1980’s 1990’s the golden years of retail?
in the ministry of defence in 1988 i was called to an appraisal meeting where i was told, by my brigadier, that i was so full of shit that i should consider leaving the civil service and return to retail where my skills were more probably suited. he was referring to a minor security blunder that i was partly responsible for and my then illegal sexual status. homosexuals even civilian homosexuals were not allowed no serve within the m.o.d. at the time. a persuasion i suppose he thought was more appropriate for retail also.
i had worked in retail for a few months before joining the m.o.d. having failed to get into the diplomatic services (where one would think my sexuality might have been a bonus, but maybe because i welsh, working class and from a comprehensive school) and after leaving my first job as a london tour guide on the buses. at the cold end of 1987, as i turned 19, i joined ‘the covent garden general store’, a confusion of tack, food stuffs household wares and staff on drugs, mostly. i quickly and perversely began to love the job, and was given the responsibility of down grading my supervisor and replacing him immediately with myself, for which i was rewarded with a 50p an hour rise and a badge. i should have realised then that retail was for me.
so, taking the brigadier’s advice i spent my lunch hours over the next week wandering the streets of central london, cv in hand trying to find a shop that i thought might suit me. i knew already that i disliked chain stores in general and though i was a snob, i was a shy ignorant boy from the valleys and many shops just intimidated me, i was also and remain, short, so bond street was ruled out. this is when i discovered a shiny black and glass pothole of a shop in jermyn street,with its gleaming shelves of artfully grouped items, some familiar and every day, but others i thought more at home in design museums or on the colour plates of reference books. i noted the name ‘oggetti’ and braced myself to enter, but was immediately cowed by the svelte sales man, his bobbed hair greased back away from his swarthy face into a carapace, exotic composed, and totally disinterested in my ill-suited self. he cast his eyes down his equine nose and seemed to melt away from me and into the black wall of the shop, only the white polka dot of his paul smith shirt giving him away. i scampered off, but returned after closing time and slipped my cv with covering note thru the letter box, and vowed the next time i saw the salesman, at ‘the bell’ in kings cross that friday night as it happened, to give an equally superior and cold look in his general direction before melting back to the bar.
i was interviewed, leered at , almost groped and got the job, the rest as they say is history, i was part of the club, a salesman in one of the best shops in london.
to cut a very long story short over the next 20yrs i worked in some, in my humble opinion, of the most pioneering shops on the retail scene in london. some have gone, a couple stay small and independent, a couple have grown, maybe too big. i have very narrow and set opinions on what i love about retail, and for me the golden years were the late 80’s and early 90’s. i will write a little about companies i worked for and others i admired at the time, and i would love to hear anything you would like to add to this potted history; funny stories, opinions, nothing too bitchy and maybe how you might have influenced the scene. so please comment!
to be continued.