I have to admit, the thought of Christmas Shopping feels me with dread. All of those crowded high streets and department stores. Heavy bags. Sore feet. It’s enough to make you do it all online. Which I have been doing for the past few years I have to say, but you miss out on that festive feeling you get when you’re in the midst of the twinkling lights and the sound of Wham and Last Christmas on repeat.
But last weekend I was introduced to an alternative idea for the big Christmas shop.
I’m talking about The Oxo Tower. That iconic building on the banks of the Thames that many of us pass without a second glance. Well, maybe we whizz up to the restaurant on the top floor, occasionally. But other than that, we know there are shops there, but we maybe haven’t stopped to take a look for a while.
In case you didn’t know, The Oxo Tower has been a Thames-side landmark since the 1930s, and at one time was London’s second highest commercial building. The London County Council at the time did not look favourably on illuminated advertisements and ‘skysigns’, especially so high and on the riverside, and the first proposal to spell out the Oxo company name in electric lights was refused. But the architect came back with OXO incorporated, as he claimed, as “an elemental geometric form” on all four sides of the building, and the Oxo “sign” could no longer be classified as an advert. The magenta light shining through the windows illuminated the letters and the message could be seen right across London from the houses at Hampstead.
It was a real privilege to be given the chance to go up into the tower and look down on London from a new perspective.
By the late 1970s the building had become disused and derelict but (and I’m cutting a long story short here) it was eventually saved, and since its opening to the public in September 1996, Oxo Tower Wharf, with its mix of cafés and restaurants, retail design studios and social housing, has attracted a wide range of visitors. On its rooftop is the OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie and public viewing terrace which take full advantage of the outstanding location. The residential area below consists of five floors of affordable housing association flats with their own entrance, lifts and parking.
But we were there to shop, and on the first and second floors are over 25 design shops where some of the country’s leading designers work and sell jewellery, fashion, textiles, ceramics, glass, lighting, product design and interior accessories. On the ground level are cafes, a hairdressers, flower shop and the gallery@oxo which features a changing programme of exhibitions. Across the courtyard is Bargehouse which hosts exhibitions and events including an annual series of graduate shows. But I’m going to give a special mention to some of the shops we visited.
Wagumi is a design shop owned and produced by Lives Inc from Japan. It aims to showcase the best in Japanese design and crafts – and in so doing assist small producers, bringing new life to traditional aesthetics, and supporting fresh ideas in design. Everything in the shop is not only designed in Japan, but also made in Japan.
Great gifts for – design conscious friends, plant lovers (there’s a lovely selection of kokedamas), tea lovers, and daughters (see the Daruma wishing dolls).
Doreen Gittens has had her store at The Oxo Tower for 20 years. She weaves her luxurious throws, bed covers and hangings at her loom in the store using only the finest natural yarns of cotton, linen and silk. She can also weave silks into light gossamer fabrics for scarves and bridal shawls as well as interior fabrics. Doreen’s skill set is highly valued and walking into her shop and workspace allows customers to view exactly how every product is made.
Doreen’s gift suggestion: “My favourite items are the orange and red scarfs/shawls, ideal for getting cosy this Winter”.
While living in New York in the 1990’s, designer Snowden Flood became obsessed with a passion for designing and manufacturing high quality gifts and souvenirs that are actually made in the UK. Thus her business started when she returned home to London to settle permanently in 2000. Today she is famous for her plates and chinaware showing London landmarks. Often championing new and emerging designers, every maker whose work is stocked in Snowden’s studio shares a similar ethos to her own in terms of their strong emphasis on quality and care they take in making their products.
Snowden Flood’s gift suggestions: “I LOVE my London landmark bone china baubles, AND I have a bunch of new Xmas cards that I just launched and are colourful and fun”.
Bramwell Brown was born out of a fondness for old clock mechanisms and the extra interaction you get from traditional instruments compared with their modern digital equivalents. After a failed search to find a barometer that held any appeal for use in their own homes, the brother-sister duo had the idea to reinvent one that would be more contemporary yet still analogue. Soon after the idea developed into designs which gradually evolved into the ‘mechanimated clocks’ launched in 2015.
Rob and Sarah’s gift suggestion: “Our small Weather Clock is probably one of our favourite gifts from the collection, but equally if you know someone who loves London, the London Weather clock would make a really special and unique gift this Christmas”.
Jewellery designer and Royal College of Art graduate Mark Bloomfield is a digital craftsman. His fascination with the natural world is reflected in his brightly coloured floral jewellery that is digitally manufactured and finished by hand. He has designed for some of the most influential and prominent designers, including Asprey, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Matthew Williamson.
Mark’s gift suggestion: “My giant allium rings are a personal favourite, they remind me of a mini explosion frozen in time, packed full of potential, just like the natural seed heads that inspired them”.
Alan Vallis designs and makes contemporary jewellery inspired by many diverse influences. His stacking rings (which he has been designing and making for many years – long before they became so popular) are inspired by travels to the Middle East with glorious decorative patterns, textures and colours.
Alan Vallis gift suggestion: “A pair of silver earrings, or an item from a new series of tiny fish pendants that are a recent addition to my collections”.
Innermost founders Steve Jones and Russell Cameron gave up their jobs within design consultancy and furniture design to pursue a shared dream of this unique but diverse furniture and lighting brand. Their quirky and rebellious approach to design is driven by high-spirited London culture, and the brand aims to combine classical English tradition while also purveying taste and quality with a non-conformist attitude. And if you need more persuasion to visit this showroom, Innermost have their own gin bar where they even serve their own Ginnermost gin.
Just what you need after a hard days Christmas shopping.
Innermost’s gift suggestion: “The Yoy light is a perfect Christmas present, better still buy two – one for you and one for Santa”!
The Oxo Tower Wharf late night shopping event takes place on Thursday 1st December 5 – 8pm.
An evening of live music, workshops and demonstrations, free festive treats, and unique present ideas.
Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH
Top photograph of the Oxo Tower by Oliver Rudkin