‘It started with spectacles, because I have to wear glasses, and I couldn’t find any. Every time I liked a friend’s pair, they were vintage – which meant I couldn’t buy them. So I eventually just produced my own.’ Designer Anna Laub is showing me round her new store, on burgeoning style-hotspot Chiltern Street (also home to the new André Balazs hotel Chiltern Firehouse, as well as armfuls of independent fashion retailers for the connoisseur). Like Coco Chanel, who famously looked in her wardrobe and designed what was missing, Laub has quickly found a market for a clothing label designed completely according to her own wish list. After specs, she designed sunglasses, and then swimwear, when she struggled (like most women) to find decently fitting bikinis for her body shape. ‘You wouldn’t buy a T-shirt and trousers in a set, so why buy a bikini top and bottom in one? It doesn’t make sense.’ So Laub designed the dream swimwear collection for the non-standard sized woman – that is, almost all of us. On one rail in the store, there are 12 variations of the same bikini – including skimpy bottoms, normal briefs, ’50s style pants and jumbo retro granny pants – each named after a holiday destination (Positano, St Tropez, Honolulu...)
These can be matched with triangle tops, bandeaux, bras and moulded cups, according to taste and wobbly bits. At around £150 a set, it’s more expensive than a £40 off-the-peg pair from Next, but a bikini presents women at their most exposed, and despite being the smallest item in a wardrobe, swimwear is often the one female shoppers are willing to spend money getting right.
Everything in the line, and store, is designed with a similarly particular eye. Espadrilles, in the same patterns and shades as the swimwear, have a rubber sole and a slight wedge heel ‘because they are normally so flat they’re weirdly uncomfortable, and they have to not fall apart if people want to wear them in the city’; a beach bag is designed to also be the perfect piece of carry-on-luggage ‘with a proper zip-close and a passport and documents compartment. Who has room in their luggage to pack an extra bag just for the beach these days?’
The store itself is a petite and cleverly designed showcase of Laub’s perfectionist products. Her mother was brought in to add angled glass tanks of plants to fit small spaces; the changing rooms include dressing gowns so you can show a friend or other half your bikini without wandering around the shop naked. Even the location, in the centre of town, but on a quiet and pretty street with Hogwarts-style buildings, is on-the-money. ‘I decided I’d have a shop on this street, or no shop at all,’ Laub says, with steely determination. We’re glad she found one.