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Fed up of trawling identikit shops to tick off your Christmas gift list? Yvonne Courtney headed to Darkroom on Lamb's Conduit Street, where stylish treasures can be found inside its 'inky black' interior...

The internet may be changing people's retail habits, but a number of exciting specialist shops are putting the interest back into real-world shopping. One such store is Darkroom on Clerkenwell's doorstep on Lamb's Conduit Street – a charming thoroughfare which has become a haven for independent shops in central London. Darkroom is run by graphic designer Rhonda Drakeford and fashion consultant Lulu Roper-Caldbeck. The pair have offered customers a sophisticated edit of accessories for men, women and the home since opening in 2009.

Darkroom is a great example of directional retailing. Housed in an inky-black showroom, which is surprisingly inviting, the shop's visual composition of graphic lines, rich textures and architectural forms includes enticing displays of textiles, sculptural ceramics, chic leather items and statement jewellery. Fashionable, but not intimidatingly so, "Darkroom's aesthetic is hard-edged, graphic and bold, but we also use natural materials; giving an element of softness," explains Drakeford. Many items can be appreciated by both men and women, and suit all budgets, thereby creating a less segregated shopping environment, which is particularly refreshing. "Our clientele is really varied," says Drakeford, "from local lawyers and media types to architects, designers, students, retired local residents and a smattering of celebrities," (including Jon Snow).

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Drakeford co-founded a graphic design consultancy before joining forces with Roper-Caldbeck who previously worked as a womenswear designer for the likes of Paul Smith. Their combined sensibilities and skills are expressed throughout the store. Designing shop fit-outs inevitably gave Drakeford the retail bug, and after collaborating with Roper-Caldbeck on an interiors textiles project , the pair decided to open a shop where they could make and sell their own products alongside a curated selection of work by other designers. Black was an apt choice for the new store. "We were both keen to do something different, away from the generic white gallery format, also favoured by modernist interiors stores," explains Drakeford. "Black features in both our homes, and it creates such a dynamic backdrop for products, whilst also creating warmth. I always feel self-conscious w alking round bright white spaces, and we wanted people to feel comfortable here." Rather than focusing on brands, Darkroom likes to work with designers to create things specifically for their store, and both Roper-Caldbeck and Drakeford are fans of African art and prints. "[Nigerian- born knitwear designer] Buki Akib made an amazing collection of bags for us using traditional wea ving techniques, but in a style that was perfect for a London audience."

But how to resolve the issue of larger retailers poaching labels Darkroom has nurtured? "It's hard, this happens a lot," admits Drakeford. "There are some lazy, audacious buyers out there. We can only try to keep one step ahead." As for Darkroom's own designs, "We try to work on a collection basis. For our T-R-I-B-A-L-A-L-A season we had blankets woven by Johnstons of Elgin and scarves knitted by Corgi in Wales. It was a privilege to work with mills with so much heritage." There's a strong sense of community in Lamb's Conduit Street: "It's tucked between the madness of the West End and the East End – a civilised enclave," says Drakeford. "The street comes alive at Christmas — it's so pretty."

 

DARKROOM, 52 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3LL. www.darkroomlondon.com

Yvonne Courtney is a PR, Cultural and Retail Advisor in the Design, Events and Publishing industries. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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