Mame Huku: the revolutionary ‘purveyor of wondrous things’ founded by a Lancastrian artist with a love for the finer things in life

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Ann Edwards’ four-year-old grandson calls it ‘nana’s arting’. “I love that, using art as a verb!” says the Poulton-le-Fylde-born artist and designer. “My dear little grandson’s right, that’s exactly what I do: arting.”

From the moment Ann could hold a pencil, she’s been drawing. Unsure of where the innate passion comes from, she is nevertheless certain of the sense of comfort and fulfilment that creativity brings her. “Art is just something I can’t not do,” she says simply. “I think, if you’re an artist, you just are one. It’s like breathing to me.

“If I haven’t done anything creative, I’m miserable,” she adds. So was that the plan from the start: art? “Noooo,” comes the rapid reply. “I got an interview to go to Central St. Martins College Of Art And Design, but my father refused point-blank to let me go and wouldn’t even give me the money for the train, so I worked in the family business from the age of 14.

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“I eventually went to do a degree in landscape design at Manchester Polytechnic when I was 22,” Ann adds. “I went to the Hacienda a lot, had a laugh, and, when I’d finished, I’d had a baby and got sacked for being pregnant - it was the ‘80s. We moved south for work and had a mortgage to pay, so I started selling a few paintings and teaching evening art classes.

Ann Edwards in OsakaAnn Edwards in Osaka
Ann Edwards in Osaka

“So, basically, since the age of about 26 I’ve been an art-tart doing arting for money!”

From arting to starting a revolution…

Playful as her turn of phrase when describing her career may be, the bona fide nature of Ann’s work and the cultural impact she has had is undeniable. The one-woman powerhouse behind Mame Huku, a London-based retailer which curates bespoke collections of stunning and unique vintage Japanese products, she is a glutton for the stylish and the beautiful.

And it all started with a drawing of a cat.

Ann Edwards with a stormtrooperAnn Edwards with a stormtrooper
Ann Edwards with a stormtrooper

“The Dorling Kindersley Book of Marketing says on page one ‘make what you can sell, don’t sell what you can make’,” says Ann. “So, while I was keen on drawing flamingos and chameleons, it’s pictures of cats that sold - whenever I wanted some money, I’d draw some cats. Art was work and I did what I had to do in order to find somebody who’d pay me.

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“You can’t sit about waiting for a muse, you just get on with it and, the more you do, the better you get: creativity is like the worm ouroboros, it feeds on itself,” she adds. “About 20 years ago, I was working with a lovely gallery with a stand at the NEC Spring Fair so I said I’d chip in for a wall and nailed about 12 drawings up, most of which were of cats and dogs.

“This gang of Japanese people came along, said they really liked them, and asked how much they were in yen,” continues Ann. “I had absolutely no idea, so we just stood there looking at each other then they left. I had a think and, the next day, I found them, and asked them to please come see me again. They were like ‘ahh!’ and came running over to my stall.

“Turns out they were from a company called Art Print Japan and they had 200 stores and galleries in the most prestigious department stores in Japan. They placed an order with me there and then for something mental like 2,000 prints and 100 originals. My jaw dropped in astonishment but, being a canny northerner, I said ‘yes, I can definitely do that.’”

Ann Edwards during her Japan tourAnn Edwards during her Japan tour
Ann Edwards during her Japan tour

Taking Japan by storm

What about the work resonated with them so powerfully? “If I knew that, I’d bottle it and sell it!” replies Ann, chuckling. “I think it might be because I did my monoprints by drawing into thick, oil-based ink on glass and then placing a piece of paper on top of that before, very technically, using the back of a soup spoon to rub it in until it’s transferred onto the paper.

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“It’s only in retrospect that I realise it has the look of Japanese sumi-e ink painting,” she adds. “So maybe it astonished them that I was, without knowing, reflecting their artistic culture back to them. And the prints sold really well, so - and I’m not making this up - I was invited to meet my new fans in Japan!”

Suddenly, the girl from Poulton-le-Fylde was a minor celebrity on the Japanese art scene, flitting from exhibition to exhibition showing her work, signing autographs, and gratefully accepting a litany of gifts, one of which was a piece of fabric from an obi, which is the belt from a kimono - a traditional Japanese garment and the national dress of Japan.

And Then There Was One by Ann EdwardsAnd Then There Was One by Ann Edwards
And Then There Was One by Ann Edwards

“The kimonos blew my mind,” says Ann. “I’d noticed ladies in these extraordinary works of art… they were wearing heritage. Beautiful national treasures. But it struck me that, because they were female things, nobody in the West valued them. It was the same with Japanese Sensu fans - if they were paintings in frames, they’d go for £1,000s.

“Sorry to go on about smashing the toxic patriarchy but, because they’re fans used by ladies and female objects, they’ve not been valued,” continues Ann. “Anyway, I started to collect kimonos and, whenever I wore them, people would say ‘I love that, can I buy it?’, so I started selling a few and then made some bags and Mame Huku has just grown from that.”

Born of beauty: the start of Mame Huku

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A ‘collector and purveyor of wondrous things’, Mame Huku offers a menagerie of unique and ethically-sourced pieces from hand-crafted handbags and vintage kimonos to authentic Japanese fans and spectacular brooches. They’ve also recently unveiled a new velvet range in collaboration with Britain’s last remaining velvet mill in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.

Mame Huku is entirely fuelled by Ann’s passion not only for vintage and classic style, but for repurposing luxury and breathing new life into forgotten objects. And her ultimate philosophy - that things worth treasuring only truly shine when they are appreciated - was reflected strongly in her latest collection, which debuted at Top Drawer at Olympia London last month.

“It’s a lifestyle business and a vanity project - definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme - but it’s very fulfilling,” says Ann, who won Made in Britain’s Handbag of the Year and Accessory of the Year awards in 2017. “I get a real kick when we sell something and it’s not dissimilar to selling art: beautiful things only really exist when they have a purpose.

Ann with a customer in an antique kimono worth £25,000Ann with a customer in an antique kimono worth £25,000
Ann with a customer in an antique kimono worth £25,000

“The trade show was extraordinary,” she adds of the collection, which included Japanese silk brocades woven in 1950s Kyoto, clutch and crossbody bags described as ‘heirlooms in the making’, and shorter kimonos called ‘Haoris’ made of ornate silk with hand-painted and embroidered detailing. “I went in with zero expectations, but I’ve got a full order book.

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“Some kimonos we have are stunning, but had been folded up in cedar chests for 40 years,” she adds. “It’s gratifying that others share that passion for vintage which I discovered 20 years ago myself.” Things really have come full circle, I suggest - from discovering Japan off the back of your own art to bringing a slice of Japan back home.

“Plus,” Ann says with an edge of mischief in her voice, “Mame Huku not only means ‘lucky clothes’ in Japanese, but is also the name of my Japanese friend’s cat. That seems appropriate: I sold cats to Japan, so the least I could do was to name the business here after a Japanese cat!”

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