David Mullane is one of Glasgow’s key cultural arbiters of the past fifty years. If you live in the UK and have ever coveted a perfectly proportioned Dries Van Noten shirt, or a pair of Ann Demeulemeester shoes, it’s likely that you owe him a small gratitude of debt. Thirty years ago this summer, David wrote the first order of the legendary, avant-garde designers the Antwerp Six.
David’s seminal store, The Warehouse, put Glasgow on the fashion map throughout the eighties and early nineties with its challenging mix of Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier and Issey Miyake. A behemoth that sprawled skywards, The Warehouse pioneered the idea of a lifestyle-led shopping experience through its café, which served contemporary European food and coffee – all drawn from David’s travels.
David often jokes that the most culturally significant import he ever introduced to Glasgow had nothing to do with clothes. “I think we were the first to start serving bottled water. I don’t think I’d seen it in Glasgow before that,” he laughs. “It was Perrier, then Badiot, then San Pellegrino in the early eighties.”
This evening we are stood in David’s W2 store and the water has been swapped for wine. Behind a pair of black-rimmed spectacles, his eyes carry their signature glint. A child-like cheekiness belies his age and demure attire - a black wool Comme des Garcons cardigan, crisp white shirt, black cords and his ever-present black brogues. The wine is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the rich, black brogues are Tricker’s – he is, after all, in the business of fine quality.
Tucked down a lane in Glasgow’s West End, W2 inhabits a modest, converted cowshed. David’s attention to detail and careful consideration are evident throughout. Steel rails with white partitions display collections from Henrik Vibskov, Norse Projects and S.N.S Herning are arranged into grey hues and deep blues inflected with pops of red. A single wall is lined with Comme des Garcons wallets, hand-ticketed by the owner himself.
Remarkably for someone who has shaken the hand of Bowie, told Demeulemeester to change her brand name in order to improve sales in the UK (she politely declined) and launched the careers of countless creatives, David has a distinct lack of ego. In fact, he often seems grateful that you’d even think to enter his store.
W2’s doorbell rings. It is well past closing time, but the warm glow emanating from the store’s window has attracted a couple. Without hesitation, they are invited in. An in-depth conversation about Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art ensues. “It’s wonderful,” he exclaims – a word that he uses so frequently in The Warehouse days that he gained the moniker Mr Wonderful.
In reality, W2 has very little to do with clothes – despite their abundance. The store serves as a cherished cultural hub; young artists drop by to ogle clothes, far beyond their price
bracket, alongside a host of Turner Prize winners, who pass through W2’s doors and leave hours later. Such a venture would seem like an odd retirement plan for many, but the store’s cultural community enables David to stay engaged with contemporary art, music and fashion. “I really value life [in Glasgow],” he remarks, when I ask why he never looked south to the bright lights of London. “I love the architecture here, the quality of the way people live."
Born and raised in Glasgow, David’s childhood was not a happy one. At thirteen years old, he lost his mother to cancer: something that would profoundly shape his formative years. Furthermore, his teachers at the notoriously strict St Aloysius’ College provided little comfort or direction for the disenchanted and creatively unsatisfied teenager.
Revealingly, David once mentioned to me that Albert Camus’ classic of existentialist fiction, L'Étranger (The Outsider), had a profound effect on him in his early teens. In the final scene, Camus’ protagonist, Meursault, grasps at the futility of life and the indifference of his fellow man. Disillusioned and alone, David felt that he could, in some sense, relate.
A lighter moment from David’s childhood illustrates his early penchant and flair for style: “There was one moment when my mother gave in and agreed to buy me this pair of beautiful shoes I had seen, but I had sturdy shoes I had to wear for school,” he remembers. “So I developed a wee system that my beautiful shoes were hidden in a plastic bag in the hedge. I used to leave the house and swap my shoes on the pavement.”
To his very core, David is a modernist. He harbours a compulsive Facebook fixation that would rival many of my millennial contemporaries and attributes much of his youthfulness, despite turning sixty-nine years old later this year, to his constant desire to stay in touch with what is happening. “Maybe I’m in denial about growing older,” he proposes. “People will often tell me I don’t look my age, and I internally smile, and when I see my contemporaries I often think, God, I’m lasting better,” he laughs.