Remembering Wardour News, Another Lost Cultural Institution
The Soho boutique has been everything a newsagents could be.
Wardour News has a faint but distinct smell. It's something like different grades and textures of paper, mixed with the vanillin of hardback books and elastic bands. It's what you’d expect from this treasure trove of print, where anything you'd seek out – an architecture magazine from Tokyo, an independent Australian cooking glossy, a music monthly focused on an obscure rock sub-genre – was there carefully fanned out on its shelves; and if wasn't, they'd do their best to source it for you.
All that ends on the 25th of May, Friday of this week. The shop will open and close its doors from 7AM until 7PM for the final time. It can no longer sustain itself for a few reasons; the most prominent – as is often the case with closures of beloved cultural spaces in central London – is rising rent.
Without trying to overly romanticise yet another closing space in a changing city – which I’m inevitably going to do – Wardour News has always been a space where people discover things. Young people from the suburbs flocked in to buy titles they couldn’t get elsewhere, and Raj Patel – the shop’s founder – or his brother Ash and friend Hitesh Patel, were always present to advise and assist not just in acquiring print items, but creating and selling them. A mecca for anyone involved in independent print culture.
Archives are increasingly being moved online – you can digitally access streams of magazine pages on paid-for sites – and most information on trends, arts, music, film and books can be googled, but the tangible side of all that is being lost. "Finding stuff" online could never compare to the environment created inside that shop. The sort of glossy print products Wardour sold deserve a space to exist; to be looked at and spoken about – for the new covers to be appreciated every time the window display is changed.
This was a rare fashion-orientated space that wasn't lofty or intimidating or snobby. Standing inside, carefully turning the pages of magazines (until you sensed Raj's generosity wavering and bought whatever you could afford), was a rite of passage for creative young people in London, a secret gateway to the worlds you thought the capital was going to offer.
On my last visit to the shop, a stylish woman came in to buy a magazine – the latest i-D, but I don’t think she cared what it was; it just had to be something – and to tell Raj and the team how much Wardour News meant to her. From their tired response it seemed a lot of people had been in to do the same. The shopfront was half-empty, and so were the insides, the last of the stock to go.
Every time you half-forget about the last thing in London you loved that got priced out, the next thing folds and you think about other (probably imaginary) cities that don’t allow this kind of thing to happen. There is, though, some comfort in gathering our collective memories of the space and what it provided.
Here are the thoughts of some editors of magazines stocked in Wardour News, who also loved it:
Terri White, Editor-in-Chief at Empire
Wardour News has always, always been there for me. When I first came to London to intern on a magazine’s reception desk and knew no one in the city, I'd seek refuge within its walls. Lightly touching the magazines that filled its floors and lined its shelves, it represented to me everything I wanted, but was terrified I would never get. The fashion girls who strode past me without making eye contact every morning made me feel like I didn’t belong. Wardour News made me feel like I could. Over the years, I’ve sought refuge in there: from fights – professional, personal – bad news, good news. I’ve bought enough magazines to resurrect a forest. In time, it’s become like an old friend or family member; its very presence offering comfort and warmth. And as a magazine editor now myself, sometimes just going in there reminds me that print is still vital, still intoxicating. Much like the city that has now been my home for 18 years, it's part of who I am. I've grown up, become a woman, within its walls. I thought it would always, always be there for me.
Claire Marie Healy, deputy editor at Dazed and Confused
When we heard that Wardour News was shutting down, the person I was with said something along the lines of, "Well, there are loads of places you can buy these kinds of magazines these days, they're just not in the centre." Well, sure – but are those kind of hi-brow independent shops just for magazines, and do they have the kind of welcoming, approachable environment that Wardour News has fostered over its 34 years? It's hard to count the number of times I've tried to buy mags elsewhere and experienced a po-faced, salty reception from the individual behind the till. Wardour News did something that doesn't happen often enough – making inspiring, radical fashion and culture ultra-accessible.
With Dazed's logo above the door of W.N, it's obviously sad on a personal level, but beyond that I think it’s a shame for anyone who takes an interest in this world, especially the kid who travels down to central London to obsessively stockpile their favourite magazines. It's their entry point into this world, and we need to keep these kinds of environments alive.
Phil Alexander, legacy rock music magazine editor
Back in the day, the Kerrang! offices were in Carnaby Street and we'd drink in Old Compton Street, a few doors down from Wardour News, so I'd pop into the shop quite regularly. It was the place you went to find out what other publications in fields other than your own were up to. The range of magazines they stocked was remarkable, and their selection of import titles was unparalleled.
Whenever we redesigned any of the magazines I worked on, a trip to Wardour News was par for the course in order to arm ourselves with inspiration from other titles – the more fanciful and exotic, the better. Of course, I'd also take great pride in seeing the magazines that I oversaw stocked in there – be that RAW, Q, Kerrang! or MOJO. Like most other magazine editors, I'd also use Wardour News as an acid test for the cover of the latest magazine we'd slaved over: if that issue stood out on the shelves of Wardour News, then you felt a sense of vindication, faced as you were with a sea of titles.
Unlike most newsagents, Wardour News took real pride in the manner in which they displayed the magazines themselves, and they seemed to value them. The shop also had a unique smell – the unmistakable, beautiful smell of print. I miss the grit, grime and soul of "old" Soho, and I will miss Wardour News too, but I would like to thank the owners for the inspiration, consideration and validation down the years.
Bertie Brandes, editor of Mushpit
I remember the first time Mushpit was rejected from Wardour News. I was upset. Really, sad. Obviously. But it was an experience that ultimately, given how saturated so many shops are with bulk-bought "independent magazines", made me respect Raj and Ash infinitely more than their competitors. A few more rejections down the line and finally we were stocked. What pride and joy it was to walk through Soho aimlessly knowing I could drop in and exchange terse words about why we hadn't sent them more copies and when the next issue was coming out. It was genuinely a true pleasure of mine to stroll in with a naive friend and find myself, much to their horror, loudly reprimanded in front of every customer. Always with an undercurrent of brilliant humour, and always walking out feeling a proud member of the Wardour News community. Ash always read the magazines. I can't stress how unusual that is. He'd pick us up on the smallest detail of a story embedded 30 pages in. A central London shop that's actually passionate about what it stocks? There can't be many left. And we're losing one of the finest. Another rent-hike tragedy and one London will be very sorry for.
Sam Diss, editor of Mundial
When it came time to work on our own magazine – something that had been a dream of mine since pretty much the first time I stepped inside Wardour News and paid a tenner for 100 pages of stapled paper – it was the one place we wanted to be stocked. Even if it was the only place who'd agree to sell us in the country, effectively making our business completely unviable, there would've still been a part of me that would think: 'I'm fine with this.' When we finally ended up on the shelves in there, it was a huge "made it" moment for us, personally and professionally.
Nothing lasts forever, especially not small businesses in a town as carnivorous as London, but you just thought that such an institution would somehow be spared. There are other magazine shops, maybe ones whose curation and scope match Raj's, but this was so many people's first introduction to that world. There was tradition and history in between the fancy fashion bookazines, heavy paper stock erotica, wilfully obscure music titles and silly little football magazines everyone said would never last, and I think that it's such a shame. A real, sobering shame.
Sean Stillmaker, editor at majestic disorder
We launched our first issue with a window display at Wardour in March of 2014. You can imagine our elation with that kind of visibility in the middle of Soho. During that promotion we met a fantastic creative collaborator inside Wardour, who we ended up working with on future issues. We were still learning our way across the publishing scene, but Raj and the Patel Brothers were beyond supportive and accommodating. Raj sat down with us, offering guidance and creative freedom to make the most out of this promotion. He gave us his insight into publishing and allowed us to hang around and learn for ourselves what works best in terms of sales. We're on Issue 10 now, which is a rarity for indies. The support they gave us is just one example in an ocean spanning decades of the same support they give to every young creative who walks through their door.