Emma Willis trained at The Slade School of Art before opening her small, elegant London shirt shop on the corner of St. James’ and Jermyn Street in 2000. She is renowned for beautifully made bespoke and ready to wear men’s and women’s shirts all made in their 18th townhouse in Gloucester. Her international clientele include HRH The Prince Wales, David Gandy and Benedict Cumberbatch.
We caught up with Emma for the latest in our ‘My London’ interview series.
I love my own neighbourhood of St. James’, which has stayed as the heart of traditional, historic, elegant London, thanks to its small independent shops, art galleries, barbers, book shops, chemists, clubs and restaurants. With The London Library, Christies Auction House, The Royal Academy, The Royal Palaces, St. James.’s Park on our doorstep, Fortnum and Mason’s pistachio horse drawn carriages, The Magnificent Mounted Police or Household Cavalry trotting past our window, not to mention Arnie Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, David Gandy or William and Kate, it is unsurprising we love our neighbourhood so much. I think my most memorable and very St. James’ sight was a mother duck with 12 ducklings on a venture out of the park waddling casually up St. James’s Street, completely stopping the traffic.
Favourite place for breakfast:
Francos in Jermyn Street as the food is fresh and a great chef, best orange juice and coffee as below, it is buzzing with energy and meetings from 8am onwards to inspire me with the excitement of life in the heart of London and you can sit outside almost all year round.
Best coffee in London:
Francos. I have several Middle Eastern customers who definitely know their coffee and I often serve them Francos coffee in a bespoke meeting and they say it is the best coffee in London.
Favourite gallery or museum:
The National Portrait Gallery. I studied figurative and portrait painting and drawing and still love to look at beautiful paintings of people most, and such a captivating way of learning about history of dates and battles aren’t your thing!
Tell us a secret:
I love swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes and preferably leaving my bikini on the beach/bank.
Favourite place to shop:
Markets in the South of France in the Summer, which are so enchanting with the slow pace, locally produced fruit, vegetables, cheese, poultry and bread which makes food shopping a pleasure. I live in platform espadrilles and boots and head excitedly at the beginning of Summer and Winter to family run shoe shop Russell and Bromley in Bond Street and the adorable Penelope Chilvers shoe shop in Ledbury Road, Notting Hill Gate to choose and always love both their collections.
Favourite place to find inspiration:
I walk round the river near my flat in Fulham pretty well every morning, looking at the water, the birds, the rowers, the boats, the sky, the tides and find it a very inspiring start to the day and often have my ideas in this great hour of the day.
Best London destination for a date:
Hiring a small boat from Cathy on a warm evening from Putney Pier with a bottle of champagne and cushions.
St. James’, as so close to the shop and I love the view up to Buckingham Palace and all the water birds
Favourite food market:
Fulham Palace Farmers Market on Saturday. It has a lovely atmosphere as within the park and next to the river.
Your sanctuary in the city:
My husband Richard and my flat where we have lived since 1985. We brought up all the children there so full of memories of party life before we were married, the children as babies, children and teenagers and now a blissfully quiet place to come back to at the end of the day!
What inspires you?
Kindness, originality, modesty, generosity, humour and courage. My business and charity inspiration is John Timpson, who is the most original, free spirited, deeply kind and extraordinarily successful man who I am lucky enough to have met and is now one of my customers.
This season I’m loving:
Planning the launch of our Women’s Shirt Collection during London Fashion Week. I have been designing the collection with my head cutter Lizandra. We have been making the SS18 samples in pink, blue and white striped, checked, plain linens and cottons over the last few months in our Gloucester workrooms. It will be very exciting to show it to the buyers and editors.