So where did Soho Lights come from? (the clue is in the name)
One day when I was back visiting London ( Soho was where I had worked a lot being a creative director ), I was cutting through a back street, past the old sex shops and strip joints near the Raymond Revue Bar and I spied an old Strip club being refurbished.
Now Soho’s mini red-light district was never really that red light, more mild orange light compared to most other city’s. But now, it’s totally green Light. There is nothing left, just refurbished buildings and empty flats bought by investors. Shame really.
By the way this picture is brilliant from Artist Stuart Free It really captures the feeling of the old place & pre gentrification of Soho Stuart free
However, the demise of a city’s beating heart was my gain. Amongst loads of old stuff, I spied an original retro Lightbox type light. It was the one you would have sitting in the foyer of the club, next to the doorman in a suit with a menacing stare. On it said the famous words “Striptease Club” - Members only!
Now how you get to be a member of those clubs I’ll never know (honestly)- but I can imagine it would cost you a fair bit of money. In my mind, the vintage lightbox conjured up memories of dark, smoky burlesque clubs, 1960’s glamour, the Krays, and the Profumo scandal, sex, sin, drugs and alcohol. In reality, it was probably much grubbier.
Actually, I just found this pic of the inside of the Raymond Review Bar- it looks like I wasn’t far off from my imagination! Update just found out this is actually how it looks now! It’s been completely refurbished to look like my imagination. How weird! Looks cool, although I can’t see the Krays. Note to self- Must visit post-Covid.
The Doorman & The Lightbox Sign
No matter, I asked the builder at the door of this small doorway, If it was for sale. He pointed ( or grunted ) me in the direction of a chap who looked like he was still working the club doors amongst the demolition and refurbishment.
Time had definitely stood still for him, but I wouldn’t say that to his well-worn face. A small bit of bartering ( well he basically said “ it’s this much and I didn’t question him ), and I found myself a fair few quid lighter in the pocket but in possession of a true piece of vintage light history from Soho itself. The doorman probably laughed.
The Coach & Horses Greek Street
I called a mate and met him for a drink in the Coach and Horse pub in Greek Street.
Sitting waiting for him, I put the Lightbox on the table for fun, making my own private 1 table only Striptease Club. I kept my clothes on (thankfully for everyone else). Now; I don’t think it was the aftershave I was wearing that day..but suddenly I became the centre of attention or more correctly my Lightbox did. “ ohh where’s that from?”, “Lurrvve it” ( In an accent only Cockneys can do) , “Do you want to sell it mate “?
After a few drinks and a lot more questions from admirers I thought to my self “ I might just be onto something here”. So fast forward a year. I had already taken the light apart, replaced the old flex with a new cable and the Vintage Lightbox was now the pride of my home office in Devon. By this time Famous Rebel was up and running online and I was too busy to think much about the Striptease light other than switching it on and off.
Then came Covid.
If there’s one positive thing that came out of Covid it's that it gave me a little time to think. Time to think about what I wanted to do with my life, as I was fast approaching the mid-life crisis and also to think about what made me happy. So that’s why we opened a shop for other Rebels in Totnes ( read the blog here )
With the shop being shut due to Covid I had a little time, so I had to use it wisely. I started creating an original and kitsch Soho light from scratch. I thought it would be easy, but it was a lot tougher than I thought. 3 months tougher.
So how do you make an original old Lightbox light look like an original old Lightbox?
At the start, I had looked at pre-made wood boxes for the Lightbox, perfect soft cut wood, perfect straight boxes, with modern printed designs on the front. Easy to do, cheap to make but compared to my original they looked awful. Like they had been made by Amazon or Primark. Back to the drawing board.
So(ho), taking the original box apart, we knew that it had to be hand-made, that the wood needed to be rough, not smooth, and that all the little imperfections were part of what made mine unique.
Eventually ( after many many tries ) we sourced rough cut sawn timber to make the boxes like the original. In fact, they were better than the original. They had a real solid weight ( a pain to post and very expensive ) but when you held them you knew they weren’t mass-produced and were real quality. One thing we also found out is that wood isn't cheap! But it did mean we could now offer a choice of hand-painted black finish or natural oiled wood finish. I still find it difficult to decide which I like best.
Now onto the Lightbox part or the light front design itself. I knew that to keep this original we had to keep it original ( if that makes sense)? New designs on the Lightbox, modern text itself just wouldn’t work, so I researched and am still researching old signs outside pubs, clubs, and cafes from across the world as inspiration. Now it would be easy to just print these designs on a printer and stick them to the box but again that wouldn’t be original and quite frankly I tried it and it looked crap.
Step in Geoff…signwriter 40 years experience
Now, this is where the biggest stroke of luck came along. I knew Geoff, my neighbour did signs, but I didn’t realise that he was was a sign maker with over 40 years of experience. I showed him the original box and said,"Can you do something a little like this?".
To be honest I didn’t expect much, but what Geoff came back with was amazing. It was exactly like the old sign. The way the light went through the vinyl, the way the vinyl lettering was cut and hand fixed onto the light. The way you could feel the vinyl layers by hand. The way it felt so retro and original. I’ve got to say I was ecstatic with the results.
All that was left was to source an original high-quality style flex. A cable that was safe and then fit a warm White LED E27 lightbulb ( normal LED lightbulbs are too harsh and too white ) for low power consumption ( I think these lights are less than a half penny an hour ).
So the proofs in the pudding or do people like them or not?
In the 3 weeks of December that we were allowed to open we put the lights in our new shop window. We had 9 designs in total all based on original retro designs and all word themed. We had everything from the original
To an Amsterdam Coffee Shop
To a Barcelona Discotheque
and American Drugstore
So with all 9 in the shop.
We sold out within a week.
Now I had a headache to keep up with supplies but this my problem not yours. However, as the boxes are completely hand-made we do say they can take 7-10 days. Sometimes it can be much less. However, we hope people don’t mind that rather rush they know they aren’t getting something off the shelf or shipped from China.
So Our Labour of Love Lightboxes are now online https://www.famousrebel.com/collections/lightboxes and we have just sold our first box to someone in New York City. How Cool is that!
So that is the story ( if you’ve made it this far ) of how a chance walk in Soho turned into making unique retro lights as part of Famous Rebel. It was hard work but I love the finished product and ~I know you will too. P.S this might be the time to give you a sneak peek of my next unique light product. Light Cubes - Coming Soon ( But that's another story).