March 25 2011
Lucia van der Post
Egg is the quintessential cult shop. It’s the insiders’ secret. It’s where Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Issey Miyake and all sorts of other taste-makers visit when they’re in London. And its other fans – such as the film-making Coen brothers, the cook Nigel Slater, Lady Victoria Rothschild, Maggie Smith – return time and time again because if it’s your sort of place then there’s nothing else quite like it.
Its owner, Maureen Doherty, has a famously quirky but refined and subtle eye and at Egg she shows and sells whatever takes her fancy. Mostly that turns out to be clothes, but there’s often a collection of silver (some delicious long jam spoons when I was last there), of Indian-sourced bed-covers or throws (very chic in a variety of navy blue and white patterns), of ceramics and glass (she gave ceramicist and now famous author Edmund de Waal his first exhibition).
But the reason for writing about Egg now is two-fold. For the first time ever, Doherty is collaborating with another shop in London, the Dover Street Market, where an evolving collection of her clothes and objects is now on sale. It’s come about because Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons has always been a great fan, sharing something of the same aesthetic.
For those who haven’t yet discovered Egg, it’s important to say that her clothes take some understanding. I love them on the hanger – a row of pale grey cotton shirt-dresses (first picture) looked rather like an art installation; just gazing at them gave me deep pleasure – but they don’t look anything like the wares you’ll find in Gucci, Prada, Dior et al. You need to take time to look, try on and get the clever, arty girls there to show you how to wear them.
By getting to know them, you’ll also be able to get them to unlock the cupboards next door where there are treasures to be discovered. There’s always a collection of Doherty’s own designs – she takes old peasant garments and workwear as her models and then makes them up in linens, canvas or khadi cloth and tweaks them for modern life. For instance, she might take a French butler’s jacket with lots of tiny buttons and make it up in navy blue or black canvas (£225). There’s always a variation on a men’s nightshirt theme, turning up as the Ivy shirt-dress for women (£265) and an easy over-shirt for men (called the Rupert; £285). There’s also usually a heavenly Edwardian car coat, slightly reworked in linen (the Buddleia, £450).
Her best customers discuss in detail with Doherty or one of the assistants what they want and can order any style in any of their fabrics and colours, and with alterations if necessary.
The second reason for writing about Egg is that Ma Ke, a young Chinese designer who has been courted by any number of Western retailers, has agreed that Maureen Doherty (and so far only her) can sell her wares (which she calls Wuyong). Her approach is very similar to Maureen’s. Ma Ke calls her clothes “couture for peasants”. In other words, she takes Chinese peasant wear as her inspiration but then makes them up exquisitely, using her own hand-dyed cloth and hand-embroidering everything (second picture).
These clothes are not for everybody. They’re an individual, quirky take on modern dress, but their fans truly love them. And it’s worth knowing that they’re all sublimely comfortable (peasants had to wear them while working, after all). Prices range from £360 for a linen dress to £1,500 for an intricately embroidered skirt.