IT’S at this time of year that lots of us are reminded just what a frightful drag shopping can be. But of course, it doesn’t have to be – you just have to find the right shop. Take the new premises of men’s clothes and accessories brand Simon Carter on Bow Lane in the City – along with enough colour and English style to revive even the most cheesed-off Christmas shopper, there’s an antique hoopla game (you know, throw the rings over the pegs to score points) on a pillar by the cash desk. Have a go on it while you’re paying and you can win a smart pen from the shop.
“I found it in an antiques shop in Hastings,” says Simon Carter the man, who founded his eponymous business 25 years ago. “It’s part of the look of the store and fun of the brand to have things like that that are a bit intriguing.”
Carter, 48, is best known as a designer of cufflinks which are sold in shops all over the world – Jeff Randall of Sky News recently described his as the world’s biggest cufflinks business (Carter humbly deflects this, stating instead that it’s at least one of the most influential cufflinks brands). From acorn-shaped links made with semi-precious stones to crystal-encrusted Spitfires and simple, smartly-patterned square designs, Carter’s cufflinks are crisp, uncomplicated and imaginative.
“With cufflinks there’s a fine line to tread to avoid being too quirky or novelty, though it’s great men are more adventurous now,” he says. “David Beckham’s ear lobe translated very nicely into cufflinks, making it cool to wear diamonds or crystals. Now things are becoming more and more refined and sophisticated, but sparkly is always good.”
While cufflinks are Carter’s stock in trade, the business has grown to include other accessories like watches, wallets and bags, and snappy menswear like suits and coats. Carter’s fashion hero is Paul Smith, and his own lines share a sensibility – sharp cut, retro English themes – with Smith, if at more affordable prices.
The same playful spirit that brought the hoopla game to the shop runs throughout the brand – for example, open up one of the suave leather wallets and you find its inside lined with a print of a 1950s comic. The shop’s swing tickets carry graphic stories of Carter’s adventures on his scooter, travelling off round the world with his pet dog Gervase in tow – it’s all imaginary of course.
In fact, Carter was a kid with a degree in immunology and a love for vintage clothes, who started his business in the early ‘80s selling pewter brooches to shops on the King’s Road. He’s also a world-class croquet player, currently ranked 50 internationally and hoping to be picked to play for England next year. It’s an appropriate sport for someone so taken with the quirkier side of true Britishness.
“It’s the slightly off-centre world of Simon Carter,” he says. “I like that unexpected touch, tying that sense of provenance of the product with something more whimsical.”
Simon Carter, 8 Bow Lane, EC4M 9EB