Through her eponymous shop-meets-gallery in Soho – which sells a curated blend of art, interiors and fashion – Alex Eagle has redefined the concept of retail. Here, she shares her thoughts on sustainability, style icons and the importance of kitsch.
Meeting Alex Eagle is just like catching up with a best girlfriend. Founder and creative director of lifestyle retail concept Alex Eagle Studio and The Store X projects, as well as her own brand, Eagle has been credited with reinventing the fashion boutique. She is possibly the coolest woman in London, and yet she is disarmingly easy company. We meet at the vast warehouse flat in Soho that she shares with husband Mark Wadhwa, a commercial property developer, and their two young children, Jack and Columba.
So relaxed is Eagle that the front door is wide open on my arrival, without a soul in sight. An artwork-lined entrance corridor leads into a basketball court-sized open-plan apartment. Calls of “Helloooo?” are met by a lady with a Hoover, but seconds later Eagle breezes in, apologises for her scruffy appearance, proffers tea and chocolates and leads me to a sofa. No ordinary sofa, of course, but one of two six-seater linen Axel Vervoordt beauties that flank a large coffee table – also by the Belgian minimalist – that does well to survive under the weight of 15 towering stacks of art and photography tomes.
Her long dark hair mildly dishevelled – she’s nailing the tousled bedhead look but is clearly no slouch – even her ‘at home’ loungewear attire is on brand. “I’m wearing the merch,” she says of her white slogan ‘COLUMNS’ sweatshirt, a collaboration with Ben Kelly, designer of the legendary Haçienda nightclub, who is currently showing his Memphis-like column artworks nearby in The Store. And although she doesn’t stock Charvet, her hot-pink leather slippers by the storied French brand are not dissimilar to the discrete mules and slip-ons that have become a cult Alex Eagle staple and key element of her highly coveted ‘uniform’. There’s no sign of her other signature go-to, the blazer, and her usual tailored trousers are swapped for sweatpants.
Raised in Chiswick by a TV producer mother and art dealer father, Eagle is the first to acknowledge that her cultured London upbringing gave her a head start for a creative future. “I grew up going to art galleries and auctions,” she recalls. “Looking and learning to assess things visually has always been a part of my life.” This appreciation of art and objects led to an art history degree, which she loved and still references daily. Combine that with a super-stylish mother who wore Costume National, Max Mara, Armani and Calvin Klein and you begin to understand how her killer taste emerged.
“I can’t remember being any other way,” she says. “As a little girl I would get changed 20 times a day. I constantly tore pages out of magazines to create collages and scrapbooks, which I still have.” An editor and tastemaker from the start, then, this was fuelled by Eagle’s passion and drive; “I started at the bottom and worked my way up,” says the self-confessed workaholic. Stints at The Sunday Times Style, Tank magazine and Harper’s Bazaar led her to Joseph during designer Louise Trotter’s tenure, which proved the most formative professional experience.
At Joseph she honed her ‘smart and chic’ unfussy style and her business acumen. “It was run by such a small team for a big global company. I was in my mid-20s going to meetings with the CEO, creative director and buying director and seeing the full 360 degrees, from creation to the customers, which was super interesting. Those were my building blocks and from there I saw the gaps.” Her novel idea? A place where the collectable furniture and objets – the music, art, ceramics and books – change, but the clothes stay the same. This might sound insane for a fashion store, but with rising concerns about sustainability and landfill it now seems oddly prescient.
It was 2014 and Eagle was just 31, but two sites became available at around the same time: a three-floor shop on Walton Street just across from her former flat, and a 2,800 sq m ex-department store in Berlin’s Mitte that was a joint partnership with Soho House. “Walton Street was basically an extension of my flat, where I was already styling friends and selling bits and bobs of furniture to them informally, so it became the official version of that. Berlin is an amazing space and my aim was more of a co-working creative hub selling clothes and coffee, with as much emphasis on selling a notepad as a Jil Sander coat,” she explains. Eagle threw herself into both, dividing her time between London and Berlin to launch them concurrently.
Was she daunted? “‘Yes, I was shit scared,” she admits, but Wadhwa, who prefers to be her very silent sleeping partner in the business, gave her the confidence to get stuck in. “He is my absolute inspiration, he believed in me and didn’t let me employ someone else. I did it all myself; of course I made small mistakes but nothing I’d change. Although it was a simple idea, it hadn’t really been done before.”
For the affluent top one per cent, Eagle’s curated world is evidently spot-on because in 2016 she shuttered the Walton Street store and moved to larger premises, opening Alex Eagle Studio (often referred to as The Studio) on Lexington Street in Soho. She has retained the Berlin outpost as a separate business – The Store X – adding two further locations at Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire and 180 Strand in London. These are platforms for ideas and culture beyond shopping, with exhibition collaborations running from blue-chip galleries to public institutions, not to mention individual artists including Theaster Gates and all- round renaissance man Virgil Abloh. “If you create a sense of discovery then there is a reason for them to come. We do shows and installations with artists and craftspeople, and when it comes to clothes people crave an edit,” she says. “If you type dark denim jeans into a good website, you might have 300 to choose from. I spend my time editing that down; it’s about saving people time, which is modern-day luxury.”
Eagle’s Soho outpost smells divine the minute you step through the door (she stocks Cire Trudon and Espelma candles), staff let you browse unbothered and the edit is always an inspiring, apartment-like mix of homeware, clothing and art – delicate Feldspar ceramics sit next to Veja sneakers, an Ettore Sottsass UltraFragola mirror hangs next to a Naoki Kawano print or a Luke Edward Hall painted plate. Just a few clothing rails are dotted about and various art and design books are sprinkled about shelving and surfaces; even beauty gets a look-in, with beauty editors’ top facials specialist Skinwork on the lower-ground floor.
Despite sharing this relaxed residential aesthetic, Berlin differs in offering; alongside Eagle’s own brand of ‘wear- forever’ classics, there is a tight edit from major fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Jil Sander, Proenza Schouler, Rosetta Getty, Burberry and Junya Watanabe. She must be doing something right because, she whispers conspiratorially, “Burberry recently told me that it’s Riccardo Tisci’s favourite store in Berlin.”
London evolved differently. To create a point of difference from other high-end retailers in the capital, Eagle initiated a series of collaborations with old established British brands such as Jermyn Street’s New & Lingwood, with whom she created smoking jackets, slippers and brogues to suit women, and heritage leather luggage-maker Swaine Adeney Brigg. These continue to furnish the store, alongside craft pieces and her own ready-to-wear clothing line, which she launched in 2015, inspired by her mother’s enviable wardrobe.
Though she cites Charlotte Rampling, Katharine Hepburn, Sofia Coppola and Gloria Vanderbilt – all strong, sexy women who have championed a mannish aesthetic – as style icons, “I’m not looking for endless references because we’re not doing seasons,” explains Eagle of her collection. “I look to those tried-and-tested pieces of my mum’s, like a jacket by Piero De Monzi that we share, that are still good 20, 30, sometimes 40 years later.” Eagle’s bestsellers include the Le Monde Beryl shoes, 100% linen T-shirts, blazers, scarf-neck tops and dresses. “We’ve made the scarf-neck dress since the beginning, perfecting it over months. It suits my grandma and also my step-daughters, who are 11 and 17, and everyone in-between,” she says.
Undaunted by a lack of formal training, Eagle called upon a friend, fashion stylist Tam Rothstein (who now works with Martine Rose), to help start the clothing line. Then Eagle struck lucky when the “genius” Chiswick seamstress who designed her wedding dress became available. She also has a Savile Row-trained female tailor who works on all the bespoke suits using Loro Piana fabrics. “We all read each other’s minds and sing from the same hymn sheet. I can’t pattern-cut but I can draw, so I do a doodle and Honia just gets it.”
And this is Eagle’s interpretation of sustainable fashion. Sustainability is something she takes seriously (her friend David de Rothschild’s The Lost Explorer ethical beauty brand is a personal favourite), not only by focusing on wear-forever classics from ethically sourced fabrics, but also by producing in small batches of limited runs and making to order. “The bespoke suits are the pinnacle of the investment piece; made to fit you perfectly, they will last you a lifetime. My version of ethical is believing you will wear something to death. It’s about buying less, as opposed to this throwaway culture.”
Alex Eagle isn’t all understated elegance though; she – and, by extension, the brand– has a fun edge. “I’d love to think I was totally Phoebe Philo or Rose Uniacke, and just really minimal. I think they do exquisite things, but in the end I like a bit of kitsch.” Illustrating her point perfectly is the small embroidered cushion between us, bearing her signature feel-good slogan ‘I mean the dream’, which also appears on T-shirts, platters and Chinti & Parker sweaters. She’s even created her own #imeanthedream hashtag, for “when something’s that extra bit fabulous”. It appears to have captured a mood as Eagle is also working on book with Rizzoli, due out Christmas 2020, with that very title. “It’s going to be about all these interesting people around the world and their curations.” Other plans in the pipeline are more collaborations with luxury Hong Kong retailer Lane Crawford, and she’d like to expand into the US with her clothing line.
As we speak her nanny brings her eight-month-old daughter Columba over for a cuddle. Having kids has helped, she says, because it taught her how to let go and learn to delegate. “I need help across every area of my life,” she says. “My mum has been helping me build my business for the past three years. Having been a TV producer she knows how to get things done, manage a team, and when to say no. She helps me budget and prioritise. She’s my reality check.”
It’s clear that having a supportive family and creative friends is a key part of the Eagle phenomenon. And the next generation is already waiting in the wings to join her. “Because we live in central London we take the kids to all the galleries; it’s really fun seeing things through their eyes. Jack loves art; he goes to shops and touches all the fabrics, he re-merchandises my shop.” I take my leave, with Eagle enthusiastically suggesting lunch sometime, “because I’ve done all the talking this time”. She is, I mean, the dream.
Alex Eagle’s London Glossary
Best bites: The River Cafe, Hammersmith
The River Cafe in Hammersmith is a firm favourite. It’s near my childhood home and is always my first choice for celebrating with family and friends.
Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, W6; rivercafe.co.uk
Go-To British designer: Holland & Holland
Phoebe Philo is my forever favourite. As for British brands, I’m currently loving Holland & Holland. Its pieces are a true testament to the fact that you don’t have to compromise style for functionality.
33 Bruton Street, Mayfair, W1; hollandandholland.com
Hotel haven: Claridge’s
Claridge’s. It’s a London institution and embodies everything I love about British tradition and elegance, and it’s perfect for afternoon tea.
Brook Street, Mayfair, W1; claridges.co.uk
Culture fix: The Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts is just a stone’s throw away from my loft in Soho and it always has an amazing programme of contemporary and Renaissance art. As a committee member, I may be slightly biased!
Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1; royalacademy.org.uk
Favourite hairdresser: Josh Wood
The team at Josh Wood are my go-to for events and photoshoots. Perfect for days where you want to look like you didn’t try at all, but you actually did.
6 Lansdowne Mews, Notting Hill, W11; joshwoodcolour.com
Club of choice: The Chelsea Arts Club
I love the atmosphere at The Chelsea Arts Club and spending time there with my father in the beautiful garden. The art changes regularly with new emerging artists, and I’m always excited to see what they’ll hang next.
143 Old Church Street, Chelsea, SW3; chelseaartsclub.com