Their brand may be called Lost Property of London, but founders John Maskell and Katy Bell seem to have found their place in life (or rather it keeps finding them) and that place is within the immediate orbit of their alma mater Central Saint Martins in London’s King’s Cross.
The pair met while studying at the world-famous college, went on to set up their brand together and now return as visiting lecturers. And the locale has come calling once more. Next year a new store and studio for Lost Property of London will also be based a stone’s throw from CSM in the new Coal Drops Yard development, which will open in October. Currently the brand is based in a store in Islington and has an e-store as well as a number of wholesale outlets.
The Industry meets Maskell at a cafe outside the college in Granary Square where work on the imposing Coal Drops Yard development next door is in full swing. “We still feel very privileged – Tom Dixon is over there,” he says nodding to the new HQ of the celebrated British product designer that faces the college and sits adjacent to Coal Drops Yard.
Another celebrated British designer Thomas Heatherwick is involved in the scheme. The Heatherwick Studio is designing the development, which will eventually house 100,000 sq ft of shops and restaurants when it opens to the public. But this is no bog standard super-mall. Heatherwick is working sympathetically with the grand-scale industrial Victorian architecture, while injecting some striking modern features, and the brand line-up has been carefully curated by Craig White, Project Director at Argent.
Lost Property of London, which takes traditional English saddlery and reimagines it in a modern, minimalist manner (the quality of its handbags rival that of any luxury brand but the price-point is highly accessible with prices for its signature Arlington saddle bag starting at around £250 with a men’s attache case retailing for £425), seemed destined to be there.
Unknown to Maskell and Bell, White had spotted the brand in ES Magazine (it was an image of Bell holding her bags in Trafalgar Square) and put a cutting in his scrapbook of target brands for the scheme. Later, Lost Property was shooting a campaign in King’s Cross and a couple of team members from Argent spotted them and asked them if they were from the brand in the scrapbook.
They were then invited to an informal pitch process and, says Maskell, “everything felt right. We live locally, we are ex-CSM, the product is right and it fits with the design integrity of the building“. But staring up at the vast Victorian brick buildings around him, Maskell admits to being a equal parts excited and intimidated by taking up residence here. “It’s a huge, huge landmark moment, we’ve got to make it work,” he says.
The brand’s name is a reference not to a lack of direction (after all it seems clear its destiny is in King’s Cross) but to the fact that it began life using reclaimed materials, such as old hessian sacks from the Monmouth Coffee company in Borough Market or old sail cloth from a Dorset boat yard, to create its bags.
Some of its early designs featuring the sacks lined in Liberty fabric (Bell had previously done work experience at Liberty) were snapped up by the iconic department store when its former managing director Ed Burstell held one of his famous open days when they allowed brands to come in and pitch their products X-Factor audition style.
But while the reclaimed approach was “a nice way to get noticed” it made for a challenging business model as it was difficult to predict what quantity and what type of material you will have to hand to develop a collection. So, eventually, the proposition evolved to a full-leather offering, which includes pared back styles for men and women at the aforementioned accessible price-point.
Environmental concerns, however, remain paramount as the leather is sourced from London leather merchants who acquire it from tanneries in Belgium and Italy. It is vegetable tanned meaning no nasty chemicals are used in the design process and the bags are build to last. One-season-wonder it bags, these are not.
Maskell admits it can be hard to keep the prices down, especially since the devaluation of sterling, but it’s important that they do. “We want to be able to sell to as many different people as possible. They are still an investment for most people,” he says. Some retailers have told them that their prices are too cheap but in fact their positioning proved a plus-point for Argent’s White when he invited them to pitch for a space at the development.
Argent is keen to ensure that Coal Drops Yard is a welcoming place to the local residents and not just to wealthy shoppers and tourists, so the stores and restaurants have been chosen on the basis they will offer something that a wide range of people can afford, if not for an everyday item then as a treat or present perhaps. “If you come here at the weekends there are local families here with their packed lunches and the kids are playing. Craig really wanted to make sure it still felt accessible to everyone,” says Maskell.
As well as local residents, Maskell has also borne his former college and its current students in mind when it comes to the design and purpose of the new 874 sq ft Lost Property of London space, which will be a combination of shop, working studio and exhibition space. “We’re going to use CSM and our connections to provide a platform for emerging artists and designers. It will be an event space for the next generation. For instance we might do an event where a designer can present something they are working on. It will be a very open space with the design studio at the back and customers will be able to see the work in progress and we can get feedback from them,” he explains.
At the time of the interview Maskell and Bell were finalising their store designs with an architect from their circle of friends. True to the brand and the environment it will be based in, materials and cost are at the centre of the decision-making process, but rather than seeing a lack of a super-brand budget as a set-back Maskell sees it as another opportunity to get creative. “We may have no budget but we have got time and we get to be creative, it’s a fun process,” he says.
With time, creativity and, it would seem, destiny on their side, you get the impression Lost Property of London will be found by a customer base that is as enthusiastic about what they do as they are.