Angels Fancy Dress, the 180-year-old costume business that dresses actors and celebrities, ‘priced out’ of West End

Family insist they are ‘still open for business’ as it moves in with its sister company in Hendon


Angels Fancy Dress, the 180-year-old costume company that has dressed the leading lights of the London’s West End, has been “priced out" of central London's Theatreland, moving its whole business to its Hendon warehouse.

The business, which has been run by the Angel family since it opened in 1840 and first moved to Shaftesbury Avenue in 1870, has outfitted Elton John, Victoria Beckham and Barbara Windsor, and has had costumes feature in films from Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars.

Last Friday, it shut its Shaftsbury Avenue doors for the first time in 150 years.

Now it has moved its whole operation to the warehouse, where more than 1.5 million costumes are stored, after the lease expired and they found they could not afford the central London rent.

Tim Angel, the chair of the business – who was made CBE last year for services to services to theatre, film, television and the arts – told the JC he were sad to leave the building, saying: “My whole family for nearly two hundred years has worked out of that building.

“The roots of Angels – Angels as it is today – were laid down in that shop.”

But he added that, while the history of the company was “really important” to him, it is a “modern day business” and “you can’t run a business on emotion”.

The family says they are still looking for somewhere in London to open a store, but are still doing a good trade out of their Hendon base.

They say they do a lot of their trading online, and can deliver their costumes to customers around London.

“Fancy dress in the UK market is huge,” said Mr Angel, 70. “We tend to be a nation that likes dressing up in costume, unlike America where it’s all geared around Halloween.

Emma Angel, his daughter and director of the Angels Fancy Dress, added: “It’s time to move on. We’ve got the memories, and the building will still remain and still have all the memories… you just won’t be able to walk into it every day.”

The family is keen for people to know about the relocation from Shafesbury Avenue ahead of Purim on Monday, hoping people do not turn up the old, now empty, premises.

“In Hendon, more so probably than Shaftesbury [Avenue], Purim is very big, because we’re the centre of North West London,” Mr Angel said.

And they tell the JC that in the past few years the Purim costume scene has opened up, but it is not just biblical costumes being rented and now “anything goes”.

“You get Chassidic Jews right down to just practicing Jews,” said Ms Angel, 45. “I’ve got four girls who work in the shop, and some [Orthodox Jews] will come in and they’ll just stand there, and the girls are prepped to get one of the guys down to come and help out.

“We cater across the spectrum, but we do put together looks for the more religious.”

Angels was founded by Daniel Angel, Tim Angel's great great great great great grandfather, who arrived in London as a penniless tailor in 1813 from Frankfurst.

Daniel Angel looked after a cemetery in North London to make ends meet. His son Morris, whom Tim Angel called the original “brains” of the operation, got his father to offer to sell the deceased’s clothes and give the profits to the bereaved family, which is how the second-hand clothes business started.

Morris Angel soon discovered that actors auditioning for West End roles – who at the time had to supply their own costumes – were willing to pay a small fee to borrow costumes, and moved his father’s clothing business from Seven Dials to Shaftesbury Avenue in 1870, where it remained until last Friday.

Mr Angel, who started working in the store in the 1970s, recalled being in charge of fitting comedians, including Tommy Cooper, and Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.

Ms Angel told the JC she remembered having an American receptionist there who was “absolutely useless” at recognising British celebrities, including Prince William when he visited the store.

Angels has fitted out members of the royal family for fancy dress parties.

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