Woman's touch brings new life to Beckenham's oldest store
PUBLISHED: 11:11 23 October 2012
The roaring twenties was a decade epitomised by Charlie Chaplin, flappers and the post-war economic boom.
Men were to look smart at all times and with the opening of Beckenham’s oldest shop, Ardec, they would not have to go far for a well cut suit.
Opened by Cecil Oakes in 1925, the tailors and menswear specialist store established itself in the area and is still going strong more than 85 years later.
Today run by father and daughter Roger and Charmian Oakes, Ardec has been passed down the generations and has slightly changed direction in recent years.
“The shop came to my father and then I joined him about 30 years ago. Now I’ve passed the reigns to my daughter but I’m still here full-time,” said Roger.
“She has brought in her idea of homeware and furnishings, but that hasn’t changed the aura of the shop.
“In more recent times I’d say 80 per cent of our customers have been women coming to buy their other half clothes.
“One woman said to me recently that it doesn’t feel like a men-only club any more, which can be put down to Charmian’s touch.”
The slightly unusual name is a story that rolls off Roger’s tongue as though he has told it a thousand times to confused customers.
The parade of shops where the shop was originally bought was known as Cedars Parade and Cecil Oakes’ original application was for a store called Radec – Cedar backwards.
Roger said: “There was a shirt firm locally called Radiac, which was apparently too similar so my grandfather just said well swap the first two letters then.
“Judging by what has been told to me, that was typical of him.”
Unsure of which career path to take, Roger studied at the London College of Fashion before deciding to undertake an apprenticeship in tailoring in London’s bespoke suit capital Saville Row.
His career flourished, though the pull of Ardec was too much to resist when his father became too unwell to cope alone.
He added: “I was in Savile Row for 19 years by which time I was a tailor, cutter and designer.
“My dad said to me if you want the business, it’s yours. So I came down for a week or so and decided it was nicer to work for myself than for someone else.”
Expanding the tailoring side was a key part of Roger’s plan and his expertise made Ardec a destination for men to have a well-made suit.
Over recent years customers have been reluctant to spend big on custom suits and the trend has veered more towards picking up items straight from the rail.
With a background in interior design, daughter Charmian has brought a freshness to the company that Roger says has made him look forward to work again.
He said: “I made my mark down here and now it’s her turn.
“Hindsight is a lovely thing, but I wish we had some of her ideas 20 years ago. If you had asked me earlier this year if I was tired of the job, I would have said yes. But now I’m looking forward to coming in.”
The thought of the family business escaping the Oakes was one not worth considering for 23-year-old Charmian, who hopes to carry on the legacy.
She added: “I couldn’t live with myself to see someone rip the store apart, so it was a no-brainer when dad was coming up to retirement.
“It’s our legacy and it will hopefully be passed down to my children in the future.”