Master cut: Margaret Howell goes back to basics for a retail takeover at Tate Modern
The British designer Margaret Howell is the maker of beautiful but discreet clothes, with a strong sense of purpose and sensible proportions. This April, Howell will bring that understated aesthetic to London’s Tate Modern, as she becomes the latest guest curator of the Tate Edit shop, a bright and tidy retail space tucked to the right of the museum’s riverside entrance, and designed by Jasper Morrison in collaboration with architects Herzog & de Meuron.
The store, which opened in November 2016, is stocked with limited editions, objects for the home, and artists’ products, as selected by an in-house team and temporary editors, including Morrison and, most recently, Momoko Mizutani, of Dalston homewares boutique Momosan. It is a merchandising dream, offering picture-perfect retailing with a view of the Thames, and soon a showcase of Howell’s favourite things, from an Irish linen tea towel and a simple wire tea strainer, to an Anglepoise desk lamp and Robert Welch serving spoons.
‘I was asked, quite simply, to choose pieces I loved,’ says Howell of the brief, ‘and the selection ended up being a lot of what I sell in my own shops, not out of principle, but because those are quite personal items that I have a strong relationship with.’
At Howell’s spacious Wigmore Street store in London’s Marylebone, the clothing and accessories for which she is best known are sold alongside a revolving selection of vintage stoneware and expertly restored Ercol furniture, iterations of which Howell grew up with. Other domestic titbits – many of them brought over from Japan, where Howell, now 71, has a significant cult following and more than 100 retail outposts – further underscore her affection for fine materials and impeccable craftsmanship.
‘We like well-designed and good-quality things, but they’ve got to be useful, and they have to work. It’s like the clothes, really: I design clothes to wear for a purpose, rather than an outfit to be seen in just one evening. My clothes are meant to last. And all that applies to objects, too,’ says Howell.
Across categories and price-points, Howell’s Tate Edit – which also includes a few of her own designs (sunglasses, an apron, and silk scarves among them) – presents a snapshot of the appealing pragmatism that, alongside rigorous quality control, have come to define her eponymous lifestyle brand. In a noisy retail landscape, Howell’s edit trains our attention on the appeal of quiet, tactile objects, and the simple pleasures that can be found in taking a moment to examine, appreciate, and maybe even covet them.
‘I just don’t know how people can buy without seeing something. To make a purchase, whether it’s furniture or clothing or a teacup, I have to see it and feel it,’ says Howell. ‘It must be inherent to the time I was brought up in: one had to be quite careful, and look after things, mend them, and make them last. The few things I do choose to buy, I want to be able to keep them for a very long time.’
As originally featured in the April 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*229)