Launched for the first time at London Design Festival 2014, the Islington Design District (IDD) is looking even bigger and better this year. We talk to Lizzie Evans, the SMUG founder and driving force behind IDD, as well as three other participants: Present & Correct, twentytwentyone and Ruberg
LIZZIE EVANS, SMUG
Did you always see this area as a creative hub?
Yes. I love the mix of design stores and fashion, but also with the antiques and great food. I am passionate about Camden Passage. I love Upper Street and I shop there and I am an Islington girl, but I think Camden Passage is quite special in that it is pedestrianised. You can feel like you can make a difference here – opening a shop on Upper Street you are one of many. Here you are changing the character.
Can you judge if the IDD was a success last year?
We definitely met up afterwards to talk about what we thought worked and if it was worthwhile for everybody. We saw people coming in with our map rather than just with the guide. We really got a sense that people were walking from one end of the trail to the other. This year we want to push restaurants and cafes in the area, Islington is really strong on that.
How does Lenneke Wispelwey, who is appearing at SMUG during IDD, fit in with SMUG’s philosophy?
We have worked with her before on just having some of her ceramic pieces. The customers love them, they fit in with what we do anyway so well because firstly the colour palette she uses is beautiful, interesting pastels, but each batch she will put more or less pigment in the clay, so she will have a different strength. Also her work is really geometric, which we are liking a lot at the moment, but also simplistic. I felt this year, after launching Café SMUG last year, was the time to do an exhibition and to focus on one designer in particular. Lenneke seemed like the obvious person to go with. It’s very exciting, we are going to have a lot larger pieces than we have ever had before, and a much bigger collection of her work. And we are the only people who have it in the UK too.
What does the future hold for SMUG?
In terms of location I am very happy with being here. People often ask if I will open another store. I can’t promise I never will, but at the moment I feel quite strongly about being an independent boutique and that means there being one of you. As soon as there are two, it’s a chain and I don’t think that’s what SMUG is about. If I got to a stage that I wanted to open something else, it would be a different thing. I would love to be involved with other things in Islington. I would be excited at the possibility in a couple of years if a property came up of separating Café SMUG, a bit a la Gill Wing! That could be nice. But I don’t I want to pick up SMUG and put it somewhere else. The future for SMUG, as it’s got more established and we have been here for six years, is I am most passionate about the sourcing, styling and curating and working with designers to create exclusives for SMUG. That will still continue happening, but now I need to give myself more space to launch my own collection so I need to get designing. I feel like I say that quite often and I never get round to it!
NEAL WHITTINGTON, PRESENT & CORRECT
How important would you say the London Design Festival is?
As a world city, with a brilliant design heritage and amazing current scene, it is very important. A week where all of these talented and interesting individuals or collectives can showcase what they are doing seems essential, especially when the creative industry has such a huge input to the economy of the country – not just London.
And why are you keen to be a part of the Islington Design District?
Islington has some fantastic destination shops, some new and some who are iconic in the London design scene. So to all come together felt like the best way to celebrate the area, and demonstrate to anyone outside of Islington that there is a great design ethos in this borough.
What would you say is the unique selling point of Present & Correct?
P&C is about creating the best desktop, choosing from a big collection of new and old stationery and implements from all over the world. Our aim is to be like a sweet shop for office supplies, and a place which will make you feel a little nostalgic and very efficient.
What can you tell me about The Letter Rack, which is on during IDD?
The Letter Rack is about celebrating the joy of receiving some good post. Not bills, but letters. Nicely made, fun missives which we tend not to post any more. People can come to the store and select a neat envelope then fill it with a smart letter or card, some shapes, some labels. Whatever they fancy!
What do you hope it will show visitors to your shop during the London Design Festival?
We aim to make people happy through the medium of stationery, so we hope that this is what visitors feel when they visit our store. If people can see how much we enjoy what we do then that would also be a good result.
SIMON ALDERSON, TWENTYTWENTYONE
It’s nearly 20 years since you first launched twentytwentyone. How has the design industry changed?
When we established twentytwentyone the design industry was more a niche sector of the interiors marketplace. Our client base tended to be architects and designers and we sold to a very international customer. As media interest, books and exhibitions have communicated the merits of good design the entire industry has grown.
Have you evolved in any way?
We’ve grown and diversified. Our Upper Street shop extended down and sideways, we set up a showroom and offices near Sadler’s Wells and now have a dedicated commercial service to architects, designers and businesses. We manufacture a small collection of furniture and accessories and have a vibrant online shop. Our ranges for furniture, lighting and accessories have developed to embrace a much wider spectrum of classic and contemporary designs.
Today, what would you say is your unique selling point?
We remain specialists and absolute enthusiasts. We hope the twentytwentyone team distil knowledge and an excellent service to customers. Our selection of designs embraces the very best of the celebrated and the lesser known, sourced from an international cross-section of manufacturers and makers.
Why was Upper Street perfect for a showroom?
Upper Street has a personality and special flavour that remains independent and creative. It has changed over the years, but its diversity and core mix of specialist businesses ensures a strong catchment that is both inspiring and attractive to customers.
What will you be showcasing during the London Design Festival?
We will launch Busby, by Industrial Facility. These are a family of intelligent lighting designs that offer a charging base through USB sockets. At our showroom we will launch a more traditional range lighting. Hotaru are designed by Barber & Osgerby and provide a contemporary perspective to handcrafted Japanese lanterns.
KAMILLA RUBERG, RUBERG JEWELLERY
It’s over a decade now Kamilla since you opened on Camden Passage. Why was it the ideal location for you?
It was almost by chance. I had been looking for a location in London to start a new shop/studio space. The kind of place I looked for had to stand between the applied arts and craft galleries and the high street jewellery brands. I wanted to work only in fine jewellery, precious materials with a customized approach in a Scandinavian style – meaning a studio/workshop and shop in one space, so customers can be closer to the process of the design and making of for instance their wedding and engagement rings.
Camden Passage had all that potential – this walking passage, just off the high street, was just starting to attract new independent businesses and by change one of the antique furniture shops became available.
Do you feel there is a lot of creativity here, and also throughout Islington?
I’m so glad there has been a lot of new energy moving in to the Passage for the past ten years and it seems to be still on-going. I hope it continues to remain a street for independent businesses – this is really what makes it great.
Why were you keen to be a part of the Islington Design District?
We always support the local scene and are part of it – IDD has been a great initiative to put Islington’s shops and studios on the map. People come to Islington not just to eat and drink, but also to look for independent design and retail spaces.
Does jewellery often play a big role at the London Design Festival?
No, but we are keen to change this. We are doing our bit.
Why did you want to collaborate with Frederico Fazenda for the London Design Festival 2015?
We both work with geometry and space in very different scales. He worked initially in the setup of the shop, making the interior, this time we review this room where Ruberg’s jewellery displays have been presented. There will be a new display of jewellery in dialogue with an installation in our space with fine geometry, furniture and plants. We are focused on fine jewellery and new designs but also on how to frame and present it.
Find out more about the Islington Design District at islingtondesigndistrict.com