A great example of a unique assortment you won't find anywhere else is the Clutch Cafe In London. It might sound like your local artisan coffee shop but you are mistaken. Clutch Magazine is one of the leading heritage fashion editorials published in Japan. Clutch focuses on heritage clothing with an ‘Amikaji’(American Casual style) and reproduction brands known for their utmost authenticity and quality.
In 2018 the makers of Clutch decided to open their first flagship store in the World. They wanted to give their readers the opportunity to shop the brands they read about. The offer is mainly focused on Japanese brands you won't find anywhere else outside of Japan but there are few brands which have made the assortment from Europe and the rest of the world, and sufficed the expectation of craftsmanship and quality. We are honoured to be one of those brands.
We wanted to learn more about the store and its philosophy that's why we sat down with the Store Manager (Ben) and the Head of Buying (Scott)to learn a bit more about them and the Clutch Cafe.
How long have you been working at Clutch and how did you get into the trade?
Ben: Both Scott and I were lucky enough to be involved with Clutch Cafe right from the beginning, allowing us to get-to-grips with Clutch as an entity. Being involved in the set-up and feeling like we have built it from the ground up, literally; being onsite fitting the shop, painting the walls and figuring out the layout. I think this has really given both of us a very personal connection to the business.
I have always had a fascination with subculture and vintage clothing. My first shop job was at American Classics on Endell St, where I started working in 2013. There I learned the trade as well as the history of Classic’s long involvement with scenes in London, while discovering a love of Japanese American-heritage design and clothing. I was very pleased to be one of the first stockists of Heimat in London I believe.
Scott: I’ve been working at Clutch since November 2017, a good few months before we first opened our doors in February. A pretty busy time of ordering goods for the store as well as helping to fit out the store – very exciting and a little stressful!
I moved to London to come to University and during my 3rd year in 2012 I started working for Albam, a London based brand. After I graduated about 18 months later I began working at Son of a Stag in East London and learnt a lot more about Japanese brands and started to become almost obsessed by learning more.
What is Clutch and how long has it been going?
Clutch Cafe is the flagship store of the fashion wing of Ei Publishing; a behemoth publishing house in Japan. Clutch Magazine (our namesake) was launched by Ei Publishing in 2012, which, like Clutch is under the steerage of Atsushi Matsushima. Atsushi Matsushima wanted to create a lifestyle magazine to sit perfectly between the ‘Amekaji’ heritage side of Lightning Magazine, and the preppy streetwear side of 2nd Magazine. While drawing from both. Presenting known Japanese brands, as well as championing newer less known makers with a freedom of personal style and catering for the growing international interest for workwear and heritage clothing.
We opened our doors in 2018 with much the same ethos; hoping to bring a new, fresh take on ‘heritage’ style to London. Bringing together a mix of brands which we believe appeal on many levels, and hopefully to many people. With an in-built rolling regeneration, linking the new to the old and vice versa, perpetuating the classic items we love while hoping to bring them to a new audience through a different approach or lens.
Who is a typical Clutch customer?
Scott: I think it is quite hard to quantify a typical customer of Clutch as they are so varied. I would definitely say that our Customers enjoy clothing, and a lot see it as a hobby as well as sharing the same beliefs as us in terms of provenance of product, quality and the appreciation of niche brands.
Ben: As Scott has said, it is very difficult to pin down or identify who our typical customer is, which is great! Our customers are as varied as the brands we stock, with one conjoining thread; an interest or love for clothing made with passion which has a tangible quality that speaks to them.
What are your favorite publications from Clutch?
Ben: Clutch specifically has to be the bi-annual Clutch & Men’s file issues, not only because I think they always complement each other, but because we always get to have a bit of a party, drink some beers and gather people together in the shop. It instills a sense of community and companionship which we strive for at Clutch. Otherwise, the Lightning archives are the ultimate bible for vintage geeks like myself and 2nd Magazine is great for a grasp of the streetwear scene in Japan.
Scott: The Archive series is certainly the most intriguing and informative. They are a great reference point for the guys in the store to show customers original designs that brands we carry have reimagined. I also really enjoy some of the 2nd Mags for styling and you get a real feel of Japan through them.
What do you like about Fitzrovia (the area where the store is based)
Ben: Great Portland Street has always had such a history when it comes to the ‘rag trade’, I like the fact that we are bringing a bit of life back to the street, even in these difficult times. ‘78’ is a great space as well, and I think we have been lucky to move into this building, which, being a short walk from Oxford Street does put us off the beaten track and more of a ‘destination store’ which is no bad thing.
Scott: I never really went north from Oxford Street before we opened the store but it’s a great spot. There are loads of great cafes and restaurants in Fitzrovia but I really like the couple of old Italian cafes on Great Titchfield street for a sandwich or fresh pasta.
What did you learn from the lockdown and how has it changed your way of doing business?
Ben: Lockdown, very swiftly changed everything, and though daunting at first (as well as a little manic), I think we have become stronger because of it, as a shop and hopefully as individuals as well.
I realised very quickly we needed to keep connecting with our customers on some immediate level, so we started to structure our website with ‘live-chat’, interactive ‘look-books’ and style guides, as well as trying to increase our outreach via blog-posts and Instagram live. I think this has helped to maintain our community as well as reach out to new customers. The switch from in-store to online has obviously been the biggest shift and trying to give the customers the one-to-one experience which you get for free in-store takes much longer online, although is incredibly important. As soon as that connection is made, however, and a trust has been built, it is powerful to be able to sell on a personal level all around the world.
It’s been very busy this year, so the other thing I have definitely learnt to appreciate is time off and holidays, oh and not to try and move-house in the middle of a pandemic.
Scott: My partner and I had our first baby in June so the first few months of lockdown were a little stressful but we learned to just take each day as it comes and to make sure we were keeping busy. We were both working from home at the time so I got to see how stressful Jane’s job in the Film Industry actually is … In terms of my role as a Buyer it has certainly had a massive impact. I was lucky to be in Japan for our AW20 Buy to physically see products and meet the guys behind the brands. Everyone has now embraced online platforms for SS21 and it’s great to see. It obviously makes it a little harder, not physically seeing the products but with look books, fabric swatches and digital platforms, as well as video calls it makes it a lot easier than it could be.
What are your 3 favorite places to hang out in London? (Bars & Restaurants)
Ben: Being South of the River, I do feel lucky to have a lot of great places which are sometimes little-known.
1. Bruno’s (Lordship Lane) a great little local wine bar which is a great place to sit outside and enjoy a bottle of wine as the world passes by.
2. The Lyric (Windmill Street) is one of my favorite pubs in the center of town which just has a great atmosphere as well as selection of beer.
3. Memsaab (Lordship Lane) A Sunday tradition with my wife was going to this great Indian restaurant for a cracking buffet. Sorely missed for the past 7 months…
1. Primeur (just in between Canonbury and Newington Green) – if you haven’t been make it a priority at some point!
2. Wilton Way Deli – just at the end of my road but it has the best produce run by such a passionate Italian lady, Francesca, who has all the time in the world for everyone. A life saver over the last 6 months, that’s for sure!
3. Spurstowe Arms – another local to me in Hackney. Such a good spot for a pint with great taste in décor as well as making a great Negroni.
What do you like about Heimat products?
Ben: I have always liked the Heimat product line since American Classics first started stocking the Mechanics hat, there is a quality and uniqueness in the weave which you don’t find with a lot of knitwear brands. I bought the Rescue Orange Sub last year and it is one of my favorite pieces of knitwear I own; un-ashamedly bold and a go to item in colder weather. I mean, preaching to the choir, but, they are just great.
Scott: First and foremost, the products are made by people who care about garments and have a true passion for what they do. With this in mind the rest falls into place really. The quality is superb as is the fit. The classic colour-ways are always catered for but it’s great when you see slightly different, thoughtful colours in the line-up. We have the Orange & Gold in this AW20 and they constantly get a positive response. The garments will never go out of style and will only get better with wear. The U-Boat sweater is a personal favourite and definitely an essential for the forthcoming months.
What's next for Clutch any future plans?
Ben: 2021 and whatever it may bring… I think we are in a good position after three years, with opportunities and possibilities opening up to us. We are more settled now, and I think it will be a case re-focusing on the in-store experience as well as continuing to cement and improve our on-line, to really push Clutch to fulfill the full potential. Watch this space.
Scott: Over the next few months we are looking to build on our online presence through our website and incorporate further seasonal look books into this. More immediately, we’ll be hosting an in-store and online knitwear trunk show next month.