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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.

Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“Not only does it feel like the centre of Bloomsbury, but it feels like the centre of London in a way…”

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

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. Ironically, Oli’s arrival in Bloomsbury came about through friend and founder of Folk Clothing, Glaswegian fashion designer Cathal McAteer. “I already loved the shops on Lambs Conduit Street, and then my friend Cathal asked me to open a shop here,” he tells me. “Bloomsbury has come up and up. It’s become a much more residential neighbourhood, but also with many more businesses locating here. It’s a melting pot, and full of academics. You can slide into a pub here and you could end up spending your evening with a doctor or professor, but equally they might work in the film industry or law. Bloomsbury, for me, is a very educated neighbourhood. People here are interesting and very creative: you can feel it when you’re walking down the street. The architecture of the place captivates me – it’s steeped in history. The whole atmosphere of is wonderful. If you think back to its heyday, with the Bloomsbury Group and everything else, you can still really feel it here. With our shops, one – No 58 – was a bookshop, and No 62 was a picture framers. They bound books underneath one, and made frames underneath the other.”

The brand first came to Lambs Conduit Street in 2007. 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. Underneath the shop, where the framer’s was once based, the Oliver Spencer team is at work making for the main office for the brand. Another prominent fixture below the shop is Oli’s studio, where the collections are designed. The numerous sketches of jackets, shirts and other garments pinned to the wall attest to the work that goes on there. Two doors along, No 58 is home to the Oliver Spencer Shoes & Accessories collection. “The brand is wholly focused on menswear. I’ve got lots going on with it,” he says.

Since launching on Lambs Conduit Street, Oliver Spencer has gone on to expand across London, with shops in Shoreditch and Soho. “Not only does it feel like the centre of Bloomsbury, but it feels like the centre of London in a way. Lambs Conduit Street, to me, is the best street in London, because of the mix of people,” says Oli. “I’d imagine it’s the way London was about 50 years ago, with lots of independent stores based along the street. You can do most things in life on this street; get drunk (or merry), do up your house, dress nice, smell nice and eat well… and that’s where we want to be.”

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.

Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Wellcome Trust


“My plans exist in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle…”

At the northern edge of Bloomsbury stands a remarkable building. Enter through the revolving doors of 183 Euston Road and you’ll find a place that unites the traditions of medicine and art and explores our history and future in all sorts of fascinating ways. Describing itself as “the free destination for the incurably curious”, Wellcome Collection offers visitors contemporary exhibitions and historic collections, and boasts plenty of surprises at every turn.

Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation dedicated to improving health on a global scale. The Trust, in its own words, “supports a range of bright minds in science, humanities and the social sciences as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine”. Upon his death in 1936, the Trust was established under the will of founder Sir Henry Wellcome. Today, it is the largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health in the world. The Trust has supported such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, and their research has established front-line drugs for malaria. The Trust’s broadly defined mission allows them to respond flexibly to medical needs and scientific opportunities. As well as tackling immediate priorities, their independence and long-term perspective enable them to back research that will benefit future generations. In short, think of Wellcome Collection (which is immediately next door to the Trust’s headquarters) as the showroom for the Trust’s endeavours globally – past, present and future – and a permanent exhibition exploring the human condition.

This all sounds amazing – so amazing that I have an incurably curious question of my own: how did one individual come to found an organisation such as this?

Henry Wellcome was born – a long way from Bloomsbury – in 1853 in the American Wild West. He developed an early interest in medicine and marketing, and the first product he advertised was ‘invisible ink’ (in fact, just plain lemon juice). He and his college friend Silas Burroughs left the US for Britain in 1880, setting up a pharmaceutical company called Burroughs Wellcome & Co. At this time, medicines were traditionally sold as powders or liquids, and Burroughs Wellcome & Co. were one of the first to introduce medicine in tablet form under the 1884 trademark ‘Tabloid’. Burroughs died in 1895, with Wellcome continuing to lead the company under his own name.

As Wellcome put it himself: “My plans exist in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle… and gradually I shall be able to piece it together.” And that he did. His multinational pharmaceutical company had begun to master modern techniques of advertising, such as promotion, image and branding, as well as establishing world-class medical research laboratories. At the same time, Wellcome used the wealth his company brought him to amass one of the world’s most impressive (and most eccentric) collections relating to medicine and health through the ages. Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, Henry Wellcome was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating men of his age, and received a knighthood before his death in 1936. By this time, the collection was greater in size and scope than those of many of Europe’s most famous museums.

With his ever-growing collection in mind, Wellcome had planned and constructed the Wellcome Building on Euston Road. Today, little about it has changed. There have been minor refurbishments in recent years, including the introduction of the world-renowned Wellcome Library and the addition of a rather expensive spiral staircase, but the building remains more or less as Henry envisioned it. His intention was to create not just a space to house his constantly developing collections, but one where professionals could come to learn more about the development of medicine and medical science.

Both aspects have proved successful, and probably beyond Henry’s wildest dreams. The Wellcome Collection opened to the general public in 2007, and now receives over 500,000 visitors every year. The Collection is divided into several spaces throughout the building, including the ‘Medicine Man’ section housing a permanent display of extraordinary objects from Henry Wellcome’s own personal collection. Another permanent fixture, ‘Medicine Now’, combines art, mixed media displays and exhibits to tell the story of modern medicine and the work of the Wellcome Trust since Henry’s death. This particular area features a postcard wall where visitors are encouraged to contribute drawings – I’ve seen contributions illustrating everything from genitals to unicorns!

Wellcome Collection also features a main exhibition space that plays host to a varying programme of events and exhibitions throughout the year, including work by Felicity Powell and Bobby Baker. In recent months, perhaps one of the most captivating exhibitions to date was displayed in the ground floor space – Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism. The exhibition uncovered the mysteries of Tantric Buddhism and the rich history of its yogic and meditation practices. Taking its inspiration from a series of intricate murals that adorn the walls of the Lukhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, the exhibition showcased over 120 outstanding objects from collections around the world that illuminate the secrets of the temple, once used exclusively by Tibet’s Dalai Lamas. A leisurely wander through the 12 rooms of the exhibition made for a calming and educational experience.

There’s another exhibition space on the first floor, which from October 2015 to January 2016 housed the first part of Wellcome Collection’s year-long exploration of human consciousness. Ann Veronica Janssens’ exhibition last year, entitled ‘yellowbbluepink’, made for a hot topic on Instagram. Her installation filled an entire gallery space with brightly coloured mist, exploring perception through the use of light and colour. Hues were caught in a state of suspension, defying the apparent immateriality of the medium and veiling any detail of surface or depth within the space. The second part, launched in February, is ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’. This major exhibition brings together artists, psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists to investigate the terrain between consciousness and unconsciousness, featuring historical material, objects, artworks and an evolving programme of contemporary art installations. The exhibition will run until 16th October this year.

When I first stumbled upon Wellcome Collection, I was shocked that this remarkable place was just moments from my home and yet had taken me so long to discover. Shock soon gave way to delight, though, as I began to explore the building’s many eccentric spaces. Its reading room has become my second home: it feels more like a meticulously designed sitting room, but one in which you can find yourself examining anything from a straitjacket to a vintage X-ray machine. The library is another space that captures the imagination of visitors – and makes for the perfect writing spot, incidentally. I’d certainly recommend you drop into Welcome Collection for yourself – one visit to this spectacular collection and you’ll probably, like me, find yourself feeling incurably curious.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


“…it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears…”

If one name is synonymous with the word Bloomsbury, it’s that of Virginia Woolf. Although her time as a resident of the area was relatively short, it nevertheless provided her with a crucial space in which to bloom creatively. In return, she added immeasurably to the literary character of Bloomsbury, and her influence is still visible today.

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in Kensington on the 25th of January 1882. Her father was a notable historian, and her mother modelled for the Pre-Raphaelites; it is safe to say Virginia was exposed to the creative world from a very young age. Losing her mother in 1895 and her father in 1904, at a time where education for women was virtually unheard of, she turned to her brother Thoby, who was studying at Cambridge, telling him: “I don’t get anybody to argue with me now, and feel the want. I have to delve from books painfully and all alone.” And this is how the 22-year-old Virginia came to move out of her home at Hyde Park Gate, accompanied by her sister Vanessa and her brother Adrian, and venture into the emancipating and disreputable atmosphere of Bloomsbury from her new address at 46 Gordon Square.

It was at this time that things really started happening for the eager Virginia. With the help of some family acquaintances, the inelegant district slowly began to come alive for her. It was this simple change of address that led to her metamorphosis from an impatient young woman to a literary visionary. A friend, Violet, introduced her to the Guardian where she took on the position of literary critic. Soon after, she was writing for the Academy and the National Review and contributing weekly reviews to the Times Literary Supplement. Bloomsbury opened up a wondrous new world for Virginia, allowing her to gain the experience she needed. Simultaneously, it was here, in this still rather dubious area of central London, that the stuff of artistic legend was made and the Bloomsbury Group began to form.

It all started when Thoby invited a few select friends from Cambridge University to spend Thursday nights at 46 Gordon Square. Virginia found herself a part of something – a group of people who were throwing off the shackles of a stagnant Victorian decorum. One such instance is recorded in her collected autobiographical writings: “Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure of Mr Lytton Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress. ‘Semen?’ He said. Can one really say it? I thought and we burst out laughing.” Such seemingly trivial incidents illustrate the genesis of the Bloomsbury Group and paved the way for Virginia’s break with the restrained artistic past as she embraced the possibilities of the future.

Of course, such gatherings would soon enough become a sort of movement, as this group of artists, writers, critics and philosophers became something bigger – a loose collective we now know as the Bloomsbury Group. Countless articles could be written about every controversy, racy happening and rumour that the group gave rise to. As historian Charles Snow puts it, they “believed in pleasure… They tried to get the maximum of pleasure out of their personal relations. If this meant triangles or more complicated geometric figures, well then, one accepted that too.”

The fledgling group of pleasure-lovers was not without its tragedies. In 1906, doctors mistook typhoid fever for malaria and, at the age of 26, Thoby Stephen was dead. In 1931, Virginia would credit her completion of her ground-breaking experimental novel The Waves to her youngest brother, writing that “it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, & calm, & some tears, thinking of Thoby & if I could write Julian Thoby Stephen 1881-1906 on the first page. I suppose not.”

Seeking solace after another major loss, Virginia turned to her sister, Vanessa for support. Alas, there was little to be found there, as Vanessa had recently been courted by and subsequently engaged to Clive Bell, a man Virginia described as “having more taste, I think, than genius.” Her sister’s forthcoming nuptials meant that it was time for Virginia to move away from 46 Gordon Square. Luckily, she was able to find a place not too far from Bloomsbury. In a letter to a friend, she says that: “Adrian and I try to get a house, and I hope I have found one now in Fitzroy Square.”

There is, of course, much more to say about the life and times of Virginia Woolf, but for now we can only turn the page on this chapter of her life in Bloomsbury as a new one opened up in neighbouring Fitzrovia, just across the Tottenham Court Road. Witness to fresh beginnings and seismic cultural shifts, Bloomsbury had shaped Virginia as much as she has come to shape it. Through the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia met her future husband, Leonard Woolf, whom she married on the 10th August 1912. This year also saw Virginia hit with an extreme bout of depression that forced her to leave the city and take up temporary residence in Asham House, Sussex. This residence was to become the couple’s holiday retreat until 1919 and a viable location for Virginia’s writing. Indeed, it was here she put to pen to paper and produced her debut novel, The Voyage Out (1915).

28th March 1941, Monks House, Sussex: Virginia pens a thoughtful letter and leaves it for her loving husband to find. Putting on her coat and walking out of the door, Mrs Woolf proceeds to line her pockets with stones and pebbles. She walks with purpose towards the section of the River Ouse close to her home. She steps calmly into the water until it comes over her head and she disappears under its waves and ripples. Virginia Woolf lives on in Bloomsbury, the area that allowed her creative soul to flourish; but for such an artist, her real immortality is in her words.

Judd books

Judd books


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“We have been primarily an academic shop from the start…”

Walking the streets of Bloomsbury, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the long relationship London’s literary village has had with the written word. The independent bookshop is still a much loved and common sight in Bloomsbury, from Skoob Books, once to be found on Sicilian Avenue and now hidden away beneath the iconic Brunswick Centre, to LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word, which greets you on Marchmont Street. You can follow a trail of bookshops across Bloomsbury, reflecting the area’s long association with the literary world. While the growth of the digital world has seen many of London’s bookshops closing their doors (there have been casualties here in Bloomsbury), Marchmont Street’s Judd Books continues to fly the flag, selling a wide range of second hand and bargain books from its Marchmont Street shop.

Judd Books was founded in 1992 by Nigel Kemp and Alexander Donaldson, and was originally just around the corner on Judd Street – hence the name. When the shop moved to it new home on Marchmont Street, the Judd Books moniker went with it. Once a butcher’s shop, the Marchmont Street site first opened as Judd Two Books, only becoming Judd Books proper when the old Judd Street shop shut for good. Marchmont Street is a traditional London thoroughfare, once home to a fishmonger’s, a baker’s and other traditional trades. While these have all left the street, Judd Books carries on, alongside a traditional launderette, a number of well-known pubs and other bookshops.

The shop sells a wide range of publications, from art, photography and literature on the ground floor, to history, philosophy and classical studies in the basement. “We have been primarily an academic shop from the start. We carefully choose our remainders and returns so that our customers can easily find good books without having to plough through lots of irrelevant titles,” says Nigel. “We have particularly strong sections on art and have been fortunate in acquiring two working libraries from retired academics.”

The printed book has often been described as a dying medium in recent years, under constant threat from the supposed convenience of digital equivalents. Judd Books, though, takes a different – and longer – view. During the near quarter century that the shop has been trading, the whole book market has changed several times. “For a hundred years, there was the net book agreement where publishers dictated the price of a book, which booksellers had to follow if they were to continue to receive supplies – this ended in 1990,” Nigel tells me. “The large chains hoped to benefit by undercutting the small bookshops and taking over their business. What happened was it let in the supermarkets, who were soon undercutting everyone for the bestsellers until Amazon arrived.”

Each published book has its own ISBN (a unique number only relating to that book), and the ISBN was soon at the centre of books being sold online. It was now possible to have a database of all publications in circulation. “This allowed them to use their computer skills to list every book. This meant that the astonishing amount of books in print could all be accessed directly by the public, not just by members of the book trade,” says Nigel. “In the beginning, Amazon only sold new books. But soon they saw the opportunity to dominate the second-hand market using the same tools. They make much more from selling other people’s second-hand books than their own,” he confides. “And then came the Kindle. Many said it was the end of the book… All these events have wreaked havoc on bookshops, both new and second-hand. At least for the time being.” Between 2005 and 2013, according to the Booksellers Association, bookshops selling new books declined from 1,535 to 937; the decline of second-hand bookshops was even steeper.

Despite the growth of online retailers and the birth of the Kindle and other devices, the digital age hasn’t been all bad news, Nigel explains, and something positive has emerged from the digital revolution. “One thing the Internet has done with second-hand books is to show which books are very common and which books are scarce,” he says. “Many books can no longer be put economically on the shelves in the shop, so we put them outside in trays.” Traditionally, bookshops would also have had glass cases or ‘back rooms’ where the most valuable and fragile books were displayed. “Today, we put these on the Internet, together with very obscure books which we can offer to a much wider audience,” he says.

As a publisher, I believe in print, and in its strong sense of identity. Books and magazines are like people; they’re individuals, and over time they age and mature. So do bookshops – and we should cherish them. If they were to disappear from our high streets altogether in the decades to come, it would be a real tragedy. Whatever the shelf life of print as a medium in the future, I am confident that Judd Books is here to ride out the changes until the end. I’ve visited bookshops all over London, but there’s something quintessentially British and authentic about Judd Books that takes you back to Bloomsbury past – a time when the Kindle would have been science fiction and Amazon unthinkable. So, look away from your screen, put down your mobile device, and pick up a book: look at the cover, turn the pages, sniff the paper – you might be inspired to go and discover your local bookshop and help keep the wonderful medium of the printed page alive…

The Espresso Room

The Espresso Room


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Chris Rahlenfeldt


“We still have customers coming in who are surprised to discover that it’s now a coffee shop…”

I know a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by. On a winter morning, or a sunny summer afternoon, it remains a perfect, diminutive, sanctuary on Great Ormond Street. Doctors and nurses come and go, making their way to the hospital across the road, but here – in one of London’s best coffee shops, and one of Bloomsbury’s closely guarded secrets – you can sit, right in the centre of Bloomsbury, among its distinctive residents, and just while away the time.

The Espresso Room is really just that – a space no larger or grandeur than a garden shed or a small bedroom. In a previous life, it was a tiny launderette, and then, set against Bloomsbury’s literary backdrop, it was fittingly reborn as a bookshop.

“Great Ormond Street Hospital’s just across the street. Sometimes, years can go by between people’s visits to the hospital, so to this day, we still have customers coming in who are surprised to discover that it’s now a coffee shop,” says co-founder Tom Mullings. Tom and his partner Chris, however, are no strangers to coffee. As well as The Espresso Room, they have opened Holborn’s Freestate Coffee as well as Covent Garden’s New Row Coffee. Tom’s no stranger to Central London either: “I was born in Soho. I can remember when I was kid learning to ride a bike on Old Compton Street – I guess not many people can say that!”

This latest incarnation of the little ‘room’ on Great Ormond Street arrived in 2009. Despite the bite of the ongoing recession, independent cafés and coffee shops were on the rise in Central London. Kaffeine and Lantana, for example, had opened their doors in neighbouring Fitzrovia during what must have seemed the most challenging of times to begin a new business venture.

With a small seating area inside, a carefully designed barista bar and a minimalistic interior, The Espresso Room feels like Bloomsbury’s contemporary equivalent of the classic tearoom or coffee house. It’s a good fit for the neighbourhood: unpretentious, sensible and intelligent. “It’s a given, I guess, that we get a lot of business from the hospital opposite and the staff. Many doctors and nurses are regular visitors, as well as residents from around the area, not to mention Lambs Conduit Street,” says Tom. “Its a weird feeling coming to work here – everybody knows everybody. Every day, it’s a case of ‘who’s spoken to who?’ You can really feel the local element. We didn’t advertise or promote this at all, but we recently began opening on Saturdays. As locals started to come in each Saturday, word spread through the area from person to person. Bloomsbury’s like that!“

With indoor seating for about four or five people, The Espresso Room has expanded its minimal capacity by moving outside. Tan wooden benches line the street during the café’s opening hours, helping integrate it into the neighbourhood’s social fabric. Out here, it’s even easier to observe the bustle of Bloomsbury locals, business owners, doctors and nurses, going about their day-to-day lives.

The limited capacity of this tiny coffee shop somehow makes The Espresso Room all the more special: it feels a bit niche, a hidden gem that you’ll only hear about through the Bloomsbury grapevine. The choice of food and drink is likewise small but equally memorable – mainly espresso-based coffees, a soup of the day, a sandwich or two, and a few baked goods. The place feels like a shrine to the soul of espresso, which is made with consistent and consummate skill using beans from Square Mile Coffee Roasters. A visit always provides me with what I’d describe as “textbook coffee” – something steering dangerously close to perfection and served with pride by the café’s wonderful baristas. Weather permitting, sitting outside The Espresso Room and watching the world go by in the company of a flat white (or whatever your coffee of choice happens to be) is a moment in Bloomsbury spent well.

Orchidya

Orchidya


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“I love phalaenopsis because it has a long flower period. I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal.”

Leaving behind the screaming neon and frenzy of Tottenham Court Road and walking past the sweeping crescent of South Street with its grand, red-brick offices and the sleek Imagination Gallery, you move towards the earnest, studious calm of Bloomsbury and come across the perfectly situated Orchidya. Behind the door of Number 42 Store Street are the keys to the kingdom and mystery of Orchids.

The interior is arranged in two halves, “to reflect the history and modernity of orchids”. One half is the front room of an eccentric, Victorian orchid grower, indulging in a grand excess of ornament; the walls hung with rows of framed botanical prints, dark wood cabinets artfully cluttered with trifles and curios, gewgaws; and orchids, orchids everywhere. The other half is quiet, white, modern.

It was a 20-million-year old prehistoric bee preserved in amber, along with the orchid pollen on its wing tip, which first told us that orchids were at least as old as the dinosaurs. Given the fact that orchids have survived all this time, their incredible diversity should come as no surprise. There are presently more than 30,000 recognised species, distributed around the globe. They survive in obscure habitats – the vertiginous slopes of dense rainforests, the craggy outcrops of all but impassable Himalayan cliff edges – but also in plain sight: water lilies, magnolias, avocado, black pepper and vanilla plants all belong to the orchid family. The human desire to possess beauty plays out in the field of orchids, as elsewhere; and as in many a Greek tragedy, it can lead to a kind of madness. In Victorian times, it was dubbed Orchidelerium. Explorers and orchid hunters were sent to every corner of the earth on long and sometimes perilous expeditions to bring back the rarest, most exquisite, most unusual orchids. The danger didn’t end with the expedition’s return: orchid thieves could still be employed by unscrupulous collectors to steal the prize from under one’s very nose. Unfortunately, this desire to possess orchids didn’t always go beyond their acquisition, and despite the exorbitant expense showered on their retrieval many withered and died upon arrival; making them, of course, even more desirable – madness indeed!

Orchidya opened four years ago “inspired by a love of flowers in general and a passion for orchids in particular”. Perhaps revealing shades of Orchidelerium, the owners have between them 17 multiple-medal-winning greenhouses across the world – from Thailand, Malaysia and China in Asia to France, Poland and England in Europe – where they have been carefully cultivating orchids for 25 years.

A slightly disquieting thing about orchids, which becomes obvious once you know about it, is that the flowers are totally and completely symmetrical. Theories abound as to the significance of facial symmetry in humans – the more symmetrical a face, the more attractive it will be to others. The mesmerising symmetry of orchids appears to elicit the same response. No wonky petals; no endearing little bumps; just perfect, impenetrable, chilling symmetry: the Grace Kellys of the flower world. Normally the eye rests on imperfections, but since with orchids there are none, it can only do a double take or continue to gaze in awe at the perfection before it.

As a plant that symbolises luxury, the orchid has no shortage of customers in London; Japanese, Russian, Singaporean and British converge on Orchidya. “As London diversifies, so do the clients. Their requirements vary; more established clients and collectors pre-order particular varieties,” to be sourced and grown bespoke before being added “to their own cherished collections”. And with up to 300 new varieties of orchid named each year this is no mean feat. There is even a triannual event nicknamed the ‘Orchid Olympics’ where hundreds of participants from at least 55 countries gather to display the flowers born from the art and cutting edge science of orchid breeding; from the bizarre (e.g. Zygoneria Pine Road, which looks like two mismatched flowers glued together), to the intriguing (e.g. Coelogyne mayeriana, a fresh, green, intricately designed and striped orchid) to the breath-taking (e.g. Anguloa uniflora – pale, delicate, demure and beautiful).

So how on earth do you care for such exotic plants? I had visions of elaborate regimes… crushed pearls brought by divers from the Tuamotu Archipelago to be gently dusted on the uppermost leaves at first light; mixtures of artisanal nutrients exclusive to Amazon rainforests fed to the orchid root system every three hours, drop by drop… But no, apparently not; and that sort of nonsense would probably kill them. As my mental image of vintage laboratory glassware shatters, Sophie the store manager assures me that “the best way to look after orchids is not to look after them”. As several million years of perfectly competent evolution attests, orchids “prefer to be left alone, only needing to be watered sparingly at the root with a spoon,” (or maybe a vintage glass dropper if you are that way inclined).

As a purveyor of luxury, Orchidya offers a lot more than an orchid in a pot. Much like the rest of the Store Street shops in this little gem of a road – from the restaurants, art gallery, independent coffee shops and delis to the bespoke bicycle shop, artisanal dry cleaner and instrument makers – it goes that extra mile by way of craft and depth of knowledge. Using “only the freshest and finest flowers” Orchidya creates imaginative and memorable arrangements and helps its customers select “the best orchids for their individual styles”.

Flower arranging is an art in itself – an ancient Japanese art called Ikebana, to be precise. Established in the 15th century and originally taught by Buddhist priests, it became a disciplined art form for creative expression. By employing a series of rules, the artist could convey his or her intention via the particular colour combinations, shapes and natural lines used in the final exhibit, bringing nature and humanity together. Sophie herself studied flower arranging in Paris, “learning how to manipulate organic materials and develop concepts and designs by utilising a variety of their properties”. Then she spent a further six months at the Orchidya greenhouse in Lincolnshire, “learning to care for and nurture the growing plants”. Her enjoyment and depth of knowledge of Orchidya’s wares is evident from her answer to my question: “What is your favourite orchid?” Sophie just about managed to stop herself at five. And that was five orchid families, not five individual orchids. “I love phalenopsis because it has a long flower period, I like vanda because it has a special pattern on the petal like a wild animal. Slipper orchids look so unique and wild. Dendrobidium orchids are so elegant. Cambria orchids have a special fragrance – some of them smell like orange blossoms, some smell like delicate jasmine, and some smell like chocolate.” I suspect she could go on; and luckily for those who visit Orchidya, funds allowing, they too can choose as many as they like.

Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson

 


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


Kate Anderson isn’t simply engaged in her role as Director of the Bloomsbury Festival, she’s totally immersed in it. Facts and thoughts and ideas and their interconnections come tripping off her tongue, thick and fast and relevant. There’s a lot of information, but it’s all part of the process: focus, not whimsy. So by the time we part – hell, barely half way through the interview  – I really, really want to go to the Bloomsbury festival this year.

Kate was born and went to school in Hastings, East Sussex, where “drama was the only thing [she was] any good at,” so she went on to study it full-time and gain her Equity card. Her first job was working ‘front of house’ in a local theatre. Having been brought up in a hotel, running around front and backstage felt like coming home. Having found an environment she was happy in, Kate swiftly progressed through the ranks, gaining experience in different roles in the theatre and finding each one more exciting and challenging than the last. As administrative director at the Nuffield Theatre her job included the ambitious organising, scheduling and logistics of an EU-funded four-year programme of street arts involving groups from France and the UK. Now, all these threads have come together in her role as Festival Director.

The aim of the Bloomsbury Festival this year is to go one better than the previous one. Last time, it was about showcasing the locale – the work that goes on in the area, the diversity of its inhabitants – and this year they want to amplify it, scale it up, write it large and make it a unique and cutting-edge event. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘language’, so a ‘creative lab’ has been set up, bringing together individuals in the area from disparate disciplines and seeing what happens. The cast of one of these creative labs sounds like a madcap production in itself. From the world of theatre – tumbling in from stage left in a riot of colour – we have a choreographer, a digital curator, someone from the Bureau of Silly ideas and a performance poet. From stage right – ponderously swaying, wrapped in the mists of time – we have the contingent from the British Museum: a keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, the head of learning, a Babylonian writing specialist and a Rosetta stone expert. Finally, from SOAS (the School of African Studies) –  nimbly tiptoeing amongst them all, looking and listening with exaggerated movements – come an epidemiologist, a specialist in computer language, a researcher into the sexual language of teenagers and an archivist of endangered languages. Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on that wall? Well, in a way you can – the results, whatever on earth they might turn out to be, will be on show at this year’s festival – organic, avant garde, exciting and unpredictable.

Another developing idea is the Coram song cycle, responding to the stories of 12 people from the community and retelling them in music. It will take place in Coram’s fields to celebrate it’s 80th anniversary, with choirs, orchestras and local people performing, all tutored by professionals. Audience members will be able to move off and physically follow whichever story takes their fancy.

Bloomsbury’s demographics make it a perfect spot in London to mine for fresh ideas. Only 48 per cent of the area’s residents were born in the UK – the London Borough average is 63 per cent. You can practically hear the organisers rubbing their hands in glee – they have virtually the whole world to play with! One particular aspect that has influenced this year’s theme – along with Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and the SOAS centenary – is the fact that Bloomsbury is more linguistically diverse than average, with 12 languages besides English spoken by at least 100 residents. It’s worth noting that, even with all these diverse small communities, only two per cent of area’s residents speak no English whatsoever, which means they tend to be willing and able to join in and become part of the wider Bloomsbury community.

Kate herself admits that by calling something a ‘community festival’ the assumption is that aspirations are low. That assumption, though, would be wrong, and disproving it is partly why Kate Anderson is at the helm: her knowledge of all aspects of theatre, her contacts in that world, and her own reputation mean that she can call out the big guns and they will come, allowing the festival to take place on the scale it deserves, with professionals, artists and communities all at the vanguard. Bill Gee, a highly experienced producer, programmer and arts consultant with expertise in large scale, walkabout, street-based and visual productions, and Orit Azaz, an artistic director and creative thinker with an international reputation for working in cultural and community settings, are both artistic associates of the festival this year.

Of course, ambition and large-scale thinking alone are not enough: there has to be money. The Bedford Estates, the largest private landowner in the area, has not only given financial backing but has been instrumental in garnering support for the festival from other local business by quickly grasping and communicating the essential concept of supporting and embracing the communities it is designed to serve. Further core funding comes from Camden Council, the University of London and a number of other Bloomsbury-based institutions, while project funding comes from the Wellcome Trust and other foundations and sponsorship from local businesses and individuals.

Hearteningly, the lessons learnt from last time around were that the hackneyed clichés of other festivals – loud, with bad music, and half-hearted stalls selling things you don’t want – simply don’t work here. The things that did go well were all original and inclusive without being po-faced and patronising. Indeed last year’s Light Up Store Street event was a case in point. Inspired by the design of the ‘Karachi bowl’ used in traditional Bangladeshi cookery, fire sculptures were lit, mime artists and musicians took up residence in local shop windows, and street food and mulled wine were on offer. It was so successful and enjoyable that the Store Street shops want to do the same again – but Kate has convinced them that they can do even better. We’ll see what they come up with. I get a sense that this is what Kate and the Bloomsbury Festival are aiming for all the time: learning from the past and taking creative risks while harnessing the skills and talents of people who can deliver a great experience for everyone. Hopefully, the result will see Bloomsbury as a whole is represented, with its diverse residents helping write a new page in the area’s rich cultural heritage.

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liberty

Liberty


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lights of Soho

Lights of Soho


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Max Clarke


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Newell

David Newell


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glare

Glare


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

 

 

Cathi Unsworth

Cathi Unsworth


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloth House

Cloth House


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Exposure

Exposure


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sofia Strazzanti

Sofia Strazzanti


Words Victoria Drysdale

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

Independents United

Independents United


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Joseph Lynn


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

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

The Georgian Group

The Georgian Group


Words Vaneesha Ritchie

Illustrations London County Council Survey of London Vol. XXI


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

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

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


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

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

Fitzrovia Bicycles

Fitzrovia Bicycles


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soho Radio

Soho Radio


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Achieve(s)


“We never closed… We never clothed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Shaftesbury

Shaftesbury


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Natalka Talkowska


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colony

Colony


Words & Photography Robert Chilcott


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suzie Kennedy

Suzie Kennedy


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woods Bagot

Woods Bagot


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Our aim was to create a proper design studio rather than adapt to a typical office space.”

Design and creativity are two of my oldest passions; and more specifically architecture, though it’s often somewhat of a mystery to me. But it provides the perfect context for a romance between the two. Here in London as in cities across the globe, architects are the very backbone of our skylines, creating and crafting the wildest and most beautifully captivating structures that define the destinations we so often admire.

In Fitzrovia, I have come to discover that we are home to a global design and consulting firm with a wide-ranging and eclectic portfolio under its wing. Woods Bagot has a global team of over 850 professionals working across studios in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. More than 60 of these are based in the practice’s London studio situated in Riding House Street. Fitzrovia is home to a diverse range of businesses, not only architects and engineers but also TV companies, fashion wholesalers and a vast range of other creative and digital businesses with Woods Bagot as an obvious fit for the neighbourhood.

In 2014 and 2015, Building Design’s ‘World Architecture 100’ ranked Woods Bagot as the 7th largest architecture firm in the world. The practice’s project output spans almost 150 years – a legacy of design excellence. In London, its clients include: The Edwardian Group, Warner Music, Firmdale, Apple, Ballymore, Pegasus Life, Four Seasons and Marriott. Their current projects include the Leicester Square Hotel, a landmark building integrated into the fabric of the West End cinema experience, with 360 guest rooms across 7 floors. A model of this project, which is currently on display at the studio (see above image) shows the main body of the building formed in natural Portland stone, complemented by an inner layer of royal blue faience, creating moments of colour and texture.

Woods Bagot’s expertise covers a number of key sectors including Transportation, Education, Science & Health, Lifestyle and Workplace. The ‘Next Generation Global Studio’ model which underpins all Woods Bagot’s activities means that all its studios worldwide are interlinked and work collaboratively across borders, using the latest technology to share its design intelligence and strengthen its knowledge base around the globe.

Working across the disciplines of architecture, consulting, interior design, masterplanning and urban design, Woods Bagot understands its clients’ operational and cultural needs, and is able to draw on its own research and expertise to create realistic and functional solutions to meet those needs. Currently the practice invests 2% of its turnover annually into its research arm, ensuring the upkeep of its competitive advantage through constant innovation.

Woods Bagot moved its London studio earlier this year to its current purpose-designed space at 75 Riding House Street across the lower ground and ground floors of the building, following a number of years based in Oxford Street. Jonathan French, the company’s director  says “The process of approving a design with colleagues, many of whom are professional designers themselves, was extremely complicated in order to reach a common consensus. The problem was deciding which great ideas we had to drop.”

The structure of the building itself posed particular challenges. The column grid and base building layout are irregular, making it difficult to optimise seating arrangements. The team created a layout that helps to maximise the opportunity offered by the street frontage, integrating clients into the studio environment and creating a flexible working setting. In addition to the existing staircase and lifts on the Foley Street side, a new second staircase now connects the ground and lower ground floors on the Riding House Street side. A kitchen and informal meeting area have been incorporated into spaces at the bottom of the staircase, helping to encourage movement between levels as well as greater interaction between clients and colleagues.

The reception area has been designed as a gallery space and is currently hosting work from artists who have worked with Woods Bagot in recent years. This space is also used every Friday evening for ‘London Salon’ presentations; a regular activity that helps to broaden design discourse in the London studio by engaging with contributors from a range of disciplines, including design. In June this year, the studio participated in the RIBA London Open Studios programme as part of the London Festival of Architecture by exhibiting the work of three contemporary artists. Attended by an array of architecture and design enthusiasts, the event also offered the Fitzrovia neighbourhood an introduction to the new Woods Bagot studio space.

“Our aim was to create a proper design studio rather than adapt to a typical office space. This is also a studio which is broadly aligned with — and complementary to — the design of other Woods Bagot studios across the world,” Jonathan French continues. “To help achieve this, we collaborated with designers across our Global Studio to ensure that the Woods Bagot ethos is embedded in the new space as strongly as possible.”

Nina Hamnett

Nina Hamnett


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“One had to do something to celebrate one’s freedom and escape from home.”

Serendipity occurs when we least expect it and for Nina it was in France, 1914. She had already earned a reputation in London and decided on a visit to Paris. Who should she run into but famed artist and central figure of the art world at the time, Amedeo Modigliani. Well, it wouldn’t be too long before fame came-a-knocking.

Primarily an artist, part-time writer, Nina existed in a space of her own. She not only crafted art, she lived art and played muse to some of the most important figures of the twentieth century. Born in the sleepy Pembrokeshire town of Tenby, Wales in 1890, Hamnett worked hard to escape a life in the doldrums and was never shy of standing out: “In the daytime, I wore a clergyman’s hat, a check coat and a skirt with red facings…I was stared at in the Tottenham Court Road! One had to do something to celebrate one’s freedom and escape from home.” Of course, it was her talent at painting that afforded Nina her freedom. At 16, Nina won a place at Pelham Art School. So, as any sane person wanting to embark in the world, she accepted and moved to London. She graduated in 1907 and went straight into studies at the London School of Art –finishing courses in 1910.

Nina had only one place to go from here: Paris. 1914 and Nina Hamnett found herself in the café La Rotonde. After a fortuitous meeting, Modigliani introduced the bright young thing to giants of the art world: Picasso, Diaghilev and Cocteau. It was within this group of bohemians that Nina was finally able to find a home and further develop her individuality. In this setting, Nina also met the man who would become her future husband, Norwegian artist Roald Kristian. This match was seen as somewhat unusual and Nina once remarked, of a painting done of the two by Walter Sickert, “We looked a picture of gloom.” This was also a period where Nina gained first-hand experience of the French avant-garde movement – one she would later, as a self-appointed ambassador, bring to the artistic communities of London.

Nina lived the next few decades of her life flitting between Paris and London, cementing a reputation for the avant-garde within both her art and lifestyle. She soon became known for her promiscuity: it is said that she would get drunk and tell everyone how Modigliani thought her to have the ‘best tits in Europe,’ proceeding to prove it. Most scandalous, of course, was her open admittance to being bisexual (an orientation unheard of in polite society). There is even an alleged fling with Vanessa Bell of the Bloomsbury group –although all signs point towards this rumour being propagated by Ms Hamnett herself.

In her book, Laughing Torso, Nina writes “One day somebody said, “You might get a job to paint furniture and do decorative work at the Omega Workshops in Fitzroy Square.” And so she spent some time working at the premises at 33 Fitzroy Square. Founded by artist and critic, Roger Fry, Omega Workshop was primarily intended to provide visual expression in textiles of the post-impressionist and modernist styles that were in vogue. For Nina Hamnett it was a way to make a living (yes, the workshop paid).

Nina’s roles were varied: one day she would be painting a mural or a lampshade, the next she could be found stitching together a cubist duvet. But, on top of this more creative role, she also sat as a model for the artists in the group. One piece in particular is the embodiment of the artistic community of the 1910s: a painting by Roger Fry, currently hanging in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, at the University of Leeds, shows Hamnett modelling an Omega Workshop dress designed by Vanessa Bell. Its use of colours and slightly off angles also makes for a prime example of post-impressionist portraits.

With her lavish lifestyle and numerous modelling jobs, it is sometimes hard to remember that Nina Hamnett was quite rightly a celebrated artist herself. In fact, she superseded some of her contemporaries, becoming celebrated in both Paris and London, with her paintings hanging in many galleries, from Salon d’Automne to The Royal Academy.

In Nina Hamnett, Queen of Bohemia, Denise Hooker explains “By the mid-thirties, Nina was producing very little work beyond quick portrait sketches in pencil or chalk… Always willing to tell another anecdote in return for the next drink. Gradually… the celebrated Reine de Bohème took over from the serious artist.”

Her adventures with fellow creative, all regulars at the Fitzroy Taven, gave the area its flair and bohemian style. Here, revelling in the lively atmosphere, she mixed with luminaries such as Augustus John, Jacob Epstein and even Aleister Crowley. Hamnett and Crowley’s encounters ranged from the purportedly intimate – he claims she shared a bed with her but was incredibly rude about the experience – to litigious, when in 1934 he sued her for claiming he practiced “black magic.” He lost the case but maybe some form of magic was involved because not long after, Nina’s life commenced a precipitous decline.

Unlike many of her contemporaries and friends – Fry, Picasso, Woolf – the Queen of Bohemia’s artistic reputation is sometimes overshadowed by the stories of her reckless behaviour in later years, from vomiting into a handbag to urinating in public. December 1956: Nina Hamnett was found impaled on spikes at the feet of her apartment building. Was she pushed? Did she drunkenly fall? Or was it suicide? Her last words, possibly hinting at how tired she was of living as a shadow of herself, furiously chasing her earlier fame and recognition… “Why won’t you let me die?”

The Omega Workshops

The Omega Workshops


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


“In so far as taste can be changed by one man, it was changed by Roger Fry” (Sir Kenneth Clark)

In 1913, the Omega Workshop was founded by Roger Fry and was based at 33 Fitzroy Square. In stripping away the divide between decorative and fine arts, Fry wanted firstly to introduce into the applied arts a Post-Impressionistic approach to design and colour and secondly, to provide a source of part-time work for impoverished artists. By the end of the 19th century the word “omega” was commonly used as meaning the last word on a subject, and many of Fry’s friends believed he chose this name to imply that the workshops were the last word in decorative art.

Roger Fry, artist and critic, was the most influential individual in the introduction of modern art to England at the start of the 20th century. It was his observation of Poiret’s École Martine in Paris, which he had visited in 1911, that contributed to his philanthropic notion to create the Omega Workshop. Poiret’s Atelier was established to encourage free activity in the decoration of objects, fabrics and furniture. Fry admired the simplicity and vivacity in the work produced there and a number of the early Omega works share these qualities.

Unlike the political and philosophical aims of William Morris’aesthetic in the 1880s and the more intellectually rigorous Bauhaus in Germany in 1919, Fry was more concerned with providing a situation where artists could enjoy absolute freedom from convention and infuse their work, and the making of it, with a sense of joy, which ultimately would be conveyed to the owner. On a commercial level, he was also aware of the need for a viable project, which enabled artists to earn money. In contrast to the Bauhaus, Fry did not attempt to forge closer ties between design and industry. He did, however, share Morris’ belief that machine-made objects suffered from a deadness and lack of humanity and admired the simplicity of design of the Bauhaus movement, believing that objects became impractical when they were very ornate.

Founding members of the Omega Workshop included Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It was established as a limited company, with shareholders, employees and a number of subcontracted craftsmen producing wares, offsite original Omega prices. At the height of their production artists included Wyndham Lewis, Frederick Etchells, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Winifred Gill, who ran the workshops from the start of the war until 1916. During 1913, Vanessa Bell, often described as the ‘matriarch of Bloomsbury’ because of her ability to organise the practical concerns of life, was a regular visitor to 33 Fitzroy Square. Her training and experience as a painter and her knowledge of Post-Impressionist theories of art (through Bloomsbury discussions with Roger Fry and her husband, Clive Bell) gave a sureness of touch to her work. Bell believed that the English were unable to appreciate simplicity or boldness in design. As a result the pieces she produced there were fresh, bold and unselfconscious. If the public lived with objects decorated by these artists, Fry believed, they could understand and appreciate post-impressionist paintings.

The Omega Workshop produce ranged from painted furniture to bead necklaces. One could find a Fauve shawl, a Post-Impressionist chair or a Cubist gown, all under one roof. 33 Fitzroy Square was where artists and wealthy buyers mingled and where artists’ designs were sold directly to the consumer. One of the defining features of the works was that they were sold anonymously, signed only with the symbol Ω, the Greek letter for Omega, creating a fair and level playing ground. Omega could also offer interior design and to that end, three rooms at 33 Fitzroy Square were decorated in the Omega style. In addition, artists worked a maximum of three-and-a-half days a week for thirty shillings. The Omega Workshop extended beyond the artistic and the organisation really was enjoyable and social; friendship was a key factor in the set-up.

When the Omega Workshop opened, it was viewed as scandalous, mainly by the press, who were still grappling with ideas of modern art. The boldness of the work offended numerous members of British society who preferred and valued the technical expertise and elaborate qualities of Morris designs or the elegance and subtlety of Edwardian décor. In the catalogue for the official opening in July 1913 Fry stressed the joviality and the enjoyment – experienced by the makers. The roughness in the final product assured against the emphasis on finish that Fry believed deadened the imaginative life; he did not value craftsmanship as such and did not share Morris’desire to revive the crafts. Any product that required skilled labour was sent out to craftsmen.

The limited concern for craft and finish, which was intended to preserve ‘the spontaneous freshness of peasant or primitive work while satisfying the needs and expressing the feelings of modern cultivated man’, resulted in a number of problems. Legs of tables or chairs sometimes fell off, and on one occasion, the paint on a set of outdoor furniture peeled off after the first shower of rain. The steep learning curve, which the artists experienced, was financially difficult to accommodate. In addition, the often bizarre and exuberant character of the Omega products, which only appealed to a small, wealthy avant-garde, meant that customers bought on a single occasion but usually did not go back. By 1915, Omega had branched out beyond household goods and started to introduce clothing into the repertoire, inspired by both the costumes of the Ballets Russes and Duncan Grant’s theatre designs. Avid supporters included the flamboyant dresser and socialite Ottoline Morrell and the famous bohemian artist Nina Hamnet who helped by modelling the clothes.

Artistic talent often breeds arrogance and resentment and none more so than from the British artist and writer Wyndham Lewis. Despite being an early member of The Omega Workshop, he quickly split away from the group in a dispute over Omega’s contribution to the Ideal Homes Exhibition. Lewis circulated a letter to all shareholders, making accusations against the company and Roger Fry in particular, and pouring scorn on the Omega’s products and ideology. He left the group, along with Frederick Etchells, Cuthbert Hamilton and Edward Wadsworth, to set up the Rebel Art Centre in opposition and competition. This subsequently led to his establishing the rival Vorticist movement and the publication in 1916 of its two-issue house magazine, Blast.

As early as 1914 there were financial problems and the war hastened Omega’s decline. By 1916, many of the artists were involved in the fighting or working out of London on various agricultural projects as conscientious objectors. Whilst Roger Fry continued to support Omega in London, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Charleston in Sussex, where they put their efforts into decorating the entire house in Omega style – an effort which is now maintained by the National Trust.

Despite its connections with high society patrons, the Workshops’ reputation suffered due to the fact that many of its products were poorly constructed. Although the Workshops managed to survive the war, increasing financial problems eventually forced their closure in June 1919. Ironically, Omega’s biggest commercial success was its final closing down sale, when everything went for half price.

The Omega Workshop had neither timing nor good management on its side. However, it opened opportunities for English artists and illustrators, who would have struggled to enter the commercial design business and established interior design as a legitimate artistic activity; its influence continued from the 1920s onwards.  And even more recently, many of its designs have served as inspiration for contemporary brands like Sanderson, Mulberry and Laura Ashley, bringing about a timely revival of the Omega Workshops’ creative output.

Hard Working House

Hard Working House


Words Kirk Truman

Designs Urban Projects Bureau


“Living in Fitzrovia is more like a community than living in the usual semi-detached commuter belt so many young families opt for”

From 1714 to 1830, the first four British monarchs of the House of Hanover (George I, George II, George III, and George IV), reigned in continuous succession in the United Kingdom. With its centred panel front doors, large rectangular windows and distinctive chimney tops, Georgian architecture bares the name of the monarchs that reigned during this period. A notable example of such architecture locally in Fitzrovia is Robert Adam’s elegant Fitzroy Square, while nearby, a remarkable reinvention of the style can be found at 33 Grafton way.

London’s most hard working architectural typology, the Georgian townhouse itself is more-or-less public, or more-or-less private. In the project produced, designed an reimagined by the architectural practice, Urban Projects Bureau, an ordinary Georgian house has been pushed to the limits adapting the typology to provide a mixed-use socially sustainable development that provides commercial spaces and a three-storey family home.

The project itself was the vision of husband and wife duo, Eva & Paschalis Loucaides. Including a full-scale renovation, reorganisation and reinterpretation of the existing building and a light-weight roof-top pavilion and garden – the building was an opportunity and challenge for Urban Projects Bureau to use architecture to support a mixed-use urban environment and to experiment with central London’s essential urban tissue. Alex, founder of Urban Projects Bureau, had previously met Eva whilst studying in Cambridge and the two have remained friends ever since.

The conversion and extension of 33 Grafton Way was given the name Hard Working House by Urban Projects Bureau as the project was a chance to experiment with and bring new innovations to the Georgian town-house typology so as to make it ‘work harder’. Using the design principles of typological adaptation and addition, the derelict property which was in a severe state of disrepair was reconfigured to provide a compact high-density dwelling, with a range of residential and commercial spaces including a newsagent, 2 studio apartments and a three-storey private maisonette with a new roof-top pavilion and terrace.

With Fitzrovia closely monitored by both Camden and Westminster Council conservation teams, the project was subject to many stringent planning and conservation area regulations. Working closely with the local authority and planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, the property was re-imagined as a positive contributor to the historic fabric of the neighbourhood. Undertaking a detailed visual analysis of their proposals through complex 3D modelling of the property and its urban context, the design itself was influenced significantly by views from the streets and neighbourhood buildings in order to design the rooftop pavilion to be invisible from the street, while appearing to be a contemporary adaptation of the neighbourhood roof-scape. Through three rounds of pre-planning consultation, the planning officers and local conservation area groups were very supportive of the project and its potential to innovate the historic fabric, meet housing and workspace policy ambitions, and to set a precedent for future development.

Key to the project was the ambition, care and trust of the Loucaides family, who Alex and the Urban Projects Bureau team worked closely with throughout the project at all stages. Having been the family grocery store at the ground floor at one stage, the property has been in Paschalis Loucaides’ family for the last 40 years. Paschalis was determined to rectify 30 years of neglect inflicted on the house and to set a precedent for high-density inner city living and to create a compact dwelling for he & his family. On the project, Paschalis says “the hardest part was the pressure and cost of renovating a derelict building. As it was so far gone, banks would not mortgage against it as it needed such extensive work to be habitable.”

As well as the sensitive conservation and reconfiguration of the house, the key architectural addition to the property is the roof-top pavilion and garden. Conceived as an ‘urban room’, carefully positioned openings and site lines frame key views of surrounding urban landmarks, orchestrating a series of dynamic relationships between the domestic dwelling space of the house and its urban context. The property itself was gutted entirely from within, leaving only the existing masonry walls, which were repointed and cleaned. While the interior timber structure (which was rotting, leaning and bowing) was replaced, as much of the existing fabric was recycled as possible. This included re-using timber joints and trusses as structural elements where possible, or as internal features such as built in furniture and a new dining table. The thermal and environmental efficiency of the building was upgraded through lining all the walls and window reveals with Thermalcheck insulation, replacing all the windows with new high-performance double glazing, and replacing the flat roof with a new high-performance thermally insulated warm roof with roof garden above. The drainage, services and heating systems in the original building were not fit for purpose and were replaced with integrated energy-efficient systems.

For Paschalis and his family, the property has been renovated in such a fashion to adjust to his family’s needs, though there are still ready-plans to extend the rear of the house. At the base of the house, where his relatives once ran a grocer’s, he has sighted the possibility of reviving community spirit set by his relatives in the form of a café. He adds, “I know most of the people in our street and we can live on top of the shop without any trouble at all. Living in Fitzrovia is more like a community than living in the usual semi-detached commuter belt so many young families opt for.”

Taylors Buttons

Taylors Buttons


Words Omri Rose

Photography Erin Barry


“I don’t know how many buttons we have. Thousands. Thousands and Thousands.”

“I don’t dream about them.” The words of Mrs. Maureen Rose, owner and proprietor of Taylors Buttons, a shop which could easily be in place along the streets of J.K.Rowling’s Diagon Alley or amidst a Dickensian tale. Fitting then, perhaps, that the buttons for the Harry Potter films were provided by Taylors Buttons and that Dickens himself twice lived as a young man in the narrow Victorian house, which for the past 17 years has been home to this a treasure of London’s artisan past.

Established for over a century, the shop came into the Rose family when Maureen’s late husband Leon, in his time known as ‘Mr. Buttons’took over from the previous owners around 50 years ago. Originally located on Brewer St. in the heart of Soho’s once thriving trade, Maureen has said she “couldn’t believe what they’d taken on –there was so much stock and it was all stacked up in a room which was smaller than the shop is now. It only had one light bulb above the desk.” As business flourished Maureen and Leon relocated to Silver Place, where they stayed for many years before finally moving and settling in their current home, at 22 Cleveland St, in Fitzrovia.

Taylors Buttons is filled with a combination of antique sewing machines, mysterious old tools for hand crafting, an impressive lead till from a bygone age, and of course the hundreds of dusty boxes – vintage collector pieces themselves – which contain the myriad of buttons, buckles, and more and more buttons that the shop has to offer. Too many types and styles to list, whether it be metal, glass, pearl, horn, wood, leather, dyeable, covered or whatever you may be after, Maureen possesses  the knowledge of their exact location. But pointing to the many shelves overflowing with buttons, charmingly arranged in what can only be described as organised chaos, she confides mischievously, “They move at night!”

With all the shop has to offer, it is perhaps Maureen herself – sometimes referred to simply and with reverence as ‘The Button Lady’ – who is the real pearl of Taylor’s Buttons. It is Maureen’s good humour, sharp wit and rapport with her many customers, from Savile Row tailors and Wedding Gown Makers to Theatre and Film designers, Walk Ins, and first-timers that makes Taylors Buttons such a unique and authentic experience. Despite her modesty and after much cajoling, Maureen shares, some of the famous names that have become customers: from Gary Oldman to Vivienne Westwood, from Elton John to the Royal Family themselves.

But no matter who the customer may be, Maureen adds jokingly “We don’t charge extra for the dust!” Perhaps she should though, as it is that dust, of authenticity, that is part of what makes Taylors Buttons the charming and utterly unique shop that it is. “I have one rule. If you drop it, you pick it up.” And no doubt, many a curious or clumsy shopper has found themselves on their hands and knees doing just that!

Maureen may not really hold you to that rule, but in reverence to this humble yet historical shop – a place from an imagined bygone era still alive and relevant today – you may want to! After all, chances are you dropped them in the first place and if you don’t retrieve them, they may very well be lost forever. You’d be helping Maureen out as well, who these days finds less and less time to save buttons from the dreaded floor. But it’s all ‘a day in the life’ of the button shop and in a corner a massive container filled with assorted buttons, lovingly referred to as ‘floor buttons’, is a constant reminder of what happens to the ones that get dropped and never find a way home to their original boxes. “I don’t know how many buttons we have. Thousands. Thousands and Thousands.” As for favourites, she says she has a few. “I like the cherries. They’re pearl. A gentlemen once put them on his jacket.” She smiles as she says this, relishing the fact that one of her favourites has found a good home. “The most important thing is that you have to like them.” Her emphasis on ‘you’ and the way she phrased those two thoughts together however gave me the impression that her beloved cherry buttons would not necessarily have been her own first choice for the gentleman’s jacket. “The right button can really make all the difference.” After all, the devil is in the detail.

Between dealing with customers and phone calls, Maureen’s days are often spent working with covered buttons, most often for bridal ware, and it is in the making of these that one gets a sense of a true artisan at work. Maureen expertly and seemingly without looking, works the various pieces required for covering a button into her machine, deftly turning the handle and pressing down as she creates from fabric, backs, and moulds the many varieties of covered buttons that are required. “The small ones are very finicky. Sometimes you have to cover them twice.” Along with buttons, Maureen also covers belts and buckles, a secondary aspect to the business. And hers is the one shop in London that provide a facsimiles of the cut steel buttons used by the prestigious office of ‘High Sheriff of London’, the only person allowed to take their sheep over London Bridge!

Charmingly eccentric and a gateway to the past, Taylors Buttons is not without its modern touches. They recently launched their first website, entering into the 21st century with the charm, modesty, and the grace associated with them. No trumpets, no bangs, just honest quality and good spirits. “We’ll never get all the stock online. We’ve only put a tiny portion of it up so far.” Whatever the next steps for Taylors Buttons, it remains a testament to London’s past and an inspirational for small businesses to aspire to. Long may it remain as a symbol and reminder of the spirit of London’s artisan legacy.

Brandy Row

Brandy Row


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“I’m like the Artful Dodger meets Al Capone.”

I met Brandy Row about 4 years ago, but really our paths should have crossed much earlier. I’d been looking for a guitarist to help me record some songs with a talented blues singer, and the manager of Soho’s So High Soho recommended one of her employees. I wanted someone local just to make things easy. “Brandy Row. He’s a multi-instrumentalist” she suggested “and best of all, he lives nearby.” But never could I have imagined how nearby – Brandy’s flat and mine shared a wall! He was my next door neighbour, only I was two floors above him.

I discovered an animated, passionate character for whom, it soon became evident, life was both toxic and intoxicating. He looked a lot like a modern day Robert Mitchum from Night of the Hunter, carrying the same gravitas and intensity but with a caustic sense of humour. This guy was totally absorbed by the desire to write and perform his own music. And his sartorial style was a living embodiment of his dark, sometimes apocalyptic lyrics. Suited like he might be attending a funeral in a Flannery O’Connor Southern Gothic novel, his hands and face covered in a constellation of peculiar tattoos, Brandy Row was definitely not your average Fitzrovian.

And to think our paths had never crossed… How could I have missed him? So I started photographing Brandy to make up for lost time and delved into his music. I discovered his folky psychedelic solo material but also, a harder, 70s english punk side which he showed off with another  project, The Gaggers. But even his bluesier material had a punk edge to it so I was curious to know where that came from. “People like  Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Robert Johnson, Stiv Bators, The Stones, Etta James, Alan Watts, Karen Dalton, Iggy Pop, Lux Interior, Bill Hicks, Joe Strummer, Bruce Lee… they all influenced my songwriting and even life choices! I also love all that Delta Blues stuff and the 50’s 60’s Chicago movement, the list goes on and on!!”

One of the highlights of his life happened last summer, when he got an opening slot for some of the artists he had long admired. “I played a couple of shows in the UK opening for a supergroup formed of Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Earl Slick (who worked with Bowie) and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats. More recently, I opened up for Adam Ant! What a great show! He’s someone I use to dress up like as a kid so him calling me asking me to support was a trip!”

Speaking of trips, Brandy toured America again earlier this year. “I’ve toured a lot in America: the Midwest, the East Coast, West Coast. I met some great people that have changed my life. The last time I was in the States was a few months ago now, I did a tour that started on new years eve in Brooklyn, New York City, at a place called The Beast of Bourbon, run by an english castaway that has been anchored in NYC for 20 years.” It was there that Brandy hosted and promoted a night and got a bunch of musicians that he’d known and shared a stage with many times before in the Big Apple. “It was a great night! My band flew out to do the show. We played into the New Year, then I flew back to LA with my good friends and family Tina de la Celle and Julian de la Celle.”

Touring. Working. Recording. Working. Every penny Brandy earns he throws back into his music, funding 7” single releases, photo shoots and even elaborate videos. And his most recent video might well be one of his most ambitious not to say craziest… “Julian de la Celle and I went to the Nevada desert to shoot a new music video. By the time we were done shooting, I was covered in blood, as part of the story had me being filmed with an array of replica weapons. Anyhow, we drove to Vegas after that, but I had to stop in a busy parking lot to use the toilet! We were all sleep deprived and a bit frazzled. I opened the trunk and all the guns and knifes from the shoot spilled out! To make matters worse, for some reason I had 100 dollars in one dollar bills in my pocket. They all flew out, blowing across the windy desert carpark. That day, the good people of Nevada saw the Artful Dodger dressed as Al Capone, wearing a black mac, splattered with blood, chasing dollar bills in a desert rest stop, waving a gun and cursing in British gibberish at the money flying above his head… the sort of thing that makes a good video in its own right! Needless to say, we got out of there pretty quick.”

The last few months of Brandy’s life have seen him return to studio, off the radar with social media, concentrating on new material, evolving musically yet again. “I’ve been recording a new EP since January with my very talented amigo Rex Whitehall and a great producer and sound engineer called Alastair Jamieson, who owns and operates from Park Studios in Birmingham. It’s full of great 60’s equipment, old reverbs, everything. A great vibe!” Based in a beautiful Victorian building in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, the studio has become Brandy’s second home. “Alastair brings out the best in me and the sessions we have are organic, we capture magic from the madness!”

But Brandy’s ideas for all this new material more often than not originate from his real home, back in Fitzrovia. “My whole writing routine consists of long walks around Fitzrovia and Soho at night. I get a vibe from an idea at home, record it, chop down a mix then put it my ears and take it out to streets. Out there, history seeps from every wall… you see what reality is really like, and that’s what I take from the area: triumph, failure, the truth, fraud, outcasts, junkies, artists, chancers, movers and shakers, its all out there in the dead of night!”

Greta Bellamacina

Greta Bellamacina


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“I think all art forms are connected to statements – and educate in some way. I like to think that through fashion, music, art you can change the way people think.”

On the seam which separates Fitzrovia from east and west sits Maple Street. Cornered in by Banksy’s contribution to the neighbourhood and the post office tower, Maple Street is the bridge from Camden to Westminster. As my former home, I know Maple Street all too well. Though, recently I have come to discover a neighbour whose creative habits are not too dissimilar to my own. Poet, writer, artist and model, Greta Bellamacina tells of her relationship with the Fitzrovia neighbourhood and her works.

Greta grew up in Camden, which explains why the area always felt nostalgic to her. Having previously attended RADA, she studied at King’s College London where she graduated in 2012 with a BA in English. Her true passion, writing, came about as no coincidence for Greta… in fact it was almost intended. Her father, a musician, would endlessly play melodies on the piano to her in order to encourage her to write lyrics: “…they were always more like poems. I don’t think I really became interested in it properly until I was at school – I remember being really drawn to Lord Byron’s epic poem Don Juan,” she recalls.

Her first credited contribution came in 2007 when working for US Vogue as part of her artists/writers journey on the publication of ‘The World in Vogue: people, parties, places’. In 2011, Greta released a limited edition collection of poetry titled ‘Kaleidoscope’, which later aided her in being short-listed as the Young Poet Laureate of London in 2013. Though currently poetry editor of Champ Magazine, her writings and works have also graced the pages of a variety of publications, from The Telegraph to Wonderland, Vogue (UK, US & Italia), and Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Growing up Greta read a lot of poetry by writers such as Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin; all of whom Greta felt devoted to understand. She explains, “I felt close to their unleashed silences and noiseless despairs. But now I think I am more influenced by poets who have a way of looking at landscape as a continuous home; poets like Octavio Paz and Alice Oswald, looking at land as part of a greater system, something more cohesive with our dreams, part of the weather and the trees. I like to explore these themes a lot in my writing.”

Last year, Greta edited a collection of poetry, ‘Nature’s Jewels’, in collaboration with MACK publishers, where she was later assigned the role of poetry editor. Earlier this year, she was commissioned to write a series of poetic texts for the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy, while in February she launched a collection of British contemporary love poems with Faber & Faber. Greta is currently collaborating on a collection of verse with the poet, Robert Montgomery. “We started writing together a while ago and decided our styles seemed to complement each other. The poems all come back round to the idea of being British, the night buses going round the circus squares of London, the left-over mornings of the week, and the BT privatisation,” she explains.

But Greta has more than one string to her bow. She recently directed a documentary about the importance of saving our slowly vanishing public libraries (released last month) and is currently working on several short films which will premiere at the end of this year. In addition to filmmaking, Greta has also modelled for a number of years, and has starred in fashion campaigns for various brands including Burberry and All Saints. “I was spotted in a lift by a photographer in the Conde Nast building in New York, whilst I was working for Vogue in my gap year before I went to university. He sent some images to Models1 in London and I got signed,” she says. She sees these two creative pursuits – modelling and writing – as having developed alongside one another. “I think all art forms are connected to statements – and educate in some way. I like to think that through fashion, music, art you can change the way people think,” says Greta. Currently, she is represented by VIVA Model Management on their talent board which is based in London and Paris.

Greta first visited the Fitzrovia neighbourhood when visiting French’s Theatre Bookstore on Warren Street to look for plays and scripts during her studies at RADA. She felt strongly that Fitzrovia was in some ways a lost neighbourhood; in being so central, though equally quite forgotten from the rest of the West-End, despite its literary history and charm. “I like the rhythm of the place; everyone arrives into town and leaves so quickly that it feels like there is a lot of stillness and space,” she says, now a resident of Fitzrovia for two years.

With her literary agent based around the corner, Greta is well adjusted to Fitzrovia, a neighbourhood which has come to inspire her in recent years. With the signs of poetry and old magical history everywhere in her path – from Banksy’s art at the end of her street reading ‘if graffiti changed anything – it would be illegal’, to the rooftop graffiti on Maple Street reading; ‘the writer, the villain & the stone’ – to Greta Fitzrovia is a realm of independence and creativity.

Percy & Founders

Percy & Founders


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Laurie Fletcher & James Brown


“We want to be the natural social hub that people want to go to not once a week, but two or three times a week.”

Peer and landowner, Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, is a name which is quietly synonymous with Fitzrovia. About the streets, subtle references to a man who developed and built on the name of our region from Percy Street to The Northumberland Arms are evenly spread. In 1755, Hugh Percy and a group of philanthropists came together and founded the Middlesex Hospital. Forward to today; for many, Percy and his founders would appear as but names in history. Now, on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, a new reference to their legacy and the heritage of Fitzrovia has come to light. Sure to become as synonymous with the neighbourhood as Hugh Percy himself, Fitzrovia’s newest social destination Percy & Founders is a restaurant and bar which takes its name from Hugh Percy and the men who founded the Middlesex Hospital.

Having opened this spring, Percy & Founders is situated within the new Fitzroy Place development at a prominent corner where Berners Street and Mortimer Street meet, backing onto the soon to be unveiled Pearson Square. The restaurant is the first creation of Open House, the recently formed sister company to Cubitt House, renowned for its award-winning beautifully designed public houses in Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Pimlico and Marylebone – The Orange, Pimlico, being a particular favourite of mine. The formation of Open House marks the group’s evolutionary jump from a traditional pub to a contemporary, all-day dining venue.

Percy & Founders’ modern all-day dining is complemented by the different areas of the restaurant being tailored to a variety of needs at different times of the day – with a notable focus on ease and accessibility. Welcoming both reservations and casual walk-ins, the restaurant itself offers residents and visitors alike everything from morning coffee and breakfast through to lunch, dinner and evening cocktails. Alfresco dining is offered for the warmer months. Each section of Percy & Founders is purposefully designed to flow effortlessly into the next, thus making for a reassuringly comfortable venue. “We want to be the natural social hub that people want to go to not once a week, but two or three times a week,” says Open House Director Stefan Turnbull.

Great emphasis has been put on the design and finish of Percy & Founders, with the interior of the restaurant sympathetic to the heritage of Fitzrovia and its surrounding architecture. The logo of the restaurant is inspired by elements of the Percy family coat of arms. The Middlesex Hospital, and adjoining Grade II listed Fitzrovia Chapel at the rear, are echoed throughout the restaurant and bar with subtle nods to their respective styles: from bold colours, to patterns, textures and unique marble detail. The design philosophy of the restaurant appropriately centres on traditional craftsmanship with bespoke, handcrafted joinery throughout. The perfect combination of glass, brass and wood panelling paired with oak and terrazzo flooring make for a custom designed feel with surfaces hand-finished by oiling, brushing and oxidising – bespoke furniture honours both the style and substance of high modernism without being mistaken for nostalgic or retrograde.

Walking about the restaurant from the centre bar to the view directly into the restored Fitzrovia Chapel, the array of art collections by notable artists and illustrators is striking. Hanging from the ceiling above the central circular bench is a tailored piece by Alex Randall titled ‘The Butterfly Domes’, acting as a crossroads where a tree rests. When entering through the main entrance, directly on the left is the well-lit and traditionally styled cocktail bar for which there is a capacity of 65, with a mix of high and low level seating with four large Chesterfield sofas at the centre, and a marble topped bar. For the summer months, the large concertina windows can be folded open with comfortable window seats below each. On the far wall of the bar is another nod to the heritage of The Middlesex Hospital; ‘Acts of Mercy’ (Frederick Cayley Robinson 1916-1920), a collection originally commissioned and hung in the hospital itself. In part, Robinson’s collection represents the traumatic effects of conflict on patients sent back from the First World War.

To the right of the main entrance, adjacent to the cocktail bar, capable of seating 25 is The Reading Room. The casual feeling here is complemented by low furniture and window seats from which to work and relax: sumptuous fabrics, eye-catching glass light wall fittings and bookshelves (even some neatly tucked away copies of Fitzrovia Journal). On into the restaurant where there sits a series of dining spaces, again each tailored to different needs – all tables are centred around the central division bar. Here the Fitzrovia Chapel’s arresting interior can be viewed through a glass door – rest assured, a table here by the chapel is a real view to a kill. These areas are designed to host a variety of flexible private functions; from canapé receptions to sit down dinners.

Laid out along the left wall of the restaurant toward the stairwell, hangs the original 16 piece ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by British painter David Hockney (a 1960 adaptation of William Hogarth’s 1733 ‘A Rake’s Progress’), drawing attention to the challenges of social mobility and of maintaining one’s personal identity. At the far end of the restaurant it is difficult to distract yourself from the endearing pose of ‘Sick Dog’ by German painter, Michael Sowa, hung above the staircase. Where dogs were once as in abundance as guests in public houses, it seems appropriate for this be placed within the restaurant; Percy & Founders is a dog-friendly establishment.

Toward the far end of the restaurant, quickly stealing your attention is the superb open kitchen. Standing within this arena of creativity and buzz is a 1.5 tonne Maestro Venetti oven, custom designed for/by wonderful Executive Chef, Diego Cardoso. Standing before the kitchen are two high level sharing tables which allow for guests to experience the atmosphere and excitement of the kitchen through the Pyrolave pass, which is a glazed volcanic lava stone; past the kitchen, to the left and down the bespoke terrazzo and brass staircase leading to the lower ground floor, is the private dining room. Capable of seating 20 guests, and complete with its own bar, the dining room launched just last month. The versatile design of the space will be able to tailor to a number of different private functions such as drinks receptions, presentations, board meetings and family celebrations.

Percy & Founders Executive Chef, Diego Cardoso, has brought his wealth of experience to Fitzrovia, having previously worked in an array of some of the world’s most creative and exciting kitchens; most recently having worked as Head Chef at Angela Hartnett’s Murano. The all-day menu he has created features a fusion of simple British and modern European delights. There is a concise list of six starters, six mains, salads, sides and a dry-aged beef section. Mains such as the Sea Trout and Middle White Pork are delicious. There is also an all-day bar menu, including bar snacks – note the courgette wafers, cream cheese and Iberico ham, which are mesmerising. The restaurant is also open for breakfast at 7:30 throughout the week and has a weekend brunch menu – not forgetting a traditional Sunday Roast. Hand-in-hand with the menu itself, staff in the restaurant and bar are polite and informal, adding to the overall relaxed and casual setting at the heart of the neighbourhood.

Starters straight from Cardoso’s menu, such as the Lobster & Prawn Scotch Egg or Crispy Short Rib, make for a refreshing start to dinner, however, I was won over by a daily special; asparagus with quail eggs. Main dishes include Rib of Dry-aged Beef with baked bone marrow to share, Hand-made Linguine and Lamb Burger (harissa spiced mayo and sweet potato fries).

The restaurant’s salads include Grilled Chicken with crispy skin and Hot Smoked Salmon, with the options of sides in the form of Truffle Fries, Charred Greens and Mac & Cheese. Puddings are all presented with paired wines if desired and include Percy’s Mistresses (maple syrup butter), Yorkshire Treacle Tart and Lemon & Yoghurt. In switching between the traditional Old Fashioned fare and Percy & Founders’ own New-Old Fashioned, the drink offerings are respectably affordable, pairing wines from small grower labels alongside established producers, all of which are served by the glass, carafe and bottle.

From its attachment to the heritage of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, and its respectful nods both in design and interior toward the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, Percy & Founders becomes as synonymous with the area as Hugh Percy himself. With summer now well on the rise, Fitzrovia’s newest all-day social destination is set only to flourish.

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“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…”

I admit it! I’m guilty of unveiling my favourite secret hideaways in the journal. And as ever, it’s a pleasure to do. Have you ever heard of Fitzrovia’s Grant Museum of Zoology? Don’t worry neither had I! And I’ll confess, I find it somewhat worrying that, up until about a year ago, this wonderful cavern of intrigue and wonder had not registered on my radar.

Jack Ashby of the University College London’s Public & Cultural Engagement Department explains that the name Grant derives from Professor Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874), who established The Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy to serve as a teaching collection at the then newly founded University of London (now known as University College London). Born in Edinburgh, where he studied medicine, Professor Grant remains a relative unknown to the public, though he is recognised within his field 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 the University found there to be no teaching materials with which to conduct his courses. Thus, he immediately began to amass specimens, material for dissection, diagrams and lecture notes. On his death bed, Grant was persuaded by a 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. Though his personal papers have never been found, his collection forms the basis of the museum today.

This collection has grown organically through time, until the early 1980s through to the early 2000s, when its size increased dramatically. It was during this period that other colleges and Universities throughout London had begun to donate their collections to the Grant museum. As Jack remembers, “They had decided they no longer required any sort of collection of zoology. 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! We teach every day during term time.”

In absorbing a whole variety of collections, the museum has effectively become a museum of museums. Today it includes collections from the Gordon Museum, which consists of an assortment of animal brains from the comparative anatomy collections at King’s College London: The Imperial College London’s entire fossil, skeletal and spirit specimen collection was transferred to the UCL in the 1980s and soon after, in the ‘90s, primatology and fossil hominid materials were donated from the Napier Collection along with subsequent donations from a variety of collections throughout the city. A large majority of the specimens originate from the Victorian-era, with many having been on display for over 180 years. Among the specimens lies one of the rarest skeletons in the world: that of the extinct quagga – an unusual half-striped zebra from South Africa. As if that weren’t unique enough, it is also the only mounted quagga skeleton in the UK; no more than seven quagga skeletons survive globally. The museum also boasts a number of wax models which are used in teaching and around 20,000 microscope slides from scientific research material through to sets that students would borrow for a year – many of which are displayed on a giant vertical light box. And look out for my favourite, the jar of (many, many) moles!

Traditionally, the museum was only available for students to visit but in 1997, it was opened to the public for two afternoons a week. Today, however, it is open 6 days a week. In over 170 years, much has befallen the museum: in 1884, a ceiling collapse destroyed a number of specimens, with further collapses in the 1890s and, after flooding in the 1970s, the roof was completely destroyed. During the dark days of the Second World War, the entire collection was evacuated to Bangor while the museum on many occasions was threatened with closure. In recent years, however, the museum has gone from strength to strength, relocating several times to expand the space for its collections. When it was made open to the public in 1997, the collection moved to the UCL Darwin Building. In March 2011, the museum was relocated again, this time to the wonderful Rockefeller Building on University Street, formally the medical school library.

The museum continues to be used for teaching, as it was in Professor Grant’s day, as well as serving as a fully accessible resource to more people than ever before through outreach programmes and its different exhibitions. Jack Ashby and staff at the museum fully encourage visitors and remain keen to create awareness of this beguiling collection.

Celeste Wong

Celeste Wong


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Tom Brown


“I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work, but the highs definitely outweigh the lows.”

There are oh so many elements of my life that I have come to admire and conversely so many I find distasteful. However, there is one addiction I am proud of. My long-term love-affair with coffee has turned serious: these days I can drink nothing less than 5 cups per day. New Zealand born Celeste Wong has helped me sustain my addiction, and her relationship with coffee is equally bittersweet. The girl in the café speaks to us about Fitzrovia, coffee, and developing her own coffee web series.

Born in Dunedin of Chinese origin, Celeste began her accidental relationship with coffee while studying in New Zealand. She sought out a job in an edgy and progressive café, with seemingly huge odds stacked against its success. “It was a little shack of a building on a back street that you’d expect no one to know about, but it was roasting coffee on a little 10kg (Turkish) Toper and we had lines out the door. Once we were out of food and coffee, we were out. We always sold out.” Being the youngest of the team, she was proud to be part of such a successful café. She admired the quality of the coffee and the experience of working with passionate, knowledgeable people in the industry.

On a holiday to London, from her newfound home of Melbourne, Australia, Celeste quickly made the decision to live here, falling in love with the vibe and energy of the city. “I was wide-eyed with hope and ready for a new adventure and opportunity!” Having worked at Soho’s Flat White (one of London’s original artisan café’s) she then helped run its sister café, Milkbar. About 3 years ago, she started working at Australian owned Lantana, where she became head of coffee and manager, with the objective of continuing to raise the company’s focus and reputation for quality coffee. Fitzrovia felt like a slightly more upmarket version of Soho, though in balance a hub for business, creativity and hustle. “I guess working here, there’s a growing sense of community. But maybe that organically or naturally happens when you get to know people and the surrounding businesses better,” she says of the neighbourhood.

This relationship and passion for coffee that Celeste had forged back home in New Zealand was now becoming a career for her as she began delving ever-deeper into the coffee industry. She developed a particular fascination: is coffee a science or an art? “When I first started making coffee, I was obsessed with espresso and certain technicalities of milk texture and speed but as my instincts have become deeper rooted, I now trust and rely a lot more on my senses and experience over just technicalities and theory. I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work but the highs definitely outweigh the lows. Coffee is so complex yet delicate – it’s that and the process of making it and drinking it. That’s what I fell in love with. I love the taste of coffee and how it makes me feel!” she says.

With Celeste experiencing both the Melbourne and London ‘Third wave’ of coffee, she has been fortunate enough to have only worked with some of the top individuals in the industry such as Tania Vorrath, Jason Chan and Cameron McClure and other pioneers. “What I respect most about the people that have influenced my work and career is their attitude and support. They love what they do, and as a result, they are good at it. There is a defiance within them to do it ‘their way’ not giving in to outside opinion which is incredibly inspiring in this world were comparison and imitation is rife” says Celeste.

However, Celeste is by no means just the girl in the café. Her passion for coffee has led her to go one step further by launching her own brand, eponymously titled The Girl in the Café; an exploration of coffee, people, its culture, the science and its place in the world. “In short, I had an idea and I went with it. It is an interview series with inspiring, creative people who are living their dreams with authenticity. I go within and beyond the coffee industry, so it encompasses a range of topics, depending on who my guest is, with a couple of surprises thrown in too. I wanted to create a medium where people who aren’t exposed to this sort of conversation can have access to such ideas and inspiration. I have been fortunate to have met many inspiring and determined people within and outside the industry. It is through my personal experience and insight with these people that I share stories, lessons and thoughts with others through my web series, blogs and vlogs in a casual but entertaining and insightful way,” she says.

The primary focus of her brand at present is the online series itself, blogs and vlogs. In addition to this, Celeste will be setting up a two-day pop up café in Dalston in August with friends who are involved with the project and the coffee industry. “It’s like a hang out with friends and a good opportunity to try some new concepts and have some fun. I’ve also designed a range of #ThatsHowILikeMyCoffee t-shirts which have been really well received,” she says on the brand. The 1st season of Celeste’s online series will launch later this year with an eye to growing the series on an international level and working with larger companies in the industry, and getting on board with a digital distributor. “I have so many ideas as to how to expand from the series. The sky’s the limit! I have new ideas all the time about how to expand, but television is the obvious option, along with my podcasts and other related products”.

For Celeste, her personal relationship with coffee is undying. An accidental vocation has now become her career, passion and fascination. “I want to be consistent, do more of what I enjoy and somehow contribute to the world in a positive way. Being in the coffee industry challenges me in ways that keep me interested. So in that way, my relationship with coffee is like any other long-term relationship; it takes passion, patience, perseverance, and ultimately trust and love.” With her brand still in its infancy, The Girl in the Café seems ready to embrace the limitless prospects of this long term love affair.

The Disguisery

The Disguisery


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


We’ve really strived to learn and perfect our techniques here, and we’ve got to such a standard now that we’ve reached the benchmark.”

The door is semi-concealed, the intercom sits slightly above the rest. Buzzed in I climb, half a flight of stairs, open the first door, follow the paper trail of signs, taped business cards. A small kitchen; another door outside again; over rooftops; a small unit, perched, a busy workshop, a hive of industry. The secret industry that Fitzrovia thought it had lost. It’s here on the roof, hidden from the eyes, in disguise. The Disguisery: the word, the plural noun for a collective, or group of tailors. A Disguisery. “We were looking for a name for the business. A customer suggested it and it just seemed to fit.”

Becky’s parents in Somerset had been in the business, designing and making clothes for Liberty of London Department store. After a spell in modern art, she fell onto The Row and into the art of tailoring trousers, particularly for men who were particular about their trousers. “I have been lucky enough to have many different teachers. We’ve really strived to learn and perfect our techniques here, and we’ve got to such a standard now that we’ve reached the benchmark. All the trousers and waistcoats are made on the premises, and the Jackets are made by other specialist Jacket makers nearby. As the business grows we would also like to bring the Jacket-making in-house. Our suits are all made completely in Fitzrovia. Essentially we are a bespoke tailoring house. We endeavour to create any style that our customer requires.”

Giles, the knowledgeable, sartorial, Man about Town, the front man with a background in Soho media makes the coffee, puts on the Jazz when the customers call at their house. A house which also acts for the moment as the showroom for their clientele. Small for now but growing, by the end of this year The Disguisery hope to have a ground level storefront in Fitzrovia, where they can host, and boast of, their skills, their style, their sharp cuts. “We live in Fitzrovia, work in Fitzrovia, and other people we work with are based in Fitzrovia. This is our neighbourhood. It’s an area with history and heritage. We feel very much part of the fabric of Fitzrovia (no pun intended).

You’d be surprised who we make clothes for in here. It’s quite quiet today but it can get quite frantic, quite hectic, especially when we have deadlines to meet. You see the names on the tickets: Royalty, famous people.” The Disguisery are discreet, they don’t give any names away. I don’t ask. They have concerns about talking too much about who else they cut and make bespoke pieces for. So I won’t say. It’s a mark of their pride, loyalty, agents of integrity. “I am proud of the fact that we support tailoring houses in the West End.”

The research is deep, a sneaky red and black classic soul Atlantic seven sits in front of Giles on the table unmentioned. Their taste in clothes and the mid-century items that furnish their home sit juxtaposed with the tailoring on their homepage, reflecting their aesthetic indulgences. “We are always on the lookout for unique vintage cloth.” We discuss enduring images, espionage and subterfuge in bespoke tailoring. Transatlantic sixties style, Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair, Sean Connery in Dr No, these are the most common references for men with a modern agenda who require a suit.

“It’s classic style. It’s the most natural style, the closest to the body’s proportions. I was reading a lot, cutting manuals and tailoring guides from the sixties. The elements we draw from this era are timeless and will endure well into the future.” Giles sports a jacket. Green/black checks with a red line running through. Single-breasted, three buttoned. Only the middle button fastened. Showing me some of their work, a navy blue double breasted pinstripe number looks sharp. The lapel peak in exactly the right place, the slant pockets make all the difference. Attention to detail.

The Disguisery deals only in true bespoke. Whatever details the customer requires, or desires, the luxury of choice. Style, pocket, cloth lapel, cuff, buttons, all to be picked, a pattern cut, created from scratch, personal, just for you. Paper proportions archived, your silhouette preserved in paper. This is how you really measure up in the sartorial stakes. The needle that sits under The Disguisery name points the way forward. “People talk about the bespoke trade and tailoring dying out, but we think the opposite. We’re very busy in here and we need more space. You can hardly move in here sometimes.” They are already growing and expanding. Another tailor, Becky worked here for a few years, Edita has joined the team. “Edita has recently become a partner in the business. Over the years we have discussed and analysed all the advantages and disadvantages of different construction methods and have hand-picked all the details that give the garments we make the high-quality level that we present to our customers. Every part of the cut and construction has been decided on for a reason – nothing left to chance. What we bring is the quality, the precision, the detail.”

The Disguisery offers modernist takes on bespoke tailoring: a lifestyle. “There is a growing clientele who have a love of style and quality clothing but prefer a more relaxed environment to discuss their sartorial requirements which is something we can offer. At present, most of our clients are local. Our customers are our best advert. Wearing a suit from us they get asked, and we get recommended. It’s all by recommendations just now.” Building a reputation on word-of-mouth, a word you may not be familiar with, The Disguisery is worth investigating. I spy the exit and leave, unseen but sharp, over the rooftops of Fitzrovia.

John Constable

John Constable


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither was there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world.”

There’s a saying at my alma mater, the University of Essex, which states that you will leave the university behind. Well, there’s certainly no escaping this character whose work bleeds out of the Essex-Sussex border to the grey-blue skies of Fitzrovia, artist John Constable. I decided to look into this interesting figure from history and take a peek at just a few of his most famous works as well as get a snippet his life and times.

Born in 1768, John Constable had many homes in London and he certainly moved around a lot. Starting from East Bergholt, Sussex where he was raised, he moved to London in 1795, apparently his father consented to this “for the purpose of ascertaining what might be his chance of success as a painter.” Well, we can guess how that turned out. He first moved to Cecil Street, off the Strand, a move that soon after came marked with an inauguration into the Royal Academy in 1799. From here, he moved on to 52 Upper Norton Street, just off Portland Road –today labelled by The Guardian as “Britain’s most gentrified street”.

Of course, it was in Sussex where Constable found his inspiration to sketch and paint some of his most iconic works. Perhaps the most famous of these is Dedham Vale (1802), currently on display at the Tate Gallery; this artwork was produced one summer and sees a perspective of the landscape seen from Gun Hill, near Langham. Although it depicts a midsummer’s day, Joseph Farington, noted landscape painter and mentor to Constable, declared that he saw the picture “rather too cold and stormy to suit the idea.” It may, therefore be unsurprising to note that Constable’s use of cold blues and stormy skies would later become a signature to many of the works produced whilst in London.

However, life wasn’t all rosy for Constable whilst in London. It was in the early hours of the 10th of November that a slight tragedy occurred within his home at 63 Charlotte Street. He had been living above Richard Weights’ upholstery workshop when a fire broke out. Writing to Maria Bicknell, whom he was courting at the time, only to be married in 1816 – when Constable was 40 – he exclaimed that “I have been fortunate in losing none of my works; I am troubled only by the alarm and inconvenience this bustle has caused on my art.” For Constable, it was only the mutual love shared with Maria along with his talents that mattered. During the fire at Weights’, he braved the fumes to save his “most valuable letters.” He was reportedly showered with glass whilst rescuing a painting owned by Lady Heathcote along with the servant woman’s savings.

Sometime afterwards came the arrival of a baby girl on the 19th July 1819, and a “change of air” was called for. So they moved again from East Bergholt and returned to the outskirts of London: Hampstead. From here, Constable had a completely different view of the city than living central; whilst he could see the hills of Hampstead Heath from his home in Fitzrovia, he could now see Fitzrovia and beyond from Hampstead Heath. Thus he started paint the many views he could get from the heath. After his death, a resulting work, simply known as A View of London from Hampstead Heath was purchased by one of his seven children in an auction that lasted thirteen days through May 1838 (such was the scope of works produced) and took place at an auction house on Charlotte Street, this particular piece went for the princely sum of £35.

Before we skip too far to the end, let us go back to the beginning and the reason Constable is an inescapable figure for all and sundry. A seemingly innocuous landscape painting from 1816 has kept Constable in my mind for many years; a simple painting of cows in the field, fishing on the lake, a grand country house in the background. This painting is of Wivenhoe Park, now the site of the University of Essex. Currently being hung with pride at the National Gallery, this piece is described: “A pleasant sense of ease and harmony pervades this landscape of almost photographic clarity. The large areas of brilliant sunshine and cool shade, the rambling line of the fence, and the beautiful balance of trees, meadow, and river are evidence of the artist’s creative synthesis of the actual site.”

The bright intensity of the piece stands apart from the mainstream depictions of the day, take J.M.W Turner for instance – who’s namesake gallery, might I add, contains a number of Constable’s works – his landscapes tend towards the dramatic; storms; seas; wreckages; a hint of hope in the burst of light often emanating off-centre from the horizon: whilst Turner shows us the future, Constable looks at the pastoral beauty still existing within the present and provides an idleness we can still hope to experience in daily living.

So, when in the busy, fast-paced London life most have become accustomed to, we can always think of the man who offers peace. It is to John Constable of Charlotte Street that we can look and take a breath, for all beauty is not lost if we take the time to look for it.

John Zack

John Zack


Words Laurence Glynne

Photography Kirk Truman


Fascinatingly Fitzrovia finds fashion! Simple but true. The history is colourful, patterned and can be displayed in many styles. I am treated to a coffee and a croissant on the benches of the Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street, next door to his showroom. John is accompanied by his terrier Roxy who wanders back and forth searchingly until distracted by an attractive bitch far more interesting than our chatter. John Zack has earned his living in this special location for over 40 years, remarkable in so many ways but first and foremost because there are so few people who can claim to have spent the majority of their working life here. He reveals as we enter the cavern of his world, a treasure chest of his Fitzrovia experiences which at times has me in stitches!

All Flutes Plus

All Flutes Plus


Words Darren Hawes

Photography Kirk Truman


“I suppose it’s what you call a ‘destination store’… so being in a really desirable part of London is really important for us. Fitzrovia fits that well indeed.”

Nietzsche once said that “in a world whose essence is Will to Power, [we] may be reminded that Schopenhauer, although a pessimist, ACTUALLY–played the flute.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to see this wonderfully, usually so soothing an instrument as a symbol of peace, something that can turn even the most ardent pessimists into hopeful cherubs. I met with Nigel James, director of All Flutes Plus to see how this concept can be made into a successful specialist business that starts in Fitzrovia and makes it all over the world.

60-61 Warren Street is a rather unassuming premises, but it contains a veritable treasure trove for music. Stepping into All Flutes Plus, I was reminded of a jewellery store with the glimmering shine of instruments kept behind their glass cases – here is a place that self-evidently cares for the artistic quality and integrity of its specialism.

Another thing I noted about the shop, it really gets busy. Nigel took me downstairs into the Warren Room (a practise room that doubles as a place for events) for a chat, saying “I might have to leave from time to time if people come in.” He’s adamant of giving the customer the utmost care and attention.

Nigel’s brother opened the original All Flutes Plus on Dorset Street in 1990 but Nigel started working there soon after. In time, the team “outgrew” (as Nigel puts it) the building in Marylebone and relocated to the two floored building in Fitzrovia. “It’s a lovely area, it’s incredibly accessible, which is what we need.” I’m told of the reasons behind opening the new shop here. “I suppose it’s what you call a ‘destination store’, good transport links to all mainline stations. And there are customers coming to us all over the world, so being in a really desirable part of London is really important for us. Fitzrovia fits that well indeed.” Nigel’s enthusiasm for the area cements the business’ booming state. I ask him if there is a lot of custom from around Fitzrovia. “We have the West-end musicians. One or two of them live locally. Then there are the schools for the educational side of music, we do a lot of business with these.” But it isn’t just the local clientele that Nigel aims for, “for us it’s the location which is great. Being situated on Warren Street is brilliant because it’s actually quite quiet, but close to Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road, which are busy but not quiet. So it’s ideal.” The location, I notice, means that a lot of the foot traffic coming from around the busier streets opens up the business to a world of clientele.

Of course, it isn’t just the wandering eye of a passing traveller that All Flutes Plus rely on, although they’re always happy to help you. As Nigel says, “If it’s a complete beginner we can guide them in terms of what the quality and budget they have to find a suitable instrument.” If you’re a seasoned player, there are also services on offer for you too. Nigel’s view if you want a change in instrument is simple, “Let’s try lots and see!” When it comes to the flute, whatever your skill, level or interest you’ll get quality service here. They also offer a range of services to schools, “We try and promote the instruments. We will organise workshops around different schools: Sometimes with just flutes, sometimes we’ll work with other companies that specialise in other instruments, like Brass.” Nigel tells me, “and we’ll go and organise workshops in schools. Beyond anything, we want to promote instrumental uses. And that’s crucial to education. It’s been proven over and over again that learning an instrument helps brain function: particularly with mathematics.”

The team comprises of music specialists (all of whom are skilled players in their own right) and technicians (for any servicing and refurbishments you may need). “Most of our staff are highly trained musicians. So they know instruments, they know music.” Nigel seems incredibly, and understandably, proud of the quality of his staff. “Importantly, they know what customers need.” On top of this, there are the workshop staff, Eliana Amos and Antonio Fernandez Obelliero who, as Nigel tells me, “if you have a problem they can fix it.”

I ask Nigel about the sorts of issues they see to from time to time. “A common issue is with some of the students at the conservatoires – we’re just up the road from the Royal Academy. They’re so busy practising all the time; they can’t find time to organise in their schedule to plan a few days when they can book the flute in for a proper servicing.” Giving an uncomfortable laugh he goes on to highlight the problem with this, “So, inevitably what happens is that they’ll have an important audition, exam, rehearsal, whatever, and ‘Oh dear!’ Their flute packs up on them.” Nigel tells me that in such situations they do what they can to get the flute in full working order (sometimes in the space of only two hours!) Service is a last resort, however, and Nigel does urge players to keep their instrument in good condition. I asked if they should get regular check, “Yeah, if it’s a player that’s using it a huge amount get it serviced regularly, rather than waiting until it packs up on you.” If you want to avoid the stresses caused by a broken instrument, All Flutes Plus offer many services that will help keep it in good working order.

Finally, Nigel tells me that they keep a close relationship with their suppliers and manufacturers. “We have personal contacts with most of the good quality manufacturers in the world; a lot of them are Japanese and America and we even have a few individual makers and craftsmen in the UK. The quality of Asian products has gotten better and better.” He tells me that Chinese products used to be rather poor but are now becoming good quality. “We check everything as it comes here.” All Flutes Plus offers unrivalled quality and an internationally renowned service.

I can see why Nietzsche was surprised to learn that a pessimist still played the flute, but why should this instrument be just for the few? It really is a beautiful instrument that requires a lot of care and attention. And you can find that right here in Fitzrovia.

French’s Theatre Bookshop

French’s Theatre Bookshop


Words Darren Hawes

Photography Erin Barry


“It’s a strange little shop and always has been… the fact that it exists is kind of wonderful in a world where everything would tell you that this shop has everything going against it.”

I suppose it’s all rather fitting that at the junction of Warren and Fitzroy streets sits a cave of wonders – French’s Theatre Bookshop – not a minute away from Fitzroy square. I went into this establishment to have a look around, as well as chat to its owner/manager what? Peter Langdon

My first impression of the shop comes from before I even enter; black wooden frames catch the eye, drawing my attention towards the mountains of books inside. Of course, this feeling of awe at the sheer size of the shop floor collection does not diminish upon entering; plays stacked by author, theme, teachings and more line the walls (and much of the tables) of this establishment. It isn’t just any old bookshop either, Peter tells me of the things they’re involved in. “We are a publisher, so we publish plays, we also represent the rights to plays, so if anyone wants to perform the play we sell the license to perform it on behalf of the author, then collect the money and supply it to the author. And we also have the shop which has been around for a long time.” In fact, French’s was involved in the recent production of Elephant Man at the West-End, starring Bradley Cooper in the titular role.

As Peter goes on to tell me, “People are a bit unclear as to when the shop actually started, but it was in the early 19th Century. The company started in 1830, so we’ve got our 185th anniversary this year.” The location of the shop has changed throughout the centuries, but I learn that its current incarnation has been in Fitzrovia since the 1980s, and before that Covent Garden. Peter tells me about the effect this change of location has had on the bookshop. “When we were in Covent Garden it was more in the heart of theatre land, but we do have theatres here as well. And we’re not so far from the West-End. So really, if you are in London and interested in theatre we’re very close by.” On top of the location, French’s has expanded outside of the physical world, “We also have a website which offers our entire range online.” Peter lets me know that he thinks this makes them “probably one of the biggest theatre bookshops online now too!”

This specialism Peter talks about can be seen easily in the shop, and the people who work here are always willing to help, “We have people in the shop who just know theatre inside out,” he tells me. “If there was a production in 1962, you want to find out about it, we’ve probably heard of it and can find it for you.” This wealth of knowledge is not confined to those who know what they want either: “our specialism is quite broad… Simon the manager, who’s been with us for thirty…ish years, has in his time come across almost anything. It would be great if we could get people who don’t normally read plays to do it. You wouldn’t think to get a play and just sit down and read… but some plays – not all but some – are just fascinating to see on the page.” French’s is beginning to expand outside of simple bookselling too, “We are starting to do more events in the shop. Book launches and talks in the evening, always on weekday evenings. As well as external events and workshops: we’ve done one of these workshops on how to audition in May with 250 people.” Whether you’re just passing, or really need something in relation to theatre, French’s can and will provide.

As well as current offerings, Peter lets me know that “there’s quite a lot of things we want to start doing, and we definitely want to find more people and bring them into the shop. Make it more of a shop that local people feel they can use and pop in to find a really interesting work.” The atmosphere in the shop allows for discovery. “You can come in some days and see a group of people all sat around a table reading. It’s not always possible to like the book but we want to offer a place where people can think and just try out new things, whatever their reason.”

During the long history of French’s Theatre Bookshop business hasn’t stopped, and Peter proudly tells me about how they’ve kept the place at the centre of not just the theatre industry, but literature on the whole. “It’s what makes us different, I mean it’s a strange little shop and always has been, it’s a highly particular market, but I think the fact it exists is kind of wonderful in a world where everything would tell you that this shop has everything going against it. But our sales are up on last year, and we really want to make sure we’re as useful as possible for people. We don’t want to get stuck in the past and we’re aware of the different needs people have now.” Seemingly a bookshop is no longer just a bookshop, it’s a place where you can meet people, where you can go have events. It’s a place of discovery now. Whereas, for example, the online world is a place for what you want and what you already know.

Finally, along with its long history and many guises, there is something special, almost ethereal about the Samuel French brand. “Quite a lot of people get really excited when they get their first Samuel French publication through. They say that when they were a kid they always had a Samuel French book on their shelf. So it becomes really exciting when we accept a play from one of these people and they become a part of it too.”

India Rose James

India Rose James


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sohoites

Sohoites


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Skeggs

George Skeggs


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“There used to be a saying about old people that when you become old you become invisible. Some old people are invisible; they’re just waiting for that last step into the grave…”

They have become a rarity in recent years… Soho’s characters. Where dandies and mods once hung at street corners to be noticed, people now go about their routines, unaware of the eccentric creatives that flourished in this area. Though there are still, in present day Soho a handful of the old brigade of artists and writers wandering the streets of Soho, many luminaries have passed while countless others have started to face their untimely extinction. But one seemingly immortal Sohoite stands out. Though well known well by residents and transients alike for a curiously chic sartorial sense, this man has a lot more under his hat than a distinctive taste for clothing by fine tailors.

To the many that espy him day-by-day, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine George Skeggs had some work related link to fashion, what with his eye-catching choice of tailoring. Little do those who stop to stare and photograph him realise that behind this impressive veil of style is a brilliant pop-art/surrealist artist. From a working-class background, George is one of four children. As a youngster, he was urged by his family to find a serious job that would keep him afloat. Though he never attended art school, a teacher recognised his talents at an early age, and recommended a creative vocation. Some early work was included in the London Schools Exhibition touring China. He then went to join in art workshops at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, while years later, his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Museum of Wales.

As a youngster, George long aspired to be in a skiffle band, having played a homemade bass instrument. His relationship with music is coincidentally what led him to Soho for the very first time. A Rock ’n’ Roll enthusiast at the mere age of 14, George came to Soho upon hearing that 1950s Rock ’n’ Roll BBC television show,‘Six-Five Special’, was to be broadcast live from The 2i’s Coffee Bar, Old Compton Street. “It was like another world; there were girls on the street propositioning men and pimps on the street,”says George on his first trip to the area. Later, he returned with a friend, arriving at Tottenham Court Road tube station. “It had that edge; it was dirty, flashy and seedy. You could always smell Soho, it always had that special smell. When you were walking up from Oxford Street, you could literally smell it. It was the place to be, it was our playground.”

His younger years in Soho brought him face-to-face with the often dark reality of the neighbourhood. From the scene of a shoot-out between drug dealers at the Nucleous Coffee Bar, forward through to befriending a young prostitute who’d had her throat slit by a client, George has come to witness the true nature of the neighbourhood first hand. Despite these memories, there is one that is particularly significant. George and friends had come to regularly frequent the amusement arcade Lots of Fun on Wardour Street. It was here that a man offered him and his friends free-play on the pinball machines as well as cigarettes, proceeding to ask where they lived (the East-End) and offering them a lift. Little did they know that this man was the henchman of the Kray twins, who were parked outside in a black car:“Being streetwise, we enjoyed his hospitality and decided to leg it by sneaking out of another door and running right across Leicester Square to safety,”he recalls.

George first moved to Soho in 1963. “I married a local girl, she worked for a famous shoemaker’s in Drury Lane.”He went on to find work with West One Studios, the offset printers and commercial artists. By the 1980s, his marriage having faltered, he succumbed to drink. So badly, that one careless night, he drank so much, he fell and broke his neck. This ended his relationship with the bottle, leaving him with scaffolding around his neck for 3 months.

Having never been to art school, it was at this time that he became involved with the Arts Laboratory scene in Covent Garden and Seven Dials, which was frequently raided by the police. “In being a creative and artistic person you are there to be picked at, you’re there on the wall. Personally, I don’t care. All I care about is just doing it,”he remarks on his work. In addition to his work in recent years having been exhibited in Paris and Caracas, he also produced the album cover sleeve for ARK of the Covenant, based on a painting from his King Arthur series.

With his self-confessed obsession with clothing, from his Stephen Jones hats and Mark Powell Bespoke suits, George has always made style an important part of his life. “Fashion is the enemy of style. Age is no barrier to style, some people just can’t work that out. I’ve become more refined and particular about what I look like as I’ve got older. There used to be a saying about old people that when you become old you become invisible. Some old people are invisible, they’re just waiting for that last step into the grave.”

Soho has become a part of the social fabric of George’s life and many in the neighbourhood think of George as one the area’s characters. Though superficially he feels much of the area looks much the same, he feels it’s very different today. “You walk up Old Compton Street now and see brand new shops appearing. I think of other shops in the area and then realise that they’ve gone. I think it’s lost its edge, its saucy, sleazy side. It feels more interesting to live in a world where you have to take chances or be streetwise.” Now living near Seven Dials, George spends much of his time these days visiting art galleries throughout London. And though he might describe himself as retired, he has recently begun work on his self-proclaimed ‘swan song’; a detailed pop-art/surrealist series centring on Soho. Though keen to keep the details of the series a secret, he revealed that the first piece he has started on will feature the Kray twins, and reflect a highly personal point of view, based on his own experiences in the neighbourhood. “Creativity shines in the dark. You’ve got to bring it out of the dark and put it out there!”

Mice on the Play

Mice on the Play


Words Hayley Quinn

Photography Astrid Schulz


“A big part of the scene has become commercialised, but that’s kind of inevitable as things become commercially successful and eventually go mainstream.”

As I was walking down Brewer Street a man appeared next to me, shuffling a deck of cards, “Do you want to party tonight? I know you like it,” he grinned before disappearing down a side alley. No, this isn’t Victorian London, not even the 1960s, this is 2015 and I am a 28 year-old woman in a Soho that hasn’t quite lost its bite and, late at night, as fellow Sohoite, founder of the Skirt Club, Genevieve LeJeune states, “the mice certainly come out to play.”

It’s easy to mistake Soho’s maze of winding streets, long hotel bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants with white linen table clothes as a sign of submission. It feels like a long time since Paul Raymond would have run off to a pornography shoot in a shaggy coat. However, interviewing a selection of women still very much in bed with Soho’s sexual side shows that the old dog still has teeth; albeit of a seemingly less exploitative kind.

I also speak to burlesque performer, Moorita, who reminisces that, “A big part of the scene has become commercialised, but that’s kind of inevitable as things become commercially successful and eventually go mainstream.” This commercial churn in Soho has led to a string of Burlesque schools like ‘The Cheek of It’ opening their doors (alongside their drawers) to a new breed of Burlesque stars. As every few weeks a new star is born, but a saturated market means that without a distinct ‘edge’ many acts will now go ‘homeless’. Mooritaa tells me that “there is almost no demand from producers and club owners for classic burlesque (nice lingerie + nice moves),” she pauses red-lipped, and describes how her own show differs, “story based, weird and intellectually provocative,” I will only say you will never look at a stuffed animal in quite the same way again…

Now, Moorita is a lady who is very comfortable in her sexuality. When describing how she feels during a performance, “proud and exhilarated” are the two words that purr out first. However, her steely business mind (and day job as CEO of her own tech company) and alpha female personality radiate through with equal strength. I have also spoken to Sonia, another astute European brunette, with a tongue piercing and a love of laughing wide mouthed to show it. She works as a dancer at Platinum Lace – a new generation strip club on Coventry Street which doubles as a late night club/bar, entertainment venue, and hen party pit stop.

Far from being in any state of coercion, Sonia clearly LOVES her job: “I feel so empowered when I take those two steps onto the stage.” The 2.0 strip club culture has clearly made her job more enjoyable and far from exploitative, “it’s much more relaxed… it’s like a family.” She is also acutely aware of the economics of what she does (unsurprising really as I discover that in the Czech Republic she once studied business and accountancy). Sonia knows blunt ‘do you want a dance?’ tactics won’t fly in a club space that sees as many women and couples as it does male bachelors. She has her own client base, which she makes an effort to entertain by dancing until 4am most nights in order to build her profile. There is a lightness and enjoyment that radiates from her when I ask if she enjoys being people’s fantasy object, “I love it! I almost make them promise… before they go to sleep, when they’re in the shower, when they’re you know,” she giggles, “relieving themselves!”

This collaborative effort is reflected by the club’s ownership which networks along the Southern edge of Soho with the hotel bars, nightclubs and hidden speakeasies that border China Town: “They recommend each other, there’s generally a very good vibe amongst the clubs and the other venues.” Rather than seeking out a seedy punter, strip clubs in Soho are now much more mass market – and a place I have often headed for a nightcap in the last 5 years – the low music volumes inside are conducive for 3am conversations.

Everything is exceedingly ‘above board’. In fact, the most ‘underground’ aspect of the Soho sex scene I delved into was an entirely female project: aggravated by the ‘butch’ climate of Soho’s lesbian bars, Genevieve set up ‘Skirt Club’, the UK’s (and possibly the world’s) first bisexual/bicurious women only party; for girls on the Kinsey scale of ‘curiosity’. Recognising a niche for the lady about town who would like to meet other such well-heeled girls, Genevieve went about single-handedly crafting a party tailored to her clienteles’ desire of anonymity and adventure. “At Skirt Club you are effectively anonymous. Boyfriends and husbands are left at home. Friends and family will never know. There are zero prying eyes. So the night is yours to make what you want of it. Body tequila or bubble bath?” This need for discretion has meant a relocation from the bar scene to ‘privately owned penthouses’ where her clients can explore away from prying eyes of anyone outside of Skirt Club’s rigorous membership tests. The barriers to entry also run for Soho’s most prestigious nightspots, including (of course) the ubiquitous The Box. Having been enslaved to its savage door policy, coupled with frantic stage show, I am a confirmed… probably through virtue of having tried so hard to get in.

The Box is in the ‘historical venue’ of the Raymond Revuebar and takes pride in carrying on Soho’s seedy tradition with nightly shows of a sexual nature, striptease and door girls dressed like dominatrices. If anything, its popularity, celebrity and cult following is a testament to how sexual entertainment is now a desirable item in the public space. From high profile nightclubs, to female friendly strip clubs and sex parties it would be easy to chalk Soho up as having achieved an odd kind of gender equality in its exploits. However, many a side street doorway marked ‘models’, with narrow Victorian stairwells leading up to a realm of God-knows-what, tell a different story. “I’ve never seen a prostitute on the streets, at 3-4am in the morning. It’s maybe not direct, there are places to go, though I don’t know in detail,” Sonia gossips, aware of her own employer’s strict rules for employee engagement levels. She does give titbit details though, of shadowy figures, places where people can go long after all the traditional venues shut, and (intriguingly) taxis driving away. So, maybe as Skirt Club moves East and West with its new locations, it seems the oldest profession in the world may also have largely decamped from W1.

As a dating expert with more than a professional curiosity for all things sexual, I can say I’ve never felt unsafe in Soho, and have all but been entertained by its parties (public and private), its titillation and its conspiratorial charm. Whilst I hope that shady figures, and certain doorways, soon fade completely from the area’s backdrop, I doubly hope the female friendly exploits remain intact. It would be a shame if Soho were just nice hotels, and bespoke cafés. As Sonia remarks, to which I greatly agree, “It’s my playground too.”

Mark Powell

Mark Powell


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


I still think Soho is very much about the people and that’s what I want to celebrate…”

He straightens his tie, eyes me across the desk, where I sit pondering my first question, and says, “I’m in a bad mood today.” Then there’s a twinkle in the eye, the flash of a smile and he says, “No, I’m alright actually.” If ever there was a thing called Soho charm that was it.

Mark Powell is probably as Soho as you can get. Born in London but brought up in Romford, Essex, he has become one of the characters that this famous area can be proud of. “My mum, she worked in the theatre and I think that was some of the reason why I do what I do. She used to work for Charles Fox who became famous for their make-up, but they were costumiers. She’d walk me round Soho, go to Carnaby Street and I was fascinated by all the shops.”

So how did he become the man who has appeared on the pages of Esquire & GQ and dressed celebrities from George Michael to Naomi Campbell – “I was into fashion from a very young age. I got my first pair of Levis when I was six or seven years old. I was a first generation Soul boy, always individual, always into style, followed the crowd early on but then started to think outside the box. To realise the power of dress, how significant that could be with giving you credibility, giving you a better reputation in certain ways. Course I was a West-Ham fan and we were far more stylish than the other clubs. When we were growing up in the ‘70s there was still very much that working class ethic of trying to be individuals and stand out from the crowd because you were from a quite humble, ordinary background. But it was the power of dress.”

After starting out at gentleman’s outfitters, Washington Tremlett on Conduit Street, Mark opened his first store on Archer Street in 1985.  Initially selling vintage suits from the ‘40s onwards, he developed his own style and, as he says of those days, “The early Mark Powell look which defined what I do was the Edwardian style. Back then I was doing Covert coats as suits, maybe in velvet or a Prince of Wales check. Also, the Gangster thing, when Lock Stock happened I couldn’t bare it – it all became a bit of a parody. I think the key thing is taking elements of street style, embracing the Savile Row thing and then updating the look.  Tailoring is the way for a guy to express his own individual style.”

So what of his link to the Krays and his own, albeit brief, spell inside – “A mate of mine was very connected in the underworld, he knew Ronnie Kray. We thought at the time it would be a good move because they were about to do that film The Krays. So the measurements were sent by Ron, I sent the suit and then I went to visit him in Broadmoor, and that was in 1988. I was only inside for a driving offence and it was a doddle, especially when you know you’re going to be out in a few weeks. It was a stupid thing that happened when I was an arrogant young man.”

Leaving this period of his life behind him, Mark has now expanded his business with a Read-to-Wear collection, and is soon to introduce an Online Shop. He remains an inspiration to such gentlemen as Paul Weller, Bradley Wiggins & Martin Freeman – “I think someone like Martin does that thing of looking Modern & Contemporary very well. He doesn’t look all Mod but you can see he takes his influences from the whole Mod ethic and he’s got great style. Martin became a customer six/seven years ago and in fact, even though we have done maybe three or four bespoke suits, he’s still very much a ready to wear client. He loves coming in, picking up a suit and then we do the adjustments on it.”

“Bradley then heard me on the Modcast, came in and thank god for Bradley because he’s been an amazing client. I think he looks great, very stylish. Weller somehow pulls it off just because it’s Paul Weller maybe. But when you get the older guys try and copy Paul they look a bit of a joke. The whole thing about a guy being a Mod was they were always moving on and evolving.”

So what does he think of the gentrification of the Soho he has come to know and love? “I was a bit pissed off at first, but this is the way of the world now and unfortunately it is the corporate world. Soho’s secret ingredient was always having wonderful independent, family run businesses. There’re characters & faces that have been born and are still living in Soho ‘cos there is a lot of social housing – people forget that. I know everybody round here, I always have done. I knew Paul Raymond, I used to know all the dodgy landlords, the gangsters, the beggars on the street & the hustlers in all the alleyways, and I’ve made a point of being friendly to everybody. But I know how it works. There’s nothing you can do, all the demonstrating is not going to change it. I still think Soho is very much about the people and that’s what I want to celebrate.”

Given his status as an icon on the streets of Soho is there still some of the hell-raiser of days gone by in his own character now? – “God you’ve done some good research! That was years ago! Of course I still like to enjoy life, you just mellow out don’t you? Some of the stuff that I’ve done and did would be legendary. I’ve been toying about doing a book for about ten years now. I’ve just decided not to do it because it’d be too controversial really.”

The smile and the twinkle have returned and, as we wind up, I ask him what he’d like his legacy to be. “I’d like to be remembered as a very pioneering and passionate person with regard to my style and what I do and also being a quite eclectic & important part of what Soho is because I’ve been involved in every layer of it, whether it be as an artisan, or on the dodgy side, or in the club world, ‘cause I had a nightclub round here at one point. Did you know that? It was the first Easy Listening nightclub in London. What was it called? Violet’s… after Ron & Reggie’s Mum!”

Sister Ray

Sister Ray


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Photography Manu Zafra


“I do think people quite like vinyl as a product because it is timeless, it is a fabulous piece of kit, it feels great, it sounds great. You have to engage with it, you have to actually put the damn thing on the record player and half-way through you have to turn it over!”

Those of us old enough to remember our first meeting with vinyl can claim to have experienced an almost religious moment. The dazzling cover art of something like Led Zeppelin IV, the paper sleeve gently holding the beautifully crafted disc of black gold in place, carefully sliding it out to hold at its edges, slowly placing the vinyl down on the turntable and then finally taking the playing arm from its resting place and ever so gently placing it in the groove at the start of the record.  All this before the music has even started!

For Phil Barton of Sister Ray Records on Berwick Street, vinyl has been his life. His introduction to record shops was in Whitstable, where he grew up. “I used to go and buy my Sham 69 7” in a store there, and from then on I thought record shops were really cool. Then I went to college in Nottingham and I used to walk past this shop called Selectadisc, I ended up buying it eventually – one of the stupidest things I ever did!  Anyway I walked in and said ‘can I have a job?’ And they’re like, ‘We haven’t got any!’ So I kept going in and going in until they gave me a job! I was working nights in a pork pie factory and then I was working in the record shop. It was the most fantastic thing I’d ever done.”

Later, whilst enjoying a successful career working for EMI, as a salesman for Parlophone he met Neil Brown who had a record store in Soho.  As he says, “I was one of the first reps to pop in and say do you wanna buy some of our gear? They opened an EMI account and I sold them stock. Not a problem. Back then you could sell anything to anyone.”

For followers of Soho music culture, Number 34 Berwick Street is forever enshrined in popular culture as it features on the front cover of Oasis’ classic album (What’s the story) Morning Glory?. Of course that was when the store was named Selectadisc and was owned by Brian Selby who also owned the store in Nottingham that gave Phil his first stab in the music business, “I’ve known Brian all my life who sadly died a few years ago and he said to me – look I’ve had enough of being in London, do you want to buy the shop? So Neil and I got some money together, the days when you could borrow money, and we bought it. It was a stupid thing to do in 2003 because in 2007 it was on its knees and we went into administration and I bought it back with some help for a ludicrously small amount. We started it up again without any costs and I paid everybody back eventually. We’re still here in 2015, over the road in a new unit and it’s actually making money. For the first time we don’t have to look over our shoulders and think ‘who are we not going to pay this month?’ We’re in a good position and that’s because people are buying vinyl records and the reason I think is that people like shopping, they like the physical piece of product.”

So how have things changed since our love of vinyl has returned even though we seem to be heavily entrenched in the age of downloads and MP3s? Phil seems to think that people have wised up to how music is now being made and marketed – “It’s because downloads don’t sound very good.  Most people don’t back their stuff up really. So, if your computer gets corrupted or whatever, then you’ve lost it all. I do think people quite like vinyl as a product because it is timeless, it is a fabulous piece of kit, it feels great, it sounds great. You have to engage with it, you have to actually put the damn thing on the record player and halfway through you HAVE to turn it over!”

As a fan of The Who and The Clash, with a pretty impressive record collection himself what does he think of the current music scene? “I’m not gonna knock it because it’s a sound in itself. There’s probably going to be a genre that we’ll look back at in 10 years’ time and it’ll be MP3 Pop or something because there’s no physical record of a lot of it. A lot of stuff kids are exchanging will never exist on anything other than MP3. A lad who used to work here has gone to work for a dance label and they don’t release anything physically.”

There’s been a Sister Ray, named after the Velvet Underground song, in Soho since the shop first opened at 94 Berwick Street, down at the Market end, 1988, which is due to be redeveloped in the next 6 months.  At one time there were 20 record shops in Soho, a specialist shop for every single genre you could imagine, but now there are only six left.  After being on the street nearly 27 years, Phil can be proud of what he and his colleagues have achieved over that time. “I don’t look over my shoulder and think they were the good old days. You have to look forward, you have to realise that things are different. What I do love is that I do love vinyl records and I do realise that there is a niche for someone doing it really well and if your shop looks good and you have a good amount of stock, interesting stock, and every time you walk in there’s something different there then people keep coming back and I like that.  I like to think that what we do here people appreciate because we work really hard at it. We clean the records, we grade the records, we look after the stock. We take a bit of pride in what we do and we really want to put on a show so when people walk in they’re like ‘Oh wow!’”

With vinyl back on the up once more and the likes of Paul Weller, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page walking through the doors to purchase albums from Mod to Blues, World Music and beyond, as well as another Record Store Day looming in April, life is pretty good for this Soho institution. But for Phil his most favourite moment of the last quarter of a century was when an exhibition on The Clash was held in Berwick Street. The Sister Ray store was used as a chill out area and, as Phil remembers, “To have Mick Jones stand downstairs in your shop, rolling a spliff on your photocopier, going ‘I love your shop mate it’s great’ and them being my favourite band of all time, ever… it’s rather nice!

Berwick Street cries out loud…

Berwick Street cries out loud…


Words Laurence Glynne

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


It is 12:00 midday, I have just left a meeting and all I can think is that I must go to Soho. I have to buy my fruit and vegetables for a special dinner party. My wife is fairly OCD when it comes to entertaining and I am OTT when it comes to food being the chef chez nous, and quality of grub is a priority when I am cooking! So I am racing along Wells Street, Fitzrovia, to cross over Oxford Street into Berwick Street, but wait a moment! This street has a history and is lined with Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and Deco buildings to admire (though admittedly some not so admirable) on our way along this “micro gem” of a street. Surrounded also by warehouse buildings, office blocks making architectural statements, many with delicious façades, others not so appealing to the eye, but hey that’s what gives the area it’s ‘Sohemian’ vibe, and I don’t use this term loosely because there is definitely a vibe in this precious West End spot.

Now I have reached my destination at the southern end, on the corner of Peter Street and Berwick Street, have also passed Noel, D’arblay, Broadwick to mention a few. “Hi Dennis, what is Darren on?” I say. “Oh matey he never stops, been doing it for years, bursting my ears.”

I am laden with fruit and vegetable goodies from his stall before I head back to my office. I leave Berwick Street market still loud, bustling, manic, alive and vibrant which is the norm, particularly as it is lunchtime. With No. 56 almost kissing the corner of Oxford Street on the north-side leading all the way to Peter Street; this is where the Berwick story begins.

Records show that, in 1585, there was no Soho, let alone any streets. And all that could be heard was the haunting cry “Soho” for the best part of the century. Darren, John & Ross were all shouting three hundred and five years later in the late 1980s, offering their flowers, fruit and veg, “Fill yer boots with banana-lana at 19p a pound.”

Berwick Street is not just about the market, far from it. This patchwork quilted thoroughfare, built in 1687 to 1703, was named thus after James Fitzjames, the first Duke of Berwick, illegitimate son of James II and Arabella Churchill. Booze, fashion and music all contributed to this remarkable Soho pitch, surprisingly rich historic treasure. The Green Man site has been occupied by a tavern dating back as early as 1738 and the antique lighting shop, W. Sitch & Co are still trading since the 1870s – today it is the oldest surviving shop. They supplied lighting for films such as Titanic and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and numerous other notable films.

Rags to riches has been the theme for years and still continues, known as ‘the guinea gown shops’ competing with Oxford Street, trading often at half the price, is only half of the picture. Legendary tailor Eddie Kerr made his name in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and his son continues dressing his clients to this day. Gaze up at the pattern of tailors above the shops plying their trade. The Silk Society, Mison Fabrics, The Cloth House, Berwick St Cloth Shop and menswear boutique Oliver Spencer ensure the fashion scene (thank goodness) remains.

“The golden mile of vinyl” in the 1980s brings music echoing along the street, supported by independent renowned stores, Reckless Records, The Music and Video Exchange and Sister Ray play their sounds in the immediate vicinity. Soho and music go together like love and marriage, fish and chips, sex and rock n’ roll. It’s still cutting a groove!

The infamous John Profumo unveiled a famous blue plaque in memory of the Jessie Matthews (a famous actress and dancer in the 1920s) on the wall of the blue post public house, whilst columnist Jeffery Bernard viewed the street from Kemp House, overlooking the market from his flat on the 14th floor. Marc Bolan (the late and infamous founder of T. Rex) evidently worked on his mums stall in the market in the ‘60s. The street was later to become the location for the cover art of the legendary Oasis album (What’s the story?) Morning Glory.

This brings me back to our flower man John who works with Ronnie of Ronnie’s Flowers opposite Kemp House which, at the moment, has not yet been pedestrianised, as has part of the street from Broadwick Street. Originally, he worked roman market where Alan Sugar (Amstrad) and Mr. Cohen (Tesco) began trading. Now, 20 years later, John is still selling a bunch or two to regulars who prefer the fresh market vibe than going to a multiple, but this is sadly an exception to the rule. He chats with his neighbour’s son on the stalls and in the cafés opposite who have also been there for many years but will soon be gone as the site is being redeveloped, they are unlikely to be offered alternative units and cannot afford the replacements.

Will the street talk continue on as the norm on Berwick Street? “Morning luvvie, how yer doin’? Family alright? How’s bizz, not ‘arf cold innit” will not be communal much longer only to see retail units raising the commercial bar, sanitising the street which I would like to still call a Soho gem. This is progression but let us endeavour to savour our memories and rejoice that some of the history in the street remains. Berwick Street cries out loud.

Babette Kulik

Babette Kulik


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Astrid Schulz


“Soho is a place you can just be who you are, where the actual individual is of importance not the nonsense that is so much part of society…”

A Golden Retriever, a British Bulldog and two Chihuahuas wonder back and forth without a growl or a snigger, amid the lingering of absinth on in the air. Their tales brush the bookshelves where rare first editions of Winnie the Pooh and Trainspotting, along with much naughtier, less traditional paperbacks sit undisturbed, many of which are closely guarded behind panes of glass. Though, really, is this wonderful place a bookshop or a bar? The striking Babette Kulik tells me of her life in Soho and The Society Club: her distinctively elusive Bohemian bookshop/private members’ club.

Babette protests that she is something of a mongrel. She was born to a Spanish mother and a South-American father who originated from Uruguay, so seemingly to call her a mongrel is fitting. Having been born and raised in London, her first memories of Soho date back to when she was just six. “We used to go every week to Berwick Street market for fruit and vegetables, and then of course trips to the delicatessens in the area which used to be a lot more than now. Back in those days, Soho was the bastion of hard to get imported goods such as olive oil. The like was not available in the supermarkets, only in the high-end department stores like Fortnums and Harrods but, of course, Soho was a lot cheaper,” she explains of her childhood.

Though, as a youngster, Babette saw grocery shopping to be quite the bore. Looking back on it now she recalls the happy bustle of the Berwick Street Market, which at the time was on both sides of the street that has been narrowed down to a small stretch at the base of the road. “The gorgeous smells I remember particularly, they permeated the air as you passed the delicatessens and the coffee shops,” Babette reminisces. Babette has lived in Westminster all of her life, and Soho has been her home for the last 15 years. “Soho is a place where you can just be who you are, where the actual individual is of importance not the nonsense that is so much part of society.” Today she has come to see a change in the area. She feels that, where the creativity once oozed out from every crack on every pavement and every street, it has lessened so today. “Though don’t get me wrong, it is still here but not in such abundance. I remember how crossing Regent Street into Soho, and how instantly the air would change and crackle with just fabulousness,” she explains.

Most of all that intrigues me about Babette is The Society Club and its origin, and indeed its invention – how does one come to cross the concept of a bookshop and a private members club? Though perhaps not entirely the cause, the story of The Society Club began with the death of a close friend, Sebastian Horsley who died of an overdose. “With the death of Sebastian it somehow just made sense. I never set out to create anything intentionally, I just wanted to sell books and publish books,” Babette tells to me. The bookshop itself stocks an array of rare first editions, with a bar at its centre and a gallery in the basement. The bookshelves are made of explicit, often sexually charged books from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin, to Ken Loach Portraits of People in the Sexploitation Industry. “Essentially, the books we stock here are books that we like, though generally we do have a tendency to concentrate mainly on 20th century literature and some of the more cult classics,” I am told of the selection.

Babette is simply bleeding with character; an intriguing and familiar persona of the Soho neighbourhood. Her charm is uneasy to avoid; alluring and captivating, along with her wonderful array of dogs that walk in her shadow. Though, in contrast, Babette is beautiful and equally sharp, intelligent and wise. She is witty with a hint of mystery, with a seemingly black and white no-bullshit approach to every element of her life. Her taste for irony and wit is applied carefully to the year in which The Society Club were established; 1927, 1957 or 2011? “It’s for irony really, so sad that we thought it’d be funny at the time, it just sounds so much better than 2011 but I think the next date will be 1977, I liked that year,” She laughs.

The Society Club strikes me as a home for the Bohemian, a place where creatives thrive. “I hoped when starting out that it would be a home from home for artist writers and the like, thus Bohemian. There are so many stories from over the years and are usually about our incompetence.” Her stance confirming that this feeling is indeed not of coincidence. With her passion for Soho undying, Babette intends to live out her life here forevermore. Despite the various changes occurring in the Soho neighbourhood today; from the ever-shrinking Berwick Street Market, through to overdevelopment and the fall of Denmark Street, what feels to represent Soho still remains strong in her heart. With her array of dogs in tow, she intends for The Society Club to only grow stronger and stronger with time, and perhaps another dog or so.

Weighty Expression

Weighty Expression


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


Soho has long been a hub of creativity. Poets, writers, artists, designers, musicians, have often found inspiration and also commiserated on the streets of Soho. Although the area was, in the 17th century, famous for green hunting grounds favoured by aristocrats, towards the 18th century, grand houses replaced them and became venues for parties attended by the trendiest and most fashionable of London’s elite. Much of Soho’s character that we see today stems partly from the neglect by rich and fashionable London, and the lack of redevelopment that characterised the neighbouring areas. As the mid-19th century approached, all respectable families had moved away, and prostitutes, music halls and small theatres had moved in. At the start of the 20th century, foreign nationals opened cheap eating establishments and the neighbourhood became a fashionable place to eat for intellectuals, writers and artists. By the early 1960s, the Soho pub landlords established themselves and since the 1980s, the area has undergone considerable transformation, housing upmarket restaurants and media offices, with only a small remnant of sex industry venues.

The vibrancy and diversity of Soho is nowhere better summed up than in the street art titled The Spirit of Soho. The scenes depicted in this mural are timeless and are no less relevant and symbolic of present day Soho than they were of the area through the 20th century. It was created in 1991 by the Soho community – coordinated by Free Form Arts Trust, who designed and executed the work, and Alternative Arts, who coordinated the workshops and public programme that went alongside – and shows Soho life and its people.

Standing on the Corner of Broadwick and Carnaby Streets, the viewer looks up at the towering flame-haired St Anne presiding over local notables. St Anne is patroness of unmarried women, housewives, women in labour, grandmothers, horseback riders and cabinet-makers. Due to the mural’s location and the surrounding narrow streets, the viewer is forced to examine it up close. St Anne carries a distracted expression on her face as she lifts her lace, fruit-hemmed skirt and petticoats to reveal the map of Soho and the hum of activity composed of craftsmen and London landmarks. Shaftesbury Avenue and the theatres along it are pictured on her skirt, as is Oxford Street and a little panel dedicated to China Town with a host of pubs, restaurants and an abundance of vegetables and fruits. Books and magazines are also carved into her skirt to pay tribute to the writing and publishing industries so prolific in Soho, alongside the film makers, textile traders, recording studios and musical instrument makers.

Look closer and the level of details expands. On either side of the main piece are six scenes representing a film animator in his studio (possibly Bob Godfrey), the rag trade, food and international restaurants, the Palladium, Carnaby Street and Ronnie Scott’s. A green border at the bottom includes pictures of Soho parish school, a Willow Pattern dish and Soho Street Theatre – presented by Alternative Arts.  Dogs and hares are interspersed which hark back to the days when Soho was a Royal hunting ground. In the frame, along the bottom edge, sit blue plaques honouring Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme, Sponsored by City of Westminster, Goldsmiths & silversmiths, Gunmakers, Jewellers & clockmakers, Furniture & woodworkers, Engravers and Science & medicine.

This beautiful mural was restored in 2006 by Shaftesbury PLC and The Soho Society and the clock was re-activated by The Lord Mayor of Westminster 19th October 2006. A whimsical addition is the clock striking on the hour. The actress and opera singer Theresa Cornelys winks at Casanova, Casanova blows a series of kisses to Cornelys and Karl Marx takes a sip of Coca Cola. How wonderful for all those who were involved in the creation to be able to walk past this piece of public art and smile and say, ‘I was part of it’. It allows the people of Soho to leave their mark and make a difference. Spirit of Soho adds vitality and colour to the neighbourhood walls. In comparison to graffiti, another type of street art, which is often made in minutes, this permanent mural is very much a testament to street art that enhances the ideas of commitment, community and collaboration.

Broadwick Street has played host to more recent and immediate street art. On the same spot where Banksy painted Kissing Cops, Paul Insect, a UK street artist, has painted a seal sitting on a coloured stool admiring himself in a handheld mirror. He wears a pink ruffled collar and sleeves and yellow jester-like shoes. Behind him lies a red and yellow-starred hat and a hat.

Insect is known for his provoking images, often depicting the frustrations of the modern man. In Western art, there is little or no reference to the meaning of seals. However, in Native American art, the seal stands for contentment, inquisitiveness and organisation. The image could represent the many street artists who perform in Soho; the seal looks like a court jester or circus performer. Here the seal perhaps is taking a break from performing and is admiring himself or maybe checking his face paint. Paul Insect is most famous for his 2007 solo show Bullion exhibition at London’s Art gallery, Lazarides Gallery. Damien Hirst is reported to be a fan, having purchased the show days before it opened. The street artist also goes by the name of PINS and has worked alongside Banksy at the Cans Festival and on the separation wall in Palestine. Sadly, the street art has been since whitewashed leaving a blank canvas.

One of the most recent street art is on the front wall of The Face Clinic and SoHo SKiN on Silver Place. It shows Pegasus’s latest artwork depicting Marilyn Monroe in a swimsuit adorned with stars and stripes and a pair of converse. Discussing his work, Pegasus said, ‘You’ve never seen Marilyn in a pair of Converse before’ said Pegasus, before going to on to explain how his work is centred on playing with the conventional and expected images of certain pop culture celebrities. His previous works include Cher with a David Bowie lightning flash on her face, Angelina Jolie dressed as Wonder Woman and The Queen poised as a young starlet. Often his images capture the sad and the inspiring simultaneously and there is often a strength behind the eyes of these women that evokes poignancy. Since her arrival, Marilyn has caused quite a stir on Silver Place with residents and local business’s coming round to see her and passers-by taking photographs.

Permanent or temporary, street art is a way of expression. As the development of Soho strides forward and the bohemian and creative character begins to fade, street art is still abound. Graffiti will change and as quickly as it appears, just as fast is the whitewash that covers it. Twenty four years later, St Anne still overlooks this enclave of the West End, in Spirit of Soho. Let us hope she continues to preside over for another quarter century.

Ageless & Bold

Ageless & Bold


Words Peter McSweeney

Illustrations Luke Stuart


Here is a low down on some of the faces of Soho over the years. All connected to Soho is many different ways, mostly legal. They represent the creative, edgy vibe that Soho brings to The West End. They are Artists, and all are unique with their defined identity. You don’t have to love them (some you’re not meant to) but they are have contributed to the rich culture and help to start new trends which were born on these streets.

 

– David Bowie –

 

Turned down a knighthood, had a hit TV show names after one of his songs and humiliated Rick Gervais in Extras for being a ‘Silly Little Fat Man’, David Bowie proves he is more than your typical Music Legend, he is also a Soho Legend. An over used term by stupid media who lack imagination but in this case it is more than appropriate. The Marquee Club (now no longer) was where he built a fan base appealing to both sexes and what ever side you batting for didn’t matter, Bowie was the man! He drank in The Ship and his fashion and style was developed by vintage cast off on Carnaby Street, not to mention he would rub shoulders with The Krays.  Sir David, as he would have been known had he accepted the call of the Queen, might not have had such an authentic Soho feel.

Mandana Ruane

Mandana Ruane


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“There is a lot to be said for knowing where the trouble and the danger lie in a city – knowing when to cross the road. The suburbs hide their dangers whereas, in Soho, it comes neon-signed.”

There goes a rumour about the paving stones of Lexington Street beyond the wailing of the John Snow pub which, incidentally, is paired with writing. The rumour goes that, above the Andrew Edmonds restaurant there is a well-kept secret. Mandana Ruane tells of The Academy, one of Soho’s last remaining writers’ clubs and her time in Soho.

Having been in England for only a year after fleeing the 1976 revolution in Iran, Mandana first came to Soho as a sixteen year old schoolgirl. Soho immediately felt like home to her in a way no other country, city, or part, had previously. “Soho and I recognised each other and so a lifetime love affair began,” she explains. This love affair started quite appropriately at the renowned French House pub. A friend had been introduced to it in the week before by her utterly glamorous father, the painter Tim Behrens. Mandana and her friend, Fan, returned to the pub on one of a semi-legal excursion after free-range boarding school. “It was very Heaven. Walking into the French felt like crashing a cocktail party that had been going on for decades. And what a party: here were people from every walk of life; some rich or poor, some posh or tramps. Yet everyone spoke to each other and treated each other on their own merits. On a Saturday morning, there were soap stars and writers, pornographers and minor aristos, Getty’s drug dealer and ad-men, all quaffing halves of George Goulet champagne before doing the weekend shop in the market and Camisa’s. When the pub shut at 3, everyone would peel off to do the rounds of the numerous afternoon drinking clubs, up and down rickety staircases. It was an Education,” Mandana explains.

At such a young age, Mandana found herself being educated as to how to negotiate one’s way in the heart of a big city. She notes that, despite being London’s sin bin, Soho was – and remains – safe. “People look out for one another. There is a lot to be said for knowing where the trouble and the danger lie in a city – knowing when to cross the road. The suburbs hide their dangers whereas, in Soho it comes neon-signed,” she tells to me.

Mandana notes the coming of change in the Soho area during the past 30 years; some good, some bad. She thinks it lamentable to see the loss of many small businesses and workshops in favour of the rise of chain stores and chain restaurants. “30 years ago, men were shy of dining a deux together in all but a handful of bars and restaurants,” she says.

18 years ago, Mandana found herself standing in Andrew Edmunds’ print shop, a bag of legal files in one hand, the lead of her dog, Heathcliff, in the other. Andrew began to explain that he had been granted planning permission for the floor above the restaurant to be turned into a club. With the editor of The Literary Review Magazine, Auberon (Bron) Waugh, having asked Andrew to find a home for his then defunct club, the Academy, Andrew had put in an application having never expected it to be granted. “I had been a manager at a restaurant for eight years, but had recently decided to grow up by putting aside my childish husband and embarking upon a career in the law,” Mandana laughs to me. It was an idle fairy that overheard her in the Colony Room in 1981, wishing that one day she would live in Soho and have her own drinking den. Andrew approached Mandana about working with her.

Mandana replied to Andrew that next morning; “I know how we’ll do it. You can’t just be landlord to the club; you’ll have to be proprietor. And I know the way Soho clubs work and how these buildings and the restaurants work, so I’ll have to make the club with you.” This exchange marked the start of a beautiful partnership. Andrew, a man who usually takes several weeks to decide on the shape of a light bulb, said yes. Thus the Academy was reborn, with Bron as the Glamour, Andrew as the Capitalist and Mandana as the Workforce. The Academy opened its doors nine months after their initial conversation.

The club’s membership was to comprise of “writers and their friends” – a remit broad enough to allow for just about anyone with whom staff fell in love with or were tickled by. “Running a club is very much like cooking with people. Some flavours – though delightful in themselves – might not add to the overall goulash and, in a room as small as ours, care must be taken,” she explains on The Academy.

In her early years at the club, Mandana formed a marvellous alliance and friendship with Rowan Pelling, the then editrice of The Erotic Review magazine, who would find suitable candidates for membership, Mandana would reciprocate this service by providing contributors to her magazine. “I would defy anyone to spot the difference between writers for the Erotic and Literary Reviews: in truth, they were the same. The Erotic Review lunches at the Academy were everything one could wish for: a serving General squashed on the banquette in between the infamous rake, Sebastian Horsley, and the former mistress of a cabinet minister. In the interest of club discretion, I cannot say more…” Mandana explains.

Today, Soho’s drinking dens with real wit and a pulse are terribly thin on the ground. This Academy possesses something of a time-machine aspect. It is easy for one to be swiftly swept away from the outer-workings of Soho into this media-friendly watering hole in which true creatives are able to thrive, with each and every character that lurks about this place a decidedly fitting fictional character. These characters count themselves among the fortunate. They alone know of this hidden preservation of creativity in the setting of an 18th century room, dotted with well-read books.

The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery


Words Jonathan Velardi

Photography Kate Elliott


“Our overall mission is to inspire and inform audiences to enjoy, understand and discover their own point of view about photography.”

On a narrow aperture between Oxford Street and Great Marlborough Street in the West End stands the capital’s only public gallery dedicated to photography. For over four decades, The Photographers’ Gallery has been devoted to its namesake medium in promoting photography as an artistic equal together with its vital role as a social and historical document.

Since its founding in 1971, in a converted Lyon’s Tea Bar at No. 8 Great Newport Street, in Covent Garden, the gallery has established itself as an international leader for photographic practices across the worlds of art and journalism. Works by the New York-based Hungarian photojournalist, Cornell Capa, inaugurated its exhibition programme with a series entitled ‘The Concerned Photographer’, depicting humanitarian subject matter from around the world. The exhibition’s success of shining light on photography’s ability to educate and empower, as well as to report, subsequently propelled the gallery’s relevance as a new centre worthy of critical attention. Its contextual concern for innovative photographers and the promotion of both British and global emerging talent is a mission maintained to this day.

“We have always been known for the diversity of photography we show,” says Brett Rogers OBE, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery. “Our overall mission is to inspire and inform audiences to enjoy, understand and discover their own point of view about photography.” Rogers, who was appointed director in 2005, navigated the gallery through its most ambitious transformation between 2010 and 2012. Recognising the changing times of gallery operations and visitor expectations, the gallery finalised plans to upgrade from its understated Covent Garden address and relocate to a more prominent residence in Soho with all the trimmings of a twenty-first century London attraction.

While Soho has long been the go-to entertainment quarter for London’s elite from as early as the eighteenth-century, the area’s rich artistic identity had begun to blur, and it endured somewhat of a depression at the turn of the century, with temptations of affordability and white cube aesthetics from the East. It was only a matter of time however, on the roulette of postcode trends, for Soho’s image to come into focus once more as the city’s cultural epicentre. With emerging creative industries flourishing to its North in Fitzrovia and treasured institutional landmarks to its South along Piccadilly, The Photographers’ Gallery chose the northern side of Soho as its new home. Embedding itself in the ‘world’s most creative square mile’ was important, explains Rogers, in understanding photography’s natural relationship with the area’s creative industries of advertising, digital effects and fashion. Appropriately, a fashion warehouse dating from 1910 was chosen as the site of the new gallery on Ramillies Street – a genuine article London backstreet that had retained its bygone attributes and had long demanded pedestrians to forgo their senses for the sake of a short cut to the more tranquil pace of Great Marlborough Street. Today, Ramillies Street is very much a modern backstreet worthy of attention from the naked eye or camera phones alike. What was once an overlooked side street is now decorated with the gallery’s minimalist lines of glass and iron interventions onto the building’s original brick façade, designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey, which encase galleries, education facilities, a café and destination bookshop over five floors.

Since The Photographers’ Gallery reopened in 2012, the art world’s compass has been pointing west – a strong signal for the capital’s cultural tide with a steady rise of investment in the City of Westminster concentrated around Soho, Fitzrovia and Mayfair – a message that has not gone unnoticed by the commercial gallery sector. With Jay Joplin’s monumental return to St. James’ in 2006, with White Cube Mason’s Yard, it was the beginning of an influx of both native and international contemporary galleries with an appetite for a West End address. 2010 saw the re-launch of Hauser & Wirth on Saville Row; a former nightclub on Kingly Street was chosen for a new Sadie Coles HQ space, and a Dover Street Georgian townhouse for New York gallery David Zwirner in 2013. Even Victoria Miro – one of the leading figures in diverting the art world’s gaze away from Cork Street to the East End with her eponymous gallery on Wharf Road – returned to the West with a secondary location on St George Street in the same year. 2014 marked Phillips auction house’s retirement from Victoria to occupy its distinguished headquarters on Berkeley Square, and welcomed influential art dealer Marian Goodman to the capital with her very first London outpost off Soho’s Golden Square. In addition to a new Gagosian Gallery due to open on Grosvenor Hill later this year, the West End is experiencing a healthy renaissance with maximum exposure.

The Photographers’ Gallery’s influence to date has been a force amongst the network of contemporary galleries that surround it. For many of the photographers, who had exhibited at the gallery early on in their careers, commercial gallery representation soon followed, with a subsequent acceptance into the art world – a notable shift for the medium’s regard since the ‘70s. “Over the 44 years of the gallery’s existence, there have been a host of outstanding shows; we were the first in the UK to show celebrated photographers such as Walker Evans, David Bailey and the iconic Jacques Henri Lartigue in the 1970s, and Rineke Dijkstr and Andreas Gursky in the ‘90s,” explains Rogers. Gursky, a recipient of the gallery’s prestigious annual international photography Prize in 1998, held the record for the most expensive photograph sold at auction at £2.7 million until last year – only to be eclipsed by Peter Lik whose work exchanged privately for over £4 million. Not only had Gursky’s ‘Rhein II’ earned recognition for the medium’s confidence in execution and scale that had challenged painting’s supremacy, the public attention of such a feat projected photography’s regard and accessibility in one flash. The legitimacy of photography as high art form was nevermore to be questioned.

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, which has featured the most outstanding figures in contemporary photography, including Richard Billingham, Juergen Teller, Adam Broomberg, and Oliver Chanarin and John Stezaker, is only one of many highlights in the gallery’s exhibitions calendar. Emerging talent is one such subject Rogers specifies the gallery is committed to showcase. “Whether it’s young British photographers, whom we present in our annual FreshFaced+WildEyed exhibition, or in introducing international photographers not yet seen in the UK, such as Jim Goldberg, Taryn Simon, Kay Grannan, Sara Facio, Laura Letinsky and Clare Aho.” Along with a dynamic curatorial interest for analogue and digital processes between the styles of photojournalism, fashion, documentary and the conceptual, modern and contemporary artists who are not primarily known for their photographic practices – Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, David Lynch – to those who work between film and photography, such as Rags Media Collective and Charlotte Dumas, are introduced within a context that promotes the limitless nature of photography, past and present.

A camera obscura installed on the third floor of the gallery grounds, the medium’s genealogy in the face of society’s evolving relationship with the Internet. Rogers is conscious of the digital spectrum photography now plays such a significant role in: from screen-based photo-sharing applications and social media, to the latest facial recognition software being explored by contemporary artists that is revolutionising the face of traditional portraiture. “We remain committed to exploring where the medium is going, both through the shows in the gallery and our digital programme on the Media Wall.” Above all, Rogers is keen to deliver stimulating initiatives within the public realm and capitalize on Soho’s rich history as well as its creative future, viewing The Photographers’ Gallery at the core of this revitalised quarter.

Soho Grind

Soho Grind


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Manu Zafra


A summer morning, the sun shines on London. Kept cool by the tall buildings opposite on Beak Street a friendly welcome and smile set the tone. It’s going to be a great day. Exit through the Soho Grind. Sit in the picture window and watch Soho come to life.

“Soho Grind opened on May 2nd, 2014, in somewhere that we wanted to be. We couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Before we arrived, the building sold porcelain dolls, but we only know that because some rather peculiar-looking people have come asking about it.”

A supreme cappuccino kick starts the day. A few suits have jumped over from the hedge funds of Mayfair and tradesmen with calls nearby are clustered round the door: the barista, as good with the pleasantries as pouring a perfect coffee. The white brick wall interior, large jugs of water, cucumber, orange or lemon added, wait to be poured into beatnik glasses. Green touches high along one wall on shelves above a row of brass mirrors. The atmosphere is cool and fresh, and a summer breeze wafts in the open door.

“We’ve always found that the best staff find us. There’s a long culture of Aussies and Kiwis coming to the UK with two-year visas. We’re lucky to have built up enough of a reputation that they find their way to us. We’ve had a few baristas that have been pulling shots for us at the Grind having come through Heathrow arrivals the same morning.”

A red neon Espresso Bar sign hangs low in the window: ‘The Soho Grind’ in red, subtitles in black, ‘Coffee, Sex and Rock and Roll’ reads the cinema style hoarding. Inside though, it’s relaxed the music mellow, no drama. Except that one time the coffee exploded over the stressed out businessman.

Mid-morning; back at The Soho Grind. The croissants are freshly baked, plain, ham and cheese, just enough between breakfast and lunch. Out in Beak Street, the traffic is busier, a remarkable number of white vans pass the window. The door is shut now. Sit along the wall at the dark wood shelf that runs on the opposite wall from the counter. The custom stools, metal framed with Soho Grind built in to the struts. Round caramel padded discs to park on. A free magazine to glance through while you eat, and sip another cappuccino. In the window, Creative’s discuss projects, beards optional, this is Soho. Expensive jackets, trainers, and sweatshirts compulsory. They come and go, male and female two’s and three’s. Open laptops, overheard words occasionally. Investment, development, projects, apps, shoots, release dates, Soho’s media village coffee stop: A steady flow; never too busy.

“Our designer is based in Melbourne and all the stools and light-fittings were designed and made bespoke there, before being sent around the world to us in Soho.” As it gets near mid-day, the sun, high in the sky beats in the large window. Early bird Asians start congregating and queuing out on the narrow pavement for meat, a lunch table inside, next door at Flat Iron. At The Soho Grind the red, white and green filled ciabattas are being stacked up on the counter: Mozzarella, Tomato, Pesto. Bowls of healthy salads are being brought up from downstairs. Italian tourist families in Belstaff jackets glance in the window, peer up at the sign, walk back to the door and decide not to come in.

I first encountered the Grind at Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch, East London. Ignored by a directional Emo Phillips haircut in skinny jeans for what felt like 10 mins. After curt service, eventually the coffee was good. The Holborn Grind was more business-like, busy and straightforward, no quirks, like the area it sits in. The Soho Grind was cool, and drew me back. It became a regular spot.

By lunchtime it’s as busy as it can be. Lucky to find a stool. It’s a hustle and bustle as friends and colleagues meet and eat. Quickly, conversations, start and stop, change subject, and leave. The tempo of the music has picked up, wonky house, abstract but still in the key of calm.

Early afternoon, late lunch, most of the sandwiches have gone, the stack depleted. Cold in the summer, but toasted in winter. Salami, rocket, mozzarella. In autumn afternoons the red neon glows inside. ‘French lessons given downstairs x’, reads the neon sign on the wall above the staircase. The small basement offers a cosy den for clandestine afternoon meetings out of sight, and holds a secret all of its own. In the 1960s, Soho was infamous for the ‘walk-ups’ to hidden brothels or strip clubs hidden away from the street. ‘French lessons given’ was a popular innuendo for marking these out.

Late afternoon, the last drop-in of the day, another caffeine hit, a flat white, and maybe one of the mini-cream filled croissants or chocolate filled little pastries. Unobtrusive, staff chat amongst themselves, surprisingly focused, it’s about work. Sometimes they talk about travels, places they’ve been, where they’re from, where they’re going. Music volume rises as the day unfolds, a bit of reggae, some hip-hop beats, and a raggle taggle of Libertines. It gets lively, but it never gets too loud. Opposite in the street, an “agency” photographer appears with an overdressed, aspiring “model”. No qualms about posing suggestively in a Soho doorway. “In the last few years, we’re seeing more and more UK-born baristas. Our Head of Coffee, Sam, was born in the UK now he trains and certifies all our baristas to the Grind standard.”

Pass in the early evening; it’s still open, bathed in the red of Soho’s night lights. Smiling faces sit in the window, young girls laughing looking forward. Blonde hair, red lips and black hats. First stop for nocturnal Soho night birds. Exit the Daily Grind.

Then later one night, everything changed. The rain made the streets of Golden Square shine. Only just visible, as I headed up Lower James Street, was the familiar red glow. As I got nearer I could see the bulbs suspended on black wires, their fast scratch, visible elements contrasting against the red which bathed the rectangular room. White flames on candles in old crystal chimed with the lights. A metal tray turned over and propped up, in the window. Written on it opening hours I had never noticed before: “7.30 am- 11.30pm” and “Cocktails and Tapas“.

“You’re not normally open this late are you?” I asked the late shift. The new and different staff now, unfamiliar, who all wore white shirts: “Just since we opened the cocktail bar downstairs.” Was the answer that surprised me as I ordered a mocha, thick and sweet, small but filling. I glanced along the bar at Iberico Ham, bowls of green olives, and a tub of beer bottles on ice. Cool I thought but not what I was expecting.

“In the evening: a menu of traditional aperitif and cold meats, alongside some more modern dishes of our own, an after-work espresso – and an escape from the bustle of central London nightlife.” The atmosphere still felt the same upstairs and looking round everyone was still drinking coffee. I take a mental note in my mind’s notebook to drop back when night manoeuvres are on the agenda. I stand up, drink up, zip up my Jacket as I exit through the Soho Grind.

All Along the Watchtower

All Along the Watchtower


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Adedotun Adesanya


“This is very much an operational BT building, but we try to create as many opportunities for people to visit as possible. The tower is intrinsic to the operation of the United Kingdom, some of the things that go on here have implications for the country as a whole.”

Under the veil of some hissing rain, I saw you standing there. Under the mist and the wet, you stood announcing yourself to the bodies below, mighty above the chimney tops, the square and some stony Mews. ‘But what is it?’ I thought: some wondrous thing unknown to the people who allow themselves to become so busy below. The years have gone by and I’ve heard, through and through, the words ‘Post Office tower’ by summer under the burning sun, the words ‘Telecom tower’ by winter under drifting snows. The pinnacle of British Telecommunications rises right here in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, finally the mysteries mounting amongst us all along the watchtower I seek to answer.

I recall as a teenager, using the tower as a beacon point to help find my way home after last orders in pubs all over the city. Every Londoner has their relationship with the tower. Over the years, I’ve heard reference in anything, from local gallery owner, Rebecca Hossack, referring to it as the maypole of the village, forward through to watching the 1966 ‘War Machines’ Doctor Who episodes which centre around the square and tower.

On the site of the BT Tower there had long stood a transmitter; running temporary cables between cameras at Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and the BBC’s only transmitter at Alexandria Palace. In 1937, BT made history transmitting King George VI’s coronation live to homes throughout the UK. This broadcast was made from a much shorter steel lattice tower on the same site as the current. Soon after the coronation of the king, microwave radio technology replaced cable transmissions. Today, BT makes transmissions through fibre-optic technology where each able is made of plastic, or glass, and is thinner than human hair.

The erection of the BT tower was delayed considerably by World War II. It was only after having been commissioned by the General Post Office that construction of the tower began in June 1961. Due to its height, its foundations sink down through 53 metres of soft London clay, formed of a concrete raft measuring 27 metres square and reinforced with six layers of steel cables. On top of this sits a reinforced concrete pyramid. Throughout the vast majority of the construction a tower crane jib sat atop the tower. The crane itself raised questions in parliament at the time, with Doctor Reginald Bennett MP asking the Minister of Public Building and Works how the crane would be removed after having fulfilled its purpose. For the contractors, Peter Lind & Co Ltd., it was not seen as an issue for the crane to stay in situ.

Originally designed by Eric Bedford, the senior architect behind the actual build was Mr. G. R. Yeats and, although construction of the tower was completed in July 1964, it wasn’t officially opened until over a year later by Prime Minister, Harold Wilson on 8 October 1965, and was made open to the public on 16 may, 1966 when it was operated by Butlins. The total cost of construction came in at £2.5 million pounds, with the tower being constructed out of a whopping 13,000 tons of concrete and steel, with 50,000 square feet being used for the exterior windows alone.

The tower quickly became a familiar fixture in London; although visible from almost anywhere in the city, the tower was ‘officially’ a secret, not appearing on Ordnance Survey maps until Kate Hoey MP confirmed its existence on 19 February 1993. Originally meant to have been a simple stalk at 111m high, the design expanded and today it stands at 189m – the equivalent of 25 double-decker buses packed end-to-end. In comparison to other structures in London; the Gherkin stands at 180m; 1 Canada Square, 244m; finally, we have the Shard dominating at 310m. At the time of its completion the BT Tower held the title as the tallest building in London, as well as the United Kingdom, holding on to its claim until being overtaken by the NatWest Tower (183m) in 1980.

The narrow, cylindrical shape of the building was a pragmatic choice that conforms to the requirements of the communications aerials, allowing for the building to shift no further than 25cm when up against wind speeds in excess of 95mph. At the time of its public opening, the tower, in addition to office space and communications equipment, featured viewing galleries and a souvenir shop. The first 16 floors were for technical equipment and power. Following that, a 35 metre section was used to hold up microwave aerials.

Beyond these aerials, of course, lies the famous revolving restaurant, or ‘Top of the Tower’, on the 34th floor where, in 1971, a bomb was hidden in the men’s toilets of the restaurant. Fortunately, when the bomb exploded, nobody was injured or died: responsibility for the blast was claimed by the Provisional IRA. Debris from the explosion was littered along Cleveland Street and New Cavendish Street, going as far afield as Oxford Street. Windows below were blown out by the sheer power of the burst, and they flew along Charlotte Street and beyond. This was a turning point for the usage of the revolving restaurant. The initial damage was catastrophic and much of the western face of the building destroyed. All windows and the structure were damaged, with the western face completely exposed. Work soon begun to repair the tower and public access to the building ceased in 1980.

Today, much to the disappointment of Londoners below, access is exceptionally limited due to the practicality of a building that wasn’t designed with today’s regulations in mind. One cannot simply walk into the BT tower to see a 360 degree panoramic view of London from above. In fact, BT now have to exclusively invite people to visit the tower: such patrons have included Her Majesty the Queen, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Edward and Countess of Wessex, Lord Sugar, Orlando Bloom & Dame Kelly Holmes. The tower today is continually used for BT’s corporate and charity fundraising events and, in the event of an international crisis, is utilised to host an online donating system and call centre on the 34th floor – all of which can be arranged in less than 24 hours.

I was lucky enough to be invited to find out how it is inside. Before entering the tower, all entrants must put on visitor badges and undergo a strict airport security-style search of their person and belongings. Passing through the main lobby of the tower, guests are then led into a small lift to climb the tower. Stomachs clench and turn as the high-speed glass-elevator-esc lift transports you up to the 34th floor of the tower at 7metres per second, making it to the destination in just under 20 seconds (yes I was sad enough to take the time to count).

And then begins the rotating of the 34th floor of the tower, 158m above ground. Fitzroy Square appears so small, the size of a 10 pence coin. To the south, parliament sits in the distance on the banks of the Thames and the Shard pokes into the low clouds ahead. The entire floor, and the widest part of the tower at almost 20m, makes its rotations as if it were alive, taking 22 minutes to perform a single cycle.  The floor itself sits on trucks which move it – although I would protest that I enjoy heights, the moment that BT head of brand delivery, Ian Shaw, informed me that we were indeed rotating, I instantly started to feel somewhat alarmed, deciding to appropriately attach myself to a railing and continue nervously asking questions. “This is very much an operational BT building. We try to create as many opportunities for people to visit as possible. The tower is intrinsic to the operation of the United Kingdom. Some of the things that go on here have implications for the country as a whole.” Ian explains, nonplussed to the movement around.

Often I hear the assumptions that, since the removal of the radio antennas on the exterior of the building, the tower has become a defunct dusty relic to the company’s past. However, little known to the public, at the base of the tower lays the operations centre for BT’s broadcast services. From this £5 million state-of-the-art international media centre, nearly every transmission to every television in the United Kingdom, from every network in the world (from CNN, to the BBC, to Sky) is monitored. The Tower sits at the centre of a vast network and even played a crucial role in the first ever live international HD transmission, first international 3D transmission and a number of other broadcasting firsts. In 2012 the tower played a key role regarding an international event held in London. As Ian tells me, “We were the communications partner for the 2012 Olympics. Not a single message left the Olympic Park without passing over our network. It was something we really didn’t want to screw up!”

As a significant figure on the London skyline, BT and Camden Council have agreed that the building will steer clear of promoting commercial messages through the LED information band at the top of the tower. Installed in October 2009, the information band is made up of 177 separate panels each with 177,000 pixels and 528,750 LEDS. Considered to be the highest of its kind in Europe and Americas, messages such as the results of games during the 2012 London Olympics were presented to the city via here, as well as the ‘It’s a boy’ message displayed in summer 2013 to welcome the birth of Prince George. I find this works in line with BT’s tagline – “connecting people.”

On the ground floor, there is an overwhelmingly large hall of mostly disused data connections to the entire country which have steadily been replaced by fibre-optics. These sit in library fashion with individual wires stretching from right here in Fitzrovia, throughout London, Birmingham, Manchester, and beyond.

Still today, the upper floors of the tower, between the ground and 15th floor, have been largely disused for more than a quarter of a century. Midway up the tower, control boards still sit unused, vintage wiring sits unused and telephone centres sit unused. What echoes are the control panels of a SPECTRE-like lair from Sean Connery’s era of the James Bond series: I recall watching, from my previous home on Maple Street, this section of the tower; puzzling over what goes on here – disappointingly enough it does nothing at all, perhaps a suited alternative to Doctor Who’s TARDIS control panel at best.

The assumptions that pass between us all here in Fitzrovia are of a disused tower, a revolving restaurant that hasn’t turned for decades. This tower, this maypole of our villages is alive. It is the beating heart that connects us all in our day-to-day lives and it’s right here in Fitzrovia! Though still, despite all of these solutions I’ve been given to questions that have gone unanswered for so long, I can’t help but keep one thing in mind; in living so close to the tower that is not as disused as we may think, how is it that I still cannot get BT Infinity into my Berners Street flat? We go about our days and we look up to you. Under mist, rain and the heat of sun, we see you to know that we are home in Fitzrovia, all along the watchtower.

Kin

Kin


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz


“My father and I already knew the area very well, but I’ve never done anything like this before. It has been a challenge both in starting a business and opening a coffee shop in Fitzrovia.”

Whilst wandering about Foley Street last spring I found myself entering a building site. ‘Another?’ I thought to myself, another coffee shop to line the streets of Fitzrovia. Another addition to the emergence of cafés and coffee shops in our region! I thought. Behind the grey façade, sat amidst the quiet of a leafy autumn morning on Foley Street, lies a café that offers something really quite rare among the invasion that has come to Fitzrovia in recent years. Consultant Sarah Tyers and the real next-of-kin, owner Charlie Meadows, explain to me the meaning behind one of Fitzrovia’s newest cafés, their vegetarian offerings and the story of Kin café.

Kin?’ you say. This building here at 22 Foley Street has been in the Meadows family for a few years now. The area is no stranger to the family, with Charlie’s father Peter being based in the now dying rag trade in the Fitzrovia area for some years. When the space on the ground floor of the building became empty in 2012, and with Charlie’s background in marketing, music and events, he began to contemplate the idea of embarking on an entirely new venture, away from his media orientated career. As he tells me, “My father and I already knew the area very well, but I’ve never done anything like this before. It has been a challenge both in starting a business and opening a coffee shop in Fitzrovia.”

The space has been various cafés over the years that seem to have only come and gone. Noting that the area has been slowly becoming more and more vibrant in recent years, Charlie and his father saw the opportunity to open a new café that could adapt to the vibrancy of the area, with Charlie leading the way. He explains, “I decided around March 2013 that I started to think about the possibility of turning this space into a café. We began looking at competitors across London, the world and right here in Fitzrovia.”

With the implication of his idea looming, he knew that there was nothing with which to allow it to flourish without the experience and guidance of somebody who had followed a route within the industry. Charlie and Sarah Tyers were introduced through a mutual friend, Ed. With Sarah’s background in working as a chef in many restaurants and training as a barista at two of London’s favourite coffee shops; Bloomsbury’s The Espresso Room and, leading chain, Taylor Street Barista’s, she was the ideal candidate to act as a consultant in establishing Kin. “I realised that university was going to cost me a lot of money and not really get me where I wanted to be. I was quite shy. I loved cooking and looking after people, so I dropped out of school to become a chef. I travelled for a lot of years and then eventually ended up in London. I’d always wanted to open my own café so I began to learn how to make coffee,” Sarah elucidates.

With Sarah having always wanted to open a café herself, this was the perfect opportunity to follow one of her own dreams and equally allow Charlie’s business idea to come to life. With his idea of opening a local accessible café for all residents to enjoy in the ever-growing vibrancy of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, Charlie discussed with Sarah concepts ranging from the title of the café to the cuisine and layout of the interior.

On deciding that the food element of the café would be a focal point of the business (in addition to its speciality coffee and tea), it was decided that Kin was to become an entirely vegetarian establishment. With a menu that offers anything from a signature beans on toast (my personal breakfast favourite) to a lunch menu of salads, sandwiches and more – all available for takeaway or to eat-in – their bill-of-fare is like no other in the area. The food is truly a spectacle worth venturing to Foley Street for, a healthy option for breakfast, brunch and lunch in the area. Sarah tells me, “When you’re making food, if it’s fresh and healthy, then the only way to make it taste good is to make it fresh, that’s how good tasting healthy food is made.” She makes a point to emphasise the importance of the health element of their menu.

After deciding upon a vegetarian café, the two wanted to create a title and atmosphere that was less contrived as it was pro-green, and, more-so, unannounced as being vegetarian from its façade, its primal colouration and interior setting. “The name choosing process went through a lot of permutations. We wanted the title of the café, as we’re vegetarian, to be uncomplicated. We didn’t want to call it Supernatural Greens, or Veggies Are Us,” Sarah laughs. “We didn’t want it to be unwelcoming. We wanted it to be discovered-to-be-vegetarian. We wanted it to be a simple, easy to spell, easy to the hear word that people could remember and keep fresh in peoples’ heads,” she concludes.

And so, taking into account Charlie’s relationship with his father, without whom the business never would’ve happened, they decided that it would be essential to include this relationship in the naming process of the café. “From a visual perspective Kin works well as a logo, of course there is a personal element behind the title too.” Charlie tells me, “People remember the name, we’ve found that people really like it!” He explains to me. What followed was an all grey interior and exterior with minimal low-key furnishings that have a somewhat Japanese feel. The café has been intentionally designed as a ‘blank canvas’, a neutral environment, semi-influenced by Charlie’s Swedish mother.

With a few minor delays, as per any business venture, Kin opened its doors late May, 2014. Progressively the café has become a staple of the neighbourhood for meetings, brunch and as a lunch hour retreat – or what I refer to as my ‘time out space’. At Kin you’re able to leave behind the wicked-west-end and find calm. Kin currently uses Notes Coffee; though they rotate their speciality coffee blends every quarter.

In addition to their tea and coffee offerings, the café makes their own juices: from my personal favourite green juice, through to a carrot and apple blend juice, a perfect alternative to caffeine when looking to punch start your day. In aiding the New Year detox I find these to be an excellent healthy alternative to coffee. The ingredients of Kin’s juices are entirely organic and have slowly become the norm in beginning my day.

This father and son venture has firmly taken off to achieve the start that Charlie and Peter had hoped for – perhaps even more so in fact! With the café now open on Saturdays, it has been allowed to spread its wings as the staff have become acquainted with many locals, both residents and transients. The café has come to house the defining elements of the Fitzrovia neighbourhood; socialisation, independent business and niche. With an eye firmly set on the future, I say to you bravely that here is a café for you and your kin to watch.

Getty Images Gallery

Getty Images Gallery


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


There is probably very little of my life and your own that you will not relate here, Fitzrovia too. Those distant country lanes of the suburbs and the chaos filled stories told to us of the war, of the musicians that have come and gone. Life and the very humanity of our own existence is captured through a seemingly infinite array of imagery, telling stories, often horrors, and unveiling the beauty of all we know and see. I look behind the scenes through their archives and into the past of Fitzrovia, the home of Getty Images Gallery in the heart of our neighbourhood.

Getty Images houses some of the greatest photographic collections in the world, with their gallery offering a unique insight and access to their collection. The archives themselves hold millions of negatives, prints and transparencies from the 1850s through to the modern day. A vast contemporary library features some of the most creative photographers of the past and present. Their aim is to make their incomparable collection accessible to all. Getty Images Gallery right here in Fitzrovia was set up to in order to offer accessibility to the general public to an array of high-end/bespoke photographic prints.

Getty Images supplies stock images to businesses and consumers from its archive of over 80 million still images and illustrations, as well as more than 50,000 hours of stock film footage. The archive itself being made up of more than 15 miles of racking holding over 1500 individual collections. In 2004, Getty Images Gallery made the decision to move from the somewhat artistic area of Chelsea to Fitzrovia, Eastcastle Street. At this time, although there were many galleries in the area, Eastcastle Street was far from the art-gallery-laden street we know it today. The gallery begun to influence gallery owners to arrive in the area with more and more galleries popping up over the past decade.

With just one percent of their existing archive available online, Getty Images mass catalogue of archived imagery is rich in the lives of us all. From catastrophe to love and hope, to celebrity and war, the Getty Hulton Archive hosts many elements of recent history. Behind the doors of a seemingly ordinary warehouse by Westbourne Grove Station (roughly 5 minutes on foot) lies the Getty Hulton Archive. A David Bowie portrait sits in the distance, the corridors themselves stretch on and on through the archive with all image negatives miraculously ordered shelf-by-shelf by a somewhat patient Getty Images team.

What sets Getty Images Gallery aside from other photography galleries is helping clients by going beyond the gallery walls with extensive research able to be carried out by the Getty Hulton Archive team should a client seek an alternate to their current exhibitions. Their various collections can be looked through and a lightbox of images created and tailored to the client’s needs. When a selection of images has been chosen, Getty Image’s experienced darkroom technicians will study the negatives of the images in a ‘neg-check’ determining the quality and size of the final print.

All prints are produced from the original negative in one of Britain’s last remaining wet darkrooms. Prints are often patiently coaxed from damaged negatives or poorly exposed plates – the skill and patience of which is exceptional, though viewed as an essential part of the process. The outcome is an extremely high end photographic print, many of which being unique to the client as so much of the existing archive is yet to have been printed since its first publication.

From annual events to sudden catastrophes, from celebrity deaths to economic disaster, the Getty Images team are often called into action to scour their extensive archive for the usage of the world’s press, hosting images relating to just about every single topic and category imaginable. I am told of how, in the case of the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, the team were rushed into action to uncover and bring images of her career to light and deliver it to the press.

Amongst these shelves, as I wander guided by the Getty team, we uncover photographs of Salvador Dali along with a signed letter written by the late artist and images which tell a story of the history of photography itself (dating as far back as the 1850s). Wartime images present themselves to us from all over Britain, through to some original photographic portraits of unknown people – some of the images being the first ever taken of their kind.

We begin to uncover photography of our very own Fitzrovia neighbourhood, the backdrop for the Eastcastle Street Getty Images Gallery. First we uncover mid-20th century photography of the area, including Newman Passage and Charlotte Street. When searching further we discover photographs of Tottenham Court Road’s Centre Point, later there’s eerie imagery of the BT Tower shortly after being bombed by the IRA in October 1971.

Searching further, the Getty Images team and I discover a series of remarkable photographs taken along Warren Street as well as in and around Fitzroy Square of the once thriving used-car trade in full swing. Cars can be seen parked up and down Warren Street, their owners talking with potential buyers: the backdrop of the area appears almost entirely unchanged even those these images were all taken during the 1950s. We next uncover the original contact strips of the photographer who’d taken the shots with a particular image highlighted for usage in an article about the used car scene in the area at the time.

Getty Images gallery keeps up a regular programme exhibitions in order to showcase their collections, all covering an array of topics and themes with each exhibition carefully curated from their collections. Exhibitions have included an exploration of the career of The Beatles in 2009, and a series in 2012 capturing the Olympics through the ages. Most recently an exhibition of the works of Michael Putland was displayed featuring a star studded array of photography including David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and other iconic artists such as T-Rex and The Who. Currently on display is an exhibition capturing the year of 2014 with all images taken by a variety of artists throughout the world. (The exhibition is actually celebrating 2014 in ‘Getty Image’s photographers’ only.)

What Getty Images Gallery offer is truly unique in the photographic world. Their gallery and achieve incorporate the very history of photography and still today continue the tradition of darkroom photo-processing. With their archive consistently expanding as the years pass by and the history of the lives of others continuing only to grow, it would appear that Getty Image’s goal is to take moments from life respectfully, and go on to allow them to be enjoyed and accessed by future generations. There is no doubt about it; you will find much of your own life captured in their archives. Everything you think you know about yourself is just a shot away.

The Cleveland Street Scandal

The Cleveland Street Scandal


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom…”

In 1891 Sherlock Holmes appeared in a short story called Scandal in Bohemia, where the detective races against the clock to smooth over what could become an international incident. Less than two years before Sherlock’s encounter a real scandal with true political implications struck at the heart of London. Hidden away down Cleveland Street, an outrage of titillating realisations had occurred.

It came to light in 1889 that 19 Cleveland Street was housing a dark secret. Far from the legitimate businesses you can now find along the streets of Fitzrovia, the proprietors were in search of decadent delights, hushed away from public knowledge and even downright illegal – for a Mr Charles Hammond had, for quite some time, been running an illicit male brothel.

At this time, Constable Luke Hanks, investigator of a supposed theft at the London Telegraph Office, came across a 15 year old messenger boy, Thomas Swinscow, who was in possession of something much more damning than his bag of letters… he had, in his coin purse, money to the princely sum of fourteen shillings (equivalent to around £300 in today’s currency!).  Of course, there was little to be suspicious about young men carrying out this work, but, at this time, it was illegal for them to even carry around their personal allowance. It seemed to be unequivocal evidence of the boy’s guilt. Hanks must have thought he’d got his man!

Here the plot thickens… It is reported that, in his statement, Swinscow was adamant to profess that he “got [the money] doing some work away from the office…  [for] a gentleman named Hammond.” And the story takes a turn. Let us remember that in 1889 Cleveland St was a relatively unimportant place of nondescript houses, its only claim being that Charles Dickens’ childhood home was at number 22. Swinscow admitted that he “…got the money for going to bed with gentlemen at [Hammond’s] house.” And the fate of Mr Hammond was sealed. Of course, it was not only Hammond who was indicated in the crime. The statement also reads, “[Henry Newlove] asked me to go into the lavatory at the basement… we went into the water closet and shut the door and we behaved indecently together.” Of the names that later came to light in the ensuing investigation there are some that stand out greatly, people with direct links to the British establishment. Naturally, those I am about to list are largely alleged to have been clients of Mr Hammond’s.

Allow me to introduce somebody whose links to the surrounding area live on today: Henry James Fitzroy, Earl of Euston.  His involvement came out through an article by Ernest Parke in a radical newspaper at the time, The North London Press. Lord Euston admitted upon trial that he had indeed visited the premises of 19 Cleveland Street simply on the presumption that it was housing a display of artistic nudes – the sign on the door read Posés plastiques. Euston’s innocence was proven, based on contradictory accounts by the defence failing to correctly identify or formulate an indicative narrative of his guilt.

Poor Euston never managed to stake claim to the area that surrounds Fitzroy Square since he died before he was able to inherit his father’s land. Instead, it passed to his younger brother, Alfred, later the Duke of Grafton, adding to the rich tapestry that is now a centre for creativity, Fitzrovia.

Two more names stand out on the list of the accused: Lord Arthur Somerset and, most scandalous of treats, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, grandson of Queen Victoria. Interestingly, the former was a client of the brothel named by none other than Lord Euston himself during an account of his visit. Amongst a growing mountain of evidence, and some strong anecdotal accounts, Somerset’s hand was against him. Through contacts and dealings, Lord Somerset (allegedly) was able to convince the Home Secretary of the time to put a halt to court proceedings and delay the time until action would be taken.

Seizing his chance, Somerset fled to Germany on the 22nd August 1889. Upon returning to England, he was tipped off that his trial was imminent and that he would be unable to evade prosecution. With this knowledge, the not-so-noble-lord fled again, this time to France, and commenced travels that took him as far as Constantinople (Istanbul now), before settling back in France, where he was to die at the age of 74 in 1926, 37 years after evading justice.

And so, I’ve left the juiciest tidbit until last, the curious case of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Was it mere rumour that spread across Old London town, as these things so often do? Was it a fabrication of Lord Somerset, in the hopes that it would take some of the focus off himself? Was it just another episode like that of Lord Euston?

Many historians deny that the Prince had any involvement in the scandal, continuing the narrative that it was raised to merely try and deflect some of the darker charges from other culprits. Regardless of truth, the inclusion of the Prince’s name gave the case further infamy. This was the moment it would change from a scandal to a cultural phenomenon where homosexual acts and despicable deeds became viewed as aristocratic vices, proof that the very pillars of the establishment were embroiled in decadence of morality, and outright debauchery. Almost a gift to the speculation, Prince Albert’s inclusion led to something most unheard of… The Prince of Wales himself took a key interest in the case, intervening personally to put a stop to the degrading of his son’s character. To the outside eye this could quite easily be seen as an attempt for a cover-up. Indeed, it led to much speculation.

The buzz in the air caused by this scandal did not die down within a few weeks. It became the spark to light the fuse, resulting in an explosion of anti-homosexual activism. The stories surrounding Cleveland Street became legend fast, just another moment to be bandied about in court with regards to ‘gross indecency’.

A review in the Scots Observer asks of Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), “Why go grubbing in muck heaps? … [Wilde] can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys.” This reputation was to come to a head in 1895 at Wilde’s trial. Suffice to say, the release of his novel so close to the scandal led to an inextricable link. Upon verdict, it is reported that a cry of “Shame!” ran through the courtroom and, when the accused looked to the judge and asked “May I say nothing my lord?” the so-called honourable Justice Wills waved a hand at the warders merely to stop the man from fainting to the ground.

The ultimate verdict was that “you, Wilde, have been the centre of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind.” So it was to be that on the 25th May, 1895, Oscar Wilde was convicted for gross indecency and received the maximum sentence for his crime: two years hard labour.

All that is left to say about the Cleveland Street Scandal is that it has gone down as a cultural keepsake. And although if you were to venture down Cleveland Street now, a search for number 19 would be in vain (the address was stricken from the land register in 1894), the energy of the area lives on in various guises. In Fitzrovia, experience meets art and creativity takes many forms – from sheep in Fitzroy square, to a public-lavatory-turned-coffee-house.

Rivet & Hide

Rivet & Hide


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Manu Zafra


“We are a destination store. People come to us from all over the world, as well as the UK, to see our brands in the flesh. There are perhaps a dozen stores like Rivet & Hide around the world at best.”

I was cutting through the South East corner of Fitzrovia. A believer in taking the road less travelled, as I got to the junction of Charlotte Street and Windmill Street I realised I had never actually turned right and gone down Windmill Street before, so I did. In the distance, at the far end of the street, I could see a grey walled, canteen type café with large windows and a cool white, minimal interior looking all Scandinavian and Berlin-ish, which looked interesting, it actually turned out to be more Austrian/Bavarian.

I was just beginning to think how this side road had a similar atmosphere to Aoyama or Omotesando in Tokyo where you can find fantastic stores in the backstreets when, glancing to my right, there was a large picture window drawing me in. On display was dark denim, military jackets and the title, Rivet & Hide in a classic gold scrolling typescript across the door.

I’d always thought, with the huge amount of media companies in this area, there were a lot of young men around with money to burn, and nowhere to burn it, on clothes. Now someone had done it. I stepped in to the interior. The shop felt welcoming; an impressive wood-floor led my eyes down the long interior, with natural light appearing to flood in at the far end. A friendly hello, a swathe of dark, stiff, flat Japanese selvedge jeans along one wall accompanied by the sound of tap, tap, tapping, and then a slightly heavier hammering, adding to the fresh atmosphere.

It felt warm and welcoming, like a workshop, and the friendliness definitely added an echo of the Japanese level of service. The extensive denim selection was accompanied by t-shirts in subtle shades, and substantial leather wallets and accessories in natural, nude tones. Old wood and metal school seating, wood and glass cabinets, and copies of Men’s File magazine contributed to the air of investment in authenticity.

Danny Hodgson and his partner, Junior, faced a mountain of a deposit to secure the lease on the property in Fitzrovia, but, with determination they did it. We got talking… ”we decided on Fitzrovia pretty quickly. We looked at a unit further up Charlotte Street which we liked but, when we saw No. 5 windmill Street and the unique charm of this area, I knew this was where it had to be. It’s not easy getting a landlord to take on a new tenant with no trading history, especially in a market like London. I wanted to be somewhere easy to get to but off the beaten track in central London. Fitzrovia to me feels like village London; albeit a very busy village with a charm of its own.”

Rivet & Hide opened its first front door early in 2014. They had already been selling online for around 2 years. A well-travelled Danny had discovered the Japanese selvedge denim culture on his frequent trips to the US and Japan, where his job with an airline often took him. Learning and being drawn into the detail of the artisan aspects of Denim brands like Flat Head, Iron Heart, Pure Blue Japan, 3Sixteen and Stevenson Overall Company, he began to gain the trust of selvedge Samurai.

“You have to build strong relationships with the Japanese to do business. I meet up with the brand owners twice a year to discuss the collections and any collaboration. I could not do that if I had an endless brand list. The connection with the brand is important.” They educated Danny in the irregular aspects of the weave in the denim cloth produced by Toyoda looms. He also learnt the Aizome way of indigo dying the cotton fabric, and was taught the technique required to operate a union special machine to chain stitch the hems.

“We love small batch brands that are devoted to their craft. The denim we carry is the best in the world, made on vintage looms by some very skilled craftspeople. The brands themselves have big personalities and the denim they produce has tremendous character.” It’s not just the denim that is top-grade though: there are great flight jackets and pea coats, checked and flannel shirts and sweats.

“I also like lifestyle brands; ones that produce a whole range of apparel to complement their denim. It keeps the narrative of the store very focused.” Danny had never seen these brands in the UK, and coming across a new British Brand, Huit, who were using Japanese bought denim to make jeans in Wales, and Dawson Denim who were using the tough, dark, unwashed cloth to craft heavy duty aprons in Brighton, he began to see the future and the concept that could bring all these labels together and sell them under the banner Rivet & Hide.

“We are a destination store. People come to us from all over the world, as well as the UK, to see our brands in the flesh. There are perhaps a dozen stores like Rivet & Hide around the world at best.” The interior of the store attracted curious Fitzrovians eager to see what this store was going to be all about; with its laying down of an impressive floor made of oak and groyne, reclaimed from Sussex and South Coast homesteads – which will age and change over the years in the same way a pair of jeans bought from Rivet & Hide will acquire character over their lifetime. Engaging them with the beauty of the pieces they would be selling, their stories of far easterly lands, plans and enthusiasm when they opened, the Fitzrovians came back ready to be inducted in the rights of raw denim.

Danny sums up the future. It’s simple: “To continue introducing new customers to some seriously good denim and work-wear of unsurpassed quality.” So, walk to Windmill Street and find a quality store with fine product and a growing following. Rivet & Hide are constructing a reputation built to last and age with distinction.

The Egoist Body

The Egoist Body


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Astrid Schulz


“I began to feel like the gym was something that I had to do to be healthy – in the same way that I would go to work to earn money. I wanted to create an environment that made people want to exercise and want to be fit. I didn’t want people to feel as if it were a chore.”

For many Londoners, blighted by routine, by tube rides into the grey tunnels of our lives and jobs that seem only to drown us, health and fitness has gotten to be a chore. We live with the knowledge that our health is not a given but an active choice we make in life, that our bodies take true courage and passion to respect and value. A career which followed an entirely different path to that which she desired, an underlying passion to continue pursuing her practice of dance and structured health routine, Lina Petraityte avows to me the story behind The Egoist Body, and her motive to follow this path toward a career in fitness.

Lithuanian born Lina founded The Egoist Body just over 5 years ago now. After having studied economics, she went on to work in finance at Hedgefund in Mayfair. This had been a step away from another life back home in Eastern Europe, where she had trained as a professional ballroom dancer since the age of 5. Though Lina wasn’t originally taken by dance her mother encouraged her to attend classes – which she frequently skipped. Soon, however, she began to practice dance on a regular basis as a youngster, developing a passion for health and fitness working closely with a number of dance partners.

She worked for half a decade in finance, describing her daily routine as simply work, sleep and eat – often unbearable. During this period the long hours and workload caused her to become stressed in herself, leading to the development of health issues such as allergies. Health and fitness had become a secondary priority to Lina’s intensive workload. This was something that really bothered her.

The routine of the job had meant that it wasn’t feasible for her to find time to exercise, focus on nutrition and, of course, dance. As Lina tells me, “I began to feel like the gym was something that I had to do to be healthy – in the same way that I would go to work to earn money. I wanted to create an environment that made people want to exercise and want to be fit. I didn’t want people to feel as if it were a chore.”

The longer she spent in her financial career, the more she felt trapped and unsatisfied with her day-to-day routine. Having realised the decline of her health was perhaps caused by the stress and long hours, Lina lost passion, deciding that it was time to focus on her health and fitness. She explains that “Before I started my role, I was very fit. With my job in finance I never had the energy to exercise or the time eat healthily. My job meant that I often would have my lunch brought to my desk – it was almost impossible to leave the front of my computer screen!” This was her lowest level of fitness, thus it was to become the foundations of a very different career direction.

Lina began searching for a place in order to set up a boutique style personal Yoga & Pilates studio whilst still continuing her day job which she soon decided it was time to quit. She started with the idea in mind of enabling people who had followed similar careers and routines to herself: to enjoy flexible, healthy and stress relieving classes around their busy, and often chaotic, lives.

In searching for her studio, Lina eventually found her way to Fitzrovia – more specifically Fitzroy Square. Lina tells me of the lucky circumstance she found the location; “The studio wasn’t advertised at all – I found it through a friend of mine who was a member of the Georgian group, which the house belongs to. The space needed a lot of work, but what stood out to me most of all was the view of the square and the natural light that shone into the space. It felt like home to me!” She laughs.

Soon after, having fallen for her dream studio at No. 6 Fitzroy Square, she did not only begin work on readying it to open, but made the floor above the studio her personal residence. The studio space of The Egoist Body makes for the perfect collaboration of classical Georgian architecture and a modern health alternative. The experience of the classes here is calming, a breath of fresh-air away from the bustle of central London. With views looking through the building’s tall classical Georgian sash windows and out over the beauty of the square, Lina and her team of instructors offer an intimate and bespoke way to enjoy Yoga and Pilates, with health and nutrition advice on hand.

Many clients who attended when The Egoist Body originally launched 5 years ago are still regular clients today. A general mix of genders makes up the users and there is much sociability between them. The studio hosts 3 classes a day; lunchtime, evening and late evening. Although the majority of her daytime and evening clients are local and living in the Fitzrovia area, or transients who work in it, Lina finds that late evening clients come from much further afield: many fall under the category of people she sought to help when opening the studio; people who work very long hours and find exercise to be a chore. Unsurprisingly to Lina, many of these people work in finance.

Upon opening, Lina’s was one of the only independent studios of its kind. Today The Egoist Body continues to grow strong, with new regular clients frequenting the studio – many of whom were referred by other attendees. The sessions here are a stray away from much larger classes, and are taught by true professional teachers whom, unlike many conventional trainers, understand the importance of the practice and precision of instructing these classes without damaging the bodies or joints of attendees.

With health and fitness becoming more of a focus in London as a whole, Yoga and Pilates classes are becoming more popular and the norm for both genders, Lina confesses that today many of her former colleagues in finance have come to turn their health around. Today, Lina is looking to start a new business called ‘Retreats I Love’ which aims to help people incorporate their health into a short-term retreat. Fitzrovia is both Lina’s neighbourhood and the home of her business.