I received an email the other day inviting me to a little shindig to kick off something called “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. The message said it involved fashion, all sorts of art (including”specially curated graffiti”), the offer of some Monday evening drinks, a spot of shopping with local artisan vendors, food (always important) – in particular, home-cooked Middle Eastern treats and some comfy lounge-style sofas.
What could be better apart from the fact that it’s set in the old abandoned Victorian post office on King’s Road that’s always intrigued me and the fact that it’s less than two minutes walk from our flat? Yes, please. Count me in.
So I decided to interview the brains behind this operation to find out what it’s really all about and, well, who exactly is “Mama Brown”? Turns out she’s Suzi Brown and she’s a pretty fascinating person indeed. She’s well travelled, has a light installation in her dining room from a Saudi Arabian artist and she believes in cooking good food and bringing together people from all walks of life. Read on for more.
(Note: These are press photos throughout besides a couple from Mama Brown’s Facebook page, but I’ll be sure to take some to share with you at the event on Monday night!)
LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. What’s your favourite London discovery?
SB: I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and grew up in Lebanon. When the war started in 1975, I came to the UK to study at Oxford and then went on to Richmond College and earned a BA in Art History. London is now my home. There’s nowhere like it. It is the centre of the modern world, yet it maintains a rich sense of history and tradition. That’s what gives London its edge and that’s why people keep coming back. Just when you think you know it, London presents another side that you never even knew existed. It is then that you realise you’ve only just scratched the surface of this amazing city. Discovery is the norm in this eclectic and international place.
LLO: The old Victorian post office on King’s Road will host your upcoming event “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. What can we expect from the “experience”? What will the atmosphere be like? Also, talk a bit about your choice of venue.
SB: When I first walked into the post office on King’s Road, it was in a sad state – dirty and grimy, with no source of water or power. But there was something about the space that I knew would lend itself well to what I wanted to do with Mama Brown’s. It was huge, cavernous, and gritty. It was like working with a blank canvass, “tabula rasa“. We immediately seized the challenge of transforming the space into what it is now. The atmosphere is a bit of London’s East End meets London’s West End. Mama Brown’s is bringing a bit of Shoreditch street flavour to the posh neighbourhood of Chelsea.
LLO: What prompted you to set up the first Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience over the Summer and where was it? What were the highlights? What’s new this time?
SB: The first Mama Brown’s was at Holland Park. It was hugely successful as it was an intimate setting where art, design, culture and cuisine came together. Apart from the amazing showcase of merchandise that came from all around the world, people were very much impressed by the organic Middle Eastern food that was served fresh every day. That was definitely a highlight.The idea was born through my love of bringing people from all walks of life together at huge communal tables – each person sharing his or her own experiences in life, culture, food and art. But this time, I want to take things even further by making the experience even more memorable, more enriching, more impressively festive. Of course, Mama Brown’s will still have the same heart and soul that made people fall in love with it the first time around, but we have a few more surprises up our sleeves that are sure to delight. There will be more art to admire, more beautiful merchandise and even better food. We are bringing in lots of new vendors whose items you will fall in love with.
LLO: Tell us about a couple of the stand out vendors who will be there on King’s Road.
SB: It’s difficult to name only two as all of them are stand outs in my opinion. Each one is bringing in something totally different from the other. What makes Mama Brown’s different and unique is that all these amazing designers, whether they are established or up-and-coming, will be found under one roof.
LLO: Give us your top choice of gift for holiday shoppers looking to buy something fun at Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience for each of the following:
Mum: A beautiful and ornate cashmere shawl
Dad: A pair of exquisite cufflinks
Brother: A cool, one-off designer shirt
Best girl friend: Gorgeous accessories for everyday
Boyfriend: A holiday weekend bag or a nice leather iPad cover with his initials
LLO: I hear there will be “specially curated graffiti” on display at the event. What sort of specially curated graffiti? Also, with artist Ben Wilson’s recent chewing gum art trail down King’s Road, do you think Chelsea’s becoming more open minded about embracing street art? Or will it stay in the east?
SB: The space we have was a virtual blank slate and we had to think of ways to aesthetically transform it whilst keeping the edgy character of the place intact. Graffiti is the one art form that we felt would allow us to do this. But it couldn’t just be any graffiti. The style had to reflect what Mama Brown’s is all about – avant-garde, yet classic; street, yet clean and functional. Yes, we are in Chelsea, yet we are bringing some edge to it. Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art on the King’s Road is a breath of fresh air. It tells us that the neighbourhood can appreciate beauty in all forms.
LLO: What is your favourite piece of art in your private collection?
SB: It would definitely be the Ahmed Mater light installation in my dining room. It is difficult to explain why. Art is art and it speaks to each one of us differently. That’s why art is so special, isn’t it?
LLO: Where does your love of cooking come from? What will we be eating at Mama Brown’s Pop Up Experience?
SB: When you are a mother of five children, you learn how to diversify and experiment when it comes to cooking! Apart from that, I was exposed to some of the best cuisine from an early age, growing up in an Arabic household. I am an avid traveller and I believe one of the best ways to experience culture is through food. I bring the flavours and tastes of my travels to every dinner party I host and to every meal I prepare for my loved ones. Mama Brown’s is a labour of love. What better way to show my guests my appreciation than by preparing some of my best-loved Arabic dishes at Mama Brown’s?
LLO: What’s your favourite holiday season tradition and why? Any holiday season pet peeves?
SB: It would have to be the time I get to spend with my family over the winter break. We have a tradition of travelling to a corner of the globe that we have never been to. Last year, we spent a glorious three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was amazing – totally immersing ourselves in a new culture. Apart from spending time lounging on tropical beaches, we did some really interesting things that we’ll never forget, like planting rice in rice paddies. Pet peeves? I abhor packing and tourist traps!
LLO: You’ve been called “London’s ultimate hostess”. That’s a big name to live up to! What are your top three hosting tips for the rest of us?
SB: A big name to live up to, indeed! If I didn’t love bringing people together, I would never do it. I love to host and I do it very frequently – whether it’s a small intimate dinner with my closest friends or a big party until the early hours.
Top three tips:
1. Food made with love. Everyone loves a delicious meal. It’s what people remember most at the end of the night.
2. Introduce new blood. Always make it a point to bring in a few new faces each time you entertain. It makes things more interesting.
3. Create a fun atmosphere with no stress.
Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience is located at 232 King’s Road, Chelsea and will be open to the public from the 26th of November until the 15th of December (Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00am-7:00pm).