Antoni Burakowski & Alison Roberts

Antoni & Alison are marking 25 years of their creative partnership by launching a tearoom above their Clerkenwell shop. They took time out from preparing the opening show of London Fashion Week to tell Andre Paine about the inspiration they’ve taken from a local NCP car park, EC1’s well-dressed pensioners and the number 38 bus


Why did you choose to open your shop in Clerkenwell in 1997?
Alison: It had potential when we moved there, and we were kind of proved right that it did open up into a much more creative, arty, food and bookish area.
Antoni: There was nothing much around then. There were lots of clockmakers and a few graphic people, a few arty people. I think when we found it we actually fell in love with the space. At that time it was more like everyone was opening in Covent Garden and that just didn’t interest us. I think where we are is still quite interesting. There’s a real mixture – there’s the barbers (The Pleasant Gents, Rosebery Avenue) and the pie shop (Clarks, Exmouth Market) – it’s very Sweeney Todd. We’re next to the Post Office and all the postmen still come in and say ‘£500 for a dress!’.

 What’s special about your space in Rosebery Avenue?
Antoni: Although it was full of windows, when we bought it had all been boarded up. We like a project, we quite like feeling sorry for something, and I think we felt sorry for that bit of Clerkenwell. It was the first time we had a shop so it was like a big experiment – we called it The Factory of Lights and Experiment. Working on our new tearoom, we’ve fallen in love with it again.

Has it been an inspirational space for your work?
Antoni: Upstairs, where we’re going to have the tearoom, was a very good space to think. It was like being in a bubble. But too many people would drop in and see us, and we’d never do any work until six o’clock when we closed the shop, and then we’d work until midnight.
Alison: Everyone knew something about the shop because they had seen it out the window on the 38 bus.
Antoni: We were on the top floor working and drawing and everybody on the bus could see in – you would suddenly have a whole new audience.

What’s a typical day?
Antoni: At the moment we are drawing all the time. We moved away to Southwark which has been amazing because we couldn’t really work in the Rosebery Avenue space anymore, but what we’ve decided to do is work upstairs back in Clerkenwell once or twice a week and see how it works again. I think it’s going to be really good for us to go back. Otherwise I do pop in the shop all the time, I really like it, I find it interesting to see what people want and what people are there to look at.

Where do you like to hang out locally and get ideas?
Antoni: There’s a fabulous café called Café Mario – and there was Muratori which was a brilliant café but sadly the man died. We go to The Eagle, too.
Alison: The annual Italian Festival is fantastic, too.
Antoni: Yes, in July, they have everybody walking up and down as saints. Really brilliant – quite wonky and lovely. I really like it down the bottom of Mount Pleasant where there’s the old bombsite. And the NCP car park opposite us is where we used to do most of our photography on the very top, because we didn’t understand lighting.

Is Clerkenwell a fashionable community?
Antoni: There are quite a lot of old people, because they go to Mount Pleasant to get their pension, and they always dress the best. There’s this incredible old chap in a very smart jacket who always wears a pencil skirt or an A-line skirt. I’ve seen him with a bobble hat on as well and he just looks great.

Are there particular designs in your collections you associate strongly with Clerkenwell?
Alison: For some of the collections, we based it on being incredibly lazy, so you had to use whatever was around you and that meant in a local shop or whatever you saw from your own armchair. Antoni: The shop we used to go to most was Farringdon Locksmiths at the bottom of Exmouth Market – it’s from a bygone time.

Why have you decided to open a tearoom?
Antoni: We always drew up there and made notes. So it’s a thinking space, with no WiFi. You have a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and a think. And we’re just going to play the music we like.

Antoni & Alison celebrate their 25th birthday with a lecture at the V&A Museum on 19th October.

The Ye Olde Worlde Super Modern Tea Room will open upstairs at Antoni & Alison on Rosebery Avenue in mid-October.