Each lovingly chosen item inside Mouki Mou has integrity in its make and a purpose to its design. Inside her West London boutique, Maria Lemos strokes her favourite Scents of Land candles and tells me why they, in their own small way, are an integral part of the concept. “I thought about this a lot – what kind of candle do I want in the shop? We chose these because they aren’t hugely expensive but are made with a certain integrity,” says the Greek-born entrepreneur of the handcrafted candles by the New York-based brand, made from 100 percent natural ingredients. “I want the shop to be democratic, with something for every price point. I like a little bit of humility in everything.”
“Small, personal and simple” is what Lemos aims for with her two-storied shop on Chiltern Street, opened in 2013. “The shop reflects me. I like quieter styles – I don’t want the clothes to wear me. I love quality, and fabrics are the number one factor,” she says.
It’s a shop to linger around in, touch and smell. There are handmade olive-oil soaps from Corfu, Henry Cuir’s sculptural “origami leather” bags, Daniela Gregis’ soft, linen cardigans, and family-owned Hafod Grange’s exquisite paperweights with real flowers encased in resin. With a focus on craft rather than showy design, there’s also a particular emphasis on Japanese brands, including Hallelujah, 45 RPM and Arts & Science.
It was Chiltern Street’s catholic mix of independent, charmingly old-school boutiques and restaurants that initially drew her to open the premises here. “I love that Chiltern Street is so central yet so forgotten about. It has the most eclectic mix of stores – crazy shops like those for tall people, for people with narrow feet, a whisky shop… it’s eccentric in a very British way.”
There’s a warm intimacy to the thoughtfully curated selection of ready-to-wear, beauty and lifestyle products that feel like Lemos’ personal portfolio of unique discoveries from around the world. And what a portfolio she has, with over three decades of experience in the fashion industry – first in PR for Sonia Rykiel, then sales for John Galliano, and subsequently launching her own showroom, Rainbowwave, in 2002.
Through Rainbowwave, Lemos has built a reputation for spotting and nurturing emerging fashion talent, including brands like J Brand, Peter Pilotto and Erdem. But she says what she wants to achieve for the shop is the “total opposite” of her aim for Rainbowwave. “In the showroom, we take young, unknown designers and help them grow, putting them in many stores worldwide. But for my shop, I don’t want to have multiple stores in many cities and grow really quickly,” she says. “It’s about creating personal experiences with our customers and servicing them in an intimate way by buying and discovering new brands for them.”
For her, the story behind the product is just as important as its beauty. “Henry [Cuir] still makes his bags in Florence but he’s somewhat forgotten about. I want to bring these people back. It doesn’t matter if they are big or not – they are still making beautiful things.” And in the ephemeral world of fashion, what could be more democratic than that?
Below, we asked the tastemaker about some of her favourite things in the shop at the moment.
Isaac Reina – Lidded box bag
"Isaac Reina is a Paris-based, under-the-radar designer known for his architectural and sparse reductionist design. I love this bag because it represents just that, with its clean, minimal form."
Atlantique Ascoli – Blue blouse
I love it when a designer obsesses over perfecting one item of clothing. For Atlantique Ascoli, it’s all about the blouse. Her designs are poetic, romantic and pure – they represent femininity but without the frills. This blouse is made from al prato cotton, with a trace of linen, then finished off with delicate brass buttons.
Lisa Marie Fernandez – Arden flounce swimsuit
I had to choose a swimsuit, as I feel they represent holidays and I’m always dreaming of escape! This one by Lisa Marie Fernandez is great – the fabric is perfect and it can also be worn as a top. It’s sexy, yet sophisticated – the Alaïa of swimwear.
Lemaire – Embroidered dress
Lemaire has a discrete sense of elegance – it’s everyday dressing with an edge. I love that this dress combines intricate, embroidered details, set against a simple, cotton fabric. "The Experience Continues", a surrealist poem by Paul Nouge, traces the length and hemlines of this dress, creating a subtle pattern.
Janaki – Larsen bowl
Daughter of an artist, Janaki Larsen is a Vancouver-based modern, minimalist potter. I love her work as it looks like it’s been around for years and survived another time. Everything is handmade and there’s an intricate attention to detail.
The Elder Statesman – Picasso jumper
This jumper is a reinterpretation of the classic, French mariner jumper [like the one originally worn by Picasso]. I love that he has taken something so classic and made it entirely his own with this particular weave of Mongolian cashmere."
Interview by Jainnie Cho
Mouki Mou is located at 29 Chiltern Street, London W1U 7PL. Contact: 020 7224 4010