Design

Fashion meets function at The Natural Shoe Store

Natural Shoe Store Charlie May

 

The Natural Shoe Store and I go back a long way. To the eighties to be precise, when its Bass Weejun loafers were the height of cool, albeit far out of reach of my meager pocket money budget. Founded in 1976 by Robert Lusk as a destination for all things earthy and comfort-soled, it was always a bit of a stealth influencer. From appealing to London’s affluent muesli munching post-hippies, it carved itself a niche as more of a luxury stop-off for those seeking functional style and comfort.

Eventually I did grow up to avail myself of its Bass Weejuns, not to mention my favourite red Sanita clogs a few years ago, plus endless pairs of rugged German-made Hirsch socks. Then there were the Birkenstocks. Lusk introduced Birkenstocks to the UK in the seventies, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that insane queues coiled outside the Neal Street flagship store, necessitating full time security staff to keep the peace. The rest of course, is history.

But with global brand availability, it’s harder for retailers to monopolise their niches. They have to expand, diversify and modernise. And so The Natural Shoe Store has had a revamp, enlisting Kuni Awai (formerly an in-house designer for B Store), as its chief buyer.

The Natural Shoe Store 70 Neal Street WC2

 

The remit has broadened to include newer brands and more fashion-forward styles, while staying true to Lusk’s dedication to quality and thoughtful design. German-made Trippen is a key brand. These jolie-laide comfort shoes have an avant-garde appeal and are ethically produced with environmentally-friendly materials. They get an entire wall of the new store (which has recently relocated to 70 Neal Street). Bass loafers are still present and correct, alongside new entrants, Grenson shoes and Charlie May for H By Hudson. (Charlie May’s laceless boyfriend shoes in the main pic attracted a lot of love on my Insta.)

BELOW: TRIPPEN, TRIPPEN, G.H. BASS, GRENSON
The Natural Shoe Store Trippen
The Natural Shoe Store Trippen
Natural Shoe Store G H Bass Loafer
Natural Shoe Store Grenson

 

Birkenstock may have grown into its own behemoth brand, but there’s still a big presence at The Natural Shoe Store. (Awai told me that these Birkenstock £19.99 slides are a huge consistent seller and you can easily see why.)

BELOW: BIRKENSTOCK X 2
Natural Shoe Store Birkenstock
Natural Shoe Store Birkenstock

 

A part of me misses the quiet charm of the old Natural Shoe Store, but Neal Street is a huge tourist destination and Lusk is mindful that passing footfall needs to be attracted by exciting product, not just brand values. That explains the saturated suede designs of French brand Arche as well as Salt Water’s classic seaside-y sandals and Tracey Neuls’ sculptural offerings. It’s eco chic for today’s design-conscious generation and should secure a bright future for The Natural Shoe Store.

BELOW:ARCHE, SALT WATER, TRACEY NEULS, NATURAL SHOE STORE
Natural Shoe Store Arche
Natural Shoe Store Salt Water
The Natural Shoe Store Tracey Neuls
The Natural Shoe Store 70 Neal Street WC2

 

Visit The Natural Shoe Store at 70 Neal Street, WC2 and Thenaturalshoestore.com

WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl and The Natural Shoe Store

THE DRG STYLE INDEX: H&M BEAUTY, SUPERGA, BROWNS, DIOR, RAF SIMONS

Here’s the latest weekly DRG STYLE INDEX ranking, a round-up of the brands currently buzzing on my radar…

1. H&M’S BIG BEAUTY PUSH

H&M beauty launch via The DRG Style Index

There’s something interesting kicking off in the high street beauty space. I think it’s similar to what happened with jeans and shoes a while ago, when the UK chain stores invested heavily in fashion-forward designs, outdoing the specialists at their own game. Topshop’s make-up is five years old this month and the product quality, design and branding are as good as many of the more premium brands. & Other Stories shook things up with its experiential retail approach, while Urban Outfitters is also jumping into the beauty space in a bigger way, stocking Tonymoly from Korea among others. Next: H&M is launching a 700 piece beauty line in September. Yes, H&M has dabbled in beauty before but not in any serious way. And in keeping with its new eco-conscious focus, this new endeavour will include products that are organic, Ecocert-certified, and sustainable. That’s not all. A higher-end premium beauty line is also pencilled for release, so keep your eyes peeled.


2. SUPERGA X LIBERTY ART FABRICS COLLECTION

Superga X Liberty Art Fabrics

I’m kind of over all the Liberty X Nike collabs. They were novel for a while but they don’t excite me much any more. Instead I prefer these, a new collab between Superga and Liberty Art Fabrics. There’s something a little bit 80s Euro exchange student about this collection – I’m thinking Best Company ice cream coloured ankle-crop cords, Invincta rucksack, Agnes B tee and Ray-Ban aviators. Ahhh innocent days…


3. BROWNS GOES OMNI-CHANNEL

Browns is acquired by Farfetch in a push for Omni-channel retail
It’s all change this week for Browns. One of the first multi-brand luxury boutiques in the UK, the 45-year-old business has been superseded in recent years by younger upstarts, including MatchesFashion and MyTheresa. And Farfetch of course, who made shopping from indie stores a global possibility. Farfetch has now acquired Browns, hoping to reinvent it for the millennial generation of luxury consumers. Owner Jose Neves will run Browns as a separate entity (Net-a-Porter’s Holli Rogers will be its CEO), using it as a testing hub for Farfetch’s ambitious omni-channel retail strategies.


4. FLIP FLOPS FOR DIOR

Flip flops on the Dior runway for Cruise 2016

Can Dior do for the humble flip flop what Isabel Marant did for the slide and Celine did for the Birkenstock? I loathe flip flops, but am oddly drawn to the flip-flop-and-boy-trouser combo seen on the Dior Cruise 2016 runway…


5. RAF IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Raf Simons dancing at the Dior Cruise 2016 party

Is Raf Simons angling to be the new Olivier Rousteing? The ‘camera-shy one’ of fashion was papped dancing at the Dior Cruise party last week and has been giving heaps of interviews to promote the Cruise show in Cannes. An eagle-eyed Youtuber also spotted the Apple Watch adorning his wrist during this Business of Fashion interview. Whatever next – Raf selfies on Snapchat Periscope…?

WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
DIOR IMAGE by Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage

Hot or not?

Lightweight knits for Spring

What to wear when it’s spring, sunny but chilly in the shade? I default to merino knits that are lightweight but warm and don’t pill up like fluffy cashmere. And denim of course, but I’m looking beyond just jeans to all the clever shapes that have emerged in stiff deep indigo, or gentle chambray blue.

Some of my best merino wool finds come from the men’s department, especially Reiss, whose menswear is brilliant right now, while Paul Smith menswear has lovely extra fine merinos is gorgeous colour palettes. J.W. Anderson is another find, and Vivienne Westwood’s knits are all-year perennials. I can’t not mention my favourite Sibling sweater right now, featuring Madonna in the ‘Borderline’ days. Hell yes please to that.

Denim-wise, Joseph is killing it with its structured shapes in classic sky blue – a bit offbeat but still very wearable. And MIH Jeans just gets better and better – I’m still obsessed with this kimono jacket

WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
IMAGE: Bruce Weber

THE DRG STYLE INDEX: Christopher Kane, Net-a-Porter, Nowhere, Hermes

Here’s the latest weekly DRG STYLE INDEX ranking, a round-up of the brands currently buzzing on my radar…

1) CHRISTOPHER KANE HAS A PROPER WEBSITE!

Christopher Kane launches website

This really is shaping up to be a big year for fashion and tech. From Chanel’s move into ecommerce, to Apple’s positioning of Apple Watch as a luxury fashion item, tech has never been more fashionable. And to top it off, here’s Christopher Kane’s new website – very cool and a little bit futuristic. No e-com yet, but it’s a start… (more…)

Things to see and do: May 2015

1. PHOTO LONDON 21ST-24TH MAY

Better Days - copyright Bill Bernstein

Big news for photography buffs and collectors; Somerset House is hosting London’s first international photography fair, Photo London. It’s like Frieze for photography, or so I’m reliably informed, and will include up to 70 of the world’s biggest photography galleries, as well as exhibitions and an impressive programme of talks (speakers confirmed include Steve McCurry, Stephen Shore and Mitch Epstein). (more…)

Vogue Festival 2015 – the highlights

Vogue Festival 2015

Four years in, the Vogue Festival is firmly established, mixing A-list talks with smaller panel discussions, styling workshops, the obligatory makeover stations and opportunities for one-on-one careers advice with Vogue staffers. It’s a pretty good example of a brand extending its reach well beyond the printed (or digital) page, to touch the lives of its next generation reader. (more…)

THE DRG STYLE INDEX: COS X MR PORTER, MARTIN MARGIELA, J&M DAVIDSON

Here’s the latest weekly DRG STYLE INDEX ranking, a round-up of the brands currently buzzing on my radar…

1. MR PORTER X COS

Cos for Mr Porter collection

Mr Porter and Cos, could there be a better combination? Clearly they thought not. Coming May 7th is a capsule collection boasting the sort of clean lines and versatile colour palette that spell success for both parties. I’ll be having a sniff around for the best bits so watch this space. (more…)

ASK ALISON: IS IT A STORE OR A HOME?

Freunde-von-Freunden-Apartment 2

Here’s the latest ‘Ask Alison’ guest post from retail expert and DRG contributor, ALISON BISHOP, on how brands are merchandising their store environments to inspire customers to feel at home

More and more digital brands want to lay down physical roots and create their own permanent stores. At the same time, retailers are ramping up online sales initiatives for increasingly digitally savvy shoppers. So now we have the trend to make showroom-style spaces resemble highly curated homes and apartments. Which makes us want to buy everything and move in. (more…)