Bibliophile fashion junkies trained at Jones and Joseph are a rare breed. Peter Siddell is one such, and the lucky customers at The Library, his menswear/bookshop, leave well-dressed and well-read, says
Opening a chi-chi restaurant alongside one's upmarket clothes shop so that clients can withdraw for tuna sashimi or porcini ravioli is getting quite old hat. Peter Sidell's combination store is rather more cerebral. His bread and butter comes from menswear: a mix of cutting-edge young designers and made-to-measure Savile Row tradition. But alongside, he sells books: volumes of photography, art, style and fashion. Hence the name of his bright and airy shop on west London's very smart Brompton Road: The Library.

Along the same theme, all the clothes are labelled according to the Dewey library system; outerwear, for example, is under a "Travel/Leisure" heading. "If I get a really beautiful piece, it's filed under 'Poetry'," explains Sidell. "It may seem mad, but it's fun." His price labels are modelled on the little cardboard envelopes that adorned library books before libraries went hi-tech and introduced electronic swipe cards. Every so often, he shifts his shelves to make room for an exhibition of photographs, and the shelves themselves, smart grids of under-lit glass, he calls "lightboxes for clothes".

Books and clothes may seem an odd pairing, but, says Sidell, it works very well. "Books alter the mood of the client. It slows them down. You never rush in a bookshop or library. Sometimes, I sell furniture. Well, it's my space and I can do what I want."

On the lower floor of The Library, he sells traditional handmade suits by Kilgour, French and Stanbury of Savile Row - one of the longest- established tailors in England. But his forte is spotting young talent before anyone else. In pre-Library days, he bought John Galliano's college collection and he also knew Bikkemberg and Demeulemeester straight from college. "I make contact with designers early on, that's what I'm good at. I find things before they're ready; I'm usually ahead by a season or two. It's risky at first, but it has paid off."

His current young favourites are three Belgian designers, Ralf Handschuch, Carol Christian Poell (whose current collection of light suits is filed in The Library under "Curios and Eccentrics") and Raf Simons. "British production doesn't stand up as well. Most of these guys produce in Italy. Alexander McQueen produces in Italy, so he's fantastic - he's been a bestseller for me this year."

This nose for the next big thing has stood him in good stead in a fashion career that has spanned 22 years. Born in Chelsea and brought up in Wandsworth, south London, he started work at the age of 16, at a small shop called Jones in the Kings Road. "I was always into fashion. I had two big sisters who were always all dressed up, so I knew the shops. And I liked music. When I was young, music and fashion were all linked in, everything was glamorous and outrageous. I started as a junior, and in those days you were only allowed to sell belts for the first two weeks. Then you moved onto ties, shirts, sweaters and finally up to suits. I worked my way up really quickly - I was a buyer at 18."

Jones completely changed its image under the Sidell regime. "Before, it was nice, clean, Italian clothing, but it wouldn't set you on fire. It turned into a trend shop. There were queues to get in on a Saturday morning. We were selling jeans, funky loafers - and we had the best music. The atmosphere was good - if you worked for Jones you could get into all the clubs. I stayed there 16 years and every designer wanted to have clothes in there." By then the company had opened seven stores, including a branch in Los Angeles.

But even then, The Library was at the back of his mind. "I grew up. Jones was real fashion-fashion. I wanted to bring in classic pieces, but it wasn't the place to do it. And by then Jones was getting squashed by the landlords; rents were getting very high. And it wasn't a unique concept any more. It wasn't fun any more, and I need a certain amount of fun."

He left Jones on a Friday, intending to sit back and consider his options; the phone rang, and the following Monday he started at Joseph, re-vamping the menswear range and designing the ready-to-wear collection. "Leaving Jones was like getting a divorce, but you can learn a lot from a guy like Joseph. He has a great eye, a great name and lots of clout. It was nice to shelter under that umbrella for a while." He left Joseph in July 1994 and realised his dream. "I'd had the concept in my head for ages. If I ever get rich enough I'm going to have the nicest clothes and bookshop in the world."

Meanwhile, what he has is pretty nice already. "My customers probably are not 25 years old; they are 40 and looking for something really well- made and well-designed. My clothes are fashionable enough to feel special, but they are not throwaway style. It's not all about high fashion, but about longevity for the customer. Someone will be buying a classic suit, then they will have a Carol Christian Poell suit, too; the two designers rubbing shoulders makes the regular suits feel fashionable, somehow."

And the books? "I left school at 16 and my life has been like a race to learn. I've travelled the world in fashion, learning as I went along. If I wasn't buying, I'd be reading. So, I started collecting, and my collection is so eccentric. Now I've got a whole fashion reference library, about pounds 30,000 worth."

Some of his best customers are editors, photographers and magazine designers. And now they don't think it odd to buy books and shirts together. "I'm happy that it's appreciated now," says Sidell. "At first, people thought 'This guy's crazy. Books and stuff - who gives a shit?' But they do. Anyway, I don't think people who like books care what other people think."

The Library, 268 Brompton Road, London SW3, 0171 589 6569.

Comments