I’ve been lucky not to have to call on the services of the NHS too much in my life (hope I’ve not tempted fate here), but last week I got a much needed lockdown energy boost from the NFS – the National Felt Service.
A small gallery in a quiet back street of Mayfair has been turned into a chemist by artist Lucy Sparrow. From the moment you arrive, the Bourdon Street Chemist looks exactly like a famous UK high street chemist, except there is one big difference – everything on the shelves is made from felt. In fact, the shelves are even covered in felt. Just like a normal chemist though, everything is for sale.
I first discovered Lucy when she set up a cornershop in a back street off the Hackney Road in 2014. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, it stocked everything you would expect to find in a typical UK cornershop – cans of beans, bottles of spirits, bags of crisps and chocolate bars – but it wass all made from felt. You could even buy a copy of the Guardian, the Sun or the Daily Mail in felt form. I had my eyes on a giant tube of love hearts, which to this day I wish I’d bought. I opted for a can of my favourite fizzy drink instead – Dr Pepper.
The next year, I visited Madame Roxy’s Exotic Emporium – a felt sex shop she created in Soho. Again, Lucy’s attention to detail was evident. As well as a fully stocked shop with condoms, whips and something for everyone on the magazine rack, there was an adult cinema showing a felt porn film.
Since then, she has had four installations in the US, most recently the Sixth Avenue Delicatessen in New York. Having had to admire those from afar, I was so excited when I heard the next installation would be back on this side of the atlantic.
On arrival at the chemist, covid safe measures were in place and we of course had to sanitise our hands (yes, the dispenser was covered in felt) and even had our temperature checked by one of the ‘pharmacists’. From the moment you walk in the door, you are presented with shelf upon shelf stacked full of pharmaceutical goodies. Whether you’re after a felt version of your favourite perfume (I spotted Jean Paul Gaultier’s Classique and Le Male), your favourite Rimmel cosmetic or something more practical like a packet of plasters, you’ll find it here.
There was a waiting area where you could flick through Take a Break or read the pamplets on everything from pregnancy and STIs, to diabetes and bereavement, whlle watching the specially made ‘adverts’ on TV. Cards for various occasions were also available – I’m not sure I’d ever give someone a card saying “I hope you don’t die” but it did make me laugh. You can even buy a covid-19 rapid test as a souvenir of this period in time. The only thing missing was the smell of TCP and other medicinal smells that you get when you enter a chemist.
I think the nit comb and toothbrushes were two of my favourite items, but I walked away with a single use syringe to help me conquer my needle phobia.
It was only when we left and were outside again that we spotted the more traditional, apothecary like window display including bottles of poison, brain salts and mercury. Unfortunately those can only be ordered online so we’ll have to wait a while to receive a bottle of poison to adorn our bathroom wall.
The Bourdon Street Chemist is open until 8 May 2021 and pre-booked slots are now all full, but you may be able to drop by and get a walk in appointment if you don’t mind a short wait. I guarantee it’s worth it! You can also browse all the items on the National Felt Service website.