In Conversation: William Russell, Architect

The Pentagram architect on working with Margaret Howell and designing the new MHL store on New Cavendish Street in London


Words: David Hellqvist
Images: Courtesy of Pentagram

Pentagram is legendary design studio, co-founded by Kenneth Grange in 1972. Since then, with numerous award-winning projects behind them, the company has grown – both geographically and in status. With offices in San Francisco, New York and Berlin, architect William Russell is one of the key names currently working at the agency. Fusing graphic design, interiors and architecture, Pentagram is able to guide clients through the whole identity process. One of Russell’s long term clients is London designer Margaret Howell. Having collaborated together since 2001, Russell has just finished work on the new MHL store, Howell’s diffusion line, in London. “One of the greatest things about MHL is the attention to detail that goes into the products. There is an honesty about materials. The way that clothes are cut and put together. They have taken traditional workwear and recreated it for modern sensibility,” Russell says.


The two met 12 years ago when Margaret Howell was in the process of setting up her Wigmore Street HQ: “She saw my house on Brick Lane and asked if I’d work on her flagship store. Previously she had done her stores by herself however the Wigmore street space was much larger than her other stores so she asked me to help.” Since then Russell has overseen both main line and diffusion line stores, both domestic and international ones. Russell has collaborated with Alexander McQueen, and other major fashion brands, on store branding but the Howell gig is unique, he says. “The main difference for me is the amazing relationship I have with Margaret. We’ve been working together for so long and there is such a high level of trust, it’s always a delight being able to work on projects with her.” MHL is different to the Margaret Howell line, not just in its slightly cheaper price points. There’s a sense of a scaled back and minimal aesthetic. The clothes are part of a stylish everyday uniform. The store spaces need to mirror that. “Yes. A main difference compared to Margaret Howell] is the utilitarian nature of MHL shops and the use of materiality. MHL stores are significantly smaller than the mainline ones so it’s always a challenge to make sure all stock can be beautifully presented.”


Having finished off the actual space, Russell moves his attention to the interiors, the inside details that need to, besides looking good, work in tandem with the goods. We are always tweaking display systems and other aspects of the stores. For the New Cavendish store, we worked with a new lighting company, P J C Light Studio which was a great collaboration. When we took possession of the space, there was a beautiful floor and shop front that we decided to keep these. It’s such joy finding a space with lots of elements you can work with and give some TLC to to bring up to a high standard, rather than have to start from scratch.”Like with so many similar store projects, Russell decided to utilise existing features, rather than completely re-do the venue.

Often it’s a case of giving the space a facelift as opposed to re-builiding from scratch. “Yes, the original parquet flooring is one of the biggest assets of the new store. The industrial shelving system is also an important part of the interiors, serving as a signature piece in the space. I used stainless steel, fair-faced birch plywood – similar materials to the other stores. There are folded shelves with hanging rails that run down one side of the store. Using a relatively limited palette for the interiors helps give the space the feeling that it’s a workshop-like setting.” The main reason Howell and Russell’s working relationship was been so successful is the Pentagram architect’s ability to turn the Howell stores into a continuation of her brand. Russell speaks the Howell lingo, he’s able to translate her clothes into buildings.

More info on William Russell and Pentagram HERE MHL, 22 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 8TT