On London’s Charing Cross Road, an inconspicuous little black door at number 125 transports you into a world of the best art, photography and fashion books. Tucked away on the first floor of the building, the charming space of Claire de Rouen, a bookshop with an impeccably curated selection, instantly becomes everyone’s favourite place in the city. I visited the shop on one sunny afternoon to chat to its amazing director, Lucy Kumara Moore about the space, inspirations, culture and what the future holds for CdR.
Barbora Kozusnikova: Tell me about how the Claire de Rouen bookshop came about and how you started working here.
Lucy Moore: The shop was opened in 2005, by Claire de Rouen – a deeply-knowledgeable, beautiful and slightly mysterious woman born in Alexandria, Egypt, to Italian parents. She moved to London in her twenties to study art. She worked at the ICA bookshop, then at the Photographer’s Gallery and quickly established a reputation for being able to source books before anyone else, and for being so attuned to her clients taste that she knew how to put together the most incredible collections of books for them. After the Photographer’s Gallery, Claire got a job heading up the photo and fashion department at Zwemmer’s bookshop, which doesn’t exist anymore, but used to be just down the road from where my bookshop is now, on Charing Cross Road. She was friends with everyone – Bruce Weber would come and say hi when he was in town and David Bailey gave her a print of one of his portraits of Catherine Deneuve.
Soho used to be much more creatively-exciting… Central Saint Martins used to be on this street, and there were many more art and photo galleries and artist studios that have since closed or moved. The Astoria was an incredible music venue that was demolished to make way for Crossrail. Things have changed so much! Claire was a figurehead in that high-spirited world. Around 2005, Zwemmer’s was bought by another book dealer called Shipley – and Claire didn’t like the way things changed. At the suggestion of Bob Carlos Clarke (known for his sexy high gloss pictures that feel so of the 90s when you look at them now), Claire set up her own shop (and Bruce had connected her with the landlord of the beautiful little space that was to be its home). The opening of Claire de Rouen Books as it was known then (I’ve since dropped the ‘books’ part) was a party for Bruce Weber’s Blood, Sweat and Tears, on Bonfire Night – think of all the fireworks!
I met Claire through my boyfriend at the time, Ned Wilson, in 2009. I was just finishing art school then and loved coming to the shop for signings and launches. We always talked about me working with her but there wasn’t really a job available – she worked there every day except Saturday and had someone to do weekends already. In late 2010 I moved to Australia. I remember going in to the shop to tell Claire and she handed me a book called Bondi Style! After a few months of living in Sydney, we had a very sad phone call to say that Claire had been diagnosed with cancer. She was hoping I could go back to London to help her at the bookshop now that she was less able to work every day. But I didn’t make it back in time, tragically. After she died in 2012, it seemed as if the shop might close and so I decided to move back to London and buy it with some friends.
BK: Why do you think people are still publishing quite a lot of books and the shop continues to be so successful in the digital age?
LM: Well, publishing is much easier and much cheaper. I think if you’re a photographer or a fashion journalist or a stylist, if you publish something then it demonstrates a level of involvement with what you’re doing that goes way beyond putting images online. People understand the different qualities of printed matter and digital space – and select the best platform for saying what they want to say. The two are just different platforms for the exploration of ideas. It’s not one or the other.
People love looking at actual books! It’s so important to me that Claire de Rouen is public not appointment-only. It’s open 5 days a week and is there to welcome you into its paper arms when you have half an hour to kill before you go and meet your Tinder date or if you suddenly decide to do some research into the House of Beauty and Culture.
It’s also a place of idea exchange – lots of my clients make their own books – which I sell – as well as buying them from me, so it’s a two-way space in that sense. It’s part of the constellation of London’s culture. That’s what this shop is about.
BK: How do you select the books that you stock here? Is it really personal or driven by what customers are asking for?
LM: It’s both, because my customers mostly share my taste, so sometimes I buy things that they have suggested. But I never stock anything just because I know it will sell well. There is no Terry Richardson in the house! I have two buying rules that are totally antithetical to each other…! I like very serious, committed explorations of ideas through photography or writing or design – publications which contribute to a discourse. But I also love books that are just fun and pop and beautiful and sexy – I think pleasure and beauty are quite important in our dark political times.
BK: Are there any books that you’d like to see published that haven’t been yet?
LM: So many. I’m setting up a publishing house this year to start filling all the gaps. It will be called Claire de Rouen too, and will trace the history of the interplay between art, fashion and commerce from the ‘70s to now. News to follow!
BK: People can find fashion books next to art books on the shelves at Claire de Rouen. How do you think art and fashion relate?
LM: Unfortunately, because the art market grew so much in the early 2000s, many (although by no means all) of the commercial galleries adjusted themselves to cater for the super rich, with the consequence that they aren’t very welcoming spaces for a broad spectrum of people, necessarily. In contrast, the visual output of the fashion world is distributed in a very democratic way. A billboard on a street is going to be seen by everyone. And digital space doesn’t discriminate according to wealth or class – digital ‘societies’ are totally different to geographically-based ones. Ideas from high fashion filter into the high street, making fashion a very powerful medium to explore ideas relating to beauty, gender, identity, narrative, fantasy etc., because what you see in a Celine show you’ll see in Topshop in a slightly different form, very often before the Celine is even out. That’s very powerful. I find that really interesting. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, necessarily. It’s bad for Celine, but it’s very interesting that these ideas are expressed very quickly in a very mainstream way. And that doesn’t happen in art right now – not in London anyway.
BK: Do you collect anything? Or are the books your collection?
LM: Yes, in many ways, yes, totally – I stock Claire de Rouen like it’s my own library. But I also collect a few things, like Werk magazine, POP and Arena Homme+ – magazines are super important right now. Every time I do a signing, I ask the photographer or artist to sign a copy for me. I also collect books on Mark Steinmetz and Marc Camille Chaimowicz – all the Marks! Only joking. I love the Yohji catalogues from the 80s that Nick Knight, Peter Saville and Marc Ascoli did. I also really love functional printed matter, like annual reports and diaries.
Apart from books, I collect the little crystal Disney Swarovski sculptures, which are my total guilty pleasure. And shoes.
BK: Do you want to stay really small, and only here, in Charing Cross?
LM: No, the bookshop will move this year. I would like more space to show more artworks and prints and selected clothing and accessories. In theory, I would like more than one space, but I don’t know how I’d make it work because, really, the bookshop is about my presence there and my taste. So maybe if I had other bookshops, I would invite people who I really respect to set up their own, new, Claire de Rouen worlds, in the same way I do here.
BK: You stock books that inspire people and also the people that made the books were inspired by something. What inspires you?
LM: I am always beguiled by Araki’s approach to life – his voracious curiosity and obsession with sensual pleasure. Marc Camille Chaimowicz (who is a friend) has a carefully defined and beautiful approach to living. Wolfgang Tillmans’ work has a very lucid relationship to society that I find inspiring. There is also a constellation of women in my life who I adore working with – Lou Stoppard, Rei Nadal, Daisy Hoppen, Alice Neale, Lily Cole. I’m very interested in strong, successful, creative women!