“It will be a constant fight – I think there will be a turnaround where people realise the markets maketh the area.”

In the years we’ve seen Paul Francis around Greenwich, Spitalfields or Dulwich, we’ve never seen him wear  the same outfit twice. His stall is a treasure trove: tweed plus fours, Northampton-made brogues, fine jackets, army officer boots, thick woolen socks, Mackintoshes, Tootal paisley scarves – purposefully so, for often if he has a special item of stock, he’ll hide the gem away, so the customer can experience that joy of discovery that drives us all. His aesthetic is obvious, but hard to define – but his stall is always a joy, an oasis of 1940s England, reinvented for the modern city.

How would you describe your stock?
One of the names I use is Urban Shepherd. That’s it in a nutshell. Countrywear, things made elsewhere, being worn in in London. Some people would call it boring, I call it well-crafted traditional clothing made to be colourful and interesting, with a twist.

How did you get into your Urban Shepherd Look?
The best things that have happened to me have always happened by accident. I’ve bought vintage clothing for a number of years, then spent 12 years in property, at that time always bought new stuff. None of that new stuff lasted, but all the stuff I brought previous to that lasted. In 1996-1997 I designed clothes, first bought vintage stuff and got it remodelled, then from that I did a menswear range called Abdul Jamal, using traditional fabrics, again with a bit of a twist and a bit of color, then bit by bit I got into what I do now, so I’ve been doing stalls for maybe two years.

How do you track down your stock?
The kind of things I find and look out for I’m seeing every day, whether it be charity shops, boot sales, ragyards, and also people bringing me stuff who have an idea what I want, people seem to know my style, and there are people who buy for me, so it’s a combination.

What’s your finest recent discovery?
Just now, I found a jacket in a bunch of stuff at a ragyard. I didn’t even look at it, I felt the weight of it, and I thought… throw it in there. Normally I would try everything on, and I didn’t this time because I knew intrinsically it was something nice. Then discovering it, looking at all the zips and the rest of it, it didn’t have any label but I thought I’ve seen that lining, it looks familiar. And it was a Belstaff, a wonderful jacket, maybe from the 50s.

We’re in Greenwich, where one market has gone and the second one is under threat. How do you see the future of markets in London?
We’re going to have to fight. It will be a constant fight from here on in, and I think there will be a turnaround where people realise the markets maketh the area, as opposed to if we take the market away that’ll improve the area. The market is the lifeblood of the area. All the places people want to live, they’ve all had markets in. It’s crazy how they want to take it away, but I think there’s a fight back. It will turn around but I don’t know when.

Why the shoe horn?
I like things to be able to more than one thing. It’s useful, you can put beautiful, well-made shoes on with it. And it’s a piece of furniture.

Paul Francis is on Camden Passage Wednesdays, Spitalfields Thursday, Greenwich Clock Market, most Saturdays and Sundays, and Dulwich Village Fashion Fair, last Sunday of every month.


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