This is the interview that my lovely flatmate Martina did with me for the Maiden website www.maidenshop.com
Opened in November 2009 Maiden sits comfortably on Shoreditch High Street, a transient road of bars, shops and restaurants all randomly eclectic in their offering. Maiden is a shop that has everything you would ever want, yet not necessarily need, the little things that make your life nicer and brighter. There is an indulgence of modern design items with a humorous touch. Speakers that look like huge iPod earphones share shelf space with giant Miffy lights and the ‘Mix Tape’ USB stick packaged like a cassette. The customer is also presented with a passionately edited selection of books that garner the attention of readers young and old. On offer you will discover sartorial advice from Christian Dior in Little Dictionary of Fashion, visual inspiration from Susan Sontag's classic On Photography and cooking lessons for the under 12s in Silver Spoon recipes for Children. There is even a Yves Saint Laurent colouring book!
Maiden’s owner Noah Crutchfield talks candidly about his inspiration for the shop and the considered selection of gifts pulled from around the globe. We delve deeper into the transparent customer ethos which sets Maiden aside from its peers and draws its customer back with friends in tow.
Interview by Martina Randles www.martinarandles.blogspot.com
Martina Randles: What sets Maiden aside from other shops? Is the key to the success of a small independent shop, having better staff and offering a better service?
Noah Crutchfield: Definitely, I think that’s where a shop like Maiden wins; I want people who come into the shop to feel that I value their custom. It was a fantastic feeling when lots of people who purchased Christmas gifts from Maiden came back in the New Year and told me that the presents they had bought had been a real hit!
MR: When you are selecting merchandise for Maiden, do you have a muse, someone in mind that you’re buying the stock for?
NC: I trust my instincts when it comes to buying. I would not have anything in the shop that I wouldn’t like to be given or to own. I’m very lucky to have a large circle of incredibly creative, opinionated and honest friends, who I can ask for input when it comes to selecting product. I get emails all the time from friends saying “I’ve just seen something amazing for Maiden!” it’s great to have so many pairs of eyes out there!
MR: What in the shop would you buy for your Mum?
NC: I think I would give her something animal based, I know she loves animals. So I’d probably give her a waving cat, the type that can be found in Chinese restaurants; they bring you good luck and good fortune. Or maybe an animal face eggcup, they’re the best selling line in the entire shop, very Beatrix Potter/ Wind in the Willows - they remind me of the things I had as a child. In fact when I was selecting the children’s books for Maiden my Mum helped me to choose them because she still has all my books at home, we went through and ordered all the titles that were still in print. Customers come into the shop and see books like Funny Bones or Burglar Bill and they are literally ecstatic to see them again - it brings back so many fond memories.
MR: You’ve got quite a big selection of vintage books as well?
NC: A lot of the major bookshops have row upon row of brand new titles sitting there and it feels a bit dead, so for Maiden I wanted to select the best of new titles from fantastic publishers like Phaidon, Thames and Hudson and Laurence King alongside an eclectic selection of vintage titles, which I think customers will love and cherish. Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life proved an instant hit, Agatha Christie Penguin titles go like hot cakes, I had two customers tussling over a copy of Death on the Nile last week. Our selection of vintage Ladybird books is the favourite by far though.
MR: Was retail always something you’d planned to go into?
NC: No, what I wanted to be was always changing as I grew up, as I think it does with everyone, when I was six years old I was adamant that I was going to be the Archbishop of Canterbury! I eventually found myself at LSE studying philosophy at the same time as working weekends at Burberrys on Regents Street. At that time it was a classic English store, not like Burberry is now. It was like ‘Are You Being Served?’. I just thought it was really good fun, there were staff who had worked there for 35 years, they took real pride in their product knowledge and customer service, that’s what made me fall in love with retail.
MR: You're at the shop almost every day, aren't you exhausted, do you ever get bored?
NC: Absolutely not, because what other job would give me the opportunity to meet a hundred nice people a day. Each morning I just think to myself... there’s a whole world out there - I’m just going to get out there and sell things to it and because we have an online shop (www.maidenshop.com) I can literally do that on a daily basis!
MR: So did you always want to open your own shop? How did it come about?
NC: I’d been saying to people for the last five years that I’d like to have my own shop, I had just never summoned up enough courage to take the plunge - I thought it wouldn’t give me the security that I had working for someone else. With over ten years of retail experience from from reputatable stores including Harvey Nichols and Heal’s. I was Head of Retail at the Design Museum for two years and spent time running the shops at the Royal Academy and at Southbank Centre. I came to the conclusion it was time to strike out on my own. So I did and that’s why Maiden is here!
MR: I’m curious as to the location choice, why East London/Shoreditch High Street in particular?
NC: I’ve lived in East London for five years; it’s the first place in London that I’ve truly felt at home. I love the sense of community here and the mix of people - it's full of life. East London has one of the highest populations of artists, designers and creatives in the world. I really like it and can’t see myself living anywhere else for the foreseeable future.