Leica in Brick Lane: A surprisingly successful couple of weeks
During the past two weeks I have spent a lot of time bothering the staff at the Leica pop-up store in London's Brick Lane. I've been very impressed by the number of visitors and by the interest shown in the photo walks organised by Robin Sinha and Leo Scott. Every session has been enthusiastically acclaimed and, in my opinion, the fortnight in Brick Lane has been a great success.
On reflection, I believe Brick Lane is an ideal location for a Leica store. It is so counter intuitive that the two-week presence has attracted tremendous interest. In a sense, this store has been the antithesis of the Burlington Arcade store in Mayfair. There, the objects is to garner the affluent passing trade. These are people who are not passionate about photography in general, nor about Leica in particular. But they have money and could well buy an expensive Leica for the wrong reasons.
In Brick Lane, by contrast, few strollers are what you would call affluent (although appearances can be deceptive). But among them are many dedicated photographers who have never before been exposed to the Leica brand. A Leica store is the last thing they would expect to find in Dray Walk and I have been impressed by their reactions when they come in and sample the goods. I've had endless conversations with keen photographers who have never previously considered Leica and would probably never enter a Leica store (least of all in Mayfair). But there interest is there and the Brick Lane store was a great opportunity to mould that interest into a passion.
This impression is strengthened by the enthusiastic reception of the photo walks. I firmly believe this type of mentored stroll around a street-photographer paradise such as Brick Lane has enormous potential, both as an educational tool and as a means of exposure to the Leica brand. Street photography is becoming increasingly popular, fuelled by internet entrepreneurs since as Eric Kim. Internet promoted photography meetings, mostly concerned with street work, are booming. You only need look through the photographic section of meetup.com. Photography is one of the most prolific categories and I know of several organisers who hold events two, three or even five times a week. Every one is full.
There are endless possibilities for themed walks though the Whitechapel and Shoreditch areas and the prospect of a good-natured critique session at the end of the event is a spur to creativity. Talking to the participants during the week, I was impressed by the level of commitment but also by the fact that few were existing Leica owners. Where else would they have the opportunity to borrow a £5,000 camera for three or four hours and treat it as their own?
Some, undoubtedly, will be in line for a Leica in the near future. Others will aspire, even though it is currently out of reach. And aspiration is what Leica needs to instill in a new generation of photographers..
I would estimate that every serious photographer in London visits Brick Lane at least once a year. Many are there every weekend. Yet few visit the Burlington Arcade or, for that matter, Bruton Place where Leica has its headquarters. In the past two weeks visitors to Brick Lane have hardly been able to miss the Leica presence and a large proportion of these visitors are camera buyers. This is Leica's core market rather than the fickle fancy of the Luis Vuitton brigade.
In my very humble opinion, Brick Lane is a more sensible location for a Leica store (supported by an out-reach Leica Akademie) than the high-net-worth haven of Mayfair. I suspect the rents are a lot lower than Mayfair and the long-term rewards could be greater.