A proper artist materials shop

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about a proper artists materials shop. The smell, the rustle of paper, an exciting array of pens, graphite, crayon and a kaleidoscopic array of inks  all rub shoulders with each other, cheek by jowl with mysterious substances. Then there’s the smell…but don’t get me started!

Sadly, there’s not so many of them about these days, certainly outside of London you’d struggle to find one. Back in the day when I was a student there was handful, even in a city like Leeds. Dinsdales was my favourite but of course the rise of online retail and the march of technology in art and design has put paid to the physicality of the artists’ mecca.

In London however, it’s a different story even in 2014. In Clerkenwell where I work I discovered an exquisite store selling all manner of artists materials. Stuart R Stevenson, Artist and Guilding materials is right on Clerkenwell Road and is a real treasure trove. My fleeting visit for sign writer’s paint and sponges was too short but I’ll definitely return for a more leisurely mooch.  This brief visit recently yielded much joy and return visits will deliver much the same I think.

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Plectrum by Ben Sherman

I was recently invited to the opening of a smart new store in Leeds.

And it’s a brand that I wouldn’t have associated with cachet if I’m completely honest. Ben Sherman for me is forever associated with mod culture and mainstream uncoolness (and I do accept my age has something to do with this).

But fashion is fickle and as quickly fads take hold, then labels of the moment fade and I guess it goes with the territory. So the brands that seize the moment are the most successful and enduring brands are fleet of foot, continually reinventing.

I’d say that Ben Sherman is in the latter category. Aligning itself with the niche, boutique Hip Store in Leeds to launch it’s concept ‘Plectrum’ – the name taken from their logo device –  it’s small but beautifully formed store has two collections on two floors for men. The ground floor has the high end but well priced Plectrum collection and the first floor has their  Paul Smith Jeans equivalent (I’m sure they’ll hate me for that). This brand is being sold elsewhere in high-end department store, but this is the first stand-alone store outside London.

This new collection is very cool and of the moment – tweeds, knitwear, coloured twill, earthy colours, suede boots and skinny ties. Well priced too and I think it will do well in the highly competitive Leeds fashion market.

The event itself was very well put together with beers and cocktails in the arcade and old fashioned shaves in the store (no, I have no idea why, either). There were plenty of male beards on show too, illustrating clearly how prevalent the hirsute fashion has become. I cursed my reluctant stubble and admired the extravagant whiskers on show.

I think Plectrum by Ben Sherman is a lovely little shop, well curated with a considered collection. But it faces stiff competition across the board from the high end brands to the (very good) high street stores. What it does have on it side is that Leeds does like independent stores and they certainly add to the retail story of the city. I do hope that the brand is here for the long haul, because I think we need brands like this. What we also know in this city that stores like these do take time to bed in and get the offering right, but the early signs are good, patience is the watchword.

In the meantime, here’s another beard.