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Showbiz costume shop is forced out by ‘soaring charges and drug dealing’

Shaftesbury Avenue business has supplied outfits for Oscar-winning films and party-goers

14 March, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The costume for Claire Foy, who plays the Queen in seasons 1 and 2 of The Crown, was supplied by Angels

ONE of the country’s oldest showbiz shops, which has supplied ­costumes for 40 Oscar-winning films, has quit the West End after 180 years.

Angels, in Shaftesbury Avenue, is considered to be the world’s first costume hire store. It provided outfits for films including Dr Zhivago, Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia, while its fancy-dress costumes are ­routinely hired out by the great and the good.

The seventh-generation company’s lease has expired and it cannot afford to continue in ­central London premises.

Its celebrated fancy-dress store was routinely broken into and drug-dealing has spiralled near the shop, its managers said.

Company director Emma Angel – daughter of Tim Angel, CBE, who is the current head of the business – said the firm had been “priced out of London”.

She said: “People talk about the death of the high street, but whilst big stores are dying because of online retail, the rates and rents in London are still extremely expensive.

“At present, an independent store owner can be paying well over half-a-million pounds per year in rates and rents to take over an empty unit without stairs or fitted toilets. That’s before you’ve done the flooring, fitted it out, hired staff and taken a single sale.

“While our business can continue online and physically from our ­Hendon warehouse, ­operating alongside the movie industry side of the company, as of now, the curtain comes down on Angels’ presence as a West End landmark and a rite of passage for party-going Londoners.”

Angels, considered to be the world’s first costume hire store, originally opened in 1840 as a second-hand clothing shop

Angels began as a second-hand clothing shop in 1840, but because of its proximity to the West End it became a go-to store for actors in need of clothes for auditions. In September 2005, the original cloak worn by Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars was rediscovered hanging on the rails of the store.

Unknown to shop managers, it had been hired out to the ­general public as a monk’s robe. Its provenance was confirmed by John Mollo, who created the cloak for the film in 1977, and received an Oscar for his efforts. It later sold at auction for £55,000.

Fashion designer Alexander McQueen worked at Angels as a costumier in the 1980s.

Ms Angel added: “We have had the windows broken 11 times in the past three years – at a cost of almost £14,000 – and we now pay a security guard to keep the store safe in the evening. Organised drug dealing blights this area and with it comes a lot of bad behaviour.

“Homelessness is not the problem, unimpeded drug dealing is a problem. We have never begrudged those unfortunate enough to be homeless to use our doorway to sleep in, and often bought breakfast for those who did, but over the last few years we have seen a change in the environment, with evidence of gangs ‘renting out’ doorways to homeless addicts, and a huge spike in drug-taking and anti-social, threatening behaviour.”


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