When I had just turned 13, my mother took me and my sister on a trip to London for the first time. What made this journey so magical, apart from the bustle and excitement of the big city, was entering the doors of Barbara Hulanicki's Biba store. From its elegant black and gold art deco logo to its amazing layout and stunning fashions, Biba bowled me over.
The New York Dolls were performing that night in the Rainbow Rooms at the top of the shop. The food court was full of exotic delights I'd never heard of and my mum treated me to an apple strudel, with its deep apple and raisin filling sprinkled with cinamon and covered in in spiral pastry.
I got my first man bag and a trendy vest and I felt like a million dollars. I imagined I was Marc Bolan, and I counted the minutes I could escape dull Whitely Bay to live in this electric city, somewhere I felt for the first time that I truly belonged.
I did move to London and have had many adventures along the way. But there have been very few shops that gave me the buzz that Biba did all those years ago. Much as I love shopping, these days the excitement is sadly lacking, as chain stores take over our high streets with their dull product ranges and uniform window displays. Everything looks the same, although there are some exceptions, of course, such as the Harrods food hall.
But now I've discovered a fashion store that gives me the same thrill I experienced when I entered Biba as a teenager.
A few weeks ago, I was told that I would be modelling at the Ideal Home Christmas Show and needed to be fitted at the Thomas Farthing http://www.thomasfarthing.co.uk/ store in Museum Street, right by the British Museum. So one chilly autumn evening, fellow model Frankie Holloway and I took ourselves off to Bloomsbury.
Entering Thomas Farthing is like going back in time to a more elegant era. From the penny farthing leaning against the shop window to the classy Edwardian interior, it has a magical feel, like entering the dream kingdom of Narnia and a world away from the depressing chain store experience.
It's packed full of delights for the stylish man and has some lovely touches, from the quirky duck decked out in a bow-tie to a set of battered luggage you imagine might have accompanied a young man about town on his grand tour of Europe in a bygone century.
Frankie and I couldn't wait to try on their amazing and unique designs, which are hand made to the highest quality and finish.
Run by Adam Skyner and his stunning fiancee, Jenna Louise Hardy, the shop has been open for a year. Judging by the eclectic clientele, including tourists seeking the Downton Abbey look, it's going to be a huge success.
Jenna and Adam have a skilful eye and quickly dressed Frankie in a style that I can only describe as Downton Abbey meets Al Capone - the only thing missing was the violin case! But he looked amazing and loved the style.
|Frankie Holloway http://www.thomasfarthing.co.uk|
It was my turn next and, being a 17 1/2 inch neck and 48 inch jacket, I am always a little nervous that I'll look like a bulky bear if I have too many layers. That's just how I felt on our first attempt at a fantastic winter tweed suit, but Jenna quickly jumped in as she realised I needed a more tailored look. She produced the most wonderful coat and Adam grabbed a shirt that fitted like a glove. It all came together and I just loved the finished look, which was topped off with a red bowler hat.
Adam came from Stumper & Fielding in Portobello Road and he and Jenna clearly have a passion for what they do. Jenna even showed me how to wear my waistcoat with the last button undone, the traditional way it would have been worn by an Edwardian gentleman.
Needless to say, when we modelled Thomas Farthing's clothes at the Christmas Ideal Home Exhibition for Angel Sinclair's Models of Diversity http://www.modelsofdiversity.org/ the outfits had the audience applauding.