London’s Best Shops: Fopp
In this series I’m not including any of the shops that usually go into glossy travel magazines, the ones which are meant to typify London, because they don’t. Lobb’s and Lock’s and Berry & Rudd and Smith & Co are beautiful and evocative time warps, but I’ve never met anyone who has shopped in them – not quite true, a friend once bought me a very expensive Smith & Co umbrella. I lost it the very first time I took it out.
The grand old shops of London are dying out. I was heartbroken when Floris, the venerable royal chocolatier, closed down in Soho and became a vintage magazine shop (and is now the home of the resurrected bling emporium Fiorucci) because it used to have vast handmade chocolate sculptures in the window. Similarly, the grand old department stores that amazed me as a child have virtually all gone except Liberty and Selfridges. Bourne & Hollingsworth, Lilley & Skinner, Gamages, Marshall & Snelgrove, Derry & Toms, Swan & Edgar and Arding & Hobbs all disappeared in my adult life. Most shops have nothing to interest me at all now, but Fopp is an anomaly because it shouldn’t be there at all.
Perhaps it was a matter of timing; it can be a good idea to start your businesses at the point when no-one needs it, because scarcity breeds popularity. So just as the world of ‘things’ disappeared, to be replaced by invisible online services, Fopp appeared. It sells ‘entertainment things’, something other companies had collapsed doing, but it does so very cleverly. Just as vinyl is back and books are back, so DVDs and CDs remain important to collectors, being physical hard copies of things you value and wish to keep. Divided by country and theme and sometimes director, the main London store holds two floors of cult fiction, music and film, curated by helpful, knowledgeable staff.
Geeks know that hard-copy quality trumps streamed quality every time. Try playing a CD on a good sound system, then listening to it from a streamed version. It sounds like music being played through a tin of nails. I collect film rarities, so I have little interest in Amazon, Netflix or Sky, which seem to concentrate on films about flying teenagers and the backlist of Jennifer Aniston. I love world movies, experimental, demanding, difficult cinema of ideas. Which rather rules out anything that Ben Affleck has touched. It’s why Fopp remains for me a destination store. It’s on Shaftesbury Avenue, near where that Harry Potter play will be on for the next 75 years.