As the head of the quintessentially British Marks & Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose (60) is one of the country’s most influential businessmen. The grandson of a White Russian officer, Sir Stuart grew up in Yorkshire and Tanzania, and joined M&S at the age of 23. He then went on to control some of the most influential retailers in Britain, such as Arcadia and Argos, before rejoining M&S as CEO in 2004. As such, he has rebranded the ageing giant -which turned 125 last year- into a more stylish and profitable brand, which led him to be knighted in 2007 and named chairman of the British Fashion Council from 2004 to 2008. Here, he shares with Chic-Londres his favourite addresses.
What is your earliest London memory? I was five year old and we were leaving our town of Tilbury to go to Africa. My sister had measles and was in quarantine, so we had to travel to the ocean liner in an ambulance, and that is how I discovered London. I vividly remember the docks, all the way to Tower Bridge, which were still working docks at the time. It looked very different back then…
Where do you live and why? I live in Kensington, between the Albert Hall and High Street Kensington. I like it because this is a very central location, which allows me to go anywhere I need to -either M&S headquarters in Paddington or the West End- in about fifteen minutes. I also enjoy the fact that I am just opposite Kensington Gardens so I only have to cross the road to be able to run in the park. And there are some good restaurants, good shops and a good access to everything and everywhere.
What do you miss most when you are not in London? I have been thinking lately of what I will be doing over the next few years and one thing for sure is that I will never leave London: I might spend more time abroad, possibly in the south of France, but I will always keep my main place here. I believe that London is a place that makes you feel alive and when I am not here, I really miss its vibrancy. I live on my own, so it is great for me to be able to just go out of my flat and find other people so easily: in London, I feel like I am in touch with life at all times.
How would you describe London in three words? Vibrant. Safe. Fun.
What makes London unique? The fact that it is so multicultural: I don’t think there is any other place in the world like London, apart maybe from New York, where more than 150 languages are spoken. If you go from Brick Lane to Kensington to Brixton to Harlesden, you will find all kinds of people coming from everywhere. And the best thing is that it seems to work really well, with very little tension in this city.
What is your favourite district? I have to say the West End -south of Marylebone Road, North of the Thames, east of Kensington High Street and west of the City- if only because I feel this is where I have spent most of my life. This area is only about six square miles, yet includes the best of everything that London has to offer, in terms of theatres, museums and restaurants.
Where do you do your shopping? Obviously, I shop a lot at Marks & Spencer: half of my wardrobe comes from there, as well as 95% of my food, as I think our offer is marvellous, although when it comes to bread, I always go to Poilâne, which I absolutely love: in the past, I have even been known to take my own bread with me on holidays! When it comes to fashion, I only shop for clothes twice per year and am quite specific about what I buy. For menswear, I am a big fan of Connolly, (which is owned by French designer Joseph Ettedgui, the founder of fashion brand Joseph). I have bought all my ties from Hermès since I was 18 and have never worn any other brand: as a result, I now own hundreds of them and am even considering donating my collection to a museum, as they truly are a piece of fashion history. For shoes, I go to Ferragamo.
What is your favourite walk? I love to walk from Mayfair to my home going through St James Park and Hyde Park.
Do you have a favourite pub/bar/restaurant? I am not a big pub man, but I absolutely love restaurants, being one of those people who live to eat rather than eat to live. My favourite ever is the River Café, although I tend to go out a lot in the West End, where I rotate between George, Harry’s Bar, the Wolseley, J. Sheekey and the Caprice.
Which private clubs do you belong to and why? I have been a member of the Groucho for about twenty years: I love this place, because it is quirky and full of creative people, which is fun and different for a businessman like myself. I am also a member of Annabel’s, the Bath and Racquet Club – a sports club-, George, Harry’s Bar, Soho House, and many others: probably too many! But I don’t belong to any traditional gentlemen’s club.
What is the best place to party in London? At someone else’s house.
Which part of London is underrated in your opinion? I would say Southwark, and in particular Borough Market on a Saturday morning: with its great artisanal food and fantastic atmosphere, its visit should be a must for anyone living in London.
What was the best party you ever had in London? My 60th birthday party last March, which I co-hosted with my friend Philip Green: I was born on the 15th and he on the 17th so we did it on the 16th at Annabel’s. It was organised at very short notice and because it was on a Monday, we thought everyone would be gone by 11pm. But this was one of those nights that just happen to take off, because everyone really wants to have fun. Diana Ross sang, and we finished at about 2am: which shows that sometime, a little bit of spontaneity can work very well.
Sir Stuart’s Address Book
Poilâne: 46 Elizabeth Street, SW1 (Victoria)
Connolly: 41 Conduit Street, W1 (Oxford Circus)
Hermès: 155 New Bond Street, W1 (Bond Street)
Salvatore Ferragamo: 24 Old Bond Street, W1 (Bond Street)
The River Café: Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 (Hammersmith)
George: 87-88 Mount Street, W1 (Green Park)
Harry’s Bar: 26 South Audley Street, W1 (Green Park)
The Wolseley: 160 Piccadilly, W1 (Green Park)
J. Sheekey: 28-34 St. Martin’s Court, WC2 (Leicester Square)
Le Caprice: Arlington House, Arlington Street, SW1 (Green Park)
Groucho Club: 45 Dean Street, W1 (Tottenham Court road)
Annabel’s: 44 Berkeley Square, W1 (Green Park)
The Bath and Racquets Club: 49 Brook’s Mews, W1 (Bond Street)
Soho House: 40 Greek Street, W1 (Tottenham Court Road)
Borough Market: 8 Southwark Street, SE1 (London Bridge)