Owner of vintage and contemporary lifestyle boutique Merchant Archive, Sophie Merchant has definitely made her mark on the Notting Hill fashion scene. The Kensington Park Road store opened in winter 2011 and has become the place to go for vintage finds. Stepping inside is like entering a wonderland of past eras. "I have always had a love of quality and respect for unique design, both of which are available in happy abundance with vintage clothing”, says Sophie.
Merchant Archive is Domus Nova’s neighbour and we are constantly awed by the assortment of pieces that fill the shop. Sophie explains that it’s largely thanks to a fantastic network of vintage dealers she has built relationships with over the past five years. “As any vintage collector will tell you, we are never on holiday. I don’t think I’ve ever come back from a trip without a vintage item. I was in Croatia recently and found a very special turn-of-the-century ring”.
For Sophie, fashion is “a chance to express and create. I love Londoners for their lack of fear and ‘have-a-go’ relationship with fashion”. That’s the thinking behind the store’s range of contemporary fashion and lifestyle pieces. “We love supporting new designers. This season we have our eye on Paper London, who manufacture in the UK. Emma Cook is another great Brit designer, and we’re very excited to stock new sunglass label Kuboraum”.
Sophie relocated Merchant Archive from Queen's Park because “Notting Hill is the home of vintage, so it’s perfect for us.” Thankfully it has been welcomed with open arms. “I think people are excited by something different, a store that makes you double take. It’s meant to be fun”.
So what’s next for Merchant Archive? “The own line is my big project at the moment,” she says. “We help design teams from all over the world with their collections, so I figured it was time to have a go myself. Though Sophie may be the new kid in the block, it seems like she’s been here for years. We can only imagine that she will be for around for many, many more.
Sophie, what’s your most cherished piece of vintage clothing?
My grandmother left me an incredible 1924 metallic azure dress with jet spiders on the hips. I wore it to watch Dita von Teese perform at the Crazy Horse in Paris, where I was fortunate to be seated next to the famous corsetier Mr Pearl. He couldn’t stop looking at it!
What do you love about Notting Hill?
It’s a truly creative area; diverse, beautiful and friendly. I'm a Somerset girl and grew up on a farm where everyone waved and yelled ‘hello’ when they saw you. I have that in Notting Hill – a bit of country in the city.
How have you found the move from Queen's Park to Notting Hill?
We have been welcomed with open arms thankfully. I think people are excited by something different: a store that makes you double take. Its meant to be fun; we want our clients to leave excited and come back to say they lived in the garment they bought. Luckily Notting Hill was the right place to make that happen.
Does your work take you abroad, if so what do you miss about London?
We travel to Paris during Fashion Week. I'm always excited to visit Paris as it literally makes my heart sing, but London is definitely home. I love all that is has to offer while it's of course looking so good at the moment with all the Olympic investment.
Describe your ideal London weekend
It would start with a run on Hampstead Heath, coming back via the farmer’s market for a great breakfast in the garden. Then it would be over to the shop for a few appointments, a visit to the V&A and dinner with friends at home [I love to cook] or at e&o or Shoreditch House, all finished off with dancing.
What new projects are you working on for Merchant Archive?
The 'own line' is my big project at the moment. We help design teams from all over the world with their collections and so I figured it was time to have a go at it myself. We are also working on our next Merchant Archive exhibition, as part of a revolving series. Next up is James Ostrer's images of the prima ballerina Maria Kochetkova. Its exhibition is timed with her performance at Sadler's Wells. She will be shot wearing Merchant Archive vintage, of course!
If you weren’t involved in fashion, what do you think you would be doing?
I was a dental hygienist until three years ago and so I guess I would still be doing that! I juggled the two careers in the early days of Merchant Archive but I always dreamt of being a fashion designer even when I was very young. I'm now working on my own line for Merchant Archive and so I guess you could say that I got there in the end!
What inspires you daily?
Oh I think there is inspiration everywhere, in everything. London is so rich in design and architecture which is always very inspiring while leaves blowing down the street or London street style is equally so.
* all photography by Marc Rogoff
View Merchant Archive on the Domus Nova Fashion Guide
Merchant Archive, 19 Kensington Park Road, London W11; merchantarchive.com