Tag Archives: london

Richard Biedul

Richard Biedul


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kingandtuckfield.com

@richardbiedul

Sophie Cookson

Sophie Cookson


Interview & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

What does having a live audience bring to your performance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you explored the area’s galleries and museums?

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

What was your first taste of London’s theatre? 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

killerjoeplay.com

@cookie_soph

30 Cleveland Street

30 Cleveland Street


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30clevelandstreet.com

La Fromagerie

La Fromagerie


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


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

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

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

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

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

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

lafromagerie.co.uk

@lafromagerieuk

The Lighterman

The Lighterman


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

thelighterman.co.uk

@thelightermankx

Redemption Roasters

Redemption Roasters


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathy Ward

Cathy Ward


Words Cathi Undsworth

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about Cathy, go to her website 

Robert Montgomery

Robert Montgomery


Interview & Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

Tell me about your background and influences…

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

 

How did you start out as an artist?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Serge *et le phoque

Serge *et le phoque


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


“Great food begins with the suppliers…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Health & Fitness

Ten Health & Fitness


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ward

The Ward


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Gideon Mendel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made of Stone

Made of Stone


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alice Chiariello


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

Susan Collins

Susan Collins


Words Matthew Ross

Photography  Kirk Truman


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cockpit Arts

Cockpit Arts


Words & Illustrations Sophie Pelissier


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Roger K. Burton

Roger K. Burton


Words Cathi Unsworth

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brontë Aurell

Brontë Aurell


Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Charlotte Street News

Charlotte Street News


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricky Richards

Ricky Richards


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Oliver Mills


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

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

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

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

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

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

rickyrichards.com

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

Frank, Foley Street

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

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

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

David Moore

David Moore


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

Pied à Terre opened in 1991 and showcases David and head chef Andy McFadden’s impressive gourmet dining credentials – credentials that have attracted a number of big names over the years, from the Monty Python gang to Annie Lennox and John Hurt… though sadly not Phil Oakey thus far. “John Hurt was very entertaining character. He came in for dinner once and ordered a really expensive bottle of red wine, which he’d never done before. I was quite surprised. It was £265, and he got two or three of them! The bill came and he paid it, no problem. The next time he came back, I asked him about it. ‘I didn’t have my reading glasses,’ he said. ‘I thought it was £26.50!’ So, I said, ‘Dinner’s on me tonight’ and he was thrilled.”

Sitting down to eat, I soon find out what attracts such an illustrious crowd. Mackerel with fennel, mustard and frozen parmesan; John Dory with grapefruit, miso, quinoa and brassicas; a chocolate, mandarin, honeycomb and stem ginger dessert: each of them is a delicious architectural wonder – as if Zaha Hadid and Joan Miró had decided to open a cooking school. “The bizarre thing is that as a kid, I was stubborn,” David tells me. “I liked mashed potatoes and omelettes with raspberry jam!” These days, though, there’s definitely a sense of playfulness about both David and Pied a Terre’s offerings. It’s a quality that served him well when, at the age of 20, he went for his first big job interview with Alain Desenclos, restaurant director at Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “I used to watch a TV program called Take Six Cooks, and I remember Raymond Blanc talking about restaurants and food being like an opera… then they panned across to Alain Desenclos, and I thought ‘God he looks scary!”’

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

“Everyone came out to have a good look at this guy who’d invited Alain to join him!” He landed a job as a waiter, but his progress to head waiter was hindered by his lack of French. “I was the only English waiter! I remember in the first couple of weeks I thought the French waiters were all big Smiths fans… because how do you say ‘I’m pissed off’ in French? ‘J’en ai marre’ – Johnny Marr!”

In 1998, David decided to buy a property close to the restaurant.“I’d been engaged a year, we were getting married and had got a small deposit together.” He narrowed his search to a 20-minute circle around Pied à Terre. “We explored Soho, Marylebone, Camden, but we just loved Bloomsbury.” David and his wife Val finally chose an “amazing space” on Gray’s Inn Road, close to many of the places they now hold dear in the area, from the small farm at Coram’s Fields to the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum. One of Bloomsbury’s hidden gems is The Cockpit Arts Studio, an award-winning social enterprise and business incubator for craftspeople, which soon became one of David’s favourite haunts. “I saw the sign for their open studio and went in. Cabinet maker Toby Davies (Hunky Dory Furniture), immediately caught his eye. “I saw this beautiful sideboard with this pink inlaid leather on the front of it – very camp! You opened the drawers and it had purple leather on the bottom of each one –  it was magnificent!”  He later commissioned Toby to design tables for his restaurants, as well as some pieces for his home. Another favourite at the Studio is milliner Karen Henriksen. “Fabulous designs and each one crafted piece, such love and dedication to making!”

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

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

Karen Henriksen

Karen Henriksen


Words Sophie Pelissier

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Life Goddess

The Life Goddess


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monica Galetti

Monica Galetti


Words Laurence Glynne

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centre Point

Centre Point


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

THRSXTY

THRSXTY


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh Lifestyle

Fresh Lifestyle


Words  Kirk Truman

Photography  Etienne Gilfillan


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…too beautiful and too romantic to survive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bao

Bao


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity…”

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

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

In 2013, Bao started out as a market stall at Netil Market in Hackney, and it remains a permanent fixture there on Saturday afternoons. Taking things to the next level, from stall to restaurant, Bao opened their first permanent premises on Soho’s Lexington Street in 2015. Both their Soho and Fitzrovia restaurants offer a relaxed environment, with charming yet efficient service, and the interiors bring the trio’s background in fine art to life with catchy branding. “When we opened our Soho site, we had a keen following at this point, but even on opening we didn’t know what to expect. We adapted the space to the brand, and the brand to the space. It’s a small space, and it seems as popular as ever, with customers still queuing daily to sample the menu,” says Shing. “With our Fitzrovia opening, we liked the idea of diners watching as drinks are prepared, we wanted people to be engaged with the aesthetic of the brand and feel like they’re at the centre of the restaurant. We wanted the basement to have the exact opposite feeling. We wanted to create a completely different vibe, with a tin-clad and spacey feeling to it as you look into the kitchen and watch the food being prepared,” adds Erchen.

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

Gay’s The Word

Gay’s The Word


Words Roland Glasser

Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Bates

Daniel Bates


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FitzFest 2017 runs from 8-11 June 2017.

Clifford Slapper

Clifford Slapper


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitzrovia Dawn

Fitzrovia Dawn


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

Eclectics

Eclectics


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Louise Russell

Louise Russell


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathal McAteer

Cathal McAteer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Skoob Books

Skoob Books


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Store Street Espresso

Store Street Espresso


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Smoking Guns

The Smoking Guns


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Soho Office

A Soho Office


Words Griff Rhys Jones

Photography Archives


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I’m not.”

“Well you sound just like him.”

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

I pulled down the window. “Oi! Mel!!”

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

“Get in the sodding car!”

Mel got in. The cabbie shut up.

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

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

“Pink Floyd.”

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

 

Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

oliverspencer.co.uk

@oliverspencer

Raymond Revuebar

Raymond Revuebar


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Getty Images/Hulton Archive


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Filson

Filson


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shrimoyee Chakraborty

Shrimoyee Chakraborty


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romain Bruneau

Romain Bruneau


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Robinson

Brian Robinson


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

Brian on Bette Davis,

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

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

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

Brian on Woody Allen

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

Brian on Quentin Tarantino

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

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

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

He replies, ‘I’m a journalist?’

‘What paper?’

‘The Observer!’”

Lanyap

Lanyap


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bao

Bao


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

Julia Lundsten


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like… but shoes are always the same.”

My first thought upon being handed a pair of towering FINSK heels was that I was about to take a tumble. Being slightly lacking in grace and poise, I braced myself for at least a wobble. But once I’d donned the striking colour block shoes with their cut-out heels I soon realised that not only was I not going to fall, but that my feet were surprisingly at home in this initially scary footwear. If even I can stay upright, then it’s testament to the fact that FINSK shoes are as functional as they are eye-catching.

Created in 2004 by Finnish designer Julia Lundsten, FINSK has become synonymous with avant-garde yet entirely wearable designs, championing an architecturally driven aesthetic and a simplified colour palette. With an emphasis on a modern, structural look, FINSK keynotes include cut-out heels and colour blocking, eschewing frills and embellishments and letting the shape of the shoe do the talking. Most importantly, Julia’s shoes take into account comfort, and actually allow the wearer to move. Whilst collaborating with Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen for her Spring/Summer 2016 collection at Paris Fashion Week, Julia was a huge hit with the models, who told her they were in awe of how easy the shoes were to move in. “All the models were like ‘Wow! I feel like I can run around’”. So although the shoes make an intimidating first impression, they are ultimately founded on a strong understanding of practical components, making for incredibly wearable design.

The focus on architectural influences comes naturally to Julia, whose parents both worked as architects. Having studied fashion design at the Royal College of Art, she realised that footwear was her true passion because of her appreciation for structural design. “When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like – because someone is big or someone is thin and they look so different – but shoes are always the same.” After graduating in 2003 Julia worked on a freelance basis for numerous clients whilst honing her own design plans. By working for a Brazil-based company she was able to explore what would become the base for her own future studio and had the opportunity to begin working on her own collection while still learning from other, established brands. After a year or two, Julia launched her first collection and FINSK, with its distinct brand identity, was born.

Having gained access to Brazilian ateliers through her freelance work, Julia made the decision to base her own factory there because of the highly skilled craftsmen, and the opportunity to ethically source every material going into her shoes. Her guiding principle was that “we never use leathers just for the sake of the leather”, so the primary materials for the shoes come from animals farmed for meat, rather than solely for their hides. Basing the atelier in Brazil also allowed her to take advantage of local craftsmanship and the unique techniques used in shoemaking there. With Brazil hosting fourteen people working on the practical side, two others overseeing the work, and Julia and her business partner based in Bloomsbury, FINSK operates with a relatively small team, allowing the collections to feel like a genuinely collaborative effort.

FINSK hash numerous shared credits under its belt, having worked with the likes of Basso & Brooke, Marimekko, Tia Cibani and Ports 1961 to create footwear to accompany their respective runway collections. There is also the collaboration with Iris Van Herpen for Spring/Summer 2016. Van Herpen’s collection combined craftsmanship with technology in a line that involved laser-cut, highly structural pieces. Julia’s footwear, then, with its sky-high and intricately carved heels in nude and black, provided the perfect accent to a collection that focused on sharp shapes.

Another exciting collaboration sees FINSK teaming up with Finish heritage rubber footwear brand Nokian. Famous for their wellington boots made using natural rubber, the brand’s secret formula, created in 1989, is still used today. The challenge for Julia was to combine her own techniques, established over a decade, with those of a European-based factory to create something that represented the FINSK aesthetic. Having worn Nokian boots as a child, Julia wanted to create versions that she could wear as a busy adult. The collection itself showcases the artistry of both brands, with the distinctive FINSK stamps of colour blocking and a structural heel transforming the humble wellington into something that you might even wear to the office.

Having introduced a unisex line, Julia continues to showcase the diverse nature of her designs, as well as responding to the ever-changing landscape of the fashion industry. FINSK has long since ceased to adhere to the traditional fashion calendar, preferring to respond to their clients’ desire to shop the looks they want when they want – and many international brands are now following suit. While some buyers seemed initially bemused by Julia’s intimidatingly architectural shoes, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. FINSK has built a loyal following and continues to offer exciting and challenging designs.

Continental Stores

Continental Stores


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalloway Terrace

Dalloway Terrace


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Simon Brown


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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Owen

Maggie Owen


Words Chloe Moss

Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth McKenzie

Kenneth McKenzie


Words Gordon Ritchie

Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernie Katz

Bernie Katz


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Edu Torres


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunspel

Sunspel


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shinola

Shinola


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Jamie McGregor Smith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Baxter

Mark Baxter


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim & Paul Abraham

Kim & Paul Abraham


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Edu Torres


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of the Soil

Son of the Soil


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack


Words Chloe Moss

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Larder

The Larder


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carleen Anderson

Carleen Anderson


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clothing by SOBOYE

www.soboye.com

The Groucho Club

The Groucho Club


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Alexandria Coe


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Pigalle

Anne Pigalle


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Abrahamovitch

David Abrahamovitch


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grind.co.uk

@grind

Milroy’s

Milroy’s


Words Jason Holmes

Photography Archives


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Raw

Raw


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Ross Becker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dupsy Abiola

Dupsy Abiola


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Dan Court


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Werth

Peter Werth


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Sandra Vijandi


“Eastcastle Street is the hub of the brand…”

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Mark Hix

Mark Hix


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lights of Soho

Lights of Soho


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Max Clarke


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloth House

Cloth House


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Exposure

Exposure


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sofia Strazzanti

Sofia Strazzanti


Words Victoria Drysdale

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

Bayode Oduwole

Bayode Oduwole


Words Kirk Truman

Portaits Erin Barry


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

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

 

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Butler

Simone Butler


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soho Radio

Soho Radio


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell


Words Darren Hawes

Illustrations Luke Stuart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Achieve(s)


“We never closed… We never clothed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Picturehouse

Picturehouse


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaftesbury

Shaftesbury


Words Jane Singer

Illustrations Natalka Talkowska


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colony

Colony


Words & Photography Robert Chilcott


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suzie Kennedy

Suzie Kennedy


Words Jason Holmes

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis


Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Picture

Picture


Words Kirk Truman

Photography John Carey


“We were welcomed by locals and other businesses with open arms and have felt part of a real community ever since. There is a charm to the area unlike most others in London.”

Now, I’m not one to pick favourites, but I must confess that my arm is somewhat bent when it comes to a certain modern European restaurant at 110 Great Portland Street. From an unforgettable à la carte menu to one of my favourite bars to sip carefully away at whiskey; some would regard this place as an emporium of upmarket British-European fare in a utilitarian-chic space with plastered walls. Though its founders prefer   the title Picture.

Picture opened its doors in 2013, founded by trio Tom Slegg, Alan Christie & Colin Kelly; restaurateurs with a diverse portfolio from front-of-house to fine dining. Front-of-house Tom who originated in Suffolk worked in restaurants in his home county from the age of 15. He moved to London in 2009 to work as a restaurant manager for the Michelin star rated Arbutus Restaurant Group. Chef Alan, originated from Aberdeen where he trained and worked. Moving to London in 2000, he worked at Putney Bridge Restaurant later working at Arbutus when it opened in 2006 where he became head chef in 2007. Chef Colin, originated from Tullamore, Ireland. He trained and worked in Dublin before moving to London in 2002. Colin worked at The Orrery restaurant before moving to Putney Bridge Restaurant then on to Arbutus Restaurant Group.

With the trio working within the same restaurant group (Arbutus) for a number of years, they shared a desire to begin their own venture. “We all got on well and had our own ambitions. It seemed the logical step to give it a go together and see what we could create. It has been a real bonus to have input from both front-of-house and the kitchen within the team” says Tom.

Location was first on the agenda for the trio, whose eyes were  initially drawn to the Soho neighbourhood. “Soho has such an amazing energy and has become a hub of fantastic restaurants. Unfortunately with that comes a price-tag that was above the budget of first time restaurateurs like ourselves!” says Tom. However they were swiftly drawn away from the Soho allure to the more exclusive postcode of Fitzrovia. “We loved the area. Fitzrovia and Great Portland Street has a lovely neighbourhood feel despite being so close to Oxford Street and all the hustle and bustle associated with it.” A site on Great Portland Street was soon suggested by an agent. It ticked all the boxes particularly  when it came to the size and feel. With the BBC and many other local businesses being so close by, they saw an opportunity which they knew would bring something new to the street.

Seeking to be in keeping with the area, the trio wanted to create a restaurant with a real neighbourhood feel. “Opening a restaurant in London today is tough – there is a concern that you need to be ‘on-trend’, that you need to ‘keep up or get forgotten’. We are all strong believers, however, that if you focus on serving the best food you can with genuinely warm hospitality you can’t go too far wrong. Our aim was to create an un-intimidating environment where people can have fun” says Tom. For some time, the owners were tossing and turning between names for the restaurant. Conclusively they decided on Picture a name evocative of the neighbourhood’s relationship with design and media.

Exquisite food and value for money embody the ethos behind the menu at Picture. From Pork cheek with kohlrabi, mustard seed and a Granny Smith apple to Hake brandade, brown shrimps, sea greens and sourdough croutons, the à la carte menu caters to a wide variety of tastes. The six course seasonal tasting menu (available at £39 per head) has proved particularly popular amongst regular diners and is a great way to sample all of their current dishes. “The food itself I suppose would be categorised as modern European. It is light and fresh and a lot of care is taken with the quality of the product coming in to the kitchen. The majority of our suppliers are London based but we also like to look a little further afield for produce that is really worth it. For example, the highest quality lamb from Elwy Valley in Wales has become a staple on our menu.” To add to the incredible menu and relaxed dining environment, Picture boasts a beautiful parquet-topped bar in a modern setting with a team of experienced bar tenders creating truly innovative cocktails.

Upon acquiring the site in 2013 the initial renovation took its toll on the overall budget. But welcomed entirely by locals and other businesses, Picture and its founding trio have felt part of a real community from the outset. “The area around us immediately seemed to be booming. When we opened we knew that we were taking a risk. Thankfully, we have seen other restaurants and bars arrive, adding a vibrancy to the area that can only mutually benefit our neighbours. We attract a lot of regular guests and are aware that this repeat business and word-of-mouth is what will keep us running successfully!” says Tom.

Picture, now an established part of Fitzrovia’s restaurant scene, always has an eye to improving their offerings and keeping their ideas fresh. The restaurant looks forward to many years ahead in the area and a potential expansion. “We are looking to open more restaurants in the future, and will probably stay as central as possible. There is no doubt however that we will always look at Fitzrovia as home.”

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.

Rose Blake

Rose Blake


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Catherine Hyland


“When I go to an exhibition I’m almost as interested in the people looking around as in the work itself. I keep a little sketchbook on me so I can remember day to day narratives that I see around me.”

Though I may not quite count myself as an artist, I would count myself an admirer of anybody courageous enough to pursue their creative endeavours deep into the trees. Rose Blake is such a person. Using her experience in editorial illustration, she leaps a giant step further into self-expression, freedom and fine art, bringing together a remarkable collection of new works in her first solo exhibition at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery.

As a youngster, Rose was born into and raised within a creative environment which progressively shaped her own desire for the arts and personal expression, namely illustration. “My mum and dad are both artists so I was really surrounded by it as a kid. Then I was lucky enough to have a few really inspiring art teachers at school (especially at sixth form), so it just went from there really” she says. The daughter of the renowned English pop artist Sir Peter Blake (creator of the infamous album sleeve art for the Beatles’Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Rose was soon to progress her interest in art and continue her family trend, studying Illustrator and Animation at Kingston University. During her time at Kingston Rose was awarded the D&AD Best New Blood Award. She followed this with an MA at the Royal College of Art. Soon after her studies, Rose began to complete commissions for papers such as The New York Times, The Telegraph & The BBC. “It was just the natural progression after I graduated. The more and more editorial stuff you do, the better your clients get!” she says, “When I first graduated I was mainly working on in-house business magazines illustrating boring articles about stocks and shares!”

In this debut, Rose has chosen to focus on the subject of vast museum-scapes. “I had made a few of these drawings previously, and when I showed them to Rebecca she was really into them, and we decided together that they would make a cool show” she says. In the series, Blake captures the busy hum of a gallery concourse and narrative of day-to-day lives. A couple exchanging flowers, children tottering along hand-in-hand with their parents, a droopy teddy is almost lost in the movement, and a yoga-loving bystander is entertained by a giddy cluster of school children with matching rucksacks; Blake’s series captivates the characteristics of the happenings in life that often go by unnoticed. “I’m really interested in observing people around me” she says, “when I go to an exhibition I’m almost as interested in the people looking around as in the work itself. I keep a little sketchbook on me so I can remember day-to-day narratives that I see around me.”

In her work, each digitally-designed character contributes to the rich narrative which the scene portrays, all with their own lives and personalities. And the art on the wall, which Blake hand-paints onto the image, breathes its own history. In a meta-artistic fashion her imagined museums become playful forums in which to redefine what is regarded as ‘exhibition-worthy’. “I decided to create these gallery scenes and make smaller scale work within them”she says, “its basically lots of shows within a show.” Illustration as art is affirmed, and truly celebrated.

A few years ago, Rose first came to meet gallerist Rebecca Hossack at an opening. Soon after the two first met, they arranged a meeting to discuss Rose’s work, following which Rebecca & Rose began to make preparations for an exhibition. “I’m not really used to exhibiting my work in galleries” explains Rose, “my work is normally for print/editorial so now it feels really exposed to me.” The exhibition, aptly entitled ‘Now I Am An Artist’, takes its title from the nature of Blake’s tentative debut show, being somewhat nervous in having her first solo exhibition.

In putting together the exhibition, Rose’s illustration commissions were on hold for a month, though now she is back to work. “I’ve got a few things lined up. I’m doing a little collaboration with Heals, and I’m working on two book proposals, a children’s book and a cook book!”says Rose. There is also talk of exhibiting her work at the Mott Street Rebecca Hossack Gallery in New York in the coming year, an exhibition that Rose expresses having many more ideas for. “I’d love to be able to keep a balance of doing illustration work and making work for shows. It’s nice to have the contrast of really quick paced editorials, while being able to work a lot more freely on my exhibition work. I’ve had so much fun making the work for this one!”

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.

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.

The Rag Trade

The Rag Trade


Words Gordon Ritchie

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


In Fitzrovia, behind Oxford Street, boxed in by Regent Street, New Cavendish Street and Berners Street lays London’s very own Garment District. Anyone who has spent time on these streets, just one block behind one of the busiest shopping streets in the world, would have seen signs reading “Sample Sale,” “not open to the public,” “trade only.” This is where the stores go shopping. Straight out of Fitzrovia, the garments head to shops around the UK and even further afield.

The world of wholesale: where the buyers buy, secret undercover operations where mainstream trends, fashions and styles spring forward. Around Eastcastle Street, Great Titchfield Street and Margaret Street, behind closed doors, up on First floors, commercial creativity is in future thinking mode. Deciding what you’re going to want to wear before you’ve even thought of it. Before you even know you want it. It’s from these streets that brands, businesses and people have built reputations, and in some cases riches, in the Rag Trade. For how much longer though?

The Rag Trade is referenced in every article about property prices in the area, and the local industry used to extend much further towards Tottenham Court Road. In the Charlotte Street Hotel they have tailors’ dummies in every room. The area has fashion written in the stone walls, but is becoming increasingly fashionable. Galleries and coffee shops are moving in and opening at a rapid rate. Berners Street has big brand showrooms in number, but with The London Edition and Berners Tavern joining The Sanderson on the street, the new fashion set might well be edging out the old!

Kevin Stone worked for Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, who were both once based in the area, and has spent the last few years running his successful wholesale agency from a showroom based in Eastcastle Street. He has now taken the decision to move on. “It is becoming so expensive. I would stay if I could. The area is really accessible and business has been incredible.” The trade used to be a lot more visible, says Stone, “with the Cash and Carry places and Morplan, you used to bump into people in the street.”

Once upon a time the rattle of metal running rails on concrete and tarmac would ring through the area as hundreds of cellophane-wrapped clothes on hangers would go from lorry to showroom to van, in and out as the constant hubbub and bustle of commerce took place on the pavements. Out of Fitzrovia, flew clothes destined for boutiques, not just in London or the South East, but to be shipped up and down the country and even to ports and docks to be loaded into containers, destined to be stowed or stacked on ships bound for Spain, sometimes Japan, even the Caribbean.

Morplan is the best known supplier of shop fitting equipment and fixtures. Bill Edwards is their CEO: “Our Business has grown up over the years, serving the rag trade which is why being situated in Great Titchfield Street has been key to us. Although the business started elsewhere, it changed direction and specialised in supplying the rag trade in 1894, when we moved to our current premises at 56 Great Titchfield Street. Most people in the rag trade know Morplan. In recent years we received the Royal Warrant from H.M the Queen. We supply her Dresser with specialised supplies.”

Giant Spanish Department Store chain, El Cortes Ingles, used to have a buying office stationed high up on the corner of Eastcastle Street and Great Titchfield Street, with an eagle eyed view over Market Place, and of course, in the South West corner of the area, the loading bays of Philip Greens monolithic temple to consumerism. Top Shop and Top Man consume the prime product through the back doors. In the past, they used to spit back. The cabbage, the dead ducks, the bits that didn’t sell pushed back out again, barrow boys waiting to snap anything they could get their hands on at rock bottom prices. Dyed and sold up the market, it still turned a pound, no matter what it sold for.

In the area, cash was king and some of those market traders would go on and open shops. Hand to mouth in the beginning, the Rag Trade in Fitzrovia eventually allowed them in and gave them a break. In the late eighties, author and film-maker, Mark Baxter was one of them. “I started walking down Eastcastle Street and Great Portland Street, and the stuff was just fantastic. It got us going. Some would deal with you and some wouldn’t. Jewish families, London families, Asian people, it was really mixed, every second shop. Some were quite hard-nosed business men and others were more open to negotiation, doing a deal. It was quite entertaining. There was one that had really good stuff, loads of samples, odds and sods, bits and pieces. One day, the guy just said to me, ‘we’ve got a room at the back here. Go and have a look at that.’ I was going through it and there was a button missing, or it was a bit grubby or needed a bit of sewing. I’ll have all that, I told them. You’d buy it for a pound or two quid each and knock it out for fifteen or twenty. The cabbage was stuffed in a black bag. There wasn’t a lot of glamour to it. People don’t really think about where this stuff comes from, they just buy it.”

For those involved in other industries and businesses, there have always been perks to working among the merchants of Fitzrovia. In the pubs, coffee shops and snack bars around the area, office girls and receptionists would keep their ear to the ground for the next sample sale, when the showrooms sold off at even cheaper prices, the pieces they had been tempting the boutique buyers, that had now ran out of steam, with were replaced by the next trend. Nowadays, they are more likely to be savvy software and new media darlings who get tipped off digitally when the locally based PR firms that represent cool and classic brands are selling off sample ranges in basements full of bargains.

So why are there not more stores in the area? “When everyone works in the trade, used to healthy discounts, no one wants to pay retail, but that is going to change soon,” says Kevin Stone. “I think the future is retail.” The area is in such close vicinity to the world’s prime retail properties that it is surprising it hasn’t happened before now. Reiss now dominates Market Place and there is no doubt more High Street chains will be breaking out into the back streets in the South West corner of Fitzrovia before long. Let’s hope that an area that has a real heritage and stories, that has remained out of sight but contributed to commerce and the look of the nation of shopkeepers, can keep small pockets of resistance alive and keep some of the character and characters that make it a unique hub of an industry that everyone is closer to than they realise.

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.

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.

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.