An art gallery-like exterior masks Oxygen’s treasure trove of exclusive and hard-to-find US womenswear brands
Just around the corner from Oxford Circus on Eastcastle Street in central London sits Oxygen, the creation of Helen Nicola and daughter Joanna.
After visiting New York when she completed her degree in art history and film, Joanna Nicola fell in love with some of the US’s quirkier brands. So taken was Joanna that she convinced her mother, who is also a high street supplier for retailers such as New Look and Zara, to convert the front area of her showroom into a contemporary womenswear boutique selling some of Joanna’s favourite Stateside labels.
“I didn’t need much persuading because I thought it sounded like a great idea,” says Helen Nicola. “Focusing on lesser-known US brands means we have a good point of difference from the other shops around this area, and it’s the perfect time to stock them here in the UK. People can no longer afford to fly to New York and shop so we have brought the product right to their doorsteps instead.”
The shop is manned by the mother and daughter team and maximises an otherwise redundant space within the existing showroom.
Oxygen, which opened a month ago, stocks 20 brands, only one of which - M Missoni - is not from the US. The store has exclusive UK distribution rights to catwalk labels Doo.Ri and Brian Reyes, and also stocks small brands such as Sea New York and Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova’s denim label Kova & T, and jewellery by CC Skye. Prices range from £50 for an LnA T-shirt to £1,100 for a Brian Reyes silk dress.
The shop floor is just 540sq ft, so the duo have had to make the most of the space. Product is hung on heavy duty scaffolding rails along the walls to give customers plenty of browsing room, while colour-changing lightboxes form the centrepiece of the store, adding extra brightness to the small room. Clothing is merchandised by colour and the rainbow effect this creates cleverly mirrors the revolving colours on the lightboxes.
In their bid to maintain a point of difference from other contemporary womenswear indies, the Nicolas decided against filling their window with mannequins to display Oxygen’s collections, and instead asked a photographer friend to design black and white cubes covered in photos. “The photograph blocks have been great for getting people on the street interested in us,” explains Helen Nicola. “There are a number of art galleries around here so first people think we might be a gallery, then they see we have clothes inside as well and curiosity gets the better of them.”
The artwork in store is also for sale, and includes giant soft-focus photographic portraits by 25-year-old American artist Erik Madigan Heck.
Despite the current market, mother and daughter are optimistic about the future of Oxygen. “Ideally we would like to launch our own label, and then hopefully take the shop around the UK,” says Helen Nicola.
540sq ft: Size of the store
20: Number of brands stocked
Four: Number of weeks Oxygen has been trading