Shopping Blocks

These under-the-radar neighborhoods are quickly becoming go-to destinations for savvy urban shoppers.

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Merchant Archive

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Fast issue 01/15/2009
With its pastel pink mews houses, quaint markets and cobbled streets, Notting Hill attracts throngs of London tourists. But there’s more to Notting Hill than the travel guides’ trail and movie locations. A clutch of edgy retailers have lighted on the fringes of the area—to the north and east of Portobello Road—to set up shop.

While the sprawling, gritty West London landscape might lack Notting Hill’s chocolate-box prettiness, retailers have been drawn by the unconventional shop spaces on offer, bigger shop floors and comparatively reasonable rents.

Sophie Merchant opened Merchant Archive (320 Kilburn Lane), a boutique carrying Victorian through to Forties vintage clothing and contemporary brands such as Zambesi and the denim label Double M, in late 2007. The 635-square-foot store is housed in a former Lipton general store, which features walls covered with Victorian porcelain tiles, high ceilings and uneven stone floors.

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All the vintage furniture that Merchant uses as fixtures and fittings, from Victorian wooden writing desks to Fifties Italian lamps, is also for sale. “[Notting Hill] had changed so much that anyone creative was either priced out or fed up with small dogs and huge sunglasses,” says Merchant, referring to the area’s chi-chi residents. Merchant says she prefers the eclectic mix that her store on Kilburn Lane—sandwiched between a launderette, post office and cafes—attracts. “One minute a black cab pulls up and it’s someone from a fashion house or a celebrity looking for something to wear, and then there’s the lady from [a local housing project] who pays 20 quid [or $29 at current exchange] a week off a Thirties gown she’s fallen in love with.”

Andrew Ibi, a fashion designer turned self-styled “shopkeeper,” opened his clothing boutique, The Convenience Store (1a Hazelwood Tower), in a former shoe-repair store in nearby Golborne Gardens, with similar intentions of embracing the neighborhood. “It was isolated, tucked away and local, but it had a community spirit,” says Ibi, sitting in front of one of the store’s huge windows, which looks out onto the Trellick Tower, a monolithic housing project designed by Ernö Goldfinger in the Sixties. The 450-square-foot store is also across the road from Rellik, the famed London vintage shop where Kate Moss bought her Vivienne Westwood pirate boots. Ibi’s store carries a small selection of pieces by designers including Rick Owens, Veronique Branquinho, Ann-Sofie Back and Clare Tough, displayed on spare wire racks against the store’s smooth gray concretelike walls. Ibi says he aims to let his customers know the story behind each of the designers rather than merchandising the store by trends. “I wanted to create a whole world for [the clothes] to sit in. It’s a mini fight back against the trend to shop in department stores, where the selection isn’t that interesting,” Ibi says, adding that the shop’s location means that there aren’t the same rental pressures as there would be in a central London store, so he can “support new designers.”

Sasha Bezovski, one of the owners of Kokon To Zai, a designer boutique with stores in Soho and Paris, says the company fell in love with “the eclectic vibe and faded grandeur” of its latest store at 84 Golborne Road, which carries its own label collection along with brands including Vivienne Westwood, Bernhard Willhelm and Raf Simons. Bezovski calls the area “a very nurturing spot when it comes to selling boutique brands that are oneoff…and offering the customer something different.” The store is housed in a former butcher’s shop, with original tiled walls, mosaic tiles on the floors and a changing room covered entirely with mirrors. And, while the three stores are all designed to appeal to a niche fashion audience, Ibi believes that, as the difficult economy forces shoppers to consider their purchases, consumers will be drawn to more “special” shopping experiences away from London’s thoroughfares. “People will buy things they love that are really special, but maybe not so many of them,” says Ibi. “It can be a good time for creativity.”
—Nina Jones

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