Do you mind if I ask where you got those earrings?” The polite question came, early in my time at How To Spend It, from my editor Gillian de Bono: one of the most sleekly turned-out figures in the FT’s offices and not given to such queries.
The earrings in question – simple, midsized teardrop pendants of an unusual colour and burnish, thanks to the champagne-hued foil backing the crystal – were the work of Paris-based cult designer Philippe Ferrandis. I’d found them at Maggie Owen, secluded since 2006 in a former Georgian dairy on a lane in Bloomsbury, a beautifully bright trove of meticulously sourced costume jewellery and accessories – one, I soon learnt, with an ardent fan base that includes Channel 4 News journalist Jon Snow, Brian Eno and the Duchess of Bedford, among legions of others across London and further afield.
“Along with the uniqueness of Philippe’s designs, it was their sculptural quality that took my breath away the first time I met him,” says Owen (pictured right), who did her degree in fine art with a specialisation in sculpture. That was two decades ago, and Owen is still one of his largest retailers. His exquisite (and very affordable) costume jewels channel femininity and boldness: a crystal bee on a double strand of rose-quartz beads (£545) is a whimsical statement piece, while lapis and malachite pendant clip earrings (£125) and matching necklace (£345) nod to a more architecturally graphic set of references.
Provocative, original designs by relatively off-the-radar names are Owen’s speciality: one of her favourites among more recently introduced lines is Athens-based Christina Brampti, whose handmade cord-and-metal cuffs, collars and necklaces (from £65) in bold colours are daringly artful creations, to be worn with confidence. This year she is showcasing the debut collection from French designers Amherst, whose ethereal feather earrings (Arc en Ciel pictured left, £75) waft around the face alluringly.
Others have long formed part of the Maggie Owen stable – names such as Angela Caputi, the Florence-based resin artist whose outsized necklaces and earrings, notes Owen, are inspired by influences as diverse as museums, wildlife and film (multistrand beaded necklaces from £125); and another Parisian, Samuel Coraux, who works with Murano glass and plastic to make pop-art infused bead collars (£95) and bracelets (from £45).
Owen’s eye for textiles is equally eclectic and discerning. Hand-painted linen scarves (£125) by Bonamano & Ferrari fan out dreamily from a wooden rack, jeweltone stripes bleeding like watercolours. More linen shawls (£95) by French textiles house Storiatipic are richly embroidered with silk threads in naïf patterns.
Thoughtful accents punctuate the constantly changing but invariably lovely merchandise displays: here, a slim stack of block-print-illustrated poetry volumes (£10) by the likes of Coleridge and Edward Thomas; there, a selection of mesh summer totes (£65) by the Franco-Danish duo Epice. The warm wood floors, bright-white walls and habitual presence of Owen herself – with her trademark long platinum locks, artsy black spectacles and wonderful cascading laugh – round out the appeal of a genuine London gem.