Choosing Keeping

Whilst it might sound strange to call a stationery shop in Covent Garden a must-see destination, this is no ordinary store.  A treasure trove of beautifully curated and presented items sourced from all over the world, every detail is overseen by the owner Julia Jeuvell.  To celebrate the launch of their new Christmas baubles, we talk to Julia about why stationery sales are on the rise in this digital age, sourcing new products and, as a shop lover,  which other stores she recommends.

In a digital age, why do you think stationery buying is on the rise? What is it about stationery that people love so much?

Technically stationery is now a lifestyle niche, not a basic necessity as it was through the 20th century. Even in schools, I believe teaching cursive writing is being phased out nowadays. So truly computers have killed the pencil and fountain pen. But yes, essentially, stationery remains a sentimental and creative reference which holds much nostalgic association in the collective psyche as well as self-improvement and OCD potential – what I like to think as “clean slate” effect – our need for order in a chaotic world…. Basically, stationery as an object pulls on many powerful pyschological human desires.

Your original shop was in East London and in 2018, you moved to Covent Garden.  It is such a joy to visit and so obviously laid out with care and thought. What were your ideas and thoughts behind the shop?  And how does it evolve?

Our shop in Covent Garden is the grown up-version of Columbia Road. Of course everyone’s tastes evolves with time (and means) so we were finally able to splurge on furniture, working with friends, in particular my potter friend Steve Harrison, who contributed many details to the furniture and fittings, to create a fantasy store. It takes influences from Japan, Britain and also the shopfronts of Paris for a proto-victorian medley, that isn’t historically correct, and unashamedly a pastiche, but my vision of what I think people desire and love about old shops. Really it’s about creating drama and wonder against the flow of asepticized “design” shops:, which are flavourless to me.

You grew up in France but spent some time living in Tokyo as a child.  How has this effected your choice of what you buy for the shop?

I have a lot of memories from what was a blessed childhood in Japan, many of those nostalgic feelings are represented in the objects I used at school, which would be considered “classic Japanese design”, highly recognisable to the local population. CK is about presenting objects which are a representation of a time, place and people – and thus culturally significant.

Where do you find new products?

My answer: where don’t we find new products ? Certainly not at gift fairs! But everywhere else is fair game – movies, books, painting exhibitions, on travel, on factory visits, every moment of life is spent thinking about things and the best ideas come at the most unexpected times. That is the true role of the retailer, to be creative and to carry out real meticulous research and sourcing. Equally, some CK products aren’t found – they are made (from our own imagination) , and much of our industry knowledge is then put to the test, creating new items into 3D real life objects.

Please can you tell us 3 of your favourite products from the shop and why?

Our latest Japanese watercolour set is one. It is based on Sumi Ink from Nara which has been tinted in 20 shades for a monochrome palette, 20 shades of black if you will. I love it, because it brings together a number of beloved suppliers. The paint maker in Kyoto, our letterpress printer who made all the packaging in the UK and our paper maker also in Kyoto who printed the beautiful mountain Chiyogami paper for the box. A lot of detail and love has been involved to create this item.
A CK classic, our Christmas Cat Cards – humorous, but technically expertly executed – it represents how you can be cheeky, without being tacky thanks to good technique.
Our dandelion paperweights   something we have sold forever that will always represent my journey as a shopkeeper. A few years back I finally went to Wales where they are made and the environment where they are produced did not disappoint. I wrote a little about my experience if you want to know more. Customers too are always mesmerised by this unique object.

Please can you tell us 3 of your other favourite shops?

I’m a shop lover. I love shops where it’s obvious they are the creation of a singular person and exudes their idiosyncrasies and style. Here are 3 examples where you can tell there’s a creative person orchestrating:
Juliette Ozouf in Paris – where I buy much of my clothes. Vlad and his mum create all the clothes using Japanese, Belgian and other fabrics, always arresting visually. Call Anne, the shop manger, or use their online shop to order.
La Vieille France in Paris (sorry I’m French I’m biased) is the best Patisserie in Paris and well worth going to the 19th arrondissement to sample their Paris-Brest. It is a well kept secret of Japanese visitors (who are well known to always know the most niche and highly researched places and things). Their fruit pastes and chocolates make a great gift and Sylvie the owner is happy to send these in the post so do call her to order yours for mail-order!

A London one … Livingstone Studio – Slightly precious but a beautifully put together gallery of clothes and found objects. I rarely go north but when I do I feel I have done something for myself, private and intimate, and always leave with a piece of clothing I know I’ll keep forever.

What have you got planned for 2022?

To be brutally honest not much, we are firstly trying to get through the Christmas season, see all our projects come together. Nothing else can be devised for the New Year. January is when we start making plans for the coming year working up to Christmas. I’m always sort of living towards Christmas, it’s a strange way of life.

If we were looking to buy a Christmas present for somebody impossible to buy for, what would you recommend?

Where gifts are concerned I don’t believe in second guessing people’s taste and needs. It’s a futile effort, they will surely know better and you are bound to fail. So express your own tastes! I’d ignore all matters of usefulness and therefore as far as Christmas goes, a whacky ornament, or a box-full – thematically arranged is sure to create an effect and surprise. We have designed all the packaging to match (and lovingly executed the wrapping) and it is something of party for the eyes.

Where else would you recommend a visitor in Covent Garden to visit?  Any restaurants/bars?

Sadly Covent Garden has lost a lot of it’s character over the last years due to landlord greed but there are still plenty of wonderful places to recommend. Firstly two of the best bakeries in London; Arôme is a French Japanese inspired bakery for technical patisseries with an fusion twist, people line up outside. Bageriet  (right) which was introduced to me by my friends who own General Store in Peckham (another favourite) is a hole in the wall specialised in Swedish pastries. The coconut tower and princess cake come highly recommended by all the CK staff who have sampled them many times. Finally I couldn’t live without Koya on Frith Street, a Japanese udon noodle bar, provider of Japanese memories minus the expensive airfare and totally delicious; I always order Hiyashi Kitsune with extra wasabi please.

Please tell us about your new Christmas baubles – where are they made and where did you find them?

Our ornaments are 100% made in Europe, that is in villages historically involved in glass, Christmas cottage industries located mainly in Czech Republic, Germany and Poland. Of course there will always be kitsch where baubles are concerned but you’ll only find the highest quality and most inventive chintzy kind at our shop. Where do we find them? Cheeky ! Let me do my job and enjoy the ride.

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