On My Soap Box

Words by: Andrew Williams

Thanks to a spot on article in this week’s London Evening Standard I’ve joined a couple of protest groups.

For the many readers who live outside London, you might not be familiar with the area known as Portobello. The largest open air antiques market in the world, for the sartorially inclined it is a treasure-trove of second-hand fountains pens, cuff links, tie bars, watches and vintage clothing. The street market that stretches from Ladbroke Grove to Notting Hill is a cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells. Portobello provides not only the above but freshly prepared foods from the mundane to the exotic. It’s also home to some great independent retailers, Adam of London being my favourite.

Sadly this is all under threat. Recently an AllSaints store opened on the street, and in order to accommodate its 15,000sqft – the length of seven shop fronts – over 150 independent antique dealers were evicted from what was formally Lipka’s Antiques Arcade. You may think; how is one store a threat?

What retailers see is footfall. What they fail to understand is that the reason people like me go there is precisely because they’re not there. The arrival of this soulless dross palace will give heart to all the other rapacious chain retailers, landlords and property speculators who see this wonderful area as underdeveloped and ripe for exploitation.

What is happening in Portobello is happening in many of London’s unique retail areas – a sort of retail equivalent of acne. Bates Hats and Barons of Piccadilly, a favourite independent gents retailer of mine and fellow columnist Winston Chesterfield, are both victims of redevelopment of buildings on Jermyn Street. While Bates has secured space in Hilditch & Key it won’t be the same. Sadly Barons is going out of business all together. And as good as TM Lewin, Charles Tyrwhitt and Hawes & Curtis are at supplying cheap shirting, they’re not shirt makers as Cary Grant or the Duke of Windsor would have recognised them. How long before Jermyn Street is just any other?

If you saw the BBC’s four part series on Savile Row you’ll have seen the tailors work rooms being moved from top floors into basements to make room for hedge fund managers; and the arrival of Abercrombie & Fitch on the Row indicative of commercial interests coming before character, variety and quality.

It is often said of the English that we are incapable of appreciating what we have.