square. It combines the qualities of Inigo Jones’s sunny piazzas and the domestic intimacy of Canonbury and the Lloyd Baker Estate.” The film director Jack Bond, who recently moved to The Brunswick, finds the building inspiring: “I love its brutal simplicity. Also the sky plays such a dominant part – it’s as though you’re living in the clouds, not just looking at them. From any angle, you tend to look up because you’re in this valley, this trough of buildings created by a triangular centre part. The other thing I like is that it’s a gathering place for people to come and relax, have a coffee or a meal or go to the cinema. When I look across at the flats opposite, it reminds me of those Spanish mountain villages where houses are tiered above each other.”

When architect Brendan Woods moved into The Brunswick 22 years ago, he found it a bit like Eastern Europe in terms of its general decrepitude. He was a personal friend of the architect Patrick Hodgkinson, who sadly died in February this year at the age of 85, and wrote Hodgkinson’s obituary for the RIBA Journal. He likens living at The Brunswick to living on a sailing ship. As he wrote in the Architectural Review in 2007, after the restoration work was completed: “I think the transformation is near miraculous after the years of neglect. ‘The SS Brunswick’ stranded in Bloomsbury (a bit like the SS Great Britain malingering in the Falkland Islands) was weather-beaten and appeared semi derelict.  The stained concrete and render added to its sense of abandonment and neglect. Patrick Hodgkinson had always intended that the building be painted but was thwarted by McAlpine who wanted to save money.”

Woods is hoping to develop the idea of ‘greening’ the building by introducing much more planting (new owners, Lazari Investments, support this idea and have said they will provide irrigation). He loves The Brunswick because he finds it wonderfully private with a sense of being far away from other people. He doesn’t consider the architecture ‘Brutalist’, which he thinks a much-abused term.  “I have grown to appreciate what an extraordinary achievement it is. Few architects can boast of anything comparable.” As Alan Powers wrote some years ago about the portico to Brunswick Square: “Against the evening light, or on a winter’s evening, the tall thin columns standing out against the chiaroscuro background provide one of the few genuinely sublime architectural sights of London.”

Continental Stores

Continental Stores


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


“We are drawn to Bloomsbury. The clientele, the mix of students, academics, tourists, residents and business workers, provides a wonderful eclectic mix I doubt we could find again in such a small area of London”

The coffee scene in London is pretty crowded. I’m talking physically, of course, given the way in which I navigate, on the daily, through crowds of people in my local haunts with the determination familiar to many a disgruntled, deadline-ridden freelancer looking for their preferred table (close to a plug socket) and a caffeine fix. It’s more than just that, though. Since the city saw a boom in independent coffee shops five or six years ago, everywhere you turn you’re forced to choose between three independent coffee bars, each staffed by men with impressive beards standing behind marble counters with exposed light bulbs overhead. That’s not to say I don’t love the latte art and the highly photogenic interiors that dominate even my Instagram feed; but if we’re honest, such is the embarrassment of riches we Londoners face, it sometimes feels as if we have too much choice. That’s where Store Street Espresso comes in.

The story behind Store Street Espresso begins, predictably, at 40 Store Street, from which the café takes its name. The busy street, home to a multitude of cafés, restaurants, bars and bookshops, sits under the watchful eye of the nearby British Museum, and Store Street Espresso has been part of it since 2009. Initially conceived by friends Rog and Jack, who spotted an impending coffee explosion in the city, its aim was simple: to offer up really great coffee to the people of Bloomsbury.

Momo, the General Manager, explained the initial concept. “Originally we just wanted to make some nice coffee, work with great equipment and have a cool space for the locals to hang out. On top of that it’s always important that we provide a fun environment for people to work in, and for them to feel that they can have an influence on what we do.” Coffee is still at the centre of what they do, and their passion and enthusiasm for experimenting and trying new suppliers is evident both in their vast selection and on their Instagram feed, which is crowded with shout-outs to their most popular suppliers on any given day. “I’m open to all suggestions, and because of that we were one of the first speciality coffee shops to produce cold brew, bulk brew filter and matcha, all of which have brought us a lot of success.”

This success led to the opening of the second branch closer to King’s Cross, a café I’ve frequented on many a daily jaunt. “Honestly”, Momo tells me, “we were victims of our own success. We had reached the limits of what we could do in the space we had. The second store provided us with an opportunity to have an in-house kitchen so we could make our own sweets and offer cooked brunch for the locals. It was a chance to try something new and a bit different from the original, but keep it familiar.” Recognising the need for expansion allowed them to grow the business on their own terms, and keeping their duo of cafes close together has further enabled this. The second Store Street Espresso is nestled in Tavistock Place not far from Russell Square, offering a port in the storm for anyone looking to escape hectic King’s Cross for a peaceful interlude of coffee, cake and people-watching through the vast street-facing windows.

“All we knew was that we wanted it to be simple, minimal and different”. Their signature style runs throughout every element of both locations. The relaxed café is a haven for students needing a break from the British Library, freelancers seeking some human interaction and tourists and locals looking for sustenance and a pause in their busy day. The minimalist interiors keep the space light and airy, with few distractions other than the array of tempting treats on offer. Store Street source from anyone and everyone: local suppliers, recommendations or requests from regulars, or members of the team championing something they’ve discovered. This collaborative approach lends itself to the community vibe that Store Street Espresso shares with Bloomsbury in general.

Just as Bloomsbury, with its rich history, acts as a hub for British literary culture and attracts an eclectic mix of people, so Store Street has become a hub for a similarly diverse clientele. With the surrounding streets crowded with students, tourists, local residents and stressed-out freelancers alike, there’s no shortage of exciting new people to meet as well as loyal regulars. Store Street continues to be clear about its message: great coffee for every taste, and a relaxing environment for the customers. And, as Momo adds: “We’re also one of the few independent coffee shops that has remained independent. Jack and Rog still work closely with the team every day.” Expansion will hopefully continue for Store Street Espresso as they explore new locations, but they intend to stay anchored in Bloomsbury – with the area’s unique community feel, it remains the ideal base of operations.

Dalloway Terrace

Dalloway Terrace


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Simon Brown


Cross Tottenham Court Road to Bedford Square, and you’ve left Fitzrovia and entered Bloomsbury. There’s something quite distinct – unique, even – about this part of London; you feel its charm as you pass Bedford Square’s central garden and make your way down Adeline Place to Great Russell Street. Home to a number of hotels, an art supply shop, a furnishing store, and numerous cafés and restaurants, it’s a traditional London thoroughfare, but one that somehow encapsulates Bloomsbury’s neighbourhood spirit. Recently, a new arrival has added still further character to the street.

A carefully curated collection of eight family-owned luxury and urban hotels, the Doyle Collection is spread across superb locations in London, Dublin, Washington DC, Cork and Bristol. Each hotel has established a strong identity closely connected to its location, and a slice of its cultural setting is woven into the fabric of each building and the experience of its guests. With 153 rooms and suites on offer, all promising luxurious comfort, The Bloomsbury is at the heart of the neighbourhood whose name it bears. Tucked away on one side of the hotel is the newly unveiled Dalloway Terrace, taking its name from the eponymous character in Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway. Evoking Woolf’s own literary attachment to the neighbourhood, the new bar and restaurant, like the hotel as a whole, taps into the history and spirit of the area.

Accessible from either the main entrance of the hotel, or via the carefully concealed side entrance, the main terrace area is peaceful and charming, carefully hidden from Great Russell Street and the hustle and bustle of nearby Tottenham Court Road. The fully heated indoor/outdoor space is open throughout the year, offering all-day dining from 7am-11pm and a menu overseen by The Bloomsbury’s Head Chef, Paul O’Brien. From light breakfasts and small plates to more substantial culinary delights, the menu caters for both those working in the local area and guests staying at the hotel itself. Small plates include seared tuna and pickled radish with wasabi, and the all-day dining menu features favourites like Lamb cutlets and broccoli champ with mint béarnaise or hand-dived seared scallops with spinach, chanterelles & teriyaki dressing. There are also daily specials, which change throughout the week.

Dalloway Terrace is also a perfect meeting spot, serving coffee and traditional afternoon tea, as well as a wide range of cocktails, all inspired by the Bloomsbury set, that influential group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists that put the area on London’s artistic map. The terrace area feels like a secluded secret garden hidden away from the city; it boasts a fully retractable roof, making it inviting in the autumn and winter and the perfect alfresco hideaway in the spring and summer. The design of Dalloway Terrace was created by Alexander Waterworth, Interior Designer for London’s Annabel’s, Q on The Roof and High Road House, as well as The Musket Room in New York. His work brings an elegant and quintessentially British feel to the space. Tucked away under the terrace is a concealed lower floor, otherwise known as The Bloomsbury Club Bar. Here, Waterworth has taken inspiration from the bohemian 1920s and 1930s and added a modern twist: the results are truly memorable.

In contrast to the tranquillity of the terrace, the lower-floor bar feels discreet and exclusive; as you descend the staircase, you are transported from one realm to another. Upstairs menus feature a floral motif based on the technique of preserving fresh flowers, while downstairs, classic typefaces evoke a comforting sense of nostalgia that blends seamlessly with the stylish contemporary setting. The setting resembles a hidden grotto or an old railway arch. From its glassware, cocktail techniques, hand-illustrated menus and dim setting, it makes quite an impression.

Both venues are appealing enough to while away the evening in. Perhaps the ideal would be to enjoy cocktails and a relaxed dinner above ground and then to disappear quietly below decks for a discreet postprandial tipple: think a fine whiskey or a glass of Champagne. Dalloway Terrace is very much in its infancy, having only opened its doors back in the spring, though what already resonates is its connection with the surrounding Bloomsbury neighbourhood. Having built relationships with many local businesses, residents and figures in the area, Dalloway Terrace has the potential to become ‘Bloomsbury’s living room’ in the years to come. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, for a daytime meeting or an evening drink, stop by at any time and see for yourself.

Maggie Owen

Maggie Owen


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Kirk Truman


“It was around 4pm on a December evening, when people hadn’t quite closed their curtains, and it just sparkled – Lamb’s Conduit Street just sparkled”

I might be influenced by my lifelong magpie tendencies, but I believe many a great tale starts with a necklace. I know some of my most notable experiences are defined in my memory by whatever (usually gaudy) sparkle I had decking out my neck and hands at the time. We’re not talking Titanic here, but rather more compelling jewellery that one would be less inclined to throw off a boat: jewellery that will captivate, that will be treasured, that will be a talking point on every occasion it gets an outing. We’re talking about the sort of jewellery that you’d only expect to find by stumbling upon a treasure trove.

Maggie Owen London is that treasure trove. Nestled amongst the fellow businesses and homes of Rugby Street, the accessories shop sells work by an array of carefully curated costume jewellery designers. Not only that, but it stocks books similarly lovingly chosen, championing British poetry in a marriage that celebrates the literary and artistic history of Bloomsbury. And it all started with one necklace.

That necklace was the work of designer Philippe Ferrandis, a piece Maggie found in 2001 whilst visiting a boutique in the south of France. Ferrandis’ designs focus on costume jewellery, standout pieces using intricate design and high quality materials. The sculptural quality of his work made Maggie an instant fan, and a subsequent return trip just a few months later saw her investing in another Ferrandis original. Maggie was enamoured with the uniqueness of his designs, which appealed to her as both statement pieces and works of great artistry, and it was her enthusiasm that began their close working relationship of 20 years and counting.

Ferrandis’ work spurred a further interest in sourcing costume jewellery, and a visit to a Bloomsbury-based client one December was the starting point for a standalone shop. Having found her way to Lamb’s Conduit Street on a bright winter’s day, a shop front located on nearby Rugby Street caught Maggie’s eye. Rugby Street is a unique find even within the already unique Bloomsbury, a tiny street off the beaten track, which Maggie struggled to find on her second visit. Although the property was derelict at the time – perhaps that added to its charm – Maggie moved in six months later and launched Maggie Owen London. She’s still there today, 10 years on.

It is easy to see why Maggie chose Rugby Street as her permanent home. The small street runs off Lamb’s Conduit Street, a stone’s throw from Russell Square, the British Museum, the Foundling Museum and countless Bloomsbury landmarks. It captures everything people love about the area: the literary history – Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s wedding night residence is just across the street – and the melting pot community feel of the area. As Maggie puts it: “We are in the middle of a complete social mix”. She clearly cherishes the community spirit, telling me that “it’s rather lovely being in with other independent traders who have been long established”. When I visit the shop, plans are very much underway for the street party that Sunday in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. Maggie is an active member of this community; her Instagram account is full of photos of her fellow local businesses and archival images of the area that she has sourced and shared in an effort to continue the legacy of Bloomsbury and to celebrate its history. Given her involvement, it’s no surprise that she is fondly referred to by many as the “Queen of Lamb’s Conduit”; such is her presence within the village-like community.

“You wonder why, over time, so many creative people gravitated to this area. From the original Bloomsbury Group, back to Charles Dickens, and even earlier, Thomas Coram. All of these guys, Handel even – Messiah was performed just down the road – or Jacob Epstein’s studio on Lamb’s Conduit Street. All of these people who came to live and work here.”

Part of the reason people continue to visit, live, and work in Bloomsbury is because that history is still palpable in the streets and buildings, and independent businesses with unique personalities are a huge part of that. As Maggie writes on her website: “Bloomsbury is still at the forefront of artistic and cultural innovation – it’s as vibrant, dynamic and creative as it has ever been”. Although the area has seen some necessary improvements over the years, it has maintained its individuality. She observes that “the area has probably become a bit grander, a bit smarter, but it hasn’t become sterile as has happened to large swathes of London. We haven’t become anesthetized. It still has its rough edges”.

The designers and accessories that Maggie sells in the shop have all passed under her discerning eye. Much like that first Ferrandis necklace, all of the jewellery “has to fulfil a criteria which is ‘do I like it?’ and I’ll go with that gut instinct. I think once you start analysing and over-analysing you get horribly lost”. When you enter the shop you are struck by how colourful it is, with collections sitting in colour co-ordinated displays to create a rainbow effect in the brightly lit space. The shop is narrow and packed full of treasures, from gem-encrusted bug pendants to Missoni-esque Italian teddy bears, to the special edition poetry books from Faber & Faber, with equally colourful covers, celebrating some of our best-loved poets. Maggie believes she works with “with some of the best in the world”, a statement that is difficult to refute when you step inside and are greeted by the vast collection of eye-catching jewels. As we chat, a mix of regulars and newcomers peruse the shelves and are welcomed with open arms and discerning eye, with Maggie on hand to discuss everything costume jewellery.

Maggie has cultivated a space both for fans of costume jewellery or followers of specific designers and for passers-by stumbling upon a new discovery. Aside from branching out into the online marketplace five years ago there are no plans for physical expansion on the cards. Maggie is “very happy with what I have here. I think that kind of organic growth is fine but I have no ambition to conquer the world. If I was starting out in my 20s I might have a different outlook, but I prefer to be in control of what I do and I think that if you do expand you have to sacrifice that – it does become diluted and it does become somebody else’s vision.” Luckily for those of us who have discovered Maggie Owen London, then, it looks set to remain the jewel in Bloomsbury’s crown.

Kenneth McKenzie

Kenneth McKenzie


Words Gordon Ritchie

Portraits Kirk Truman


“Bloomsbury does feel like a classic part of London…”

“If you go along to Lambs Conduit Street there are classic pubs, classic restaurants, like the Italian over there. All round the back streets here – pubs, fish and chip shops. Things like that make it very much like classic London. If you know it really well there are lots of really interesting things, but it’s almost like a weird kind of in-between area.”

Enter the Interzone. A dark, wet, London night. A date with the future. The Beat That My Heart Skipped at The Renoir. Walking rain-soaked terraced streets beneath an umbrella from Queens Square hospital. Suddenly through the mist a huge monolith, a temple to Modernist architecture, rears up out of the dark. Concrete towers shoot into the heavy grey sky as torrents of raindrops pelt down. Like a transplant from a wrecked future it feels out of place. A huge, multi-tiered concrete ship washed up on Bloomsbury shores from an outer place; unknown, abandoned. The life-sign of cinema the only light.

From Dundee to Bloomsbury, the screenplay of Kenneth MacKenzie’s life takes in design courses in the North of England, classic London fashion label The Duffer of St. George, and the creation of his own label, 6876. 6876 aimed to smash down the seasonal sales calendar of the fashion industry long before the mega-brand disruptors of today, forging its own path, referencing insurrection, student uprisings, and underground activists, all in a minimal style. “The very first promotional pictures we did for 6876 were taken in here in The Brunswick in 1995. The photographer knew someone who had a flat. From then on I was always interested in the idea of it.”

In the first 6876 collection was a clean minimal take on the classic blue shirt. Covered placket, no visible buttons. The shirts laid the path for the pared-down aesthetic that the label developed as it moved, shape-shifting to a focus on, and a cult following for, outdoor rain-ready gear. North West mountain ridges and standing-only South Stand terraces. This was casualwear worn by casuals, edgy apparel for outside agitators, riot-ready for resistance against those who sought to reject true modernist ideals. “It just feels like a natural thing now to be in The Brunswick. It’s kind of a peculiar period. A lot of the things that I’ve always been really interested in and friends of mine have always been interested in. Brutalist architecture and a real hard form of modernism are starting to get a bit mainstream. I see myself as a real arch-modernist. I have that feeling now that modernism is in the hands of people who aren’t modernists. It’s starting to become a misquoted word.”

Transported up and into the interior of The Brunswick. The wind blows across the tiered residential steppes that look down into the barren grey valley of the new shopping plaza. Rainwater gathers on the paving stones. A hooded figure with purpose and attitude, dressed for the cold, the wind the weather brings. Brutalist expression, a stand against the established path. This is the right area. “A business partner in 6876, photographer Norbert Schoerner provided the introductions and contacts. There are only 12 commercial units in the whole building and they rarely become available. It was about 6 or 7 years ago and I jumped at it as I always had this idea that I would like to be in here. I always knew the building and knew about the history of it. When we got a studio here, everyone was like: it’s ridiculous, it’s the perfect place for your kind of miserable aesthetic,” he says with a smile. “It suits it well.”

Hidden from sight, high up in The Brunswick, Kenneth communicates from 6876 HQ with a group of friends, artists, and film-makers situated in similar concrete situations across the UK. They find common ground in Modern Studies, a subject a young MacKenzie excelled in and was inspired by at school in Scotland, and now an inspiration and reference point for artistic and aesthetic projects. Single minded, but with a healthy attitude to collaboration throughout the timeline of the brand. Japan called, as did Fred Perry, Rohan, Cash-Ca and Clarks, to receive transmissions of 6876 design code. The outdoor trail, hiking, biking and mountain apparel, ubiquitous now and still gaining ground, owes a debt to the influence of Kenneth MacKenzie and 6876.

“When I’ve been using things like Ventile, Harris Tweed or waxed fabric, I still like to challenge by doing it in a very modern, designed way. Going round day to day, you look at how people are dressing and look at what people are interested in. In some sense, I react to that. I’m going to go the opposite way. I reverted back to the early days. Designing the garments, I wasn’t quite sure whether they were ugly or not. They were quite brutal in terms of design, and maybe that’s a subconscious act, but the main thing was that it was a real reaction against the prevailing mood of nostalgia and faux-artisan culture, which felt really alien to me. My friend Scott King called it the Mumfordisation of Britain, complete with bogus folk music, while 6876 felt more electronic, more modern. The Brunswick is the right place to come up with that kind of design. I think it reinforces some things. There has been a bit of a reappraisal in Britain of Brutalist architecture and it’s got a lot to do with buildings like this and the Barbican. They haven’t always been that brilliantly maintained. This is a Grade II listed building. The stairs outside here, they got rid of them, but in the Antonioni film The Passenger there’s a scene where Jack Nicholson walks down those stairs.”

Since moving into The Brunswick, Kenneth has been an observer. As 6876 continues the resistance, moving forward in hard times for an independent clothing business, he has seen his immediate environment change. “I used to really like The Renoir Cinema even though it wasn’t very comfortable. Now they’ve changed it into The Curzon, it’s actually amazing in there, but it’s another aspect of changing the building, from its old, slightly more low-key style. There have been a lot of changes. Originally you couldn’t get in from the outside – that end was blocked off – but when they did the refurbishment a few years ago, they took that off. Before, there just used to be an Iceland, a noodle bar and some funny Italian caff with loads of football memorabilia. It didn’t really look part of this area of London.”

“We make a lot in England – small runs. It’s quite niche. Each thing has to finance the next. You want everything to sell really quickly, and it’s very hard work. There’s no way I could even produce 6876 without the support of my wife, especially, and my family and friends, plus the extremely loyal customers. The industry has changed a lot. There is a different generation, new people getting into the brand.” The cult of 6876 now engenders digital myths of superfast sell-outs as limited editions are released, and there is a parallel secondary market trading in increasing values. Critical acclaim lights up the Internet with each new release. Kenneth now teaches millennials at Central Saint Martin’s and Kingston University, and a day will soon come when the next generation will tell stories about the 6876 aesthetic and Kenneth MacKenzie’s influence, all sound-tracked by brutal electronic music and documented in stark colours. They will look back at 6876’s sparse, concrete environment and recognise its progressive, forward-thinking, modernist attitude.

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.”

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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.

grind.co.uk

@grind

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.