One day some foreign students came into Mrs Atha’s Coffee and Tea in Leeds and started talking to Warren Jones.
They’d seen him on Instagram, posting daily outfit, coffee and kicks shots, and thought he looked like a pretty cool guy, and Mrs Atha’s like a pretty cool place to drink coffee, and Leeds like a pretty cool place to live.
“I mean, obviously, no,” says Warren. “That can’t have been the only reason they decided to come to Leeds.”
Maybe not, but it will have been on their minds. Warren is a great communicator of vibes, because he knows how it feels to resonate with the phenomenal electricity of a new vibe when you feel it.
“Sometimes you just tune into a sensibility, don’t you? It just happens to hit you at the moment: this is what I want.”
Those moments have been the sound mirrors of Warren’s life, reflecting and amplifying the hum of the air around him. The first pair of Jordan 4s, on the feet of a kid in the playground; a suit worn on a school trip by a friend whose mum happened to be Vera Britton, fashion pioneer at Pollyanna in Barnsley.
“He turned up in a Jean-Paul Gaultier three-piece that his mum had got. And I was like, I want to be like that.
“There was nothing in Wakefield, nothing. I was probably the worst dressed person in Wakefield in the late eighties, because I was shopping at the places that were there, that had me wearing chinos and tassle shoes. Which probably look pretty cool now, but not then.”
Then there was a Stussy ring from Hip, and Supreme in Hip, and the staff in Hip, that altered Warren’s style from “Pretty slick suits,” to something more sharply street. Warren had been shopping for suits in Strand — “People still talk about Strand now. They were great people” — and found more of the same sensibility in The Hip Store.
“In shops it’s down to the people that run it, and the way that they buy, the way they present it; that’s what hooks people in. They always have these cool guys working in there, and you want to be like them.”
That doesn’t happen by accident, and Warren has successfully filled his own shop, Mrs Atha’s, with cool people on both sides of the counter. That requires work.
“I’m very keen on the concept that the people that have worked for you are going somewhere with their lives. You can trace that from Mark Bedford coming out of Hip and starting his own shop, then other guys that have worked for him at Chimp, like Joseph Dawson, who has come out and worked as a photographer.
“I love the fact that we have a lot of creative people who have worked in Mrs Atha’s. They enjoy being around that sensibility. We’ve got Joe Lyons — Eaves — who is an incredible songwriter and artist. We’ve got Sus who is a dancer, Sophie’s a dancer; there’s so much creativity in independent places, and I think they draw in a certain type of person.
“I think they get a little bit of freedom as well, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. If they can’t come in tomorrow because there’s this dance audition — Starbucks says no, Mrs Atha’s says, yeah, that’s fine, don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it out. Because you support other people’s ambitions and desires to be better.”
And you recognise that you can’t predict the frequency on which a person will resonate; that people will change as they grow and hear the tread of new travels.
“I guess this is what you’re like when you’re younger. Now I don’t really want to be anybody, y’know? I’m happy to be me.”
Warren’s happiness is what you see on his Instagram every day, and that’s why he seems like such a cool guy. And daily Mrs Atha’s imparts that comfort to its customers.
“It’s part of the reason it says Mrs Atha’s Coffee & Tea on the sign,” says Warren. “Because I think tea is something that we all do together, whereas coffee is a more individual pursuit.
“The shop was a massive extension of the house that I was living in at the time. It’s got so much stuff in it that came from my house. I knew that I’d be spending every single day in there so it had to be somewhere I was comfortable, and that if I was comfortable the people working with me would be comfortable, and the people coming in would be comfortable.
“You get old ladies coming in and going, ‘Ooh, I need to bring our Lisa in, she’d love it in here.’ Then you get younger people coming in and going, ‘Ooh, I need to bring my mum, my mum would love this place.’ And I love it when that happens.” ••
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion