Cult Bookshop Claire de Rouen Celebrates Ten Years

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Claire de Rouen BooksPhotography by Thu Thuy Pham

In honour of Claire de Rouen's 10th anniversary, AnOther talks to owner Lucy Moore about the past, present and future of the exceptional store

Perched atop a rudimentary betting shop on Soho’s Charing Cross road, sits Claire de Rouen – a small but mighty independent bookshop that boasts a rare and exceptionally well curated edit of fashion, art and photography books. Founded by the late Claire de Rouen in 2005, the neon-flanked store has become something of an institution; frequented by discerning Londoners, design aficionados, students and creative luminaries such as Giles Deacon, Walter Van Beirendonck and Sonia Rykiel.

Today, under the diligent reign of British artist Lucy Moore – who recently introduced a digital vertical to CDR (to the delight of its international fans) – the shop’s multifluous appeal shows no sign of abating. Here, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, AnOther sits down with Moore to reflect on the past, present and future of Claire de Rouen. 

How is Claire de Rouen celebrating this marvellous milestone?
“The celebrations will happen ten years later to the day that Claire de Rouen opened her shop with a book launch for Bruce Weber. They’ll also be in the same space, in the gallery next to the bookshop, and that I run with Sylvia Kouvali from RODEO Gallery as an occasional project space, which we called Manette. I love this perfect symmetry across time and it feels potentially somewhat magical – given it is also Bonfire Night!

“Claire de Rouen favourite, photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, is going to show prints and screen a film related to his Preston Bus Station project. It’s fitting that the series is about looking back – in this case to the architectural language of Brutalism – but also about the people who passed through the bus station. In another way, Claire de Rouen is all about the people who visit, too. Jamie’s exhibition follows in footsteps of Alex Sturrock, Valerie Phillips and Tyrone Lebon – who all showed work with Claire in the space when she was still alive.”

How do you feel that Claire de Rouen has evolved over the past decade?
“As the digital world has grown, books have become more beautiful because of the competition that has risen up around them. There are now so many ways to share images instantaneously and with much more reach, so books have a special new status – because we know they were made specifically as books instead of just to release visual noise. They are becoming even more beautiful. Sometimes the content is essential and not available anywhere else, but more often than not the book is chosen for its special offerings – narrative, texture, objectness.

“Some things have stayed the same – Claire [de Rouen] stocked certain books and magazines in before anyone else in London, and so do I. She loved fashion and art students (Central Saint Martins used to be on the same street before it moved to Kings Cross), and I do too. I don’t mind people sitting here for hours just looking, in fact I love that. It means things are beginning – research is everything.”

Are you surprised at the notoriety the bookstore has achieved?
“I completely understand why Claire de Rouen was seen as a cult bookshop before Claire passed away. Like everyone else, I fell under its spell the minute I walked in. I’m honoured it is still a place that many people think is very special – and they come in especially from all over the world. Sometimes I look up and see Walter Van Beirendonck in here or Benicio del Toro, on a good day!”

What sets Claire de Rouen apart from its contemporaries?
“Although the stock reflects my own taste, I don’t believe in hierarchies for Claire de Rouen. We carry rare things and super mainstream books that I know are brilliant. I play Britney on the stereo, as well as Arthur Russell. I love it if people spend a lot, but I also love it when someone like Jason Evans sends me books that he’s made himself that only cost £3.00. 

“Also, CDR sells things you can’t find anywhere because I’m lucky enough that so many wonderful photographers send me things straight from their studio. Mark Borthwick, Dick Jewell, Ed Templeton, Gareth McConnell…

“I came up with the concept of ‘new rare’ recently: the idea that, increasingly, you can tell as soon as something is published that it is going to be really iconic, so, as a collector, if you buy something right at the starting point you can build an incredible library of what become very precious things without spending lots of money. I like people to find what they like here and buy it before it’s risen to crazy prices on say, eBay...”

What does your role at Claire de Rouen entail?
“The most important facet of my role is to celebrate the work I really believe in, and tell as many people as I can about it.”

How has your own training as an artist influenced the way in which you curate books?
“I made abstract paintings before I started running Claire de Rouen, and I think I was interested in the way in which the formal language of abstract painting feels instantly knowable to many viewers, and yet it also acts as a sign for originality. This twinning of the mainstream and the highly unusual – both special categories in their own way – is something that I think affects my choice of books and magazines for the shop.”

The most extraordinary books to have passed through the doors of Claire de Rouen?
“Karen Knorr’s Belgravia has just come out. I did a signing for it a week or two ago. This series of photographs was made, amazingly, in the late 70s. Knorr captured the aristocratic residents of a tiny area of London in photographs that are part-autobiographical (Knorr’s mother lived there), part staged and part documentary. She wrote captions for each image based on conversations she’d had with Belgravia-dwellers. They’re like condensed poems with the voice of affluence. It’s an outstanding body of work.

“It reminds me also of Bill Brandt’s The British At Home, maybe one of the very first true British photobooks, which I sometimes have for sale here (although they always sell so quickly). Also, filmmaker Mike Figgis’ two volume, hand-made, homage to Guy Bourdin is also without parallel. There are only 50 copies, the printing is just so beautiful, and so many of the images by Bourdin are published here for the first time. Oh, and the very first issue of Interview is in my glass case at the moment.”  

What does the future of Claire de Rouen hold?
“I’m very happy with the new CDR e-store, which I launched in August, and I’m going to do lots of online exclusives for that. I’m publishing a lot more next year (last year I published Lily’s Cole’s book on artist Gabriel Orozco, Impossible Utopias). Presents will be a big theme in 2016 – I just commissioned Claire de Rouen wrapping paper and I’m going to step up ‘Express Impress’, which is the super quick gift delivery service I do for London. You can buy a present and have it gift wrapped and delivered on the same day. Also, I want to do more wedding lists, because I’m very romantic.”