A disused boxing gym in East London may seem an unlikely site for one of the boldest retail experiments in recent years. But that’s exactly what Late Night Chameleon Café or LN-CC as it’s better known represents. On entering the womb-like deconstructed forest designed by set designer extraordinaire Gary Card, the visitor is confronted with an octagonal tunnel leading to a series of climate-controlled rooms displaying a crop of avant-garde names (Junya Watanabe, Balenciaga, Haider Ackermann) mixed in with fresh new talent (J.W. Anderson, cult Japanese brands like Wacko Maria ) and promising new graduates, alongside an exceedingly well curated mix of rare books and music. “Gary was the perfect fit,” explains creative director, John Skelton, “He took the initial ideas we had and developed them into so much more than we imagined. It was untested waters but that’s something we’re not worried by.”
In fact, you could say LN-CC, co-founded by Skelton and Dan Mitchell, is defined by its willingness to push the boundaries. Their buying philosophy is neatly summed up by Skelton, “If we see something that’s new and we like it, we’ll take it. I don’t ever want to see a reinterpretation of anything, it doesn’t interest me. We buy very much on the front foot and that’s the way we have and always will buy.” And while its appointments-only policy might give the impression of exclusivity, nothing could be further from the truth. “It’s like anything - good things don’t just fall on your lap. We are curious enough to go out and search for what we sell and if people want to experience what we’ve got they are more than welcome but they need to put in a bit of effort in also.”
"I think Raf has set the tone for me as a person – he is the most progressive designer in the industry in my opinion"
You could trace his uncompromising approach back to the designer who’s had the most influence on Skelton – Raf Simons. As a young buyer for a north east boutique, Skelton caught Raf Simons’ controversial and influential S/S 02 show, 'Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back' and found it a profound experience. “I think Raf has set the tone for me as a person – he is the most progressive designer in the industry in my opinion. He’s always looking forward, always creates something new and that’s how we try and buy.” So when he parted ways with the e-tailer Oki-Ni, Skelton decided he wanted he didn’t want to become a buyer for anyone else but to distill his own ideas even further. Despite defying the conventional wisdom of retail, Skelton has found his shop has become one of its most exciting spaces in the retail world – “To be honest, I always knew this would work from the second we decided to do it. It’s not about will this work but do we like it? Everybody knew it was real and it’s happening and that’s what transpires to the customer. It’s not about thinking, will this work? It was about thinking is this is interesting.”
The shop may have in its short life span already been nominated for a Design Museum Award and garnered international fans through its online store, but Skelton is just getting started. The next few months promise a series of global events (a natural development from the infamous parties the shop has hosted in its club) and the development of a new product concept that Skelton promises, “will take us to a new level and remind people why we’re doing what we’re doing.” Says Skelton, “I’m super proud of what we’ve done so far but I don’t think we’ve got out of third gear with what we’re doing from a creative level – there’s so many things we want to do.” Standing in this state-of-the-art underground bunker surrounded by work from some of the most forward-thinking design talent around, you can believe him.