Nottingham has been blessed with some great brands coming from the city. Paul Smith started up here and his original store still stands on Byard Lane, just off Bridlesmith Gate and One True Saxon was founded in the famous Lace Market district. There is a good selection of quality high end clothes stores, but the majority tend to blend into run of the mill high street chains like any other city.
November saw the opening of Heligoland a new independent menswear store that has brought a fresh wave of brands that are new to the city. The shop itself is situated on Bridlesmith Walk, an arcade a few minutes away from the market square. Look out for the shops bright yellow A-board and you’ll be heading in the right direction.
The style and layout of the shop is pretty simple, using rails on the wall for the garments and glass cabinets for accessories such as hats, scarves and socks. I was delighted to find a great handpicked selection of emerging new brands from the UK such as Universal Works, YMC and 4TN but also brands from further afield like Norse Projects and Wood Wood. I was familiar with both from my recent jaunt to Copenhagen, but it’s great to now have them ten minutes from my doorstep.
The key was always to find a unit that was close enough to the action to guarantee a certain amount of spontaneous footfall whilst being far enough off the beaten-track to seem to remain relatively niche.
While speaking with storeowner Alistair, he kindly agreed to answer some questions about the shop:
Okay so let’s start with a bit of background on yourself, what have you been doing up to this point career wise?
When I left school I went to college, but sacked it off after 3 days and went to work at HSC skate store on Goose gate in Hockley, which sold brands such as Silas, Stussy, Nike SB and more. After HSC I went to Val D'Isere in France with a pal of mine. Then my last job was manager of successful cafe bar up until June 2010.
How did the idea to open the shop come about?
I’d been getting restless for a while at my previous place and I’d always been into clothes. One day I just looked around and thought, I’m not really happy here. I’ve got all these ideas for the sort of place I’d like there to be in Nottingham and it doesn’t exist at the moment - bugger it, I’ll open it.
I wish there was something a bit more ‘Moses on the Mountain’ about it but ultimately it was just realising people like me weren’t being catered for in Nottingham. That and the fact that I really like the idea that building a shop from the ground up allows you to express yourself in a number of ways - from choosing the brands, to designing the environment and the brand itself.
We are in the middle of a recession, is this a very brave decision or do you see the market coming back to life?
I don’t think it is brave and I am not exactly sure that the market is coming back to life either. The crux of the matter is that I don’t need to turn over a great deal to do what I want to do and what I am doing isn’t being done elsewhere in Nottingham. I know there are enough people like me, who may not be spending a fortune but who still want nice gear, to support the shop. It is very much about quality, not quantity. I don’t want to be seen as a big retailer, I want to be seen as a trustworthy one and as a shop that brings interesting things to its customers. I think if Heligoland can crack that then growth will happen as a natural consequence… but for now I’m just having a good time getting things off the ground.
What's the story behind the name Heligoland?
My mate Jim at Spitfire Studio has always loved the shipping forecast on Radio 4 because it carries a feeling of weird maritime loneliness about it. But also because it shows you, in a very specific way, how Britain relates to the countries around it. Much of the stuff has a Scandinavian sensibility but a very British aesthetic; it’s also quite functional. When you look at it like that the parallel is fairly obvious. Originally we were going to call the shop German Bight, which is a shipping area but as we looked into it we found that German Bight used to be called Heligoland, which seemed much cooler. Then we found out that the Heligoland Islands were a former British holding, but we gave them to Germany prior to bombing the hell out of them for no reason in World War II. That idea of isolated people that didn’t feel part of anywhere else appealed to us… it was a nice allegory for the mindset of us: the shop and our customers.
You are stocking some really strong brands and it’s great to see emerging brands such as Norse Projects and Wood Wood readily available in Nottingham. Do you have a brand strategy or is it more influenced on personal preference?
It’s really about good clothes rather than fashion. To that end, what we stock is defined pretty much by chance. If I see something amazing whilst out and about I’ll get it in, if my mates tell me about something, I’ll check it out. The idea of the shop as a meeting place for like-minded people has always been a guiding one so the stuff that we stock really happens organically as a result of that.
One day I just looked around and thought, I’m not really happy here. I’ve got all these ideas for the sort of place I’d like there to be in Nottingham and it doesn’t exist at the moment - bugger it, I’ll open it.
Seeing as independent menswear stores are few and far between in Nottingham, how well has the shop been received ?
It’s been really positive. So many people have been very supportive of what we are trying to achieve.
Bridlesmith walk is a great location as it is very much central to the high street, was the idea always to open here or did any other areas of the city appeal to you?
There were a couple of other places. The key was always to find a unit that was close enough to the action to guarantee a certain amount of spontaneous footfall whilst being far enough off the beaten-track to remain relatively niche. However, this was the best and ultimately I’m glad I stuck with it.
What can we expect to see from Heligoland in the future?
More brands, interesting events and parties and ultimately a really good e-commerce site.
So if you’re a man with any passing interest in what you wear, give Heligoland a visit, and always support your local independent store.
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