Founders Montse Prats and Marc Valli met when they were working at a failing art bookshop on Charing Cross road in the nineties. The world had just started to wake up to the possibilities of the internet and to open a bookshop at a time when everyone else was dreaming of becoming an overnight millionaire by starting a dotcom business was a peculiar idea—to say the least.
The two forged ahead anyway, thinking (incorrectly as it turns out) that one couldn’t spend one’s whole life online, and telling themselves: wouldn’t it be nice to come across a place like the one we have in mind while walking down the street (and being able to visit it regularly to get new ideas and meet interesting people)?
They opened their first shop on Earlham street in Covent Garden in February 2000. The location had been scientifically chosen in order to coincide with Marc's favourite sandwich shop—which, to his disappointment, closed down as soon as they opened—as well as the place where Montse bought most of her clothes in the sales—which also shut down soon afterwards.
Despite painful differences in musical taste (Montse liked to play Bjork, which to Marc’s ears sounded like a strangled cat), management style and vision (Montse just wanted to focus on the one shop, while Marc already saw himself at the head of a vast international network), the shop prospered and was followed by a space in Clerkenwell in 2001, then one in Manchester a couple of years later.
They started a shop purely dedicated to design products in 2007 (again by Seven Dials in Covent Garden) and this allowed them to expand their range and address a wider clientele—allowing, for example, non-designers in their families (meaning everyone in their families) to finally be able to find something they would actually like to buy in one of their shops.
Over the years, Montse has stubbornly refuted the label ‘giftshop’, arguing that the products they sell are strictly functional—even if the exact function is not always clear to the occasional shopper. In 2009, recognizing that the book business had changed irrevocably (kind of gone down the drain, really) and frustrated at not being able to find the highly creative products they wanted to stock, they decided to start their own product lines, ranging from high-quality (and affordable) prints, t-shirts, totes and other accessories, to stationery, games and, even—why the hell not?—books.