Hidden amongst some non-descript Bethnal Green terraces lie two East End gems. One is the infamous yet equally glorious Colombia Road flower market, complete with Nikon-laden Londoners. The other is a rather unusual textile installation that wears the perfect disguise from all those lenses.
Created and owned by artist Lucy Sparrow, The Cornershop is every bit an authentic as your local food and wine (yes, the one that’s open until 3am) and stocks all of your favourite brands, from Cadbury to Andrex. Fancy some chips for tea? Make sure you pick the McCain’s out of the freezer! Need a sweet tooth fix? You’ll find Crunchies and Skittles at the till. And don’t forget the Smirnoff for Friday night. You can even flick through your preferred broadsheet (or tabloid if you are that way inclined) when you get in from work.
Yet it’s only when you adjust your vision and take a step back that you realise this is no ordinary newsagents.
Welcome to Lucy Sparrow’s magnificent creation: a shop made entirely of felt. Yep, I just said ‘felt.’ For many of you, this word will most likely be collocated with the word ‘Fuzzy’ or will bear reminiscent to the days of Blue Peter craft. And having spent eight months sewing the stock, this really is ‘what Sparrow did earlier’…
I asked the owner if she receives many unsuspecting customers, who genuinely believed they were going to come away with today’s Guardian and 20 Marlboro lights. ‘About 3 a day,’ she replied, and it was clear that Sparrow gains a glimmer of amusement when these customers realise otherwise. Though not to perturb any old ladies, the artist admits she comes clean to the elderly almost straight away. I let the others work it out for themselves, she says.
Entering the shop is a satisfying mix of the familiar and the unexpected, with an extra helping of retro. Whilst the display of stock suggests a pre-planned nonchalance in its use of Wrigley gum endorsed racks and Walls ice-cream freezers, the labels themselves demonstrate the true emblem of Sparrow’s artistic talent. To be able to replicate the logos and fonts of hundreds of varying brands shows a superior dedication to the modern world of branding. The instalment is a wonderful yet scary reminder of our affinity to brands, as orders for feltified products were (literally) flying off the shelves.
So does Sparrow herself have a favourite item? ‘The oven chips,’ she says with a smile. She likes the glitter on the packaging. I’d clearly come to the right place: I love glitter, and I love chips. This ultimately is the genialness of The Cornershop. Sparrow has cleverly curated a love of everyone. Whether we like it or not, we are more attached to our brands than ever. We remain as loyal to our favourites as we do to our friends and this is the shown in the beauty and delight of the community atmosphere amongst the shop’s customers. We connect with each other through a well-loved brand of chocolate (hello Cadbury’s) and it’s not long before people are buying felt crisp packets as unique presents. What is anyone going to do with a felt crisp packet? God knows, but it certainly feels special.
The uniqueness of the concept naturally attracts plenty of questions from bemused but impressed customers. ‘How does it feel being in your own creation?’ asked one young woman. Sparrow’s response was ‘mad’ but needless to say, amazing. It’s plain to see that many people agree, and are happy to trek to an ATM to pay in cash for the felt goods. I leave the shop mesmerised as a material girl who has just bought a chip cushion from a very material world. Lucy Sparrow has brought a touch of childhood nostalgia and community to the East End. What started as a crazy idea has materialised in an installation that has never FELT more exciting (sorry).