Listen to a Londoner: Suzi Brown

1236470_10153187321435582_131357059_n

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!)

Mama Brown's

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.

Brooski Jewellery

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.

Miro's Love Bites

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.

Torula Bags

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.

cire trudon candles

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:
SB:
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.

Year Zero Bag

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?

Imperial Collection Vodka

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?

Flower Headbands 1

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!

Communal Table

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.

Thanks Suzi!

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).

Advertisements

A Stroll Through Soho and an Exhibition at The Society Club

The news came through the other day that four of my Soho photo will be featured on the walls of The Society Club from this Friday, May 10, for about a month. Very exciting!

The images were chosen from some submissions to Yelp’s contest to capture this area of London. Any sales go to The Soho School. Stop by if you can. The Society Club made it onto CNN Travel’s list of 10 of the most interesting shops in London. We popped in there a few weeks ago when we were to Ginger & White and it’s definitely eccentric with a quirky mix of books on the shelves lining the walls, a long table in the middle and a small gallery space downstairs. There is also a resident dog that hangs out inside. Stop down and check it out if you get a chance. There should be 24 photos of the area in the exhibition, I believe.
One for the diary! (The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place Soho, W1F 0JF). 

And now for some photos from the walk Jorge and I took around the once-much-seedier streets of Soho. These aren’t the photos in the exhibition (except one and I’m not going to tell you which…). I loved that this fish & chips joint is called the Dining Plaice. A little creativity in a shop name goes a long way! Reminds me of The Codfather.

P1000008

We walked through Berwick Street Market, which is small but still vibrant with the few stalls that are left and the creative shops on their side of the street. In the 60s, this street was the place to buy records from independent shops.

P1000009

The music scene has been replaced by fruits, vegetables and vintage clothes now and there were a few street photographers scattered around against the walls waiting for a good shot.

P1000013

I took photos of a few colourful shop fronts because I liked the names or the colours. Soho is still one of London’s eccentric areas and it attracts a creative and trendy crowd as well as a steady stream of tourists.

P1000011

Flowers were for sale in quite a few places as well, outside shops like the one above, or from vendors working a market stall like the one below. Some of these stalls have likely been passed through families as the market has established in the 18th century.

P1000012

A little taste of Soho fashion in that one up there as well. And looking up can be key, as my dad says to do in this city. You never know what you might see, like this here roof garden and funky green tiles.

P1000014

The Market leads into Walkers Court, a little alleyway.

P1000018

There’s not so much left of London’s sex industry for which this area was the main hub. It still is, but there’s no obvious prostitution on the streets as there was once upon a time. It’s mainly closed up in flats now, indicated by signs that say “model” on street level doorways.

Walkers Court has a few sex shops selling vibrators, whips and DVDs, private dance clubs for a good old striptease and plenty of Viagara advertisements.

P1000019

From there, we made out way to Soho Square, with its French church, nearby Hare Krishna temple, the British Board of Film Classification and Paul McCartney’s MLP Communications company.  In the 1700’s it was home to The White House which was called a “high class magical brothel”…

P1000034

There’s a small cottage at the center of the square which was an air raid shelter during the Blitz.

P1000031

Not sure if they are still there, but there was a series of sculptures by Bruce Denny in one corner of the square.

P1000029

We sat on a bench in the park people watching for a while, enjoying the nice weather.

P1000033

We had a little wander through Chinatown, where you can get a massage and dinner in the same building…

P1000048

I found a splash of colour and made Jorge do a bit of modelling for me.

P1000049

And then we had a tea and cake in Ginger & White, which I loved and wrote about already so I won’t bore you with any more photos. At the end of that same street is The Society Club which the photo exhibition I wrote about above will be held. We couldn’t help but scope it out. If there’s poetry on a board outdoors, that’s always a good start.

P1000082

We ended up exploring the little basement gallery.

P1000085

On our way back home, we wandered through the back alleyways.

P1000046

Sometimes my favourite photographs to take are the simplest ones – little splashes of colour and textures that are tempting to touch.

P1000086

And, of course, street art, like this Invader piece that’s been in Soho for what seems like forever.

P1000087

We walked back through the throngs of tourists on Carnaby Street.

P1000089

And I played a bit of the tourism game outside of Liberty just for fun. When in Rome, right?

P1000092

Speaking of Liberty, it’s a bit of an institution around here and well worth a visit, particularly the first floor which sells expensive but nice things (and they’re one of only a few shops that stock French brand Sessun, which I love) and the top floor which often gets skipped over but they have some amazing furniture and home decor as well as the brand RE, in a little room of its own, where they sell “raRE, REmarkable, REcycled, REscued and REstored homewares and accessories”.

P1000093

The old building itself is stunning with its natural light, beautiful wood floors and high ceilings.

P1000095

Love their creative plant displays!

P1000094

And the spray-painted shopping baskets in RE are pretty fabulous too.

P1000096

Do you spend much time in Soho? If so, where’s your favourite place to hang out? 

A Snowy Afternoon in Islington

On a cold, windy, snowy Saturday afternoon, Jorge and I contemplated heading to Heathrow and tossing ourselves on the first flight to sunshine, but considering the time restrictions of an ordinary weekend and the fact that it was already late morning, we decided to venture on a 50 minute bus journey over to Islington.

IMG_1958

Certainly not any warmer, but somewhere a bit  different.

Islington

We decided to warm up when we arrived with some hot lunch at The Elk in the Woods when we arrived.

IMG_1978

We both chose the thick, creamy mushroom soup that came with a chunk of butter and fresh toasted bread. Yum!

IMG_1971

The decor was, as you would expect, full of unfinished wooden slabs as tables and plenty of skulls on the walls. Elk, I suppose.

IMG_1973

And some woodsy green wallpaper.

IMG_1975

More elk.

IMG_1976

And a wall of mismatched mirrors.

IMG_1977

Full of warm food and bundled back into scarves and gloves, we headed back outside to Camden Passage. If it was Summertime (which, at this point, seems nowhere in sight…) Issy’s Milky Way ice cream parlour across the road may have been tempting. Brrrrr!

IMG_1979

We wandered past a few market stalls selling quirky tat and vintage dresses and windows full of antique silver bowls and glasses.

face

Collars up against the cold and eyes squinting in the wind, we found shelter in our next stop, After Noah.

IMG_1997

Inside was a jumble of vintage style toys, candies, satchells, wrapping paper, clocks, knick-knacks and furniture.

IMG_1982

Model planes, old theatre signs, bed frames with peeling paint.

IMG_1983

Signs from shops, greeting cards, games.

IMG_1984

Battered chairs, jewellery, coasters advertising brands like OXO with a long British history.

IMG_1985

Tables, desks, lamps and mirrors.

IMG_1986

An old storage box for keys shoes or love letters.

IMG_1987

Mini rocking horses, sets of drawers and a few scattered books.

IMG_1988

Every wall was covered with plenty to keep our eyes busy!

IMG_1989

They had a pretty little garden out back with pots and plants and glass tiles covering the ground.

IMG_1992

Shelves full of satchells, note pads and old dial-up phones attached to the walls.

IMG_1994

Thermometers, quirky bicycle pillows that reminded us of Stumper & Fielding on Portobello Road and a few spinning globes.

IMG_1995

After we finished there and luckily emerged empty handed, we walked down to the more contemporary Aria on Barnsbury Street.

IMG_2012

It’s housed in a beautiful old building that’s completely renovated on the outside but inside is a different story.

IMG_1998

It is an interesting shop, but it is full of designers that you find other places as well, like Heals on King’s Road nearer to us, so nothing incredibly original that would warrant a special trip to East London but a fun place to visit if it’s local.

IMG_2011

There were brands like Paul Smith, Jonathan Adler, Vivienne Westwood, but a few quirkier bits and pieces as well.

IMG_2006

They also had an old pinball machine!

IMG_1999

There were some tribal statues.

IMG_2001

Some kitchen goodies.

IMG_2004

Candleholders.

IMG_2007

Books…

IMG_2009

Some interesting table settings with plants potted in china and heart-shaped spoons.

IMG_2003

Speaking of china, it was time for tea. The snow was coming down harder now outside the window, in big fluffy flakes. We wandered to the nearest interesting looking side street which happened to be Cross Street where we happened upon a bit of street art.

IMG_6062

And then we ducked into the warmth of Chameleon Cafe for that much-needed tea, stuck some business cards onto their wall of cards and then headed back toward the bus stop. I got distracted by trying on a few dresses in Diverse on Upper Street, but it was far too cold for anymore outdoor exploring and the number 19 was just around the corner.

We spontaneously decided to hop off at the grand old Fortum & Mason on Piccadilly halfway home. We amused ourselves with expensive things we couldn’t afford and stopped to oogle the Ascot-style hats:

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 17.56.22

I bought some cards by Chase And Wonder, Jorge bought some whiskey and we stocked up on some goodies like a Spanish chorizo spread, some mint sauce and some delicious fruit I remember from Colombia called granadilla which has a hard orange shell that you break and then suck out the sweet passion fruit-like seeds. Delicious. Oh, and some kettle corn style popcorn that we devoured during the rest of the ride home!

London’s Best Independent Shops

I wrote this originally for TownFish, but I wanted to share a slightly modified version with you featuring some of my favourite independent shops in London. Though it may seem like every other shop in London is a Zara, Tesco or Starbucks, there are still many eccentric, vibrant independent shops thriving among the high street mega-brands. This is not an extensive list, just a taste. Quite frankly, I’m not very inspired by the high street shops at the moment so tell me your own favourites in the comments and lead me out of my London shopping rut!

Aria

Barnsbury Hall, Barnsbury Street, London N1 1PN

An Islington lifestyle and design shop housed in the spacious Barnsbury Hall where you’ll find furniture, headphones, recipe books, jewellery and everything in between. Brands include Paul Smith, Cowshed, Jonathan Adler, Vivienne Westwood and many others. Many of the staff are designers themselves and love to talk about their products.

Photo from Aria’s website

Artwords Bookshop

20-22 Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ

Wouldn’t you agree that despite the wonders of technology, there’s something to be said about flipping the pages of a real book or magazine? East London’s Artwords has a great selection of art books and those hard-to-find independent fashion magazines galore that cater to the creative local community.

Photo from Shop Ikon

Daunt

83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW

Hands down my favourite bookshop in London, this independent gem is housed in an old Edwardian building with oak columns and skylights with two floors of books arranged by country or area in which they are set. They not only have travel guides but plenty of fiction, non fiction and those wonderful, beautiful, photography-filled coffee table style books (which, I keep trying to remind myself) are a bad obsession to have when you know you won’t be living in the same house forever…)

Photo from Urban75

Drink, Shop & Do

9 Caledonian Road,  London N1 9DX

Tucked away in an old Victorian bathhouse in King’s Cross, this is a hidden gem where you can indulge in an afternoon of tea and crumpets while playing board games and shopping from the collections of local designers. They play host to a variety of quirky activity nights where you can create Lego robots, get a pin-up girl makeover or learn the official dance to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”.

Photo from MyCityVenue

Fernandez & Wells

43 Lexington Street,  London W1F 9AL

Those who stumble upon Soho’s coffee heaven that is Fernandez & Wells speak of it fondly and nearly always return. Rustic wooden floors, a relaxed vibe, giant picture windows for people watching and, of course, fresh and delicious food makes the original shop a favourite central London lunchtime haunt. There are now five branches in London including a brand new addition recently opened in South Kensington.

Photo from You Should Go Here

Jessie Chorley & Buddog

58 Columbia Road, London E2 7RG

Originally a stall in Broadway Market, Jessie & Buddug was transformed into a beautiful, creative shop on Columbia Road in 2008. The two friends / artists from Snowdonia dig back to their Welsh roots to create beautiful handmade pieces like greeting cards, decoupage picture frames and photo albums, engraved jewellery and embellished vintage clothing. There is enormous attention to details and the girls are wonderfully inviting.

Photo from Bird In The House

Jimmie Martin

77 Kensington Church St, London W8 4BG

Described as “furniture combining the decadent and quirky with the nostalgic and urban”, this Kensington Church Street shop is full of one-off chairs with sausage dogs, graffiti covered wardrobes and other items for the home designed in bold colours and pop-culture imagery. With a celeb following, designers Jimmie Karlsson and Martin Nihlmar have created pieces for Kelly Osbourne, Pete Townshend, Kylie Minogue and Madonna among others.

Photo from Creative Mapping

Le Grenier

146 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6DG

That’s French for “attic”, a great description of this treasure trove of vintage goodies. For the last four years, husband and wife team Jean-Louis and Yuko have scoured markets and antique fairs in the UK and France for pieces of furniture, kitchenware, jewellery and other knick-knacks they are proud to sell. They even have a lease service if you’re after a prop for a special event.

Photo from Twenty Something London

Liberty

Regent Street, London W1B 5AH

Who doesn’t know of London’s famous Liberty? I’ve included it mainly becuase they stock French clothing brand Sessùn which I love. Also the old tudor building is stunning and, having been around since 1875, a piece of British heritage and an emporium housing some of the world’s most luxurious brands.

Photo from Liberty’s website

Lumiere

88 Chatsworth Road, London E5 0LS

A magical place of oddities with under floor lighting, fake flickering candles and a disco ball, stop by for delicious smoothies, original cocktails (one, for example, made with water from bags of mozzarella cheese) and French film nights. Be sure to venture downstairs and make sure you pop into the memorable loo.

Photo from Scout London

Radio Days

87 Lower Marsh Street, London SE1 7AB

Step into Radio Days and walk through multiple eras of vintage clothing, accessories like glittering broaches, bullet bras, stacks of old magazines and home decor from the 1920s to the 1980s amid a nostalgic soundtrack that takes you back in time. Staff are knowledgeable and welcoming.

Photo by LLO

Scootercaffe

132 Lower Marsh Street, London SE1 7AE

A tiny unassuming gem hidden behind Southbank on Lower Marsh Street, walk inside and you’re hit with the aroma of ground coffee beans. They could also possibly have the best hot chocolate in London. But the real charm is in the mismatched décor with its vintage sign and odds and ends as well as the resident cat who is normally curled up on a chair but is quite happy to receive attention. Head to the basement to settle in with free wi-fi and old school jazz.

Photo from Fluid London

Stumper & Fielding

107 Portobello Road, London W11 2QB

Think country chic tweeds, classic union jacks, riding coats, tea towels embellished with bicycles, brogues and wellies. Quality style for the gentleman is this tiny shop’s main focus but there’s plenty for the ladies as well. Stop by to visit on Portobello Road. They don’t have a website yet.

Photo from Stumper & Fielding Facebook page

The Bridge Coffee Shop

5 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8AA

While the coffee and cakes are great, it’s the sensory overload here that’s the real draw. This Dickensian-style coffee shop is nestled under the bridge on Shoreditch High Street and contains a fascinating array of décor from Tiffany lamps to vintage fluorescent signs to old photographs and gilt mirrors. Upstairs, on creaky wooden floorboard sit quirky fuchsia pink chairs where you can sit and chat with friends for hours.

the bridge cafe shoreditchPhoto by LLO

The Make Lounge

3-4 Waterloo Gardens, Barnsbury Street, London N1 1TY

Not only is this a shop which stocks all sorts of lovely craft supplies, the Make Lounge also holds regular workshops where you can learn to make homemade jam, a bespoke lampshade or even a pair of knickers. With wine and biscuits at hand, socializing while learning a new craft is highly encouraged!

Photo from The Make Lounge

Unpackaged

97 Richmond Road, London E8 3NJ

This one does what it says on the tin in that it sells unpackaged food to avoid so much unnecessary waste being sent to the landfills. It started back in 2006, but in 2012 relocated to a larger space in Hackney. On your first shop, your containers will be weighed and given an official unpackaged sticker. There is also a café, but remember to bring your own cup!

Photo from Singaporean in London

Also worth a quick mention, though there are many more, pop in to The Last Tuesday Society for the underworld of taxidermy, Tatty Devine to pick up a colourful and witty Perspex necklace or The Merchant for second hand high end designer clothes.

South Bank Christmas Market

I went down to the Christmas market on South Bank last weekend. Music floated up the stairs to the bridge, kids on piggyback, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, shopping and chatting and a general good Christmas spirit!

Christmas Market Crowds

So, tell me… Do you celebrate Christmas? how’s the shopping going? Do you love the holiday season or loathe it? Favourite or least favourite time of the year? Are you staying in London for Christmas? What are your plans?