Banishing tacky, plastic model telephone boxes, I HEART London caps and ‘Will and Kate’ masks to ugly, distant memories is founder of We Built This City and our LDNER this week, Alice Mayor. WBTC is a design collective that is on a mission to revolutionise London souvenirs by bringing together the very best city-inspired gifts and artworks – all curated – and supporting London’s most exciting artists, designers and makers.
Where do you live in London and what do you like about that area?
I live in Islington – sandwiched halfway between Finsbury Park and Highbury – right by the old Arsenal Stadium. I’m probably the only local not into football but I do enjoy the buzz of a match day. I am generally a Highbury Barn super-fan, however. It takes me 25 minutes to get into the West End and yet we are surrounded by so many green spaces, independent shops and restaurants, and friendly neighbours. La Fromagerie – the best cheese shop in London – is a particular favourite… and it doesn’t really get much more quaint than the shop dedicated to the world of Sylvanian Families!
Tell us about how you first started WBTC and the idea behind it?
I’d worked in the creative industries for 7 years and kept meeting artists and designers in London who were really struggling to make ends meet. I wanted to create a platform that drove a whole new audience to them. My lightbulb moment came in 2013 when – post the Olympics – London became officially the most visited city on the planet with 4 out of 5 tourists citing ‘creativity’ as their main reason for visiting. It just suddenly seemed crazy that we could only offer them the usual outdated souvenir fare. Instead I saw an opportunity to offer authentic and creative pieces of the city that would also help London’s creative community at the same time.
You have some amazing artists’ work featured in your shop, but who hangs on your walls at home and why?
My art collection at home is a real mix of artists who we represent in the shop and others who I have found on my travels at home and abroad. To avoid ‘London overload’, I steer away from London-inspired work and the escapist in me has, over time, filled our walls with beach scene oil paintings by Will Smith, a giant ice-cream sundae by RUDE and Andy Tuohy’s graphic Dreamland print. The piece people most comment on though is a large-scale, 1920’s photographic mural of Russian-American ballet dancer Kyra Alanova.
Where in London have you found other souvenirs or where are places you like to go for arty inspiration?
My walk to work is an inspiration in itself! From independent design stores TwentyTwentyOne and Aria on Upper Street through to the never-ending craft pop-ups in Clerkenwell Square near our office. I also love exploring museum and gallery collections – special kudos to Barbican’s recent curated gift collection for the ‘Strange & Familiar’ Martin Parr exhibition. It was the perfect example of a cultural souvenir and left my wallet a lot lighter!
I also organise quarterly inspiration trips for our WBTC buyers which are a lot of fun to plan. We recently visited Maison Assouline on Piccadilly for the first time. If you’re in the market for a beautiful book: this is the place. It’s beguiling – just ask the lovely team running it for the full tour and don’t miss the secret room upstairs!
What would be your perfect day in London?
I spend a lot of time envious of our international customers who are on their first London adventure so I’d love to spend a day rediscovering London as a tourist! I’d start with breakfast at Duck & Waffle – I love the early morning buzz of London and watching the city wake up for a new day ahead. I’ve also always secretly wanted to take one of those boat cruises up The Thames! The new Tate Modern building and a tour of Parliament would be top of my list for an afternoon of sightseeing. For the full “staycation” effect, I’d wrap it all up with a seafood dinner at Randall & Aubin in Soho and tuck into the ‘Martini Trolley’ at The Connaught – still both on the to-do list!
56B Carnaby Street, W1F 9QF