Financial Times Travel Unravelled

The Cult Shop - Opium
By Avril Groom

Financial Times artcile on OpiumFinancial Times artcile on Opium and Tracy Kitching

The massive stone columns and antique arches in the burgundy-framed window of Opium give a hint of the treasures within. For packed inside are the spoils of owner Tracy Kitching's travels on the Indian sub-continent, covering a huge range from gold-embroidered sari-silk notebooks at £1.95 to reclaimed architectural antiques at £1,000.

Oriental furniture and textiles are currently wildly fashionable but Kitching spotted the trend early. Having given up her job as a PA eight years ago to travel in northern India with her sister, she found amazing antique wooden furniture in Jodhpur, a historic centre for trade on the spice route and still a hive of antique dealers. 'My sister bought and shipped a table and it started a gem of an idea,' she says. 'I spent two years researching to find reliable small dealers who seek out only top-quality objects and untapped areas of the market like salvaged stonework from ruined buildings.'

Six years ago she set up shop next to Vivien Westwood's World's End on the King's Road. The rough-hewn exposed brick, pale colour washed walls and dark wood floor suit the colourful melange of silk and leather, wood and stone. An ogee-arched niche contains carved stone pieces and candles; the 'Opium Den' features a velvet sofa scattered with Kitching's own-designed silk and velvet cushions (from £48).

Customers including Charlie Watts, Ringo Star, John Hurt and Kay Saatchi enjoy a leisurely browse, for every shelf turns up fresh treasures. Big pieces such as a colonial wooden bed with mosquito net frame (£995, voile curtains, £45), a restrung antique carved charpoi (£425) or two painted stone columns from a temple (£995) form the stage set for the smaller items - carved brass cooking dishes made from old bell metal (£65-800), marble lotus plates and bowls (from £22), a basket of carved blocks for fabric printing (from £12). And on the walls are clever improvisations - a mirror made from an antique window (£395), bookshelves made from intricately carved doorway (£1.350).

Kitching spends two five-week trips in India a year buying and working on her own designs: a lovely range of semiprecious jewellery (from £20); cotton or silk tunics and kaftans finely embroidered with chikankari work (from £68); children's kaftan pyjamas (£25); and cotton (from £85) and silk (from (£120) skirts in delicate tie-dye bandhani work. There are also brilliant quilted cotton Pakistani throws based on colonial British chintzes (from £195), and antique wedding saris embroidered with gold (from £195).

Kitching sources mainly in Rajasthan and Delhi but there is so much trade there that items come from all over, from stone carvings of the elephant god Ganesh from Varanasi (£295), to French-colonial antique hand-painted porcelain drawer handles from Pondicherry (£12 each). All wonderful objects, many with travellers' tales to match.