JamesPlumb’s Award Winning Shop Design

Putting aside the great intergalactic slug of the Future Systems Selfridges building in Birmingham, shop design in the UK is largely a humdrum affair. Except that is for Hostem the men’s and now women’s wear store in the much talked about Redchurch Street, in London’s fashionable Shoreditch – which stylistically is as far as you can get from Future Systems. Designed by husband-and-wife team James Russell and Hannah Plumb, now trading simply as JamesPlumb, Hostem was one of their early commissions, and has justifiably won widespread acclaim, including the top retail prize at the World Architecture Awards. They have since gone on to do a few more interiors in New York and London, as well ranges of lighting and also ‘assemblages’ of upcycled decrepit furniture.

The first time I came across this design duo was a few years ago at Liberty’s with Sampson, a dog fashioned from and old child’s toy on rollers with a light where it’s head should be. I never quite forgot about this curiosity but didn’t know who had made it. Now scruffy little Sampson and his makers have achieved a deserved fame and are all over the print and digital world. JamesPlumb prefer to describe their activity as ‘reappropriation’, rather than ‘upcycling’, in an effort I suspect to distance themselves from the hitherto downmarket associations of the latter. However, finding – as they do – true luxury to be located in the rich patina of reclaimed and upcycled materials, and also in scrupulous detailing, JamesPlumb are a perfect fit in the new and emerging upcycling economy. (See our editorial: From Upcycling Clothes To Upcycling Art – Rubbish And The New Upcycling Economy)

Launched five years ago by James Brown, Hostem’s corner building has been evolving. James gave a complete carte blanche to the designers for the ground and basement floors, that are high on atmosphere but low on space. It’s a credit however to the designers and their clever space planning that you never feel that it’s cramped or uncomfortable. The palette is muted and earthy in its homespun naturalness, and the whole is low lit by rows of simple filament bulbs dangling from knotted old cords. The experience feels as if you have arrived in a sparsely decorated 18th century household in which the house-proud if parsimonious owners have just finished scrubbing the old floors. Their inexpensive but treasured artefacts – that are few in number and small in scale – are carefully laid out for you to admire. Everything – the jute covered walls and tented ceilings, the reclaimed floors, the heavy linen curtains, and pieces of upcycled furniture – is soaked in patina and have all seen better days. Not a shred of pastiche is detectable though, as what comes through is the designers’ honest response to a formerly unremarkable old building. Though it is clearly unremarkable no longer.

To the rear of the shop is housed the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella concession, the space echoing the frescoed vaults of the brand’s 17th-century Florence origins. The hand-made and artisanal qualities of the ancient pharmacy that created Europe’s first colognes, chimes perfectly with Hostem’s defining image. Downstairs, Hostem’s clientele will find the Chalk Room, a basement level space for bespoke and custom tailoring, footwear, accessories and luggage, complete with some of JamesPlumb’s signature assemblages.

The second phase of the shop design upstairs is both a floor and a century away from the first. Climbing the stairs there really is a feeling of ascension, as you rise into the suddenly light-flooded  double height space with its range of windows and simple white plaster walls. You suddenly feel taller and lighter headed, as you then head for the mezzanine to admire the ironwork balustrade and jewellery-filled vitrines and herringbone steel parquet floors. The overwhelming feeling is of an airy artist’s atelier high above the Paris skyline in Montmartre, the kind of studio a young Cezanne may have wished for. Owner James Brown had a clear idea about the design of this space, and the result is a successful collaboration with JamesPlumb in producing a space capable of displaying both well-made artisanal clothes, jewellery, furniture and art.

Arts, Crafts and True Luxury

The mezzanine currently hosts a residency for the immensely talented Faye Toogood. Formerly a stylist at The World of Interiors, Faye is on a mission to rescue craft from the common preconception of it as representing third rate standards in terms of both concept and craftsmanship – despite the best efforts of the Crafts Council; the kind of village stall or hippie chic staple of hand-knitted socks and little wooden animals that we are all accustomed to expecting. The Toogood studio is a steaming hothouse of activity producing, ceramics, weaving and installations for the likes of Hermes and Alexander McQueen. For Hostem Faye has collaborated with her sister Erica on a new fashion venture, with a series of monochrome coats of exquisite styling, housed in a site-specific structure. The adventure is soon to continue with American Amy Revier who will be performing in store for one week with her traditional floor loom, painstakingly weaving fragments that will then be sewn into garments.

Everything about Hostem works very well. In the first place there’s James Brown’s masterful curation of hand worked clothes that challenges the utterly outmoded tradition of what constitutes ‘luxury’ in today’s world. (Read our editorial LUXURY: ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH? Well of course not, but get it while you can!) At long last visionary stores like Hostem are questioning whether ‘luxury’ is to be defined by the mass-produced, status oriented and polished to perfection, international sameness of the big labels; or by the quality of hand-made materials by artisanal production processes, whose rich and imperfect stories and unique detailing are proudly worn on their sleeve. Then there’s the discrete presence of the friendly and helpful staff that do not intimidate or hard sell you into something you really don’t want or need; all the more impressive given the intimacy of the space. Finally there’s an exceptionally good fit of both retail and design talent, in a seamless alignment of aesthetic values. The Hostem shop design experience lingers with you long after you have left and it won’t be long before you will want to return.

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