Time Out LondonApril 2012
Advance to Mayfair
Wolf & Badger is expanding from upmarket Notting Hill to upper-market Dover Street. Lauren Cochrance meets up with Henry and George Graham to visit their new lair and sett.
Bathed in bright sunlight when Time Out visits, and sandwiched between other chichi boutiques and stores, you’d think Wolf & Badger’s Ledbury Road location in Notting Hill was beyond improvement. But founders of the boutique, brothers Henry and George Graham, aren’t the type to rest on their laurels – even if these particular ones look rather idyllic. Instead, they are expanding into the centre of town, with an additional Wolf & Badger store just opened on Dover Street. Bringing the slick, minimal look of Ledbury Road to new townhouse digs, and adding a gallery and event space in the basement, it’s a welcome addition. ‘We have brands here that have grown up with us,’ says retail director Henry, 31. ‘They’re too big for Notting Hill now but they’ll work for the new store.’
Of course, Wolf & Badger Mk I isn’t exactly ancient. Opening in 2010 after animal-lovers Henry and George – who previously worked in retail property and strategy consulting – jacked in the office jobs, the store quickly made waves with its new concept. Instead of buying collections from designers in the traditional way, the shop ‘leases’ space instore in return for a small monthly rent and 10 per cent of any retail sales. ‘It’s like a high-end version of an indoor market,’ explains managing director George, 26.
It’s been a very successful one. While George scored a ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2011, labels that have been through the Ledbury Road store – which the brothers refer to as ‘The Lab’ – include Hentsch Man and Irwin & Jordan. Then there’s discoveries like cufflink designer Samuel Gassmann. ‘When he came to us, he had one stockist in Paris and one in Belgium,’ remembers Henry. ‘After we worked with him, he was picked up by [US department store] Barney’s.’
The brothers are well aware of their influence on bigger stores – ‘They come in here with notebooks,’ Henry grins – but don’t begrudge it. ‘It validates us,’ says Henry, ‘but also helps designers – and that’s partly what we’re about.’ Of course, moving to Mayfair means direct competition from these stores – something the Grahams are ready to take on, by standing out. ‘It’s difficult when you’re independent, selling smaller brands,’ admits George. ‘All the French retailers are snapping up the prime locations. But, as we grew, we realised we were very attractive to the public because we found unique and unusual brands.’
While the new store follows a more conventional buying approach than the ‘high-end indoor market’ format, the passion for exciting independent labels remains undimmed. With Dover Street Market just a few steps away, and many of London’s more adventurous designer flagships (Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood) around the corner, Wolf & Badger’s new location is possibly an even better fit than chic but unadventurous Notting Hill. With a focus on Newgen (the British Fashion Council’s talent launchpad) designers, Henry namechecks ‘Lou Dalton, Serdar Uzuntas and Bora Aksu – UK labels that are too big for our current store but still appeal to our customer. There aren’t enough businesses here focusing on new UK designers – if we’re not going to do it, who is?’