‘Wherever you are in the world you feel safe in a fabric shop,’ says Niki. ‘If you love cloth then you share a language when you travel; a weaving shed or printing studio becomes common ground. You can enter a bustling textile store in India and if you’re tired the owner will probably offer you a corner where you can rest.’
But how would Niki and Jay, the founders of the Cloth House, react if they found a customer curled up among their corduroys in the basement of their lovely premises on London’s Berwick Street? It’s entirely possible they would chuckle and tip toe away. Sadly the nap would be short lived; another customer seeking a silk velvet or a pure wool felt would disturb their slumber within seconds – this shop is simply too busy to offer that kind of refuge.
What it can, and does, offer is a world of textiles under one roof – from India, Japan and Africa – each one carefully chosen and made to earn its place by meeting tough criteria. The first being ‘Is it the best of its kind?’ As Jay, who has the herculean task of editing stock, points out, they simply don’t have shelf space for silks you can find in a dozen other shops. If it’s widely available it’s not available here. Why would it be? Jay asks. ‘The people that shop with us are quite sophisticated in the sense that they have knowledge, or are in the process of gaining it.’ It’s not said outright but it’s obvious they come here to find the exceptional.
To keep them happy Jay and Niki do all they can to source rarities – it’s no hardship – the thrill of the chase is obvious. Do you want two metres of Bushu, yarn dyed with fermented Indigo leaves and worn to practise the martial art of Kendo? Jay spent five years finding the right route into the secretive Japanese market. Looking for pastel organzas that evoke the ball gowns of Charles James? Twice a year Niki adds to the existing choice with a new palette. And it’s not all hand woven or naturally dyed. If you need a roll of Neoprene Type, fashion’s version of wetsuit fabric, it’s already in stock.
To read this article by Beth Smith in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 64 here.