London is the ever-present backdrop in my life. Born and brought up in Islington, I progressed to doing my MA in Textiles at Central St Martin’s. Later, I spent happy teenage years living in Dartmouth Park, and, since the 1990s, Gospel Oak.
It was my mother, Gabrielle Parker, who originally started Diverse with her partner, Gary Lincoln. Back then the atmosphere on Upper Street was quite far removed from what it is now: there were very few restaurants, not a single boutique, and no estate agents. My memories are of a Citizens’ Advice bureau, a couple of solicitors’ offices and bookies, and an old-fashioned tailor’s directly opposite. As the decades passed, the character of Upper St changed dramatically around us.
We had a tiny outlet below our flat, once an old sweet shop on a residential street. It was a bit like welcoming customers into your private dwelling, which was quite unusual, even for those days.
From that tiny spot, we retailed a few 1980s labels like Diesel, Ghost and Katherine Hamnett, including the famous slogan t-shirts. My mum and Gary had an idea for designing our own clothing: I was heavily into textiles, and we all collaborated on a collection of screen-printed T-shirts which we sold to clients like Joseph, Paul Smith, and others.
A couple of years later we started selling from our new store on Upper Street alongside a wider range of labels. I started working there as a Saturday girl, continued throughout my studies and after decades helping grow the business – taking over full time management of three distinct stores in the late 1990s – I ended up becoming what my husband always describes as a “classic shopkeeper”. I always visualise Ronnie Barker when he says that – but really he just means that I learned the trade from the ground up.Nowadays, I have to devote much of my time to the buying side, which is key to staying alive in this business. Over the years, our customers have expected consistency and they demand constant innovation.
At the same time, developing and maintaining personal links was a vital part of the Diverse experience. I started off selling clothes on the shop floor and probably will always do exactly that. I’ve also had wonderfully loyal staff, many of whom stayed for decades.
We’ve also survived two major recessions, something I take pride in, but I wouldn’t carry on just for the sake of it. I live, breathe and drink the changing seasons. I can’t imagine doing anything different with my life now that one chapter ends and another begins.It’s a pleasure becoming more familiar with our new Kentish Town and Tufnell Park customers and hopefully catering to their preferences. There are always a couple of wonderful new labels demanding my attention, but we obviously keep many of our favourite labels such as APC, Isabel Marant, Margaret Howell, Sessun, Bella Freud and YMC, many of whom we’ve had relationships with since day one.
As for Upper Street, well, it’s a force of nature in a way, isn’t it? Maybe a victim of its own success, as well: there are too few independent businesses, too many franchise restaurants and estate agents, and so for us, a new horizon was always going to come along.
Initially, we had earmarked NW5 as a potential location for a sister shop to Diverse N1, partly because of my living in the area but also partly because there were so few shops here catering for a demand that I definitely believe exists.
We originally looked at the former Blustons because in some ways it was perfect – however Fortess Road has, I think, always had a magnetic pull on me.
Diverse is at 148 Fortess Road NW5. Find out more here