A Rare Vintage: Emporium, Greenwich
Wednesday 27 August 2008
Emporium is one of those shops that has the imprint of its owners’ personalities all over it. Step over the threshold and the first thing you notice are the soulful beats and jazz tunes playing in the background. Turn to your left, and seated behind the counter you’ll probably find Jonathan, easy going, casually dressed, most likely specks pitched atop of his head.
Whenever I’m in Greenwich I always make a point of going into Emporium. Unfortunately, up until our recent interview, I’d never had the pleasure of a proper chat with Jonathan Hale. Who’s he? The man who has owned and run Emporium for the last twenty five years, along with his wife Jacquelyn.
Just the Facts
A complete range of high quality vintage clothing for men and women from a wide range of eras at reasonable prices. Items change seasonally but all in excellent condition; many items having never been worn. Run by a husband and wife team, Emporium attracts costume designers and stylists from stage and screen, an institution amongst fashion designers and has helped source clothing for bands.
Who You’ll Meet:
Jonathan Hale (owner) and his wife Jacquelyn Cook
Shirts, Tailored Suits and Jackets, Waistcoats, Casual Trousers and Vintage Jeans, Dinner Suits, Coats, Rain Macs, Hats, Ties and accessories. They will source specific items for individual customers as well as commercial jobs.
£40-45 for jackets, £75 for suits sometimes more if it’s Savile Row, £20 for cufflinks
330-332 Greek Road, Greenwich, London SE10; Tel: 0208 305 1670; e-mail email@example.com
Monday to Saturday 10:30am -6pm
One of the great pleasures of writing these articles is the people you meet. Sadly I didn’t get to meet Jacquelyn, but Jonathan is about as sound a guy as you could ever wish to meet. I found his philosophy very much in keeping with my own. What’s more he’s an enthusiast. Emporium was born in the early 80’s out of a sense that fashion had reached a particularly low ebb. Jonathan and his wife were already into vintage clothes and had frequently visited the US, where the whole vintage trade was well established; it was enough to convince them that they should set up their own business.
Curiously it’s his wife, Jacquelyn, who has the background in clothing -nearly 40 years worth in fact. Jonathan is actually a trained engineer, which when you talk to him about the clothes he stocks, makes a lot more sense than you might think; “All our stuff is hand selected and we buy by our eye. We look at things that are very good quality, have an interesting design. We like things with a nice cut, good fabric, good shape, well made, just something that excites us. We’re really interested in good tailoring –good British tailoring- it’s good tailoring that defines the man’s form. It’s a dying art”.
And it’s his enthusiasm, easy going nature and engineers eye that shines through, and makes Emporium a useful shop to know about, as well as a pleasurable experience in itself. Take, for example, this orange check, 1970’s Italian sports jacket. Jonathan was particularly animated about the tailoring; “Tailoring costs money. I hate going in these shops and they have expensive suits on the racks, and they have no shape, no tailoring. They’re just stitched, they’re not tailored. Now, a lot of the companies out there they want a garment that looks ok on the rack, and within a short period of time, one month two months, it starts to look shabby, it starts to fall apart. They want you back the next season. It’s not good business [for them] for their garments to last”.
Now, there are various places to get vintage clothing in London, Old Hat (suits and coats), Classic Crazy Clothing in Portobello (anything and everything but predominantly women’s wear) as well as Portobello and Greenwich Markets. Emporium, however, stands out for various reasons.
Firstly, the quality of the clothes on offer at Emporium is excellent. Whatever the virtues of those other places, it’s still a matter of ‘Caveat emptor’ -buyer beware. You have to be on the look out for moth holes, stains, snags and the like. They can also have the air of a glorified flee market. Emporium is most definitely a cut above all that. To begin with, everything is ordered into useful sections, hung up properly, in short the clothes are treated with real respect. As Jonathan explained to me; “Even though it’s aged it doesn’t mean it will have holes in it, or be woofy, or anything like that. We might look at 50 things and buy one thing, because we like our stuff to be in perfect condition; if it’s not dead stock [never been worn] it’s been used slightly, and it will have been dry cleaned or laundered”.
The full Monty
Emporium also carries a full range of kit, and unlike most of the vintage places around, it doesn’t relegate men to a few racks at the back of the store. But then this was a very deliberate policy on the part of Jonathan and his wife: “Women have always had more clothing than men. Have three wardrobes in the house, and the woman has two, two and a half, and the man has his half. We went the other way, we probably have a little more men’s wear, which is harder to get”.
So what are we talking about? Well, there are the finely tailored garments, and a good selection of accessories, including old stock original sunglasses -that have never been used – hats and caps, cuff links, ties and even classic jeans brands. There is also a fine selection of dress and country waistcoats. Indeed, given that waistcoats and single jackets (or what Americans call sports jackets) are very much in this season, you could save your self a few bob and set an appropriate dash at the same time.
Now, depending on when you go into Emporium, the clothing will reflect the seasons. So, for Spring/Summer expect to see light weight trousers, sports jackets, short sleeve shirts, waistcoats. Whereas Autumn/winter you’ll find heavier tailored garments, and in particular top coats. Rather conveniently, Formal Wear is kept in the shop all year round.
And chaps there are serious Brownie points to be earned here; I took Westie in there with me and within ten seconds she was rummaging around; within 10 minutes she had returned decked out in a silk ball gown.
Though not a vast floor space, the shop still manages to cover a range of periods which should suit just about any taste. Whether you’re bent is 60s, retro Mod, 70’s, leather, denim or like me you lean towards classic tailoring and more conservative styles you should be able to find something. Of course you should remember this is not Peter Jones, items are one off’s so don’t be too put out if you don’t find your size in any particular garment. Indeed, the anticipation that this could be your day is half the fun of vintage.
As Seen on Stage and Screen
Vintage shops are often frequented by designers, and Emporium’s careful selection of garments, breadth of stock and the expertise behind it all make it a particular favourite. Jonathan calls his shop “the home of inspiration” because over the last 20 years most of the major fashion designers, from across the world, have at some point come through his door. He’s understandably reluctant to drop names: “They like their anonymity. But most of the stores on Bond Street, their designers have come here at some point”.
I love vintage shops, and my philosophy has always been; why wait for some scribbler to copy a vintage item; make it to a lower standard of quality; and whack a fat designer mark-up on it when you can own the original.
Of course it’s not only designers that use vintage stores, costume designers are frequent customers. For example, for Mission Impossible I & II Emporium was the source for Tom Cruise’s leather jacket (the one in the Arena front cover photo, to be precise) . The last big job Jonathan and Jacquelyn did was the front line for Munich Munich, kitting out Eric Banner and Daniel Craig. “We can’t compete with the major costumiers, because they have aircraft hangers full, but when they want very nice garments, and they want it to be 100% correct and look nice, they come to us –just for what we call the ‘front line’”.
Of course popularity does come at a price, and there are plenty of vintage merchants that will happily charge near new prices for garments, particularly the ‘trendy’ shops, or those peddling modern designer label stuff. Yet again Emporium stands out. The prices are very reasonable, for example, £40-45 for jackets, £75 for suits sometimes more if it’s Savile Row, £20 for cuff links, as you can see nothing that will break the bank.
A shop with real soul
The music in the background very much sets the tone of the shop, and adds an indefinable sense of cool to the experience; “Both my wife and I are into music; 60’s soul, jazz, reggae, our music is of an ilk, no pop and we don’t play the charts. Music and fashion go hand in hand. In fact we ‘do’ bands. They’ve got the music right, but don’t yet have the image, so we’re asked to do that. We get a lot of musicians, but we’re interested in an eclectic cliental, which makes the job very interesting”.
I wondered whether this was a deliberate part of the lifestyle Jonathan and Jacquelyn had created for themselves; “apart from how and why we select our clothes, we try to make the shop a very pleasant experience, for people to come to. We make a presentation here at the shop, and they make a choice. There is no heavy sales stuff. If you need help we help you, but we’re not down your throats and chasing you around the shop. We like people to come in, enjoy themselves, feel relaxed, everybody’s welcome to try on whatever they wish, and make a purchase if they want”.
John was very giving with his time, and as I say, I felt by the end of our chat that it was a great shame we’d never spoken before.
If you’re interested in seeing more photos of Emporium’s stock, I’ve posted a few more in the BespokeMe Facebook group
Posted by Stealth