Claire de Rouen

We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.

Meet Lucy Kumara Moore, one of the owners of the small independent bookshop Claire de Rouen, which is to be found in the vivid area of Soho in London. Claire de Rouen specializes in selling the best new and rare books on photography, fashion, art and magazines too. We sat down for a talk with Lucy about the story behind Claire de Rouen, her great interest in books and how that interest has unfolded in the world of independent publishing.

Hello, Lucy! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of Claire de Rouen from the beginning until today.

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Lucy: The shop was set up ten years ago this November by a woman called Claire de Rouen. She opened the bookshop with a launch of Bruce Weber’s book called “Blood, Sweat and Tears” in November 2005. She was a photo book dealer for a very long time, and was based in Soho at the Photographers Gallery and then Zwemmers since the late eighties. Zwemmers was a specialized bookshop, for art, design and photography, located down the road from Claire de Rouen on Charing Cross Road.
When setting up her own shop, she already had a huge set of clients that she’d established throughout her career – they followed her to Claire de Rouen. She was very important and successful in what she did because she had wonderful contacts in the photography and fashion world, as well as an outstanding eye and an ability to sense what people were interested in.
Her name, Claire de Rouen, is somewhat misleading. Most people think that she was French because of her surname as well as her French accent. But Claire wasn’t French, actually she was an Italian born in Egypt, and there as an expat she learned French. After she had moved to London, she married the American actor and writer, Reed de Rouen, and hence obtained her French-sounding surname.

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I met her just shortly before she died. I was an artist at the time and was hoping to work for her on a freelance basis because I really loved the bookshop. That didn’t happen, but when she became sick, she asked me whether I would take over the shop to help her run it and eventually take over the bookshop.
Since she died in 2012, I have continued the focus on photography and fashion at Claire de Rouen, but I have added publications on art since my background is in the art world. Whilst Claire was alive, her shop was well knwon for important book signings with people like Pieter Hugo, Jean-Paul Goude, and Valerie Phillips, and she did exhibitions too, including one of the first exhibitions of the work of fashion photographer Tyrone Lebon. I’ve continued that tradition and have hosted signings with Juergen Teller, Tim Walker, Bill Henson, Christian Patterson, Mark Borthwick and many others since taking on the directorship of the shop three years ago.

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As well as running the shop and the events program, I also do a little bit of publishing. I published a book last year written by Lily Cole, who I co-own the shop with. It’s a text on twenty-first-century ideas around utopia, examined through the lens of the work of Mexican artist, Gabriel Orozco. At the moment, I’m contributing to a new book that will be coming out later this year, which is a collaboration between me and French artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz.
I also set up a book fair last year in London called Room&Book, which is a specialist book fair for book dealers, both young and well-established.

What does the typical day look like for you in the bookshop?

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Lucy: The only thing that can be categorized as being typical is the accounting, which I need to attend to every day, but besides that my day in the shop varies a lot since it all depends on who comes into the shop. It can be anything from a group of fashion students coming in from a university outside of London, where they are in town for the day to visit bookshops and exhibitions and maybe are researching something specific like photozines or fashion monographs. Many photographers also come in to show me their books that they’ve self-published, and sometimes I might have a well-known photographer come by. He or she might end up doing an impromptu book signing like Craig McDean did a few weeks ago.
If I’m doing an event, I’ll prepare for that. I also do research for film directors and advertising directors and sometimes I’ll spend a few hours doing research on specific projects for people, bringing up selections of books that they might find interesting as references. Lastly, I also dedicate time to a special gift wrapping and present service. I just finished a large wedding list which was very fun. At Claire de Rouen, there isn’t one bestseller at any time. There are normally ten or fifteen books that lots of people are buying since we have such a variety of people coming into the shop.

How big of a percentage of your books are self-published?

Lucy: I prefer to use the term micro-publishing, instead of self-publishing. I think that books produced by small, independent publishers who might have a team of just one, fall into the same category as self-publishing. So based on that, I would say that we probably have around forty or fifty percent self-published books in the shop. The high percentage of self-published publications is not the result of a strategic approach though – I buy books solely because they are interesting, not because of the genre of book.
I think self-publishing and independent publishing are extremely exciting right now, and some of the best publications made are self-published. But that said, there are still incredible books made by mainstream publishers that are absolutely outstanding. It’s just a reflection of where the interesting activity is rather than a strategy.

Could you please tell us a bit about the process of finding new books. Where do you buy them and which qualities does a book need to have in order to get shelf space in your bookshop?

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Lucy: I buy books from mainstream publishers, from all around the world. I attend book fairs, interact with individual publishers whether they’re artists, photographers or fashion designers and then the smaller publishers as well. In London, some of my favorites are Morel Books, Stanley Barker and Ditto Press. It’s hard to say which qualities a book needs to possess, but I think that the first thing probably is an understanding of what a book offers in contrast with other ways of presenting information.

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I have a great interest in sequencing, paper stock, design and the materiality of books. That’s not to say I think every book should be on incredible glossy paper. It’s just a sensitivity to how the material qualities of a book communicate and add to the meaning of the content, which brings me to the second criteria, which is unusual and original content. I think those are the only two things that I focus on really. I like original, challenging, and intelligent books that are beautifully produced. I’m also really interested in distribution. I’m not obsessed with limited editions, for example. I like things which are produced in huge quantities and/or might be free. I like Wolfgang Tillman’s book, Neue Welt, published by Taschen, as much as I like his more limited edition book published by Wako Works of Art in Japan. I also really like to have a mix of rare books or magazines (which are having a renaissance right now) and newer things – I like being the first to stock a new magazine or publications by a young artist, photographer, stylist or fashion editor.

Which book fairs do you attend?

Lucy: I participate in a fair that I also direct, which is called Room&Book, and happens at the ICA in London at the end of May. Then, in terms of visiting fairs, I go to Printed Matter if I’m not participating in it. I go to Paris Photo every November, where I look specifically at the publisher and dealer sections, and also visit Offprint. I go to Rencontres d’Arles in July, which is a long-running photo festival. I’m keen to go to the book fair in Tokyo and Unseen in Amsterdam in the near future.

Which market and sales channels do you use at Claire de Rouen to reach out to your audience?

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Lucy: Our main social media channels are Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We use them to post updates about new publications and events. Facebook was the first social media channel we started to use, since it provided a means for me to contact writers and publishers for whom I had no email address. Out of the three, Instagram is turning out to be the best performing platform for us and I think the reason for that is based on the fact that Instagram has a visual purity which makes it attractive to users. In terms of our Instagram strategy, we don´t have any strict timetable to Claire de Rouen Instagram posts. Sometimes 6 posts a day, and sometimes none at all.

Finally, where do you see books and technology in the future?

Lucy: I think it’s very clear that a digital platform provides a number of opportunities for anyone working with visual material. Likewise, the printed book also provides opportunities – which are different to the digital platform. With digital space, you have easy search functions. You have video. You have a lightness. You can send it out globally very quickly and at little expense. People can share it. I guess there’s the possibility of live communication too. With the printed book, you can control distribution very carefully. You can control the paper stock. You can control the sequencing and the design and the distribution. You can place inserts into a book. Digital and physical publishing are just two different platforms that both have strengths and weaknesses: they can coexist alongside each other.

To learn more about Claire de Rouen and experience
their universe and books
go visit: clairederouenbooks.com

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