Since September, two groups of twentysomethings have taken on Clerkenwell by opening shops which cater to the area's sensibilities. They are selling the work of recent design graduates, to the so called "up-and-coming" population of EC1. They join designers Antoni & Alison, who recently opened their first shop on Rosebery Avenue.
Rodney Reid and Sharon Cowan's clothes shop, Malapa, is hidden away at the dusty end of Clerkenwell Road, opposite the Zetter's Pool's building and next door to a greasy-spoon caff. Cowan complains that the novelty of a nice cuppa and hot buttered toast so close by wears off after a few weeks, at the same time enthusiastically demonstrating ways to wear a fleece designed by RCA graduate Cath Roberts - "See the drawstring hidden in there, pull it and, Hey presto!" The fleece goes from being baggy to nipped and tucked.
Malapa sells collections from St. Martin's and RCA graduates and a small selection of "name" designers such as JoelyNian, Eugene Rocha and Anna Sholz, who specialise in clothes for women between sizes 14 and 28. Malapa is the only place in the UK to stock Eugene Rocha (nephew of John); his clothes are modern functional, unlike his uncle's more floaty creations.
The shop is attracting women on the lookout for clothes to wear for work, but it's the design-conscious crowd who are snapping up the uniquely crafted pieces by Orion King, Anne Bernecker, Anders Anderson, and particularly Kate Clarkson - all names to watch. "We want to offer an alternative to what's in the West End, and we will stick with lesser known designers," says Reid, who has already noted the interest from other shops eager to keep an eye on their progress.
A few minutes' walk up the road on Exmouth Market, ec one stocks jewellery by 23 designers, covering all tastes - from the wild and wacky to the sublime. Jewellers Jos Skeates and Ruaridh CJ Macintyre work on one-off designs and corporate commissions from the back of the shop while Alison White, Jos's partner, who left a "proper job with a car and a pension", runs the business.
"There is a lot of inappropriate work around," says Skeates, his head perilously close to the lit Bunsen flame on his workbench. By this he means the kind of jewellery that belongs on the catwalk rather than being worn every day. Skeates likes items the wearer can interact with - like the rings by Sallyanne Lowe where the settings move about. They are, as he says, "twiddleable".
Other designers available at ec one include Jennifer Corker, (love rings and jewellery) Anna Opher, (twiddleable super-fine individual bands), Mark Karpellus (Vegas/Liberace style), and work by self-taught Kate Hodgson which is highly finished, but with a deliberately rough edge.
Just opposite ec one, two empty shops are about to be converted into fashion outlets. "We're onto a good thing. Properties are going like hot-cakes around here," says Skeates with a smile.
Malapa, 41 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 (0171-490 5229)
ec one, 28 Exmouth Market, London, EC1 (0171-713 6185)
From 12-16 November the Islington Museum Gallery (268 Upper Street, N1, 0171-354 9442) is holding a selling exhibition entitled `Clerkenwell Crafts'. Twenty craftspeople and artists will be selling their work, ranging from bag designer Emily Jo Gibbs to knitwear by Quinton and Chadwick.