Cult Shop: the Soho bookshop that helps creatives keep their cool
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Wedged between the Soho outpost of Banana Tree and Bar Bruno on London’s Wardour Street is an unremarkable-looking black door and a buzzer reading, simply, “Idea”. Despite the inauspicious exterior, its threshold has been crossed by everyone from Kanye West to Calvin Klein. It’s the place they come, as the buzzer signals, for ideas.
Set up by husband-and-wife duo David Owen and Angela Hill in 2009, the second-floor space is home to an appointment-only bookshop that deals in rare and vintage art, fashion and photography books. It was their daughter, Iris, who came up with “Idea” – sequencing the initials of each of their names: her own, David, her sister Edith, and Angela. “It is a one-word descriptor of what we do,” says Owen. “We like books, but we don’t love the bindings – we’re not book people like that. We like the ideas in them.”
These titles, which they source on trips to Japan, Paris, New York, LA and Amsterdam, vary from the kitsch (a 1983 cookery manual titled How to Garnish, £65) to the freaky (a 1980 book of staged photos of boy-mannequins at summer camp, £195) and the zany (a Kate Bush Biography, £50, which documents her childhood penchant for holding séances and “one unsuccessful attempt to levitate Sarah Brennan”). But there is also a full range of titles on style, such as Houses Architects Design For Themselves (£95) from 1974, an influential Homme Comme des Garçons catalogue from the ’80s (£250) or Joel D Levinson’s Fleamarkets (£180), a photographic study of US thrift shoppers in the 1970s and 1980s, which is “super-cool and super-sweet”, says Hill.
Hill and Owen are not only curators but publishers, commissioning around 10 titles a year. Some are new editions of cult series, for example Glen Luchford’s chronicle of Prada between the years 1996-98 (£95), while others are original commissions, such as Nadia Lee Cohen’s character study Hello My Name Is (£70). “The truth is,” says Owen, “you can reduce what we do – and certainly what we publish – down to a clumsy phrase: people looking cool. That’s quite a powerful thing to be working with.” They also do a sideline in merch: their logo hats and T-shirts have been worn by Kim Kardashian (“Plant seeds”) and Justin Bieber (“Winona”).
What started as a stand in Dover Street Market (where they still stock a curation of books) is now a private and personalised shopping experience. Design teams of fashion brands (“can’t name them”) load in for afternoons of browsing – “but obviously they don’t want to be in here at the same time as ‘blah blah’, so we do an appointment system”, says Hill. Calvin Klein asked for a book on minimalism, recalls Hill: “I looked at him and I went, ‘You invented minimalism’!” And Dior Men’s and Fendi artistic director Kim Jones has been a dedicated customer for years. “They have the best reference books in the world,” says Jones, whose favourite purchase was a set of Le Palace titles, published throughout the ’70s and ’80s when the Parisian nightclub produced a magazine. When asked if he uses Idea as inspiration, he answers “always”, before adding: “They know my taste.”
The music clientele includes Elton John and Rita Ora. Kanye sent his security round to sweep the shop first. “Of course, he was super-sweet when he came in,” adds Hill. “I made him an espresso and he had his feet up on the table.” He left with the 1978 Sneaker Catalog, and still buys regularly online.
A recent release is Idea’s first novel, Best Seller, written by Owen, which follows a regional department store floor manager through dull days enlivened by imagined conversations with Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. If it is anything as successful as the sell-out Winona caps, they’re all set.
Idea, 101 Wardour Street, London W1