Everyone knows the thrill of discovering a new shop, but it's rare that you step into one so well considered and thoughtfully curated that it feels a bit like revisiting something you've seen in a dream. East London's LN-CC (it stands, somewhat esoterically, for Late Night Chameleon Café) is just such a place: since it opened in 2010, it has become a refuge for clothing cognoscenti and sartorial subcultures alike.
It takes the notion of a concept store into new territory, blending a show-space (masterminded by set designer Gary Card) with an online boutique to create a sense of exclusivity and a warm welcome. "We had a space, we made it look how we wanted it to look and then we filled it full of things we really like," says co-founder John Skelton, 30. "That's our concept. And twinned with the website, it's a viable concept."
Nestling in a block of studios in London's hyper-cool E8 Dalston postcode (designers Peter Jensen and Emma Cook have workspaces in the same building, while Christopher Kane and J.W. Anderson are just down the road), the LN-CC is housed in a Victorian former boxing gym. What sets it apart is its appointments system and stock rotation: visitors must email ahead, book a slot and choose what they want to see online before they arrive. "This space isn't geared up as a retail space," admits Skelton. "To be quite frank, it's terrible as one, so you've got to put the groundwork in on the site."
Skelton grew up in Middlesbrough and had his first encounter with fashion at the age of 15, having dragged his mother out to buy the same Calvin Klein jeans that his friends all had. "I started wandering around the shop and I came across this stuff called Dries Van Noten and was like: 'Mam, have you seen this? It's amazing'. And my dad, he's the most amazing man in the world, but he said: 'John, £450 for a jumper? You need to give your head a shake.'" But by the age of 20, he was buying menswear for Selfridges nationwide; by 22, for Harrods and by 26, he was creative director of cult e-tailer Oki-ni.com.
"It was brilliant," he says, "but it got to the point where it was just an office and a chequebook and I thought: 'I've got to have a go now'." The result is the LN-CC, an adventurous amalgam of Skelton's and his business partner Dan Mitchell's insider knowledge and joint love of fashion and design. The shop itself functions as an exhibition space. "If you want to come at three in the morning and we know you're serious, we'll be here," says Skelton. You'll be shown around the store, its library, even its club – complete with a soundsystem once used by the Sex Pistols to record an album. Usually the tours are taken by his brother, Michael, who manages the shop. "He's very good at making people feel comfortable. One of the first things we say is, don't feel pressured to buy anything."
If this sounds like no other shop you've been to, that's because it isn't. The clothes hanging on the rails are only a small portion of what the team have bought: they are rotated regularly to keep things fresh and there are iPads dotted around the space so customers can browse pieces that are not on show. Each room contains a mixture of mens- and womenswear, carefully selected by Skelton and Mitchell, with the aim of introducing new labels and casting well-known designers in a new and different light.
"This is what we would class as household names, even though they're not really," says John Skelton of the shop's main space, where Balenciaga, Comme des Garcons, Jil Sander and Haider Ackermann all hang. There are two other rooms: one for young designers, such as J.W. Anderson, and Asian streetwear brands, and one for avant-garde names such as Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester and Junya Watanabe, as well as plans to open two more this year. "I'm not scared of buying the odd lairy piece," says Skelton. "Our look is unique but it's not flashy or showy. I don't pay too much attention to everyone else."
This is key to the LN-CC and key also to its success: Skelton and Mitchell do not select the sorts of pieces you find in many other places. "If we wouldn't wear it, we can't buy it," he says, "If something sold very well last season, we won't buy it the season after because it's not what we want to wear. We were wearing that a year ago."
The LN-CC: 18 Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, London E8 2EZ - 0560 1190 162 - firstname.lastname@example.org