I knew the morning was off to a good start after a glide up the majestic art deco escalators at St John’s Wood tube station. Jo Ellison had suggested we meet at Panzer’s – a deli so snazzy I was rendered speechless by the number of tomato varieties on offer. This was a place for people who really know about food. Matzo balls, Antipodean-sourced peanut butter, posh toilet cleaner; they had it all.
WEST END GIRL - IN CONVERSATION WITH JO ELLISON
Rain was forecast, but the clouds held off. Jo was already standing in the queue for coffee, so we tagged on a few hot chocolates and some banana bread, for sustenance. We grabbed seats outside next to a woman politely controlling her Pomeranian, slurped our drinks and made rough plans for the stroll. A few quick checks of various weather apps later, and we were off, sauntering under the various brightly coloured shop awnings that felt strangely suburban. As is always the case for the Studio Nicholson In Conversation With series, I ask the interviewee to pick the route and final (restaurant) destination. Today we were weaving through the streets of St John’s Wood, north west London, with its smart Victorian mansion blocks and world famous zebra crossing.
In her role as editor of How to Spend It and deputy editor of FT Weekend, Jo is a front row contender during the various global fashion weeks. We pause for a minute in St John’s Wood Church gardens to admire the white, Kubrick-esque stands over at Lord’s Cricket ground (designed by WilkinsonEyre), and I ask how a bonkers work schedule impacts her wardrobe. Jo explained, “Because London is so big, I rarely go home during the day. So a typical working day starts at 8am at the gym, then over to the FT offices to work through the day (with numerous meetings) and then it ends with a formal dinner. I'm always lugging a ‘ludicrously capacious’ bag around that's overflowing with shower kit, extra shoes and various other bits – as well as a laptop, so wearing clothes that are easily portable and not too complicated have become my go-to.
I also find I dress in a fairly simple palette (black, navy blue and grey) because I can't be bothered to try and coordinate a whole spectrum of colours throughout the day. Flat shoes are also pretty much essential, although occasionally I wish I kept a few more evening shoes under my desk. At the weekends things don’t really change much style-wise: I'm more likely to wear an ‘artisanal knit’ and flex a few more shades. Maybe a splash more blue.”
The step count continues as we head for the exit and take a left, making our way towards the canal that runs along the edge of Regent’s Park. Once off the main road, we spot a shortcut to the towpath and slowly inch down the muddy bank towards the water’s edge. It’s a slippery affair, but we land on terra firma triumphant, my white trainers (miraculously) unscathed. Jo tells me she’s a big fan of the canal, “I walk the dog along here. I’m obsessed with it – but I hate cyclists who aggressively ring their bell to try and force you out of the way.” Thankfully, it’s quiet today. Just the odd barge chugging past.
Genevieve has positioned herself on the bridge overhead and politely yells for us to, “walk slowly, but don’t look up” while she snaps away. We do this a few times until she’s got ‘the shot’, which gives me the opportunity to find out what she likes best about this part of London. She’s lived in Kilburn for yonks with her husband, dog and daughter, but moving westwards wasn’t something they’d planned, as she described, “We kind of ended up there by accident rather than by design and have stayed there ever after. It’s very grounding and very mixed – there are some great take-aways - from Ariana 11, a terrific afghan restaurant, to Spicy Basil (Thai) to Kish, which does Persian food. It's also very handy for Paks, where I go to stock up on frizzy hair calming products. If I want to feel a bit posher, I walk to Portobello, or through West Hampstead or over to Primrose hill. I spend a lot of time on the canal. I like wandering around neighbourhoods, peering into people's windows. Up near Hampstead Heath is a very good place to snoop!”.
Born in Cambridge, she read history at the University of Edinburgh. I wondered if the choice of degree had helped her become a shit-hot editor? Jo’s answer made total sense, “For journalism, history teaches you to read around the subject, look at the context, and try and second source your information. One version of an event is not enough.” Aspiring editors, take note.
Primrose Hill was the next on the agenda. Blossom was blooming. Menacing clouds goaded us. We laughed when that morning’s naughty Pomeranian came strutting over, its owner smiling once she’d recognised us. We paused for more pics and then Jo spotted Suzy Menkes – trademark coif disguised under a scarf. We stayed put while Jo went over to chat. She returned, smiling and said, “Suzy still goes to all the shows! She must be exhausted.”
We ended up at Odette’s, where we’d arranged to meet Nick Wakeman for lunch. De-coated and seated, we break (warm) bread and reminisce over the glory days of the British high street. Chelsea Girl, Freeman Hardy Willis and the most hallowed of all - Benetton. Turned out I wasn’t the only one partial to a bit of early 80s Marks & Spencer striped seersucker either. Jo told us how clothing helped her remember significant events in her life. A teenage hankering for floral velour elasticated trousers from Laura Ashley. The Sportmax handbag she treated herself to for her first proper journalism job, which was, “Brown leather and very 1970s looking. This was in 1996, maybe 1997 – but even then, it still cost me £250!”.
The three of us were united in our pubescent demands for cheap shoes that fell on deaf ears – our parents from a generation that discouraged wastefulness. Flashbacks of the heavy, ugly Clarks ones we’d worn for school (and hated) had us chuckling. Of course, they’re all the rage now eh? It’s a funny old business, fashion.