Britain used to be described as 'a nation of shopkeepers' but somewhere along the way this island of ours has lost its retail heart. I can honestly count the number of exciting London stores on one hand. However, the arrival of Anthem on Calvert Avenue has forced me to stretch out one more finger. Nestled nicely in to this area of East London and within a short walking distance from Present and the recently moved 3939, the store opened its doors at the end of August to widespread acclaim. Always preferring to let a store settle before making the first excited trip down, I finally visited the last week. Entering with high expectations, I left anything but disappointed. Occupying a space once home to a bookies, now, with its rug scattered concrete floor, bare brick walls and eclectic artworks not forgetting its mix of covetable design talent, it has been totally transformed in to a truly new independent store.
Anthem is the brainchild of Simon Spiteri, the award-winning fashion buyer credited with launching Liberty’s internationally renowned menswear department over seven years ago and his business partner Jeremy Baron. The shared vision for Anthem is one based firmly on handpicked quality from across the globe. As both were working behind the counter, it was an absolute pleasure to be talked through the store's offering by the men themselves. "I've just always wanted to open a shop basically. Of course, I set up the menswear department at Liberty which was really interesting to me because at the beginning I had creative control and could bring on all of the brands that I loved. This is a chance to do it again but make it that bit more pure." This time round it is all about working with nice people and trying to find the best product that they can.
The moment you walk through the door and look around the welcoming space, it is clear that Anthem is not concerned with fashion but instead focusses on style. Spiteri was keen to mix established and lesser known international brands whilst introducing some of the great stuff that he's seen in Japan, to form one coherent look. For its first season this sees the likes of established international labels including Marni, Our Legacy and Comme des Garcons Homme Plus sitting next to emerging U.S. brands such as Save Khaki, Hillside and Raleigh Denim, alongside local stalwarts Folk and Oliver Spencer and not forgetting the odd vintage find. It is an eclectic mix but everything sits effortlessly next to one another. "It doesn't matter if it is exclusive or not, the focus is on having great stuff that people want to wear. I think it works. I can't think of another store in the world that has Marni sitting next to Coasels, Rag and Bone and Folk." Neither can I.
As we walk through the store Spiteri points out a mannequin and excitedly describes its ensemble. "Rag and Bone top with a Comme Homme Plus peacoat and then a pair of Raleigh selvedge denim jeans. It all just looks so nice." It is a natural, simple look and one of many possibilities to be found throughout the store. In fact, it echoes any well dressed man's wardrobe. It is a little bit of this, a little of that, at various price points whilst it all makes sense together. For Spirteri and Baron, it is important to remove any intimidation from shopping. "The shop is meant to be relaxed yet of course it is still curated. I want people to touch the garments, texture is so important for this season and people have been coming in and picking everything up. Customers have really engaged with the product and the whole space for that matter which has been great."
It should be noted that the entire space, fixtures, fittings and all are all up for sale. "I've been collecting things for many years, so a lot of the items scattered throughout the store are things I've picked up over the years. We've already sold a rug and one of the rails who were put together by Anthony Gormley's welder" Spiteri proudly reveals. From a picture he picked up in Mexico City, vases brought back from Denmark and handmade rugs from Turkmenistan, everything has a story behind it and indeed a price. The store is carefully curated and just oozes personality. Now, I could wax lyrical about the store but I'd only bore you, the best way to get a feel of the place is to explore it. Anthem is a store to get lost in. It affords discoveries at every turn and below are a few of the items that caught my eye...
Anthem is a shop to get lost in, many hours could be spent discovering labels and unearthing gems from Spiteri's travels.
With its solid backbone of brands, Spiteri hopes the store will grow slowly and steadily. "I'm hoping that the product we currently have gives a flavour of where we are going with Anthem." It undoubtedly does and I'm sold already. I would happily move in to Anthem and I'm as excited as the duo themselves regarding the future. Next season's brand list is heart racingly good. "We've got Dries Van Noten, 45rpm, Barena Venezia, Nike NSW and all these other amazing things. At the end of the day we just want to sell amazing things." It sound so simple but it is anything but.
The store on Calvert Avenue is certainly important to the duo. It is Anthem's showroom after all but the pair are already in the process of launching a website. The great difficulty for them is ensuring that there is a flavour of what they have in the physical store online. "We've spoken to so many people with regards to its design and the whole process has been frustrating because it seems all that people want to offer is a white background. A white background works well for someone like Mr Porter but it really isn't us. There is not any warmth with a white background. The argument is that it allows the product to breathe but it just homogenises everything. Aside from a bit more personality and great product shots I want it to be as simple as possible for users to buy product. I love the idea of curating an outfit in much the same way as we do in store." I'm backing Anthem to pull it off.