Boutique Review: Hostem

Slap bang in the middle of Shoreditch’s trendy Redchurch Street, an area predominantly composed of art galleries, twee cafes, creative design agencies and old haberdasheries, rests a stylishly new menswear boutique by the name of Hostem

Armed with my notepad, dictaphone, camera (and umbrella!) I paid a visit to the store earlier this week to meet the owner, founder and brains behind it all, James Brown. On this, a typically British wet and windy day, the store looks most inviting: It’s old rustic wooden store fittings and burnt orange lighting, creates an appealing, cosy and homely atmosphere.

The store finally opened its doors in July of this year, after two years of solid researching, preparing, and revamping:  “We spent a whole year just looking for the right location; everywhere from Mayfair to Dalston and every where else in between,” explains James. “But when the opportunity came up to locate here we just couldn’t resist… It’s an area that has a great energy and a unique environment: It’s perfect!”

Since its launch, Hostem’s success has already begun to boom, sparking major interest amongst the UK style press. James states it’s all down to luck or fate; a rather ‘right time, right place’ scenario, but I would have to say it has more to do with clever instincts and having an adept ‘business head’ firmly screwed on. From his time spent living and working abroad in Italy and Los Angeles, James realised there was something missing in the fashion retailing industry back at home: “In cities such as Paris, Tokyo and LA everyone speaks so highly of London and what vastness it has to offer in terms of fashion, when actually I believe it to be incredibly lacking.” James then reveals his interest and love for international concept stores such as Colette and L’Eclaireur; he speaks with such knowledge and passion, it is clear that the idea of Hostem has been a long time ambition of his… In fact James’ passion for fashion is the underlying reason behind his boutique’s existence: “The primary purpose of launching Hostem was to have a space where we could support and showcase the brands that we love and believe in,” he states. “…And as the brands we stock all have a very different aesthetic we wanted a space where they could successfully sit altogether.” And they have certainly achieved that!

The store’s stylish space itself is the creative handy work of interior design duo, James Russell and Hannah Plumb, a.k.a. JAMESPLUMB. “They were amazing to work with,” says Brown. “The way they bring ideas to life is just incredible: On the first day we got the keys to the store, Hannah turned up with an old, tattered, grass covered, church pew but now it sits beautifully by the store’s entrance as the front desk!” The pair’s vision creates a clever ‘rustic-luxury’ paradox: panels of hessian line the walls, encaged light bulbs hang low from the ceiling, whilst reclaimed antiqued furniture rests on original Victorian floorboards. James claims that he  “didn’t want anything white, stark, minimal or modern.”

To avoid pigeonholing themselves into one particular identity, the guys at Hostem have taken an eclectic approach when it comes to their stocked product. Offering a combination of styles from street wear brands such as Stussy and Mastermind Japan, which are all housed in the store’s recently opened basement room (the very room in which our interview itself takes place) to more artisan and avant-garde labels including Boris Bijan Saberi, Rick Owens and Casely Hayford. “When it comes to buying in products, the first and foremost thought is ‘Is something that myself and my buying team love or would wear ourselves?’” James reveals. “But essentially we try to provide a happy mix of designers whether they be new or established, local or international.” Brown continues to express his enthusiasm for supporting new young talent, mentioning one name in particular, Curiouser + Curiosuer, created by a young accessories and jewellery designer, Alice Wease: “She walked into the store one day, and said ‘This is what I do…’ showed us four pieces of jewellery and one scarf and we loved it!” Hostem is now the proud UK stockist of Alice’s debut collection, but they also admit to “keeping a sharp eye out for other emerging designers too, whether they are based here in the UK, or in Paris, or Tokyo, or anywhere worldwide!”

In fact Brown and his team are so devoted to supporting and promoting creative talent that they have formed a room dedicated entirely to the cause. Referred to simply as ‘The Third Room,’ it is a constantly changing space to be used as a platform for visiting designers and artists to showcase their work. “The Third Room is really great as it allows us to do all kinds of collaborative projects: We welcome any ideas and love for emerging designers to be involved.” James then adds: “In fact, one thing we have thought about for forthcoming fashion weeks is to give a designer the space for the entire period as their own show room, where they can take their orders and invite guests…” And as an additional bonus for the lucky selected candidate, James reveals the space will be offered free of charge: “It’s our way of showing support and recognition to those who deserve it.”

Hostem and JAMESPLUMB joined forces one again for the debut ‘Third Room’ project, which ran during the London Design Festival in September of this year. Entitled the ‘One Room Hotel’, the pair filled the space with their signature style of rescued antiques and reclaimed furniture including a beautiful French 16th century bed. “One of the team suggested in jest ‘why don’t we actually let guests stay here?’ to which I of course replied ‘you have got to be kidding me!’” laughs Brown. “But the more we thought of it, the more we wanted to play it out, and it actually worked really well and was great fun!”  After such enjoyment and success of the ‘One Room Hotel’ exhibition, James can’t hide his excitement about his impending third room visitor, Darren Romanelli or ‘Dr Romanelli’ to me and you: “His showcase will be launching around 22nd November for a month or so,” reveals James. “He [Romanelli] is creating a pop up Victorian chemist, displaying some amazing products that have never been seen before outside of Japan!”

(The One Room Hotel and the Dr. Romanelli Prescription Shoppe)

With such an eclectic combination of products, styles and labels, it's no surprise that Hostem in return attracts an eclectic combination of customers; so much so that James found it tricky to even describe to me the stereotypical ‘Hostem man’: “What we have found is that we don’t have a stereotype, so I couldn’t possibly describe him to you… In any one day we get anything from a guy in his late 50s to a young ‘street kid' and everyone else in between!” And although their product offering is entirely aimed at men, everyone at Hostem has been surprised by the amount of female customers they have had walking through the door. Although much of the clothing stocked in-store reflects a unisex and androgynous aesthetic, (something which judging by the store’s already existing female clientele, many women favour,) I wondered if an additional Hostem branch dedicated to womenswear is a possible consideration for Brown and his team in the near future: “We’ve been overwhelmed with how many women have come in-store already and a lot of the menswear brands we stock have womenswear lines too so it is a major possibility…” Fantastic news for us girls! And if you live outside of the UK then you too are in luck as James uncovers news of an online addition to Hostem which is set to launch soon: “We will sell a selection of our products online but not all; I think there are some pieces which have to be seen in person or tried on… But on the other hand, we would also like to offer some items that would be exclusive to our online shop.” Once again wearing his ‘business head’ James Brown intuitively identifies the importance behind bringing his store to the fingertips of the ever demanding and technologically savvy 21st century fashion consumer through admitting that “in this day and age, all retailers should have an online store…”

[Hostem: 41-43 Redchurch Street, E2 7DJ.]


Words: Sarah Barlow