All the way back in 1960, Leonard Cowling and Bernard Wilcox entered into a partnership specialising in supplying London-based art and graphic design studios with materials. Their mutual passion for art and drive to provide the best art materials for the best prices laid the groundwork for the Cowling and Wilcox you see today. During the swinging 60s, if you were looking for an explosion of pop culture, art, innovation and creativity then Soho was the hip place to be.
So of course, at 61 Broadwick St, right in the middle of this creative revolution is where the very first branch of Cowling and Wilcox was opened in 1961. Bringing with it a thriving community of creatives, born of common interests, affordable rent and access to quality supplies right on their doorstep.
We always made sure to have our ear to the ground for new materials or likeminded people. In these early days, this led to many exciting developments, but two specifically come to mind.
We were the first to stock the Letraset Dry Transfer System anywhere. This went on to influence the graphic design world and continues to do so to this very day.
The next was designing and developing the very first Artists Portfolio Case! Revolutionising the way that creatives store and display their work fully cemented us as true innovators and a force to be reckoned with.
From this, we quickly became the world’s No.1 supplier of portfolios and cases. We proudly maintain with our in-store displays and online presence, which combined, eventually led to our dedicated sister site Portfolios Plus.
When 61 Broadwick St was demolished, we thankfully moved right across the road to No.26. Through the enthusiasm of our customers and friends, we even expanded into No.28 and stayed there for over 45 years.
The 21st century brought with it a growing demand, so we’ve been keeping ourselves busy opening stores across London and further!
In our efforts to not let down our customers in North, East and South London we opened several new branches, from the undeniably trendy Shoreditch branch, to Camberwell and finally Highbury.
Without a doubt, our latest store (so far!) was the biggest leap for us. Venturing outside of London, we could now be found on Canterbury High Street.
In April 2014, due to our building being refurbished and the gentrification of Soho, the difficult decision was made to close our flagship Soho branch. After 50 years as a recognisable local landmark, it certainly was the end of an era. However, it led into our new chapter, providing new and exciting opportunities.
Along came 2011 and after overwhelming customer demand we officially went digital. Our new online presence introduced us to creatives across the world and meant that our already loyal customers could experience a new level of convenience, with their supplies delivered directly to their door.
In 2014, after the closure of our Soho store, we moved our offices and warehouse to Kent. This has since given us more space to work with, along with closer interactions to the growing artistic community in the local areas.
Honestly, there have been so many exciting developments in recent times, it would take far too long to list them all here (and we’ve got work to do!).
More than a catchphrase or tagline, it’s a mission statement. A promise to each and every person we have the pleasure of serving that we will continue to bring you the very best products at the most competitive rates.
The art world is an ever-evolving beast and we will always work to stay at the forefront. With over half a century under our belts, you can imagine the shared knowledge and experience we’ve accumulated over the years. Of course, we’re proudly staffed largely by creative and inventive individuals with their own stories, ideas and lessons.
But even more importantly, our most valuable investment and biggest source of inspiration has always and will always be all of you!
The amazing creatives we’ve met stretch across countless disciplines, bringing levels of experience we couldn’t hope to achieve on our own and we always gladly encourage anyone to share.
It doesn’t matter what kind of artist you consider yourself to be. Traditional or contemporary... if art is a hobby, a job or a lifestyle... we want you to know that you are our future.