SPREAD­ING HER WINGS

WOMENSWEAR DE­SIGNER OR ART CU­RA­TOR? EVENTS GURU OR RE­TAIL MAVEN? THE SIN­GU­LAR FORCE IN BRI­TISH STYLE THAT IS ALEX EA­GLE EVADES EASY CLAS­SI­FI­CA­TION. WHICH IS JUST THE WAY SHE LIKES IT.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MARIA SHOL­LEN­BARGER

Alex Ea­gle – the amaz­ing re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence that evades easy de­scrip­tion: is it a con­cept store? A fash­ion bou­tique? A pur­veyor of gor­geous ac­ces­sories for the home? An art gallery? – used to be lo­cated at a sin­gle shopfront among the many that line Wal­ton Street, in the quaint and ex­tremely monied bit of Lon­don where Knights­bridge blends into South Kens­ing­ton. From the mo­ment it opened in late 2014, Lon­don’s tastemaker grapevine hummed with word of this cosy, clev­erly fit­ted-out space, and its eclec­ti­cism, orig­i­nal­ity, and deep ap­peal.

Here was a store where a small clutch of Vene­tian crys­tal glasses, pro­duced by the noble­man Gib­erto Ar­riv­abene, would be ar­ranged un­der a light on a shelf with the so­lic­i­tude of a dealer of price­less works of art, next to a sin­gle pair of deep jewel-green vel­vet mules by the ob­scure de­signer Beryl Le Monde, show­cased with equal care. Del­i­cate racks were hung spar­ingly with silk and satin py­ja­mas and sub­tly pat­terned silk-twill dress­ing gowns. Lucite shelves in the front vit­rines would hold a pair of sheep­skin-clad stools one week, and lim­it­ededi­tion Per­spex repli­cas of fa­mous, rare al­bum cov­ers from the 1970s the next. Line draw­ings by the fash­ion il­lus­tra­tor Tanya Ling filled one wall in a mes­meris­ing un­du­la­tion of deep blue against white; close by were util­i­tar­ian-chic womenswear de­signs by for­mer Her­mès cre­ative di­rec­tor Christophe Le­maire.

What re­ally stood out, though – even for Lon­don’s supremely blasé, seen-it-all co­terie of fash­ion and style editors – was the cal­i­bre and sin­gu­lar­ity of the Alex Ea­gle col­lab­o­ra­tions. Those slinky night­clothes? A project with ven­er­a­ble old Jermyn Street cob­bler­hab­er­dash­ers New & Ling­wood (and meant, by the way, for day­time wear). That trio of swoon-wor­thy long silk polka-dot dresses? An Ea­gle in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Olga Vil­shenko, a de­signer known for her tai­lored, min­i­mal­ist takes on the extravagant folk­loric shapes and con­cepts of her na­tive Rus­sia. The im­pec­ca­bly cut women’s vel­vet and tweed or silk evening jack­ets were de­vel­oped with Blazé, a then-nascent Mi­lanese duo who ar­guably owe their cur­rent white-hot fash­ion sta­tus to their early pres­ence here. The Alex Ea­gle lug­gage – all old-school cor­ners and buck­les, ex­e­cuted in chic navy – was in­stead a meet­ing of minds with 250-year-old Bri­tish ar­ti­san leather­work­ers Swaine Adeney Brigg.

Es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional names and cot­tage-in­dus­try Bri­tish ones alike found a home in this most un­ex­pected and orig­i­nal of ed­its, as did in­ter­pre­ta­tions of ex­treme fem­i­nin­ity and adorn­ment-es­chew­ing menswear style. Alex Ea­gle was a place that, above all, man­i­festly – in­vig­o­rat­ingly, de­light­fully – re­fused char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

Cut to 2018, and Alex Ea­gle – the 34-year-old woman who, like her store, em­bod­ies many roles: shop­keeper, art dealer, womenswear de­signer, cu­ra­tor, aes­thete par ex­cel­lence – is still all about that eclectic mix. But the mix is a far big­ger en­ter­prise these days. Ea­gle now pre­sides over a small re­tail fief­dom in Bri­tain, com­pris­ing Alex Ea­gle Stu­dio (which in 2017 moved from its Wal­ton Street digs to a mas­sive ground-level space in a for­mer park­ing garage on Lex­ing­ton Street, in the heart of Soho); a spar­ely de­signed but lushly pop­u­lated e-com­merce web­site; and two out­posts of The Store by Alex Ea­gle, her re­tail part­ner­ship with Soho House (the first opened in 2014 at Soho House Ber­lin, the sec­ond in 2016 at Soho Farm­house in Ox­ford­shire). Ea­gle is cur­rently rolling out a far larger in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the con­cept – lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively – at 180 The Strand, the multi-pur­pose of­fice/re­tail/en­ter­tain­ment project that has taken over Arun­del Great Court, the land­mark Bru­tal­ist build­ing above Vic­to­ria Em­bank­ment. Ea­gle has been the long-lead ten­ant and gen­eral gal­vaniser on the ini­tia­tive, which al­ready boasts a gilded ros­ter of oc­cu­pants such as David Chip­per­field, Dazed Me­dia, and the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil. The Store at 180 The Strand will see a wide mix of niche fash­ion, de­sign, art, events and some lo-fi but in­evitably ex­cel­lent food and drink op­tions and gallery space.

The Alex Ea­gle re­tail edit is, over­all, still sin­gu­lar, though it in­cludes il­lus­tra­tors, flo­ral artists, em­i­nent early 20th-cen­tury fur­ni­ture de­sign­ers (mint pieces by Pierre Jean­neret or Emile-Jac­ques Ruhlmann are known to pop up ev­ery so of­ten in the in­ven­tory), crys­tal and leather work­ers, ce­ram­i­cists, jewellers, even emerg­ing stars of the vis­ual and record­ing arts worlds.

And, of course, a lot of fash­ion. Though in Ea­gle’s world, that’s a rel­a­tive, not to men­tion loaded, term. She started her ca­reer as a fash­ion edi­tor, first at Tank and then UK Bazaar, then leapt the church-state di­vide to work the pub­lic re­la­tions side of things at sem­i­nal Bri­tish brand Joseph for a few years be­fore strik­ing out on her own. “I think [my vi­sion] comes from hav­ing worked in that world,” she tells me dur­ing a long chat in late Jan­uary, as she pre­pares to host a glam­orous din­ner at 180 Strand that’s part of the Min­i­mal­ist-Max­i­mal­ist

Ball event se­ries she founded in 2017 with Marie-Louise Sciò, the owner-di­rec­tor of sump­tu­ous Ital­ian ho­tels Il Pel­li­cano and La Posta Vec­chia (who has be­come a close friend of hers).

“It’s sort of the an­tithe­sis of what I did and how I lived then. In fash­ion there’s al­ways the new sea­son; the cy­cle was so brief, you’re con­stantly see­ing – want­ing – new stuff. By the time I was in my late 20s, I had a real de­sire to have less to prove that way. I didn’t want to al­ways be want­ing more clothes, wor­ry­ing about whether what I had was still cool. After a point it’s a bit ex­haust­ing – ‘Do I re­ally love sheep­skin, or am I be­ing swayed be­cause ev­ery­one else does?’

“So what I wanted to de­sign for my­self, to edit for my­self, was al­most the an­tithe­sis of that fash­ion of my 20s. I wanted Alex Ea­gle Stu­dio to be about what you re­ally need: that one dress­ing gown, that one per­fect shirt, that one cash­mere throw. I know – who re­ally needs a cash­mere throw on their sofa? But if it’s one that works per­fectly there, and that you can stuff in your car­ryon and travel with, and you can wrap up in when you’re not feel­ing well: that’s an ideal, de­sir­able thing.”

Ea­gle’s col­lab­o­ra­tions with de­sign­ers, mak­ers, and ar­ti­sans have like­wise all been shaped by this fil­ter. “It’s al­ways about longevity and qual­ity. And it doesn’t have to be su­per-ex­pen­sive. The peo­ple I col­lab­o­rate with, or have in the past, are the ones who have just nailed some­thing; they’re do­ing it and do­ing it amaz­ingly. The Blazé Mi­lano girls did it with the blazer; Gib­erto did it with his Vene­tian crys­tal.” Ea­gle’s own hexag­o­nal­rimmed crys­tal tum­bler de­sign, pro­duced with Ar­riv­abene’s Venice-based brand, Gib­erto, is a reg­u­lar sell­out in the shop and on­line.

“And not just with the col­lab­o­ra­tions but also with pieces I de­signed, I wanted items that would be al­ways in pro­duc­tion; things that you can al­ways come back and buy.” She notes how even brands that os­ten­si­bly em­body con­sis­tency of style and mes­sage, like Cé­line un­der Phoebe Philo, don’t al­ways de­liver on this: “You know, the [Cé­line] trousers are in­vari­ably amaz­ing – al­ways more or less the same sil­hou­ette – but you kind of want the ac­tual ex­act piece again, don’t you? Hav­ing it in, I don’t know, a stripe or a dif­fer­ent wool is good, but the build­ing block, the shape, you don’t want to change. Men have al­ways had this avail­able to them, it’s the na­ture of hab­er­dash­ery: the same shirt fit in dif­fer­ent cot­tons, the same v-neck in dif­fer­ent colours. It’s been far eas­ier for them to have that re­li­able uni­form.”

Menswear’s ease of use and peren­nial rel­e­vance are what Ea­gle pro­pounds, beau­ti­fully, in her own womenswear col­lec­tion: a hand­ful of un­der­stated and im­pec­ca­bly crafted pieces whose fun­da­men­tal na­ture doesn’t change over time. She has de­scribed it as a com­bi­na­tion of “those com­po­nents [of my own wardrobe] I live in un­til they’re thread­bare, and those pieces that lived in my imag­i­na­tion be­cause I couldn’t find them any­where.” The pal­ettes may evolve, the fin­ishes too; but the ge­nius of, for in­stance, her scarf­neck blouse – cut from sump­tu­ous cady silk, in which the near-ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­gance of the heavy wrap neck (which can be draped, tied, or sim­ply thrown back over

“Fash­ion is a bit ex­haust­ing – ‘Do I re­ally love sheep­skin, or am I be­ing swayed be­cause ev­ery­one else does?’”

one’s shoul­ders) con­trasts beau­ti­fully with the fluid move­ment of the body – is ac­tu­ally that it stays the same. Like­wise the Alex Ea­gle sig­na­ture pants suit, its dou­ble­breasted jacket and Hep­burn-es­que pleated trousers cut in sum­mer-sky blue, cream, or stone linen, which re­li­ably de­liv­ers el­e­gant fit and fault­less drape.

There are, very much by de­sign, no sea­sons or cy­cles to the Alex Ea­gle line; new colours and the (very) oc­ca­sional new style are in­tro­duced in­ter­mit­tently through­out the year, in­de­pen­dent of the con­straints of any fash­ion calendar. “I didn’t want things that you wouldn’t be able to come back and find a year, or two, or three later. And I also didn’t want to de­sign things that would then go on sale – I don’t want to ask a woman to pay £950 ($1700) for one of my blaz­ers and then she comes in a few months later and it’s £600. The qual­ity should make it al­ways worth its price.” I can at­test first­hand to the mer­its of an Alex Ea­gle in­vest­ment: the sleeve­less scarf blouse may re­tail at a not in­con­se­quen­tial £395, but I prob­a­bly amor­tised my ini­tial out­lay in the first three months I owned it, so valu­able and ver­sa­tile a role did it im­me­di­ately as­sume in my wardrobe. (And if if I had a pound for ev­ery ‘Where did you buy that?’, I’d be rein­vest­ing my prof­its by now.)

The Alex Ea­gle col­lec­tion has been so well re­ceived that Ea­gle has just launched a be­spoke tai­lor­ing ser­vice. “They’re all our own shapes, all with­out un­nec­es­sary trim. It’s en­tirely made-to-mea­sure; my clients choose the fab­ric, the lin­ing, ev­ery­thing. But there will be an off-the-peg ver­sion of ev­ery­thing as well.” In lieu of pro­fes­sional mod­els Ea­gle re­cruited friends to fea­ture in the photo shoot for her new line, which she runs on the web­site, on her In­sta­gram feed, and along the ex­te­rior walls of the Stu­dio on Lex­ing­ton Street. It’s re­sulted in one of the more suc­cess­ful, and con­vinc­ingly chic, in­stances of a de­signer us­ing “women from real life” to il­lus­trate the broad ap­peal of fine tai­lor­ing. Among them are artists In­dre Ser­py­tyteRoberts and Cassie Machado, in­te­rior de­signer Fran Hickman, and pre-em­i­nent Lon­don so­lic­i­tor (and Ea­gle’s aunt) Oon­agh Alen-Buck­ley – and her own mother, who is also her stu­dio di­rec­tor.

That Ea­gle cast her own re­la­tions in a cam­paign is typ­i­cal of her idio­syn­cratic lens on how fash­ion should work in our lives; her fam­ily in fact played a sem­i­nal role in the for­ma­tion of her poly­math’s view of the world. Her par­ents trav­elled widely with her when she was young; her mother and fa­ther both worked in tele­vi­sion, and her fa­ther as a some­time art dealer and scout, pa­trolling Por­to­bello Road in its hey­day for promis­ing in­ven­tory. “He fell a bit out of love with TV jour­nal­ism at a cer­tain point, and then as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the es­tate of a Bri­tish artist, and was tasked with build­ing up his rep­u­ta­tion. And he even­tu­ally ex­panded that and be­came a dealer, spe­cial­is­ing in 19th and 20th-cen­tury Bri­tish art.” Robert Ea­gle Fine Art oc­ca­sion­ally par­tic­i­pates in life at Alex Ea­gle Stu­dio. “He’ll do a show on the lower ground floor, or I might bor­row some­thing to dis­play in the store. I’m more about con­tem­po­rary, liv­ing artists, of­ten fe­male; my dad’s stuff isn’t the work I’m nec­es­sar­ily buy­ing or sourc­ing, but I do like hav­ing it in the mix some­times.

“I didn’t want things that you wouldn’t be able to come back and find a year, or two, or three later.”

And he’s great at know­ing what might ap­pre­ci­ate [in value], with­out be­ing at all about sta­tus col­lect­ing.”

“Sta­tus” isn’t a sig­ni­fier that seems to have gold­en­ring ap­peal for Ea­gle in her re­tail pur­suits. While the skills of cu­ra­tion in play at both the Stu­dio and in The Sto­ries in Lon­don and Ber­lin are clearly for­mi­da­ble, noth­ing about those en­vi­ron­ments feels clubby, ex­clu­sive or re­motely un­wel­com­ing. “For Ber­lin, the first Store, I had the idea of a big space that was more hang­out than shop. I de­signed some fur­ni­ture and mixed it with some early 20th-cen­tury stuff; we put in a juice bar and a bit of healthy food. We in­clude more of those fun, fash­ion-y brands in the mix – Vete­ments, Of­fWhite, Junya [Watan­abe] – so it’s a bit more of a sea­sonal of­fer­ing there. But there are the books and some art, and my de­signs, too. The idea was for that mix to be interactive, and un­pre­ten­tious.”

Part of the rea­son art, and books, and lim­it­ededi­tion house­wares and one-off early 20th-cen­tury an­tiques meet in such a con­vinc­ing en­counter in the Ea­gle realms, whether at Stu­dio or one of The Sto­ries, is be­cause that’s the way she lives at home. Her hus­band, property in­vestor-de­vel­oper Mark Wad­hwa, founded The Vinyl Fac­tory, the in­de­pen­dent record press­ing com­pany that has ex­panded into an in­flu­en­tial mu­sic-arts en­ter­prise whose col­lab­o­ra­tors over the years have ranged from Mas­sive At­tack and Daft Punk to the vis­ual artists Martin Creed and Jake and Di­nos Chap­man. (The Vinyl Fac­tory’s lat­est ini­tia­tive, VF Com­mis­sions, works with artists both ma­jor and emerg­ing on site-spe­cific works; and the Vinyl Fac­tory has re­cently put on shows at venues in­clud­ing 180 The Strand, where it is now a ten­ant.) The loft-like Soho home Ea­gle shares with Wad­hwa and their one-yearold son, Jack, ra­di­ates the same eclectic cre­ativ­ity, in­clu­sive aes­thetic, and col­lab­o­ra­tive in­cli­na­tion her clients find in her re­tail en­vi­ron­ments.

We fin­ish our long Jan­uary chat dis­cussing pos­si­bil­i­ties for in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion. Ea­gle oc­ca­sion­ally toys with the idea of Paris; pays homage to the deep craft and her­itage tra­di­tions of Ja­pan (“They get it all there, and they care so much about the fin­ish, which is my own ob­ses­sion”); and gen­uinely sees po­ten­tial in an ex­pan­sion to LA (“Mark al­ways tells me you’ve got to want to re­ally be where you’re go­ing to do things cre­atively; and I can ab­so­lutely see spend­ing part of each year there”). And what does she think of Aus­tralian style? A smile down the phone line, a surge of en­thu­si­asm. “They love all the artists’ col­lab­o­ra­tions; and they’re not snobs at all. There’s no pre­tence – they’re all about the charm.” She name-checks a few Aus­tralians she ad­mires, among them Sydney-based in­te­rior de­signer Tam­sin John­son: “In­cred­i­ble style, a great eye – she’s re­ally in­spired by the whole globe, but never pre­ten­tious. She’s also not try­ing to do any­thing that’s not Aus­tralian.

“I think she’s very much like me, ac­tu­ally,” Ea­gle con­cludes – which I take to mean, true to her own wide aes­thetic, her own re­li­able sense of what works to­gether. “You know: ‘Is it ‘taste’, or is it ter­ri­ble?’ Who gives a shit, be­cause it’s such fun.”

Ea­gle toys with the idea of Paris, pays homage to the deep craft of Ja­pan, and sees po­ten­tial in LA.

Clock­wise from left: the stu­dio; the event space; the Ber­lin store; and a suit and coat from the Alex Ea­gle be­spoke di­vi­sion

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