In Maiden, his shop on London’s Shoreditch High Street, Noah Crutchfield is purveyor of all things fun and lovely. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of everything you’ll want, immediately. The shop’s mantra is, ‘we are serious about not taking ourselves too seriously’ – quite right, too, sir. Read on to meet Noah, and discover in what circumstances the following become relevant – ketchup, Lady Gaga, Peter Andre and the Archbishop of Canterbury…
Tell us all about your lovely shop. We don’t sell life’s ‘necessities’. We sell things you’ll want to own or give as gifts simply because they are fun and lovely. The shop is great fun, very light hearted and makes people smile. Maiden sells a varied mix of homeware, gifts, lighting, books and toys. I’ve always believed that not every object has to be essential be valid. Tomato ketchup is not an essential but it certainly makes a plate of Iceland curly fries taste better. That’s my mantra for Maiden. We’re the ketchup, the chocolate on the pillow, the cherry on the cake. We don’t stock what you need; we stock what you want (even though you can’t necessarily understand why you want it). Put it this way, it’s much more fun working out how little money you have to survive on till the next pay day with a calculator that looks and smells like a bar of Dairy Milk than some dull functional Casio thing.
Where does the name come from? I wanted something that referred to the shop being my first solo venture. I guess opening my shop was a bit like embarking on a maiden voyage. The name Maiden conjures up the idea of something being new, fresh and untested.
What did your first-ever customer buy? Typically it was pouring with rain on our first day so the first ever customer ran in out of the torrential downpour and bought an umbrella
I recently gave my husband one of your tiger head egg cups for his birthday. As a massive fan of both tigers and boiled eggs, he was over the moon! It was a total success. How do you pick such brilliant stock? Well, I am VERY particular about what we sell at Maiden. I look for products that make me smile, that are well made and that are different. One of the really exciting parts of owning a shop is filling it to the rafters with amazing products. I spend a good proportion of my day glued to my laptop trawling the internet on the lookout for new products. I’m also lucky to have lots of friends who travel and shop a lot. They always send me photos of things they see that they think would be good for the shop. Maiden is also very democratic and interactive. I love to get chatting with customers and ask them what they want to see stocked in shop. Since opening I’ve had so many excellent product suggestions from customers. I think they like the idea of being able to walk into a shop, be served by the owner and also get the opportunity to chip in ideas and give feedback. They get to speak to the organ grinder and not the monkey! The animal egg cups are a perfect Maiden product. They are lovingly designed, beautifully made, they are functional and they are affordable. I’m glad your husband liked his gift!
And what’s your favourite thing in the shop at the moment? I’d have to say the giant Miffy Light is literally my favourite thing of all time. It’s one of the most perfectly executed products I’ve ever seen. It’s just jaw droppingly cute. It’s a product that you instantly fall in love with. I first saw the light at a trade show in Paris last year and it was just chucked in a dark corner of an exhibition stand looking a bit lonely and sad! I thought, ‘I AM SO HAVING THAT LIGHT IN MY SHOP WINDOW!’
You’ve worked for a lot of the design retail big guns, what was the catalyst to branch out on your own? I’ve always had a fascination for things like I liked and wanted just for sheer sake of it. It was always my ambition to open my own shop that I could fill with all the products that I thought were cute, fun and desirable (actually my first ambition was to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, but that, dear reader, is an entirely different story). I wanted my customers to come in, join the party and get enthusiastic about ‘stuff’. So I scoured the earth for items that made me smile, not necessarily because they were funny in themselves, but because it made me happy that there were product designers out there who seemed to share my sense of the absurd and were interested in making playful products which aim to add colour and sparkle to the daily grind. Before going it alone I really wanted to get loads of retail experience under my belt before taking the plunge. So each of jobs I took strengthened my skills in a particular area of the retail business. My job as head of retail at the Design Museum was great because it gave me a real education in product design and fired my passion for products. My job as furniture sales manager at Heal’s gave me a real insight into high street retail.
What have been the biggest challenges and highlights so far? Yes, it’s been very challenging indeed (but I always knew it was going to be bumpy ride)! I went from working in an organisation with 500 employees and managing a team of 20 staff, to be the sole employee of a company which I owned! Owning your own shop is great, but I do sometimes miss not being able to dial maintenance to fix the leaking sink that has caused a flood in the basement. There have been many highlights too! We recently held a series of events to celebrate the Royal Wedding entitled My Big Fat Royal Wedding. We managed to get lots of international press attention and I ended up talking about royal wedding souvenirs on CBS evening news.
We’re hidden behind the walls of publishing (probably for the best, mind), but how is it, dealing with the great British public every day? I love interacting with different people each day. It’s exciting and rewarding. Because the shop is full of fun and exciting products customers are always in a good mood. I like meeting them and having a bit of a chat and banter. I’ve never had a completely office based job in my life. I don’t think I could handle it at all! I like meeting new people; it’s one of the fun parts of working in a shop; you never know who’s going to walk through the door next.
Will we hear the patter of tiny Maidens in the future? Other neighbourhoods want one, too… Yes, I’d love Maiden to give “birth” at some point! I’ve got my eye on other areas of London and the UK which I want to expand into. It’s still very early days, but I am aware that as our business grows we will need to think seriously about opening other stores in different locations. I am keen for any new Maiden’s that might open to retain the sense of individuality and community that we have at the Shoreditch store. We’re definitely quite a niche retailer and we’re very proud of that. In the mean time I am focussing on strengthening our online presence and increasing the selection of products on maidenshop.com .
When you’re not working, what do you love to do? I love hanging out at my local pub, the George & Dragon on Hackney Road with friends discussing important global issues such as Cheryl Cole’s hair and Lady Gaga’s real age. I sometimes DJ there, too! I also run up and down the Regent’s Canal a few times a week in an effort to stay fit, healthy and sane.
Aside from creating shops we want to shop in, what else are you good at? I can do the Heat Magazine crossword in less than two minutes. I’m really good at retaining facts and data and therefore I’m awesome at pub quizzes. I’m desperate to go on the Million Pound Drop because I’m convinced I’d win every penny of that money!
What’s your home like? I share a house in London Fields with three girls who are addicted to freecycle. It’s full of furniture! I moved into the house about a year ago and I’ve been so busy at the shop that I haven’t even fully unpacked yet.
Tell us a secret. My next door neighbour is Peter Andre’s uncle. FACT.