Established on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Portobello Road in November 2000 by Phil Bickley, Tonic has become a local landmark and a destination clothes shop for men with a sophisticated sense of style. The shop sells a range of premium label menswear from casual everyday outfits like Harrington jackets to beautifully cut chinos. There’s also a selection of designer parkas, stylish footwear, and classic knitwear by the likes of John Smedley.
You’ll get an idea of the shop’s ethos from the fact that a regular customer is style icon Paul Weller, sometimes known in fashion circles as the Modfather. In fact, Paul has become much more than a customer since he and Phil have gone into business and launched their own exclusive line of menswear, Real Stars Are Rare. More on that later.
Phil starts his story: “I was interested in clothes from an early age, and my first formative influences came from the football terraces of my home town, Liverpool. It was the stylish dress of the 1980s ‘casuals’ that really caught my imagination, and that influence is still with me today.
“After I left school, I worked for a bank in Liverpool, then I got a transfer to London in 1989. The bank wasn’t really for me long-term so I started studying. I got my A-levels and then did a degree in fashion at the London College of Fashion. I got a placement with Paul Smith and worked for them in Nottingham and London, then joined Moss Bros as a Junior Buyer and spent six years there, ending up as a Senior Buyer.
“A Moss Bros colleague and I decided to set-up on our own. We spent about a year researching and preparing to launch and first set up in Portobello Road in 2000. Eventually, I bought my partner out so now I’m the sole proprietor.
“In those early days, Portobello Business Centre was a tremendous source of help. They helped me work on my business plan, I went on some of their courses, and they pointed me in the direction of start-up grants that were available at the time.
“I’ve had the same vision for the shop from day one. We sell high-end, premium branded menswear, not designer, and I look for clothes that are subtle and stylish, not over-branded, with simple, clear lines. Our clothes aren’t cheap but they represent good value as they’re made with quality fabrics and tailoring. This reflects what I like to wear – I believe that less is more and I like things that last.
“Now, I’ve gone into business with Paul Weller and that came about simply because he liked to shop here and we used to shoot the breeze together. Obviously, he’s first and foremost known as a musician, but he’s always loved clothes so having an interest in a label seemed like a natural step for him.
“Our label, Real Stars Are Rare, makes clothes that we both like and wear. We’ve had offers to go wholesale, but we want to keep the operation small, selling only through the website and here at the shop. That means we can keep total control of design and quality, which is really important to both of us.
“Thinking back to 15 years ago when I was starting my own business, I remember how important the Business Centre was to me. There are no rules to setting up your own business and there’s so much to get to grips with, but the Centre was always there to answer my questions. They were my first port of call whenever I needed to discuss an idea or I came up against a problem.”
Tonic: 276 Portobello Road, London W10 5TE. Open Monday to Saturday, 10am – 6pm and Sundays 11am – 5pm.
Real Stars Are Rare