Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Making Christmas Shopping Fun- It’s Possible

November 30th, 2015

20151125_155457Well, there’s nothing like having your grown children home for Thanksgiving to remind you that Christmas is just around the corner, and it’s time to get cracking. Here’s my eldest preparing the turkey dinner.


And the next one down, doing what he does best.


And my youngest making a pumpkin pie.


I digress. A perk of me being writer AND editor, digressions are permitted, welcome in fact.

So where shall I get cracking for Christmas? I have chosen three London boutiques that don’t feel like shops at all, more like places designed to enchant and delight the visitor as much as the creator. First off is Tobias and the Angel in Barnes.


What started as a junk shop is going strong thirty years later. The interiors shop closes for five days every November and re-opens as Santa’s workshop with just two elves Angel Hughes and her helper Ludmilla creating this treasure trove of unique,  vintage Christmas decorations. The duo spend the year darning and knitting and glueing and sewing to make angels with lace petticoats , sugarplum fairies and dreams come true.


The shop sells themed party hats – the tramp, the gendarme, the spiv and the dunce –  multi-faceted stars and her “opus magnus” – the embroidered baubles, which are  such hard work that once finished, Angel never wants to see them again.


Turning an idea into a reality is so difficult, but it’s wonderful when it succeeds. I don’t know anyone who is creative who doesn’t face a blank page once in a while.

Fuzzy mohair is spun around wire for the Christmas trees and stuffed toys are knitted using 1940’s patterns.



Nothing is tacky. All is charming. Angel walked me through this maze of old-fashioned objects, telling me stories about  her childhood in Germany where Christmas was magical and very craft-driven. Inspired by her past, Angel uses a whole host of materials including old sequins, antique lace, red garnets, velvet, silk, linens, Chinese lanterns, damask  and Turkish  embroidery. Semi-precious stones are sourced from E-Bay, tin foil from a chocolate confectioner’s web site and fishermens’ weights find new life as seals to tag items.  Angel is nothing if not creative.

Another creative force is Peter Adler and his shop Pebble, located on the ground floor of his Sussex Gardens flat. He gives new meaning to the term “collector”.


Adler’s Cave is overrun with fabulous tribal necklaces from Rajistan (see me modelling it), eco-friendly coral sculptures from the Solomon Islands, beaded corsets from Sudan, a hunk of amethyst from Brazil and plenty more.



Adler began the shop nine years ago as an excuse to explore India. His wanderlust wandered. In January he’s visiting India, Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam and possibly Burma with his girlfriend “who doubles up as assistant”.


Tom Ford, Donna Karan, Paloma Faith, Tory Burch, the top dogs at Etro, Ferragamo and Victoria’s Secret are just a few of Pebble’s fans. Here’s Kate Moss going ethnic a la Pebble.


Paloma Faith at the BAFTA’s adorned in a Pebble headdress.


Tate Britain borrowed 10 of Adler’s tribal flags for  Artist and Empire. Adler mentioned a few current huge (!!!) projects to me followed by “You can’t print that!” So frustrating! See if you can get Adler to open up at his annual Christmas sale this week (Dec 3rd-5th). Contact for details.

Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, check out the minimalist and gorgeous Egg on Belgravia back street Kinnerton Street.


Egg has just had its annual Christmas sale and it was a sell-out. Loyalists, yours truly included, were queuing outside the studio an hour before the doors opened and within minutes of them opening the place was jam packed. I snagged a few of Egg’s baby soft scarves in vibrant pinks, red and green.


A devout buy and dash shopper, I slow down to a crawl at Egg. Its white walls, calm blue palette, and quirky installation of cool clothes,  scattered art books, and styling add-ons like this old ladder


lure me in.


The staff are never pushy. Often they’re having tea or lunch with Doherty outside at this table,


leaving me free to browse.


There are shops. And then there are Shops. Happy Shopping.

November, 2015