There’s an awful show on British daytime television called Location Location Location. It’s about people wanting to move houses and asking Kirstie and Phil to help them find their dream home.
It’s a telly-leftover from the pre-recession property boom when real people actually could afford to buy houses. Still, it beats the other shows on around the same time: Antiques Roadshow and Cash in the Attic.
I mention the show because, even though it’s shit, it’s got at least one thing right. It is all about location, of course it is. Whatever it is the place of something matters, whether it’s your house, gym, supermarket or favourite store. But the thing about location, as with everything else in life, is that it’s a subjective matter. What is a good location for a store, for example? Well, traditionally high street stores can be found on the likes of Oxford Street and Regent Street while luxury houses flock on either Bond Street or Sloane Street. So far, so boring.
Small independent multi-brand stores have always had it easier; they could, and can, open in Soho, King’s Cross or Shoreditch, and if there’s a slight quirk to the store then that tend to make it even easier in terms of setting out an agenda and highlighting an identity. But, and this is where I go all nostalgic on you yet again, it was all better in the olden golden days. What shop owners used to do to themselves by opting for oddball locations is pretty incredible… And maybe it didn’t work out, hence today’s middle of the road attitude.
Look at stores like Pineal Eye and Vexed Generation. And, for that matter, the original Oki-ni store. These were all in Soho, except for Oki-ni which was on Savile Row, in itself a recognised shopping store but Oki-ni was a) very different from the bespoke tailors on the street and b) at the other end of the street, in what later became B Store for a while. And Oki-ni was not only exceptional because of its location but also due to what it sold. Back in the early 00s it helped pioneer collaborations, and I remember looking around the store in awe, taking in the exclusive clothing on display and the conceptual interiors. It was unheard of, and Oki-ni was truly a trailblazer in that sense.
Over in Soho the situation was even more mental: Pineal Eye, which retailed Raf, Dior, Bernhard, Noki and lots of other new/weird Japanese brands, was literally hidden, but in plain sight at the same time. It was a shop front on Berwick Street where they had taken out the flooring on ground floor. Obviously there were no signs on the door, so you could stare through the shop windows and miss it unless you looked way down and spotted the sparse rails. It was an eye-opener in how to be seen while not attracting too much attention. Shop was a tiny basement space on Brewer Street, very close to Wardour Street. You had to squeeze yourself down the spiral stairs and hope you were the only one down there to browse Hysteric Glamour and X-Girls, that’s how small the space was. Back up to street level again and on to Berwick Street, make a right down a dark alleyway and up yet another spiral staircase and you were in the Vexed Generation store. The shady location made sense: their signature fleece hoodie could be pulled up to cover most of your face, perfect for demonstrating anarchists.
Over at Bruton Place, around the corner from their current store, Maison Margiela opened up their first London shop in 2004. Before Margiela moved in the building had been a barn, a brothel, the studios and galleries of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. It was an impressive move by an established Parisian fashion house and one that they, apparently, came to regret as they moved to the more commercially driven Bruton Street a while later, sitting next to the likes of Brioni and Diane Von Furstenberg, yay!
There are lots more examples (Slam City Skate in Covent Garden was another one, hidden in a courtyard and guarded by the fierce smell of cheese Neal’s Yard Dairy) as these are just the ones that popped into my head while Location Location Location was on in the background. I suppose I miss that, and perhaps I wonder if there’s a need for an equivalent scenario in today’s E-commerce world, a sort of Dark Web for fashion retailers on the Web. Maybe there’s a password to get in. I’m joking, but part of the charm back then was that you had to fight to find it, it took some effort on your part but when you eventually got there you were rewarded for your hard work with limited edition Raf and dead stock Dior. Basically I rather mill around Mayfair for an hour looking for an elusive basement shop store than queue outside Supreme for even 10 minutes. Retail is detail, let’s make it great again.
Words: David Hellqvist