Style: Well worn but none the worse for wear: Kate Moss, Bjork, Jean Paul Gaultier: they have all bought worn clothes from a small shop in West London. So has a chain store, reports Tamsin Blanchard
Saturday 23 July 1994
This year, Souled Out's two concessions in the Oxford Circus branch of Top Shop - one for men, the other for women - have expanded their floor space, and the second-hand clothing has even been on display in the windows. Meanwhile, its newest concession, in Brighton, is doing well despite the town's plethora of second-hand clothes shops.
'We are changing the whole face of Top Shop,' say Akinsete. Certainly he and his design partner, Govella Pangidzwa, have given it more of an edge.
Akinsete recently introduced a 'homo promo' window to Top Shop. Male mannequins wearing 'Gay Love' T-shirts (the slogan in the style of the Coca-Cola logo), with bare mid-riffs and sarongs, caused such a stir that the window was changed before customers 'got the wrong idea'.
Souled Out's own shop, which sells undiluted versions of what is available in the Top Shop concessions, is frequently scoured by designers for source material and inspiration.
When the Milanese designers Dolce e Gabbana were in town to shoot their latest advertising campaign, they bought pounds 400 worth of Souled Out clothes, which will appear on their catwalk in October. Jean Paul Gaultier openly uses the shop for ideas, as have the New York designers Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs, and the London-based Koji Tatsuno; Japanese designers sometimes buy out half the stock.
Akinsete is philosophical: 'They'll copy it, but that's fine - we'll have moved on to do something else by then.'
Pop stars shop there, too. Kylie Minogue, pursued by photographers, has been known to seek refuge in the shop on busy Saturday afternoons. The Brand New Heavies and Bjork have visited, and Take That wore Souled Out clothes on their most recent tour. Dee-Lite's Lady Miss Keir spent pounds 150 on some T-shirts, mini-skirts and baby dolls last week. Kate Moss and Helena Christensen have shopped there, too. Ask, and Akinsete will show you his book of polaroid snapshots. 'That's me and Elton John . . . my Mum and Jean Paul . . .' He also keeps an autograph book.
Much of Akinsete's stock comes from thrift stores in America. When he is not talking on his orange, fun fur-coated telephone, he is bringing back suitcases from America, bulging with clothes and accessories. On his latest trip to Los Angeles, he discovered quilted camouflage bags, now selling in the shop for pounds 15 each. As well as importing, he also exports clothes to American shops.
Though he makes a tidy profit, he does not believe in outpricing himself. The shop is very much in tune with its young customers, who want accessible, throwaway fashion at affordable prices. 'Most of our customers are broke,' he says - though presumably not those in his autograph book.
Little T-shirts are the mainstay of this summer's trade (Souled Out has sold out and is now selling new garments, too). Time-Warner in New York did not like the ones with a huge 'S' (for Superman) across the chest, and sent a stern letter forbidding Akinsete to sell them. In characteristic Souled Out style, he pasted a picture of someone wearing the offending T- shirt on to the letter, and now uses it for publicity purposes.
Then there are the afro-wigged Diana Ross T-shirts. 'Diana thinks it's a laugh,' says Akinsete. One gets the impression he would secretly like to be Diana Ross, and he is certainly determined to 'funk up her image'. So far, though, he has only made contact with her daughter through his New York agent.
Who would have thought a tiny shop in west London could generate so much energy and interest, sell out to Top Shop and still hold on to its street cred? The Diana Ross makeover may not be so far away: with Akinsete, anything is possible.
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