A review I wrote for Elle.co.za on the Merchants on Long pop-up boutique at The Bluebird shop on King’s Road in London. 

On the 2nd of May, Cape Town based Shopping Salon Merchants on Long launched its pop up boutique at The Bluebird shop on King’s Road in London.

The boutique features a select but impressive list of designers and artisans from throughout Africa – some are already well established like Lalesso and Patrick Mavros, whilst others have never been showcased outside Africa let alone to London’s high end Chelsea crowd. The common denominator these brands share is also Merchants’ red thread: the commitment to source, design and produce solely in Africa. It helps that the outcome is also really, very good. Considering that the African aesthetic of woodcarvings and beadwork has become somewhat depleted, this sort of entrepreneurial venture requires a strong creative vision and an intrinsic understanding of the kind of African product that can hold its own amongst contemporary standards, beyond the novelty factor.

Hanneli Rupert, owner of Merchants on Long, is fast becoming the patron to a new brand of African cool. Her vision to create retail opportunities for ethical, world-class African craft and design combined with her personal panache makes up the foundation of the Merchants success. Hanneli has a delightful eye for curating the quirky, obscure and endlessly inspirational labours of a continent abundant in creativity waiting to be translated into cutting-edge, culturally relevant pieces of design. This immaculate eye for detail down to the smallest execution was evident throughout the launch. Though the pop-up boutique is only fractionally sized in proportion to its Cape Town mother ship, it certainly affirms Merchants’ ability to convey a signature flair whilst matching the sophistication of the venue and its influential guest list. Themed with African flamboyancy and a touch of Tropicana, we were served punchy rum cocktails in coconut shells, crocodile and smoked ostrich canapés and biltong dipped in smoky paprika, all matched with the finest South African wines. One highlight was the gorgeous African queen parading around a handmade boom box, made by contemporary African musician Gazelle, to be bid on in a silent auction for charity; the other – a goodie bag stuffed with vibrantly coloured local sweets (think Fizzas and Chappies), and Madecasse artisan pink pepper chocolate produced in Madagascar.

image

image

image

image

The effort by many guests to dress for the occasion with token African accessories and prints made it apparent that Merchants’ target audience is already listening attentively. I found it fascinating to observe the interaction between guests and product, most notably the disbelief that the quality is so uncompromising and top notch. The toughest of sceptics even went so far as to check labels inside of garments for evidence to be proven otherwise. Herein lies the novel beauty of Hanneli’s vision. Take a product that is rooted in heritage, resourcefulness, and a longstanding tradition of craftsmanship. Though all these factors are credible, the test of success is when its quality and aesthetic values are lifted, beyond the novelty, onto an international platform that represents the product for what it is: world class design inspired by real life, and made whole handed in Africa. Judging by the enthusiastic buzz discernibly audible at the launch, I’d say Merchants are onto a solid thing here.

image

image

All photos by LCVH