Between the Soho outpost of Banana Tree and Bar Bruno on London’s Wardour Street is an odd-looking black door and a buzzer that reads simply “Idea”. Despite its unsightly exterior, everyone from Kanye West to Calvin Klein has crossed its threshold. This is the place where they come, as the buzzer signals, for ideas.
Self-service ads 1994-2022, £40, at Idea
Beauty papers Harley Weir, £50, at Idea
Founded in 2009 by husband-and-wife duo David Owen and Angela Hill, the second-floor space houses a subscription-only bookshop that sells rare and vintage books on art, fashion and photography. It was their daughter Iris who came up with the “Idea” – a sequence of initials for each of their names: her own, David’s, her sister Edith’s and Angela’s. “That’s a one-word description of what we do,” says Owen. “We like books, but we don’t like bindings – we’re not that kind of bookish people. We like the ideas in them.”
Picked up on trips to Japan, Paris, New York, LA, and Amsterdam, these titles differ from kitsch (a 1983 cookbook titled How to decorate£65) to the quirky (a book of staged photographs of boy models from a summer camp in 1980, £195) and the whimsical ( Biography of Kate Bush, £50, documenting her childhood penchant for séances and “one failed attempt to levitate Sarah Brennan”). There is also a whole range of titles about style, such as Houses designed by architects themselves (£95) from 1974, influential Men like boys catalog from the 80s (£250) or Joel D Levinson Flea markets (£180), a photographic study of American second-hand shoppers in the 1970s and 1980s, which is “super cool and super sweet”, says Hill.
Hill and Owen are not only curators but also publishers, commissioning around 10 titles a year. Some are new editions of cult series, such as Glen Luchford’s Chronicle of Prada from 1996-98 (£95), while others are original commissions, such as Nadia Lee Cohen’s character study. Hi, my name is (70 pounds). “The truth is,” says Owen, “you can boil down what we do—and certainly what we post—to a clunky sentence: people look cool. It’s a pretty powerful thing to work on.” They also do business: their logo caps and T-shirts have been worn by Kim Kardashian (“Plant seeds”) and Justin Bieber (“Winona”).
Idea Sorry I don’t work here cap £40
Idea Loving Man T-shirt, £35
What started as a stall in Dover Street Market (where they still keep the books) is now a private and personalized shopping experience. Design teams from fashion brands (“I can’t name them”) load up for an afternoon of browsing — “but obviously they don’t want to be here at the same time as ‘blah blah,’ so we run an appointment system,” says Hill. Calvin Klein asked for a book on minimalism, Hill recalls: “I looked at it and I said, ‘You invented minimalism’!” Dior Men’s and Fendi Artistic Director Kim Jones has been a loyal customer for years. “They have the best reference books in the world,” says Jones, whose favorite purchase was a set of Le Palace titles from the 1970s and 1980s, when the Paris nightclub ran the magazine. Asked if he uses the idea as inspiration, he says “always,” then adds, “They know my taste.”
Musical clientele includes Elton John and Rita Ora. Kanye sent his security guards to sweep the store first. “Of course he was super sweet when he came in,” adds Hill. “I made him an espresso and he had his feet on the table.” He left with 1978 sneaker catalogand still regularly shop online.
Recently published is Ida’s first novel, Best seller, written by Owen, follows the manager of a regional department store through boring days enlivened by imaginary conversations with Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. If anything is as successful as the sold-out Winona caps, it’s all set.
Idea101 Wardour Street, London W1