Premier Push: Modern Society
13th February 2017
Monthly interviews with the faces, places, events and experiences we think you should know about before anyone else.
Series 1. Modern Society
Where: East of the City
What: “A London based general store, dedicated to bringing a selection of luxury products from around the globe.”
What we found: Coffee, great knitwear, good reads, jewellery that made us cry (slightly because it was so pretty), friends and amazing smells all round.
Mention the term “concept Store” to Nazifa Movsoumova and her nose wrinkles with an air of boredom. “No, the term has just been beaten up too much” she laughs, her discontent feelings towards the phrase softened with a caring smile, “I wanted to create a brand that served its purpose as a hub, where people can come and hang out, meet new faces, find new brands, grab a coffee and take inspiration from”. In October 2015 that was exactly what Nazifa Movsoumova did.
It’s a quintessential December Day on East London’s Redchurch Street. The icy air balanced against a beryl blue sky, the atmosphere subtlety tainted with Winter’s offering to the holiday calendar, the entire street in collusion to prove the point that there is really no reason to be anywhere else right now. On my left, the Owl and the Pussy Cat, Shoreditch’s charming contribution to London’s roster of great old Battle Cruiser’s (pubs if you’re not one for Urban Dictionary), on my right a chocolate shop that’ll leave you contemplating ever eating a Freddo again, Two Albions, a Sunspel and then there’s Modern Society. A store that, just like its founder, rectifies the understanding of minimalism to something far more intriguing. Of course, in keeping with the tradition, that stripped back essentialist core to this version of minimalism still maintains, but it’s intricately balanced with a desire to embrace, herald and be moulded by the experimenters. A platform for a roster of hand-picked emerging and established designers, artists, writers and all-round creatives, Modern Society is the ultimate advocate for a new approach to contemporary retail, just like its founder Nazifa Movsoumova.
Often sat at one of the store’s distinctive marble topped tables, you’ll find her effortlessly interchanging her attention from Mac to customer, customer to Mac. But on this particular morning, the Mac had been exchanged for two coffees, and our chatter replaced the void left by the absence of those clicking keys, and all for good reason. For the next 30 minutes, I came to understand Modern Society as a birth certificate of contemporary, “contemporary retail”.
“Ideally the shop is a source of inspiration across the board. Its all about the senses, the five senses and triggering those physical senses in a way you can’t do through technology” Nazifa reasons with intention. “Take for example one of Dougie’s pieces”, she nods gesturing towards the store’s bar where Dougie Mandagi, Temper Trap’s lead singer, is sat, leather clad, discussing the perks of Berlin life with a few of the store’s team, “you can listen to his work on your iPhone and it sounds great, but you go and see him in person and there’s just something about it that you can’t substitute. You can’t substitute the experience” she states matter of factly. “I like to think our team is really knowledgable, really friendly. You can come in and have a great conversation with someone you don’t even know. You can feel, touch, try on our pieces and that kind of experience can’t be substituted. For me brick and mortar will always live and we’ll always need human contact”.
Movsoumova’s success in manifesting Modern Society’s soul can be accredited, in part, to her impeccable taste, her years spent studying business at law school and her good fortune. But also, it has a lot to do with that great pearl of power in being able to follow your gut instinct. Without it, she knows that Modern Society would be quite different. Be it from the brand’s they sell, to the store’s postcode, those spells of gut instinct lend themselves to the ongoing evolution of Movsoumova’s masterpiece. “The idea of having my own store was always in the back of my mind, but a memory that sticks with me was one morning after having breakfast at Shoreditch House. I was walking down Redchurch street, I wasn't even thinking about permeant space at all, but when we walked past this place I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to have a space here?’, and that thought just stuck with me” she looks around with an honest sense of admiration. “At that point in time I had only done pop ups - all of which had been in West London. East was a massive change. It was a completely different area with a completely different vibe but for some reason I got so hooked on the idea of coming here for good” she laughs as she catches the thankful glint in my eye. You see, I live only a short walk from the store and since it opened in October 2015 I haven't yet successfully made it down the 300 plus meters of Redchurch Street without making a B-Line for the store (mind you, it’s not like I’ve really tried to). To me visiting Modern Society just feels like you're visiting family. I would never really buy anything more than a coffee and maybe splash out some comical business cards (when you’re a creative fresh out of uni in London your bank card often feels out of its element in most environments) but my point is, for me the store was and still is an escape. For one short part of my day, I somehow manage to let go and be in the moment. Something I think, as a society, we’ve lost.
There’s more than that though to this store. Yes it hooked the rockstar singer of Sweet Disposition, and consoled a wondering 22 year old journalist (i.e. me) but it also operates as portal that supports and takes huge pride in finding new, emerging talent and propping them next to well established brands. “For me predominantly because I’m the buyer, what I look for firstly is a connection between myself and the designer.” Nazifa continues, “I love to meet the designers I think that’s really important. And then I look at how the brands sit together” she shifts a little in her chair to face the store, searching for a reference. “I have to be honest with you, my favourite outfit is a blue jean and a white t-shirt but then you take a piece from Rejina [Pyo], she can add something to a simple jean that you can’t quite put your finger on”, we smile with compatible understanding. If you’ve ever worn a Rejina Pyo piece I hope you’re reading this with that same smile, that knowledge of wearing something so unexpectedly rewarding. “And then of course there’s Sandy [Liang]” her eyes gloss over as she begins to reflect with a pride so distinct it seemed almost maternal “as a person she is so hard working. Her eye for detail, her vision, herself, she is just incredible. I want to share her with everyone that gets her. She created her first collection whilst she was still studying. I honestly am so proud to have her in the store.”
Accumulatively, I’ve spent hours in this Modern Society, said hi to Nazifa multiple times and hugged her goodbye enough to no longer have that slightly awkward regular customer/nearly friend status, but I’ve never properly chatted to her about her store - “her baby”. Today I saw this “baby’s” full identity, cracks and all. “Every day is a challenge. As a creative you have so many ideas going through your head. Trying to select the ones you drive forward is a massive challenge in itself, so self organisation is a significant part of any successful day.” She leans back sips her coffee and continues, “Then there was the challenge of building a team from scratch and building a brand at the same time. We’ve got three different businesses here, the shop, the cafe and production and production is a bitch, nothing ever goes right” she laughs her unapologetic approach to honesty so easy to be in the company of. “With that all in mind though, we’re growing and it’s refreshing to see that people are watching”.
There’s a little you could fault Nazifa Movsoumova on, for one she’s a true advocate for the essentials, both in life and in the wardrobe, two she’s a supporter of the self starter, the new gens, that DIY culture that gives London on its own unique dialogue (before Modern Society, Sandy Liang wasn't stocked in the UK. Nazifa’s eye for a real talent made that a thing of the past). And three, well she’s a real hustler. Driven by a desire to inspire, enlighten and fulfil in a way that she defines as retail therapy, Movsoumova is no stranger to getting things done properly. I think it’s that hustle combined with her curiosity that are the real crux of much of Movsoumova’s output. Her curiosity in people, culture and an alternative way of living, combined with her no bull-sh*t stance to showcasing her findings derived from her curiosity (if she likes something and thinks it’ll add something beneficial to the store she’ll bloody well shout about it) have, in part, given Modern Society its fertile foundation. Obviously there’s that business degree under her belt tying all this curiosity and hustle together nicely, but for Movsoumova this new growing empire of retail therapy - and believe me it is a growing empire - is rooted by her rich characteristic of embracing and fuelling the intrigued mind. Mention the term “concept Store” to Nazifa Movsoumova and she’ll find a rarer and all round better alternative.
Interview by Fenn O'Meally for Premier.