Now that the lovely Elle has started this blog, it is about time for me to introduce myself too and share a little story with you.
Six years ago this week I picked up the keys to a sludgy green, run down building on the corner of a quiet North London street in Primrose Hill. This once elegant building had spent over 100 years as a grocers, the 1970s as a party shop, a recording studio for Kylie and Take That in the 1990’s and finally an empty and derelict set of offices. Hardly the stuff of dreams eh?
Here it is, isn’t it a beauty?
Well, I did have dreams, or grand plans more like. My name is Rachel and I am the creator of Shikasuki. I had been thinking about “my shop” for many years, which is strange, because if you had met me and asked me what plans I had for my life it wouldn’t even have hit the short list…it was just a thing that bubbled along in the background, quietly un-noticed.
I had always been a artist, from as soon as I could get my chubby little 2 year old fingers around a crayon….but I also had an overwhelming passion for history, something that could be as massive as the great castles of Edward 1, down to the broken detritus of Victorian life that I dug up in my 1970s South London back garden. Then I turned 11 and suddenly there was nothing more important than the clothes that I wore and my desire for those clothes NEVER to be boring, or the same as anyone else’s….
So, where is all this going and how does it end up on that quiet corner of Primrose Hill in the Autumn of 2004?
Well, I guess that green rundown shop was to be the culmination of all the above and what the intervening years had to throw at me. By 18 I was still torn between my 3 passions; art, history and fashion….which one…which one? I would ask myself over and over. Well, I couldn’t choose, so I decided to study one after the other and see where it took me. Art managed to ensconce itself firmly at the top of the list, so off I went to Central St Martins. Five years later I left Newcastle University with a degree in Fine Art under my arm. Roll on degree number two then? Well, no…..that is where the plan ended. Behind all this there is another story, that of my health, which had been gradually leaving me from the age of 17 and by the time I got my last train back from Newcastle to Kings Cross in 1993, had finally left. All plans and dreams were put carefully in boxes up on the shelf for later……all except these random thoughts of how “my shop” would be…that kept jumping off the shelf without my noticing….
By 2004 I realised that “later’ was never coming. Waiting to “get better” had gone on too long. So I looked on that shelf and saw that over the years those 3 separate boxes had melded into one and I had been doing the melding all the time….they had become “my shop” years ago.
So there I was, standing on that corner, keys in my hand and such a clear vision in my head, formed steadily over the last 10 years. Art, fashion, history, art, fashion, history, art, fashion etc etc…you get the picture. So when I thought of art did I think of the high brow conceptual hoo-ha of the era? No….I though of art with beauty, warmth and humour; art that people actually wanted to spend their hard earned money on and live with in their homes. When I thought of fashion was it the latest “it” dress swinging from the rails of Selfridges and Harvey Nicks? No, it was the exquisite vintage treasures I had wardrobes (and my brother’s garage…yes honestly!) full of; those that inspired the contemporary trends. A consuming passion since the day, in 1981, that my mum cast out the 1970’s from her wardrobe and I grabbed the stunning original 1930’s crepe and satin dresses and hung them reverently in mine! And when I though of history did it have to be the pyramids in Giza, or the Hypogeum in Malta? No, it was the beautiful ephemeral detritus of the everyday lives of women… the things that are closest to them… what they wear! (Think of any important moment in your life…now I defy you not to remember what you were wearing. See?)
All these ideas and thoughts had come together and very firmly recreated themselves as shikasuki.
This was to be a shop of four shops; Shikasuki Vintage, Shikasuki Gallery, Shikasuki House and Shikasuki Wardrobe (watch this space for that one…it’s exciting!) A completely new idea. Would it work? Would people understand? Would they like it? Well, there was only one way to find out….
So, we’re back to that autumnal street corner…again! Did I open the door to a beautiful sparkling palace…um no. There was a long way to go. But a vintage shop back then, that doesn’t need much work I hear you say? Some black rails and a few old rugs, maybe a frock or two hung up on the wall and a curtained over corner to try things on in? No? No chance, not this one!
Shikasuki wasn’t just a shop, it was an idea. A new idea. It was white, WHITE; a sparkling white box of an idea. A clean, bright, shiny, modern, dazzling white box. White floors. White walls. But not just any white walls, shiny white plastic from floor to ceiling! And a mirror? Yes let’s have a mirror…but let’s cover the whole of the back wall from left to right and from floor to ceiling to reflect all that sparkling white and you in your beautiful Shikasuki dress and jewels, now twirl…. et voila…you have Shikasuki!
This was going to be as far from a “rummagy vintage shop” as I could possibly get on the oh-so-small budget. It was a vintage clothing boutique, a gallery and lifestyle shop. Yes, all together, with the clothes displayed as carefully and thoughtfully as the art.
Just because an item is vintage does not mean you should treat it with less respect than the latest designer offerings. In my world you treat it better. Just because it is vintage does not mean you have to put it back in its era; that time is gone, it’s the past. To quote L.P.Hartley at the opening of The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” “Here, here”, I say, let’s be here and be now. It doesn’t matter what era it was from, what shoes it was worn with. The pieces I choose are timeless and effortless, mixing perfectly with a contemporary wardrobe. They shine out against this perfect white foil, this stark white box with their own presence, in all their colourful and dazzling glory. And oh what treasures they are…but more about them on another day….
Now this was a family affair (remember those years of horrible illness…well that hadn’t changed). My dad slaved away on the drill and the sandpaper (and now on the till every week….which makes a much nicer sound than the drill!), my uncle translated my to-the-millimetre scale drawings (yes I am a complete control freak) into the wonderful curved white ocean liner shelves. My sister-in-law laid the floor in the changing room, and my cousins went wound with brooms clearing it all up! Three months and sooooo much hard graft by everyone later, we had turned this:
Yes, that is me! I am severely camera shy and so make the most of it…these will probably the first and last you’ll ever see…am I joking?…um..no!
And yes, the changing room is black, shiny shiny jet black. Well, it just makes all that beautiful white whiter doesn’t it?
So did it work? Did people understand it? Did they like it?
Well yes, yes and yes! It took some adjusting to, people would pause as they came in. Suddenly they didn’t understand what they thought they had understood so well. Things shifted a bit, their eyes had to wander up and down and round and round. Breaths were taken slowly, questions were asked carefully…
“But it doesn’t look used… are you sure it’s vintage?”
“Yes, it’s just in perfect condition”.
“But it’s exactly this season, are you sure it’s vintage?
“Yes, it’s perfect editing and selection”.
“Oh……..So what’s downstairs?”
……tap tap of footsteps on the stairs…….pause….…SQUEEAAAL!!!!
I think they like it?
It’s such fun counting to 5 and waiting for that squeal. It still comes all these years later, every time a new friend arrives for the first time.
So what has changed over the last 6 years? Some of the interior has changed slightly. At first we sold menswear, oh such chic menswear, but after a couple of years we sacrificed the boys…sorry boys…but the girls just had greater clothing needs and the space was too precious. The boys have had a bit of a rough deal to be honest. We had a “boyfriend corner” in every room. A comfy chair and boy-friendly magazines to while away those long trying-on-and-then-trying-on-and-on-and-on-and-then-trying-on-the first-thing-again-and-buying-that hours. We still have the famous curvy white plastic banquette upstairs though, upon which many a boyf still whiles away a relaxing hour, until he notices the Engineer Pub through the glass and mutters as he quickly disappears “….back soon, tell her I’m…..”
The ethos of the shop? No change there. Still showing the best of the best in all it’s glory, set off against the timeless and now infamous white box. Over the years we have introduced new products. A truly huge unique collection of cards…all images of our vintage gems and tongue in cheek nonsense. “Cute-as” mugs and a dinner service depicting images from my “woman and home” series of paintings…and there’s so much more to come I couldn’t even begin to tell you about it all here. I am still as much of a control freak over what goes IN the shop as I was about my shelves being correct to the millimetre. I won’t ever change…and I don’t think I should. It’s good to want perfection, to work hard to achieve it, so that my customer knows what they are getting and can carry that shikasuki bag home with confidence… (or very soon order it online with shikasuki.com… sooo exciting!!!)
And that quiet street corner? Well it has a glowing white box on the corner and it’s not so quiet now… the most delicious grocers, Melrose and Morgan is right opposite, Sardos restaurant on the little path slipping elegantly down to the Regent’s Canal and the famous Primrose Bakery is next door. The Engineer on the other side gets busier and busier… you’d better book that table in the garden in advance this summer… you’ll need a rest and a long cool drink after all the time you’ve spent playing at Shikasuki!
Here’s the outside today:
And finally do they like it? Well here’s what the people say:
“Rachel, the shop owner, has an incredible eye for fashion as a total work of art”
Matthew in Shikasuki.
“I love it at Shikasuki. Great selection of fun wearable vintage and quirky jewellery. Brilliant collection of very desirable Ossie Clark”
“…you need a good few hours to do this vintage shop justice. I’ve found beautiful Ossie Clark Pieces, amazing handbags and perfect one-off party dresses.”
Sadie Frost and Jemima French
“A fabulous vintage store in Primrose Hill. It’s like a treasure trove, perfect for discovering handbags and pieces of jewellery that nobody else will have. With the most stylish of dresses and a gallery of fine art, prints and glass-work it’s impossible to leave empty handed.”
“An enchanting shop filled with pristine vintage finds, including remarkable well-preserved Ossie Clark originals. Thoughtfully curated charm”
The Vintage Guide to London
“Primrose Hill vintage boutique Shikasuki has been hailed one of the capital’s best vintage shops. And rightfully so. The careful selection of vintage womenswear and accessories is second to none…”
Time Out shopping Guide 2007
“..Shikasuki.. the best vintage shop for accessories.”
Time Out shopping Guide 2009
“Could this be the perfect vintage shop…?”