like countless others, the thought of heading to oxford street to do battle with the hoards of christmas shoppers pounding the pavements fills me with absolute dread. the festive charm of an afternoon spent pleasurably browsing for the perfect gift for a loved one dies a instant death the moment you step out of the tube station to an angry mob mentality on the streets (or, to be honest, the moment you set foot on the central line…)
happily though, there are plenty of other shopping destinations in london where that longed-for festive spirit is still alive and kicking, and a wealth of vibrant, independent designer/makers can all be found under one roof, with christmas gifts to suit all tastes and budgets. one such place is oxo tower wharf along the south back, which has been a thames-side landmark since the 1930s and i think perhaps one of the biggest hidden design gems in the city!
i’ve always has a soft spot for the building after hearing years ago about how those iconic oxo stain-glass windows came to be: a creative workaround for the stringent advertising laws of the time, incorporating the ‘oxo’ logo of those famous gravy cubes into an “elemental geometric form” on all four sides of the tower, so it couldn’t be classified as an ‘advert’ in the traditional sense – clever, huh?
despite the thousands of people who pass by along the south bank every day, many are unaware that more than 25 independent designer/makers reside at the wharf, with their shops and studios located over two floors. just about every creative discipline is represented – from jewellery, fashion and textiles to ceramics, glass and lighting – in a close-knit creative community that has been based at the tower for 20 years, since coin street community builders revived the premises and opened it up to the public back in 1996.
(clockwise from top left): suck uk, josef koppman, wagumi, bodo sperlein, mr jones watches, snowden flood, innermost, mikala djorup
one of my favourite oxo discoveries is wagumi on the first floor, a design shop showcasing the best in japanese design and crafts, while assisting small artisan producers and breathing new life to traditional japanese techniques and aesthetics. i’ve fallen hard for their beautiful edit of charming earthenware pieces by okadagama, a 200 year old family-led kiln in yamaguchi prefecture, and their own line of textile accessories made from the same material as traditional judo outfits.
next door, step into archipelago textiles and chances are you’ll find doreen gittens weaving silks into a light gossamer fabric at her wooden loom, which easily takes up a quarter of her studio floor. witnessing the intricate craftsmanship that goes in to every piece, and having the opportunity to chat with doreen while she works, is a real treat, and provides a wonderful personal narrative to share with a loved one upon gifting one of her luxurious scarves, throws or hangings, which can take weeks to create.
for jewellery lovers there is literally something for everyone at the wharf, from contemporary 3d printed masterpieces from electrobloom to individually-crafted pieces constructed and forged from sterling silver and 24ct gold by jeweller josef koppmann. i also love mikala djorup’s jewellery, which reflects both her danish background and her fascination with the classic tradition of jewellery design, often combining the matt gold or platinum with unusual diamonds and pearls. most of her pieces one of a kind, and handmade in the shop.
quirky stocking fillers and secret santa gifts can be found in abundance at suck uk, j-me, locomocean and snowden flood, while skylark galleries have beautiful handmade greetings cards for those personalised gift notes i’m planning. given my recent musings on the art of gifting, its a safe bet that many of the ‘thoughtful presents’ i seek for friends and family this year will come from artisans based at the wharf…
oxo tower wharf, bargehouse street, south bank, london se1.
don’t miss! tonight (1 dec) oxo tower wharf will be hosting their annual christmas late night shopping event (5-8pm), featuring live jazz music, roasted chestnuts and winter punch stalls, as well as a number of special offers across many of the shops. details here.