Idea Has Been The Coolest Bookshop In The World Since 2011. Now, You Can Actually Visit It

In the years since the couple began collecting rare vintage books and magazines in the ’90s selling them through the late, lamented Colette in Paris and Dover Street Market in London. Launched their own publishing arm. They’ve cemented their status as “the coolest publisher in the world”, despite refusing to play by the nipple-averse rules of the social media giant.
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If conventional wisdom has it that the world is now ruled by algorithms, nobody bothered to tell David Owen and Angela Hill.

In the years since the couple began collecting rare vintage books and magazines in the ’90s (selling them through the late, lamented Colette in Paris and Dover Street Market in London) and launched their own publishing arm (think Gavin Bond’s Being There and Harley Weir’s Beauty Papers), they’ve cemented their status as “the coolest publisher in the world”, as Vogue’s Mark Holgate put it in 2015 – amassing a 500,000-strong following of rapacious fashion nerds on Instagram, despite refusing to play by the nipple-averse rules of the social media giant. In 2013, their account actually got deleted for violating nudity guidelines, David tells me now with his signature brand of cheerful insouciance, beaming from underneath one of Idea’s corduroy “Collier Schorr” caps. “One day it just disappeared with 70,000 followers. I’d associated it with an email I never look at, so I’d missed all of the warnings. To be fair, there were quite a lot of them…”

Still, Idea’s current Instagram account formed the backbone of Owen and Hill’s business model for close to a decade, but since 2016, the platform – which catapulted them onto BOF’s “500 People Shaping Fashion” list (to say nothing of the moodboards of designers such as Kim Jones and Nicolas Ghesquière) – has increasingly moved away from presenting a chronological feed of still images, meaning Idea’s followers are now more likely to be served a Reel of an anthropomorphic alpaca than one of the duo’s posts about a stunningly rare ’70s copy of Handmade Houses: A Guide To The Woodbutcher’s Art. Then there’s the fact that Instagram has become less and less tolerant of anything resembling indecent exposure – which, David says, means images from “pretty much every book [Idea stocks] these days”. Hard to imagine what Zuckerberg and co would make of, say, snaps from Idea’s back issues of Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, published between 1976 and 1981 and described by the New York Times as espousing “a post-hippie philosophy of pleasure, sensuality and play”.

And so, Owen and Hill have increasingly been leaning into the distinctly anachronistic elements of their business strategy, hosting more and more people in their appointment-only, tungsten-lit “Secret Book Room” within their W1 offices, which happen to be adjacent to their family home. Over the years, said room has become a magnet for blue-tick-blessed individuals, not to mention creative directors and CSM students keen to flick through everything from Tina Barney’s Theater of Manners to ’90s Japanese monographs about Leonardo DiCaprio for inspiration. Not that it’s always easy to find, even for those who arrive with trailing security details; for many years, David accidentally set its location on Google Maps about 100 yards away, “between a bagel shop and Ann Summers”, he recalls now with a dry laugh. “I used to watch people standing in the middle of the street, looking down at their iPhones then back up at where we were supposed to be, and be shouting at them frantically through the window to get out of the road as Boris Bikes and taxis whizzed past them.”

He’s now – somewhat reluctantly – corrected the location, and, for the first time, added opening hours to Idea’s website, because, as of this month, Owen and Hill have launched an expanded shop within their Soho headquarters (the erstwhile home of Elton John’s Rocket Records). There’s a striking cerise Tunisian wedding blanket on the floor courtesy of Vogue model turned textile dealer Jess Maybury’s studio in Hoxton; a grey OB-4 loudspeaker from Teenage Engineering; and a Dieter Rams feel throughout, with row upon row of Vitsoe shelving cradling merch bearing Idea’s now-signature slogans (“Techno Is My Boyfriend”, “Vegan Athlete”, “I Don’t Work Here”). Appointments are still “advised” before visiting, but in theory, anyone can now ring the bell by the discreetly placed Idea label at 101 Wardour Street and wander upstairs to browse the likes of Harmony Korine’s The Bad Son or back issues of Butt magazine. And for those diehard fans concerned that, by increasing the accessibility of its treasures, Idea might lose some of its magic? Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much. “Two hours after I had listed our opening times, we got a notification from Google saying we’d got our first customer review: one star out of five,” David tells me delightedly. “Someone had written: good luck finding that place. I just responded with a smiley face.”

Take a closer look at the newly opened space, below.

Idea’s bricks-and-mortar site is a challenge to the depersonalised add-to-basket shopping experience, with visitors having to ring a doorbell in order to be granted access. “You have to be a little bit brave, I think, to actually press it,” David says. Courtesy of Idea

A grey OB-4 loudspeaker from Teenage Engineering plays in the now expanded Idea shop; the retail space is adjacent to the beloved Secret Book Room – which remains untouched – and situated within the same Soho building as Owen and Hill’s offices and family home. Courtesy of Idea

Vitsoe shelving lines the rooms, with a Tunisian rug sourced via Vogue model Jess Maybury adding a pop of colour on the floor. The wider building formerly housed Elton John’s Rocket Records, with Owen and Hill discovering a cache of his costumes upon moving in. Courtesy of Idea

Back in the mid-’10s, hoping to recreate the success of Daunt Books’s merch, Owen and Hill debated launching a tongue-in-cheek tote with “Birkin” emblazoned across it. Instead, they settled on “Winona” – the star they felt most deserved to have a bag named after her – which proved a viral success and allowed them to circumnavigate a potential lawsuit for good measure. Courtesy of Idea.

Idea’s shop is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm; Saturday, 11am to 6pm; and Sunday, 12pm to 6pm.

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