Variations on a theme

Image from Daks Simpson's trouser advertisement

Simpson’s in the Strand was the place to buy your gentleman’s wardrobe in the 1930’s. The must-have item was the Daks trouser, pictured here in the ‘Pinpoint’ model from 1938. Sharp as a knife and available in so many different variations it makes the mind boggle – 41 colours and 8 materials.

The store opened in 1935. A striking modernist building by the émigré architect Joseph Emberton. The sleek white curves and tubular steel rails wound their way around five floors of manly consumables. There was a barbershop, a dog shop, a gift shop, a tailoring department, a sports department, a club room…the list goes on.

The shop displays and signage were conceived, initially, by another émigré designer – Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. A bit of a dude himself, Moholy-Nagy had ended up in London via the Bauhaus. His work for Simpson’s rivalled the best work coming out of Germany, which lead the world in shop window display. Both simple and surreal and executed with confidence, Moholy-Nagy wove an aesthetic that held strong for Simpson’s long after he crossed the Atlantic for work in 1937.

The Simpson’s building is now home to a bookshop. There are no ghosts inhabiting the building, it has been cleared of all but the hardiest original decoration and architectural detail. And the windows are unloved.

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