Talking shop with the owner of one of London’s finest independents – Tom O’Dell

Londoner Tom O’Dell (no, not that one) is a passionate shopkeeper selling a fine edit of menswear and home wear – originally on pretty Calvert Avenue in the city’s Shoreditch, and now in much bigger digs in Soho. If you’ve ever visited O’Dell’s you will have picked up on its owner’s enthusiasm for everything on its shelves – Tom sells only things that he’d have for himself. We love his very particular eye for subtle, muted colours. It’s quality and origin that are the key factors in what he’s drawn to, as he explains in our interview here.

What’s the story behind you setting up shop?

“I have always worked in menswear initially from the age of 14 in a menswear store in Bedford, my hometown. I moved to London at 18 and continued to work in shops as a student alongside my studies (not in design). When I graduated I was doing marketing for fashion brands for around two to three years and within this time I was always interested in design, interiors and menswear. I started doing e-commerce and strategy for Nigel Hall, going to the shows and always had this passion of wanting to have my own store, selling menswear and interiors. The shop in Calvert Avenue came up and I made my decision over a weekend, said yes and opened in June 2014. The recent move to Soho was because it is a bigger store – twice the size – and it allows me to have more products in the shop. I can have Mid-century furniture and more clothes.”

What makes O’dell’s O’dell’s – what’s the shop ethos?

“I always say that everything in the shop I would personally wear, have in my home or give as a gift. I’m proud of everything I’m selling and everything has a nice story. If a customer wants to know who made their product, how and where, I can tell them. Everything is well made and 70% of the products are exclusive to the shop – a lot are made in the UK.”

“If I could have everything in the shop then I would.”

Is knowing what’s going to sell purely about instinct?

“Yes and it’s stuff that I’m passionate about. There might be stuff that could sell more quickly, but if I’m buzzing about something then usually someone else will be too. I regret selling some things. If I could have everything in the shop then I would. We are less seasonal, but it’s nice to keep the shop refreshed for customers when they return every week. Whether it’s brushes or candle scents, that’s what makes O’Dell’s interesting. I love that I can meet all the makers, have collaborations with designers, do one-off colourways just for the shop. ”

What colours are you into currently – both in the home or the shop?

“People always say ‘your shop looks exactly like your house’ and I think they’re right. I had my house first and that influenced the shop as I’d been living with certain things, trying things out that I knew would work in the shop. The colours I’m into are tonally quite natural – woods, browns, tans, creams, the colours of natural leathers and suedes, green from plants and trees. I love green. It’s colours that are not necessarily bright, but next to white stand out.”

How did you decorate the shop and what made you go for green on one wall?

“I knew I wanted green and realised the shop wasn’t going to have a lot of natural light so I went for Green Smoke as it had a nice luxury feel, especially under lighting, but is also a bit of a throwback to traditional tailors who’d use rich regal colours. I have birch units, darker mid-century woods, plants. I think sticking with a basis of white definitely works. When I first set up shop I felt retail was quite old fashioned and shops tended to highlight a single product on a plinth or in the shop window. I wanted my products to have equal weight and having white as a backdrop is a good way of achieving that – a lovely clean way to let the products speak for themselves.”

Tell us more about the vintage items you sell?

“Some of the larger mid-century pieces that we sell are on behalf of Forest London – we have a shared ethos and way of working. When I’m choosing pieces, I think it’s important that it fits in the space and fits nicely with the O’Dell’s look, and also shares the ethos of knowing about origin – is it Danish, leather etc – it has to have that information that you’d have if it was shoes from O’Dell’s or a watch from O’Dell’s. It also needs to be items that sell.”

Is there anything you wish you hadn’t sold?

“I think it’s always the one-off items that you feel you’ll never get again. I did have beautiful teak and glass lights that smashed the other day so that was a disappointment. When it’s a cold day I get a bit ‘oh should I pick another jumper’ or if I’m going out for dinner that night ‘should I have a new pair of shoes?’. There are some big pieces in the store – like the 1960s turntable and quad amps that I know I’ll be sad about when they go.”

From your selection of contemporary items, which brands are exciting you especially right now?

“I always like Turner and Harper products, we’ve been selling them for three years. They are sixth generation makers of hand bristle brushes worked up from oak or beach. You don’t necessarily need them but they are lovely to have. I’ve also started selling new trainers by Veja, sustainability is something I’m working towards more and more. They have a strong brand ethic in this way. I selected a simple range of four shoes to sell, chosen because they fit perfectly with the clothes and other goods in the shop.”

Are there other shops that you love for their own idiosyncratic identity (much like people love Odell’s)?

“I have some favourites in London. I love General Store in Peckham, a grocery store that’s beautiful. They pick beautiful products, the store is immaculate, it always smells good and I often go there and end up sitting on their bench at the front with a coffee. The Margaret Howell shop on Wigmore Street is a beautiful space with a good mix of clothes, fashion – that’s always been an influence. On Wilton Way J Glinert is a beautiful shop selling stationary brushes and watering cans – Tom the owner is very passionate about his products, he’s a proper shopkeeper. I also just discovered Avida Portuguesa when I went on a trip to Lisbon in January – they sell just Portugese products – from a £1 soap to an £8 bath matt and it was a breath of fresh air to see how they display stuff.”

What’s next for O’Dell’s?

“I want 2017 to be about doing other things with the brand, launching and progressing O’Dell’s Studio – a collaboration of photography, art direction and styling. I’ve done art directing and styling for brands such as Levi’s and I enjoy using O’Dell’s look on that kind of work, helping on photo shoots, look books, events.”

Find out more about O’Dell’s, including the address here.



Jill Macnair

About

Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.


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