Albam, a bold enterprise
The man with the broom is James Shaw, who two years ago founded the clothing company Albam in partnership with Alastair Rae. By chance, I walked into their shop in Beak St, Soho on the very first week they opened in October 2007 and met James and Alastair, tentative yet enthusiastic about their new venture. I loved the pared-down modern design of their clothes, elegantly simple, sensibly priced and made to last. And mostly manufactured here in Britain by long-established companies with a craft tradition. In short, Albam is one of only a few companies where a man could happily dress himself entirely from their shop and always look great. I remember going away and telling my friends about this wonderful shop but secretly thinking they were too good to last. It was the worst possible moment to start something, I thought, and a cynical voice was telling me that flashier, cheaper clothes usually sell better.
Sometimes it is good to be proved wrong. It was a real delight to meet James two years later, super-positive and flushed with success, as Albam open their second store, here in the Old Spitalfields Market – conveniently placed just across the road from St John Bread & Wine and the Golden Heart.
What I have realised is that Albam’s lean aesthetic suits the mood of our times perfectly. Over these two years, their clothes have subtly evolved as the designs get refined each time a batch comes from the factory. However, although these clothes are flattering and they really fit, it is not just about looking fashionable this season, it is about looking good in clothes you can wear until they fall apart.
I particulary liked the way James and Alastair were always there in the tiny Beak St shop, running up and down stairs getting different sizes for customers from the store in the cellar. It is a lovely thing to be able to buy clothes from the person who designed them and have a conversation about what you are buying. James spends two days a week at the factories in Nottingham and the challenge, he says, is to keep the whole operation tight – so that he can listen to customers in the shop and then talk to the people who make the clothes too, thereby ensuring that Albam is creating the clothes people really want to wear. The basement of the Spitalfields shop is now their design studio and office, so I look forward to seeing them here in the shop and around the neighbourhood too. Fancy a pint at the Golden Heart, lads?
Albam’s style inspirations are Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. James’ blue eyes glittered with emotion as he produced a book from beneath the counter of William Claxton’s photographs of Steve McQueen, to show me the picture below taken in 1964. Somehow they discovered that the beautiful shawl neck cardigan Steve wears in this photograph was made by a British company. Now in an astonishing coup, they have persuaded this company to make a limited number of these exact same blue cardigans which you can buy in their shop from early November for £155 each. Courtesy of Albam, this is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to release your inner Steve McQueen.