The Pop Up Flea expanded this season, moving to London for the first time. Located in hectic Piccadilly and featuring the likes of Levi’s Vintage, Shinola, Todd Snyder x Champion, Red Wing Heritage and Anthem, like any good menswear blogger, we of course attended. So, how was it? Let us explain below.
The London Pop Up Flea (PUF) is in the center of town. Specifically, it’s in the tourist center of town. And not tucked away on some side street either, as we’d expected, but in the sort of space that you’d expect a Tesco metro. We later learned that PUF was offered the space by The Crown Estate, who were looking to rejuvenate the area and had heard about the USA iterations of PUF. While we’d always assumed the USA iterations of the PUF were set as destination events, this one was so close to the centre of town that it was impossible to miss if you were walking through Piccadilly.
Which would explain the high number of wandering tourists looking at it all with thoroughly bemused eyes. While it was great for footfall (one gets the idea that purchasing was never the aim of this event) it did lead to a mixed crowd. People who’d actually wear t-shirts with ‘All I got from London was this lousy t-shirt’ slogans brushed shoulders with the kind of person who could tell you the exact year his vintage sheepskin jacket and military chinos came from.
The overriding question was, “Does London need this?” Those who like their heritage have no shortage of places to get it in London. And the customer who’s got a sheepskin jacket already knows where to get it. But it is unfair to dismiss the Pop Up Flea on its first try: if they stick to stocking brands aficionados in the UK haven’t seen in person then there’s plenty of room for them yet.
We met Michael Williams and Randy Goldberg on the Saturday of the event. Led into the back, where apparently building works are still taking place judging from the amount of builders walking through the interview. It was a brief chat, but we wanted to find out more the first London edition of the Pop Up Flea.
Crown estate approached you?
Michael: We wanted to do something. We were thinking that, if we did do the event in London, where would we do it? And part of it was that we didn’t want to do it where it would be expected, which would be East London. We wanted to make it a little more broadly appealing. So we liked the idea of St James as a neighbourhood for menswear, with Jermyn Street and Savile Row right there and everything that’s around here. And we met the people that own the space, who basically do most of the retail in St James, it just made sense for us as a partnership. The space is always the hardest part to get right and to find in terms of producing the event so it made that aspect of it easier. Having this space gave us the guts to do it.
So the aim of having it in Picadilly was to avoid having it become a East or West sort of thing?
Randy: That’s right. The notion is that it would be very expected to see it in Shoreditch. We feel like if it was there it would just be an East London thing and if we did it West it’d just be a West thing. Doing it central, people would come from East London, South London, wherever. It’s just an accessible point for the first year to start off. And once we build up a reputation then next year we’ll see where we do it.
What’s the aim with the brand mix?
Michael: It’s based on brands we like, clothes we want to wear, stores that we like to shop at but also that we’re friends with people. Anthem’s here and we’re friends with Simon who owns Anthem, that was the idea behind that. We wanted to do a mix of British and American brands, we have some good local people. I think doing it the first time, you’re going to have to establish it to some degree. The local brands need to come and experience it before they say, “Alright, this seems like something we can do.” It’s a bit of a learning curve for them. Half of the idea with the brands that we brought here is that there should be some degree of exclusivity or something you can’t get because it creates a compelling argument to check everything out. And then, at the same time, have interesting local brands.
Randy: It’s just about creating an interesting set of products at the end of the day. You see the guy who walks in here and everything is new or exciting or they haven’t seen this from the brand even if you’re a fan of it. You get the brands bringing in the best expression of their label in one place, which is really cool. So you have a whole line with some new product or something they’re not doing anywhere else. And then you get that next to another brand that they’re not usually next to and a store you might not usually see and it creates a new concept.
A lot of the brands here do have stores or stockists in the UK, so what makes Pop Up Flea different from just going to one of their shops?
Michael: One thing is that you can meet the people from the brands. Some brands may have a store here but they’re bringing over exclusive products, you’ll be able to meet the designer, stuff like that. For example, Shinola’s going to launch in Europe this week, so this is a preview for them. It’s the first time anyone’s been physically able to see the product up close in the UK. That’s part of what makes it exclusive and creates a compelling argument. There’s a product aspect and then there’s a social community aspect of coming down here, seeing people. We see a lot of people come for the three-day event, so people want to hang out and talk and meet the people, see their friends.
Randy: It’s a good room. You go in a store and you have a certain expectation and it’s laid out a certain way and it’s mixed a certain way. And this feels as much of an event and a place to see interesting people and meet new people and see designers behind something.
Michael: It’s kind of a hybrid trade show. We don’t do it to be like a trade show, it just sort of happens that way. Part of it is because this is the first time this is happening here. In New York, the event’s evolved a lot so it’s a lot more built out than here. Every year the stakes get raised by the brands. There is a little bit of a trade show vibe but it’s a consumer thing. Press come but also buyers come and people in the business are here. It’s kind of a weird hybrid event with a definite consumer angle built in.
How would you compare the New York crowd to the London crowd that’s been here so far?
Randy: It’s funny, when you’re looking outside and watching people who are about to come in, you can tell that there’s a certain guy that’s walking into the Pop Up Flea and it looks like the same guy who walks into the Pop Up Flea in New York. But it’s hard to pin it down. You look inside the event and there’s people of all ages, all types of people, so it seems like a pretty eclectic crowd. The ones that come here just for the event are usually pretty well put together and it feels like there’s a lot of mindshare between the New York crowd and the London crowd. And that was probably one of the reasons for doing it here. We feel like there’s a lot of similarities between London and New York that are attractive to us and make sense for this event and we’ve been confirming that by watching the crowd.
How long has the whole London event been in the works?
Michael: We really started thinking about it in July this year. We turned it around pretty quickly and we have a good group of brands that really want to take a leap of faith and they trust us and know what we’ve done in New York. That helped move things along quickly. But it was a race, it was challenging to put it together and we’re glad it came off. People turned up, so that was fun.
Are you sure that the heritage look or any sort of backlash isn’t really real per se?
Randy: We don’t tend to worry about being associated with a specific look. We bring in great brands and the mix changes every time we do the event. There’s some core names that we’re associated with. The event is really about brands that make things in a great way, not about where they make them necessarily or who does it. We want interesting people together in one room. We want new things and great product and, to us, it’s not about heritage or Americana although that’s obviously been a big part of the event for years. But it’s never been the thing we’re hanging our hat on.
Michael: I think heritage is something like preppy. Maybe as trend it grows strong or maybe not as strong but it’s still always going to be around. You don’t ever expect good preppy to go away. It may be something that everyone’s wearing and talking about at the moment and then it goes back to the core people who like it. Part of us core people who like a brand and what they stand for, maybe we assemble it in a different way and don’t make it as crazy but it’s still always going to be a part of our wardrobe. I don’t think Red Wing is representative of this heritage look, I think that I really like the boots and I’ll always want to wear them, even if it’s not something seen as popular. I think that there’s a group of people that come here that, maybe, don’t want to go as crazy with the look as they did a few years ago in the components of everything.
So, a bit like “You don’t have to wear everything at once”?
Michael: Yeah. And things change and you evolve and you start to get into tailoring. Maybe one day you want to wear boots and you wear Red Wing and one day you want to wear a suit and one day you wanna wear sneakers. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves as anything necessarily because I don’t want to be just one thing. I feel like my style’s going to evolve and change and that’s what happens.
Is that a future plan for the flea?
Randy: There’s a certain type of brand that can work in an environment like this in terms of the setup. But beyond that we don’t limit it in terms of style. You’ll certainly see new types of labels at the Flea going forward, things that maybe you won’t expect but in our mind it all works together. We’re just trying to bring interesting things together regardless of the heritage or where it’s made or where it’s from, it’s not about a specific look, it’s about the people that are behind it more than anything.
Michael: I don’t think we’re looking for anything super precious and I don’t think we’re looking for anything that’s super fashion with a capital F. I think that there are, to Randy’s point, certain brands that this works for. It’s never going to be luxury. Never say never, but I don’t think so because it’s a different concept. I think it works with who we have and, as our tastes change, it will mirror that.
Are there plans for next year?
Michael: We’re considering doing more cities. We want to get through this and get through New York but we’re looking at other cities. Maybe that’s Berlin, maybe that’s Tokyo. I’m not sure when that’s gonna happen or if that’s gonna happen. We think it’s an appealing concept and people really like it. We’ve learned from here that it’s the same type of person. There’s an interest in it here, coming out and the social aspect of it. I think it can be done in other cities.
Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.