Who can say what it must have been like arriving in the technicolour world of Oz after dodging wind-strewn hay bales on the farm in Kansas, but it can’t have been that different to stepping into VV Rouleaux after the cacophony of London’s nearby Oxford Street. This luxury ribbon emporium is a world apart: an oasis of colourful calm where the charm of a specialist retail experience entwines with the sheer eye-popping wonder that only 12,000m of satin ribbon in 50 colours, alongside 10,000m of grosgrain in 55 colours and seven widths, can inspire.
Rouleaux may translate from the French as inner rolls for ribbon (VV, meanwhile, stands for “very, very”), but founder Annabel Lewis’s vision for her shop is a soupçon wider: to provide the finest passementerie. Since opening her original shop in Parsons Green, west London, in 1990, Lewis has scoured the globe for the best embellishments: many of the pleated grosgrains are from artisans in Delhi, the Jacquard ribbon from near Lake Como and the floral corsages from Bangkok. “We buy good quality that lasts, and that has provenance and a story,” she stresses.
Now tucked away on Marylebone Lane (its home since 1999), the shop has an aesthetic that is part haberdashery, part apothecary, part barn. “I’m a farmer’s daughter from the Lake District,” says Lewis. “I love bringing the outside in.” Her family also owned wool mills in Yorkshire and when they closed she raided them for storage items. The result is a shop floor full of rustic curios – fruit crates overspill with silk flowers (£49 each), bell jars encase gold-glitter leaves (from £9.95 per stem) and vases filled with pheasant plumes (second picture, £3.95 each) sit atop workbenches. Completing the scene are sequined red rosettes (£9.95 each) pinned to dressmakers’ dummies and vintage suitcases bursting with faux-fur trims (from £20.95 per metre).
Devotees flock from the worlds of fashion, interior design, the performing arts and royalty to pick out individual pieces and commission projects. Keira Knightley wore silver tin birds (£16.50 each) in her hair as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, in The Duchess, while the Duchess of Cambridge selected the pure‑silk-satin cream ribbon (£8.95 per metre) for her bridesmaids’ dresses. The bobble-trim lampshade fringing (£6.25 per metre) requested by Manolo Blahnik, the double-sided emerald velvet ribbon (£5.99 per metre) sourced for Tom Ford and the wire-edged scarlet ribbon (£3.95 per metre) sold as Christmas collar bows for two Bernese mountain dogs are chalked up alongside the badges created for several high-profile charity campaigns, including the yellow satin ribbon in support of John McCarthy when he was incarcerated in Beirut over two decades ago.
“We cater for little old ladies looking for trims for their tapestries all the way up to couture designers,” says Lewis. “If you can’t find it, we’ll make it.” Which begs the question: why ever contemplate living life without all the trimmings?