“It’s the thrill of finding something in an old bag… then someone trying it on and it looks amazing.”

Old school Greenwich Market people remember Heather, and her big hair, very well indeed. But it turns out her story goes even further back – to Brixton, to Fournier Street, and back to Brixton again – for markets are in her blood. And as you pick through the items on her stall, or her tiny shop near Peckham Rye, you might find yourself thinking, As long as traders continue to care as much, our street markets can never die.

Explain the name of your stall, and now your shop, Chichirara…
When I was in Texas buying vintage clothes with my brother Ian in the ’80s I used have very big hair – and my nickname used to be Big Hair. When I was in Texas lots of women used to have big hair, then I read in a magazine article they used to be called Chichirara and it’s a name I just kept.

What fascinates you about old clothes?
That’s really hard. What is it? It’s history, colours, design, finding something and bringing it back to life. I’ve always been interested in fashion, I worked at a fashion magazine so the whole thing about design and style, the process about how it keeps evolving.

There’s a big crossover between art students and smallholder. Is running a stall a continuation of student life?
It could well be. I think if you’re an art student or a student, by necessity you’re looking for more creative things, because out of adversity you have to find it cheaply – and you feed off each other.

We were discussing how it’s somehow heroic to run a stall, to get up every morning and start over. But it might help to be also eccentric or insane. Fair?
I would say so. Not necessarily fitting into standard work-practice material, although you probably work a lot harder – you’re doing it for yourself and you don’t have days off sick. My first stall was at Brixton in the ’80s, that was an amazing place to work, people had been there a long time, fascinating people, and maybe some of them slightly criminal, they did really look out for you, and really help you out, I really enjoyed that, it was a great place to work. And Greenwich was the same, when we went to Greenwich from Brixton we thought it would be different but it wasn’t, everybody was really helpful, although they were highly competitive as well.

What do you look for when you’re sourcing clothing?
Anything that is beautiful or wearable from any period, and/or extraordinary. Or has the historic value, not in terms of money, historic value.

Tell me about some of your finest discoveries.
There was a fabulous Vivienne Westwood Witches Collaboration T shirt with Keith Haring. It was in a binbag full of old clothes. I recognised it straight away. I do think it’s extraordinary that  I managed to save it, it is a piece of fashion history from the last collection she did with Malcolm Mclaren, a really important piece – and sometimes these things are destined for landfill. So it was amazing to find. It went in a fashion auction. Yes, the price wasn’t bad. But that’s not typical, that’s not necessarily the main criterion. [There's] the thrill of finding something in an old bag and then somebody coming along and trying it on and it looks amazing. The other day I was driving down Gallery Road…   somebody had bought a dress the week before, she’s a well known makeup designer, Alex Box,  and I saw her walking down the road with her sleeves flapping -  ‘cos this dress had these amazing sleeves. Something she’s bought from me the week before, to see people wearing it in the street and obviously loving it, that’s just great.

Markets are in your blood, I hear…
I discovered that, when I did my mum’s family research, because she was fostered. I didn’t grow up in South London but I’d moved here – and my great-great-grandfather Thomas Moorehouse had a market stall in Brixton, selling hot potatoes in the winter and ice cream in the summer. And he was living in practically the same place, cause I  lived on the Barrier Block,  and his street was right by where I first started my market stall at Brixton. So there was this overlaying, generations of us trading in the same places. Some of them were born in Stockwell Street in Greenwich, over the Spreadeagle, and that’s where our market stall was – they weren’t posh, they were living in rooms. That was my great aunt.  And my grandfather, whose father was the ice-cream salesman, lived in Fournier Street in what was a young boys’ home.

Is that part of the fascination of markets? This resonance of the people who’ve been working in them, for centuries back through our history?
Definitely, I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I found those things out about my family, because we didn’t know. And I hope the markets will go on like that, and continue. But it’s a difficult thing.

Heather John is at the Dulwich Collectors Fair, last Sunday of most months; her shop, Chichirara, is at 18a Upland Road, Peckham Rye.



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