Lock & Co _

Roger Stephenson, deputy chairman, Lock & Co

As single-sentence descriptors go, Lock & Co’s is hard to beat: “We are the oldest hat shop in the world, and we are now the oldest retail shop in London,” explains the brand’s deputy chairman Roger Stephenson. It’s the kind of simple summary that puts into sharp focus just how steeped in history St James’s is – especially when you consider that Lock & Co’s centuries of heritage is shared not just by Berry Bros. & Rudd, but many other businesses on the street. Having two Royal Warrants, as well as the notable claim as the inventors of the bowler hat, further cements their place among St James’s royalty.

On doing business in St James’s…

“St James’s is a lovely part of London. It’s just that little bit quieter, in terms of traffic and people, and it just has that air of quality about it. A lot of people say it’s Mayfair – it’s not Mayfair, it’s St James’s, and it’s very different. Mayfair is very upmarket and it has some very expensive shops, but it’s catering to a different type of clientele. St James’s is a little bit more refined, a little bit more understated. We’re 344 years old this year, and we’ve been in St James’s ever since we started.

On the area’s unique atmosphere...

“We were originally on the other side of the street and we moved over to our current premises in 1759, so we’ve been next door to Berry Bros. & Rudd for many, many years. I think the feeling of quality is what comes through in all strands, whether it’s the shops, whether it’s the architecture – it’s just got that feeling that if you want to get that quintessential, classic English style, and to find places where not only do you buy quality products, but it’s quality of service, and the feeling of a bygone age.

We’re in such a fast-paced society these days, with fast fashion and the rest of it – you come to St James’s because we buck that trend. Especially when you come into Lock & Co, you’re treated in the old way, with proper service and staff that really know their product, who are there not just to be salespeople but to advise and to help with a considered purchase, and I think that’s the difference. It isn’t that hard sell; it’s all about quality of service, which we’re really proud of.”

On the changing face of the area...

“I’d hate to give the impression that it’s a dusty backwater, or a museum piece. It has adapted. We’ve all had to adapt to modern business practice – certainly with our digital offering, which brings a lot of new customers to the business. And also people who can’t physically travel, and that’s becoming more and more important, especially in the situation in which we find ourselves now. You have to try and convey what you offer in the shop and that feeling of occasion.”

“History is imbibed in the walls, all the people who’ve walked through there, in the wibbly-wobbly building and the uneven floors... How do you bottle that essence in the modern day? We’re working hard to do that, and we are evolving. I think everyone has to evolve, otherwise you become just a business that’s almost like a museum, and you won’t survive. We’ve survived 300 years and we’d like to think we’ll carry on in modern business, too.”

More from No.3

You can read more stories from our neighbours in St James’s here.