Assemble designs Ace & Tate’s new Soho store in London, inspired by peep shows past

Assemble designs Ace & Tate’s new Soho store in London, inspired by peep shows past

Turner-prize winning architecture and design collective Assemble has collaborated on the new Ace & Tate boutique in London’s Soho. Hailing from Amsterdam, the eyewear brand is improving vision (and high streets) throughout Europe, with five additional stores in the UK, and a further 30 across the continent.

‘Wherever we open, we are committed to using local talent for each of our stores, working with people we admire,’ explains founder Mark de Lange. Take the Hamburg shop, in which native artist Stefan Marx decorated the walls; or the Munich location formulated by the city’s own Weiss-heiten design duo. Through a new enviable design collaboration – comprising south east London’s Assemble, with design consultation from Haggerston’s Anyways studio, and internal input from Doortje van der Lee (Ace & Tate’s retail expansion lead) – the brand’s newest London outpost draws on the area’s history as well as its design talent.

Ace & Tate London, Brewer Street

Downstairs, Ace & Tate, Brewer Street. Image courtesy of Granby Workshop

Though the new store now shares a postcode with Woolrich’s London flagship, a Fiorucci outpost and the city’s pick of skater-chic boutiques, the cobbled nooks of Brewer Street were once home to many of the area’s storied sex shops and peep shows. Literally winking to the area’s louche past is Assemble’s art installation at the back of the store; where a pair of heavily-lidded neon eyes peer out at you, voyeuristically. The work also nods to the rows of glasses that line the walls in a double-meaning that will make you look twice. ‘We make a product that’s supposed to fun; we try to not be too serious with our stores, to match,’ de Lange adds.

Preventing the peep-show concept from becoming overwrought, the rest of the store is paired back, with white walls and a gradated floor made of Assemble’s encaustic tiles, placed in blocks of brilliant reds, blues and greens. Working with Liverpool’s social enterprise Granby Workshop, Assemble has become quite the tile expert, having decorated locations across London with various iterations, including Seven Sisters station. Granby’s technique, originally developed for the Venice Biennale 2018, looks to reinvent the traditional clay tile. Produced in a ram press, where different coloured clays are compressed under extreme pressure into a mould, the process creates singular, unique tiles, each with an individual colour blend. 

Assemble tiles detail view

Detail view of Assemble tiles at Ace & Tate, Soho

Down the red stairs, we’re transported away from the colourful world of tiles and neon, into a spa-like white oasis. A large Belfast sink, and two clinical, private eye-testing rooms (clad floor-to-ceiling in sound-proofing grey felt) act as a reminder that this is a place of optometry, as well as accessory.

Adding a third function, the store will be a place of cultural exchange. ‘This store was built to be flexible; interchangeable for different events,’ de Lange explains. ‘Removable product rails mean we can give artists an opportunity to display their work. We can take away product, add product, create new space, create art space.’

Kicking off the cultural programme is a partnership with London’s all-female collective gal-dem, which will profile women and non-binary people of colour, exploring and subverting the assumptions people make about individuals based on the colour of their skin. §

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