But it could have all been so different, if Simon had continued along his original path studying immunology at Chelsea College. Mr Antibody perhaps? The location of his studies however, was to steer him in an unexpected direction. It was the early eighties, and the Kings Road was awash with New Romantics parading in their finery. Simon had a 1930s vintage motorcyclist brooch, ( brooches were big in men's fashion at the time) which he decided to have copied by a factory in Cornwall, and then proceeded to try his hand at making some money selling to boutiques along the Kings Road. Unfortunately no one was interested, until, just when he'd almost given up, society jewellers, Cobra & Bellamy, bought the lot. Immunology quickly lost its allure at this point, and a successful new men's accessories business was born. Equally the fashion for brooches didn't last long, and Simon became better known for his modern take on a man's wardrobe staple; the cufflink. While the business was initially a wholesale one, the first shop opened in the mid 90s in Quadrant Arcade off Regent Street. Today, Simon Carter products are sold in 35 countries, with shops in London, Toronto, and... er... Ilkley, amongst others.
On the face of it, a store in Crystal Palace might have seemed as unlikely as Ilkley for a brand with an international reputation, but Simon has lived just down the road in Thornton Heath for 20 years, and so knew and loved the area. He rightly had a hunch that there would be enough like minded locals to make the business work. It has so far outstripped all his business projections. Opening the shop here has also fulfilled the somewhat "random" nature of the business, as Simon puts it, meaning that there was no grand plan to it. After all, he has travelled in the opposite direction of received wisdom, which sees fashion designers developing a line of accessories on the back of a successful clothing business. So, although the cufflinks came first, and made his name, the colourful shirts are now the biggest part of the business.
When he first opened on the Triangle, he says he was touched by the genuine interest and encouragement shown by all who have walked through the door, even those who felt it was probably too pricy or not for them. From the merchandise to the look of the shop, there have inevitably been comparisons with Paul Smith, for which Simon is extremely flattered. Though the influence is there, the shop has its own character. There's an individuality of style and independence of spirit, which Simon says, mirror the characteristics of SE19ers. Fitting out the shop didn't cost a fortune either. Old military portraits and several other items were picked up from auction houses, such as Roseberys in West Norwood, and the bowling club boards from South Norwood were heading for a skip. And overlooking it all above the cosy wood burner (how many clothing shops have one of those?), is Crystal the porcelain cat. The comparatively small and oddly shaped shop might have put off many retailers, and as Crystal Place develops, this might, Simon believes, play in the area's favour. As he says, the Triangle is reaching a bit of a crossroads, with more and more interesting places opening, and the fear is locally that the big chains will start to take notice and move in, snapping up empty retail units, sending rents beyond the means of local traders. However most of the available units in the area are probably too small to be of interest to the big players. I hope he's right.
Despite how small the shop is, it feels deceptively spacious, with room to move around from one display area to another. Here are just a few items that caught my eye.
Going back to the subject of nicknames, could this be the mysterious Prince Gervaise of Aurelia, I wonder?
|A charming little chap made from recycled ties!
71 Westow Street
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