Blue Mountain Schoolinterdisciplinary space
The beauty, durability, and integrity of an item, and the overall experience of the space, combine to create an indispensable memory. They become beloved stories.
On the corner of Chance and Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, London, Blue Mountain School rises as a vast silver block, fragile verdure cresting the rooftop. A bespoke interdisciplinary space, it consists of six floors housing a restaurant, a listening room, an exhibition space, and Hostem: An open archive of both fashion and creative brands. Although sheets of glass separate each space, the fluid conversation continues uninterrupted as light drifts upwards. Their identities cumulate into an imperceptible chorus, where pieces enhance each other rather than stifle. The experience is a subtle and seamless weaving, which takes retail into a more vital and subversive realm.
Founded by Christie Fels and James Brown, Blue Mountain School encompasses their established ventures – New Road Residence, a London retreat, and Hostem, a current version of their archive fashion store – creating a living vision, which responds to all of their projects, past, present and forthcoming. Drawing on their extensive creative network, their collaborators include Lyn Harris, Valentin Loellmann, Tyler Hays, John Morgan studio, Nuno Mendes, and many others.
“Collaboration is at Blue Mountain School’s heart,” Christie tells us. “For the opening in April 2018, we worked with John Morgan studio on a publication called Blue Revue, where Blue Mountain School contributors offered their idea of ‘blueness’ in a way that would reflect the personal nature of their practice. In doing so, it actually reflected what this place stands for: A supportive platform for a lasting creative community.”
One of the most notable collaborations is the one which shaped the bones of Blue Mountain School. 6a architects spent four years developing the building into an open, yet interconnected space, with a material palette that responds to touch. Raw wood, untreated concrete floors, and rough plastered walls span each level, and a central oak staircase winds from the reception to the listening room, designed to split and crack as it grows stronger with age.
“At launch, the double height space of Blue Projects, the exhibition space, was occupied by a large hanging piece comprised of assorted coloured bulbs and hand blown glass objects made by US artist Elias Hansen,” Christie explains. “The unusual juxtaposition of Hansen’s sculpture with the raw architecture worked to heighten the experience of both. This changed with the exhibit, Slip Covers, which is on until August. And it will change again with Valentin Loellmann’s show in October, consisting of conceptual furniture pieces.”
The exchange between object and space is a consistent theme throughout. From the exhibition room, the white dust covers of Hostem’s archive can be spied below through a glass wall, while Grace’s, the listening room designed by Loellmann, hosts ceramics that capture the reverberation of the music and allow it to murmur in their hollows. The interior of Nuno Mendes’ on site restaurant, Mãos, inhabits a fireside glow, with black wooden chairs and tableware produced by BDDW, a cross disciplinary studio run by Tyler Hays in Philadelphia. “Everything is carefully considered and has to react to the wider context in which it is placed,” Christie says. “Throughout the building, objects appear and reappear unexpectedly, in a natural exchange. Mãos has the feeling of a peaceful room in a private home, so the tapestry work from our inaugural Blue Projects exhibition by Alexis Gautier, a young Brussels based artist, was befitting.”
The curation of Blue Mountain School is vast and eclectic, yet unflagging when it comes to truthfulness of design. Christie believes the story of the brand, and the architecture of the building in which it is housed, are as important as the product itself, which is why they maintain a close relationship with smaller brands and makers, like Amy Revier, whose hand loomed garments take weeks to make. Ceramics by Dora Alzamora Good, Matthias Kaiser, and Jennefer Hoffmann can be found amongst the timeless fashion pieces from Hostem archive, whilst Perfumer H has its own custom space. In each case, respect for these brands is paramount, and is one of the driving factors in Christie and James’ alternative view of retail today.
“It’s been evident for a long time that how the industry operates and how people consume is unsustainable,” Christie says. “Brands are at the mercy of big department stores trying to keep up with a relentless cycle, drastically decreasing the quality of products. Independent retailers have the power to disrupt and do things differently. Our clients look for honesty and a complete experience. They want to invest in pieces with longevity and engage with their ethos. Revier’s earliest coats, for example, have retained their integrity because they are embedded in her creative practice and are entirely removed from anything that’s trend driven.”
In this sense, Blue Mountain School redefines retail down to its core values. The beauty, durability, and integrity of an item, and the overall experience of the space, combine to create an indispensable memory. They become beloved stories. When worn or held in the hand, smelled or heard, the experience returns twofold. Pleasure comes not only from the item itself, but from that item being a part of something greater. “We developed Blue Mountain School as a way to think about the exchanges that we make,” Christie says, “and as a way of nurturing various creative practices in their purest form. In a consumer landscape otherwise saturated by mass products, for us, this represents the possibility for a meaningful retail experience.”
- Words: Libby Borton
- Photos: Ash James