After studying visual communication at the Royal College of Art, Margaux Soland crossed over to the other side to become a buyer for the Barbican.
We meet Margaux to talk about the upcoming changes in the Shop, architecture and how buying is so much more than ‘shopping’…
How long have you been working at the Barbican?
It’s been 4 years since I started working here; I’ve been the Buyer for 2 of those years. When I started, I was fresh out of university and pursuing a career as an illustrator so I needed a part time job to make ends meet. I started out as a Sales Assistant in the shop and also as a Host. Being a Host really showed me what the Barbican is all about; it got me to engage with the programming and visitors, which ended up being useful for my current role.
Talk us through your average working day.
I like to get in early, have a bit of quiet time in the office before it gets busy, look through emails, set myself for the day. People always think my job is like shopping (I wish) but in reality a lot of it is analysing spreadsheets and writing emails. I do get to do a bit of spying on other shops, which is always fun. I can’t help taking notes or straightening displays when I’m shopping on my days off now. I’ve become the slowest shopper ever because I keep flipping every single product over to check who made them. Most of my time is spent tracking the performance of each and every item in the shops, making sure we’re meeting financial targets. There’s a fair bit of creativity and research too, finding patterns and themes within upcoming exhibitions that can translate to product ranges. I also have meetings with other departments, so I can keep up to date with the programming and get feedback.
What is the best part of your job?
When we get to create new products and collaborate with new design talent. Sometimes the designers are so new that it’s their first proper gig and that’s really exciting, giving someone a platform to showcase their work for the first time. I think that’s where the illustrator in me gets most excited, writing up a brief for a new product and working closely with designers, seeing it all come to fruition. With the new shop space opening this Autumn I’ve had to do a lot of it this past year. It’s been really exciting and I can’t wait to see it all in the new space, we have a lot of great new stuff coming up. Another part I love is the teamwork. You can’t run a shop all by yourself and we have a really great team here. We’re all pulling from each other’s strengths and inspiring each other. I’ve met some amazing people working here.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Some of the more commercial aspects of it can be challenging. At the end of the day, the shop is a money making business with targets to meet, which means you sometimes have to make tough decisions. I hadn’t planned on working in a business related field; I had planned on being an artist so that was a bit of an adjustment at first. We live in tough economic times so it’s great to know that the money we bring back directly supports a great arts institution. I’m happy that our team has contributed to that in its own way.
Do you have a favourite spot in the Barbican Centre or Estate?
I weirdly really like the glass bridge that leads to the Frobisher crescent on level 4, with the view into the conservatory. It feels strangely futuristic, almost Sci Fi. I also really like the Dolphin fountain; it looks so out of place surrounded by all the concrete.
What was the first performance or exhibition you saw at the Barbican?
I think I came to see a play in the pit years ago, in 2006 maybe. I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember the play itself, I think it was directed by Peter Book? I’d only just moved to the UK a couple of years before that and had never come to the Barbican. I remember it very differently to the way I see the building now. It seemed so strange and labyrinthine.
What is your best Barbican memory or experience?
As a visitor I loved the Pioneers of the Downtown Scene exhibition, it really stuck with me. As a Host, I actually enjoyed The Bride and Bachelors exhibition because after hearing the exhibition soundtrack countless time it got me to really love John Cage’s music, some strangely positive form of artistic brainwashing.
Outside the Barbican, what is your favourite thing to do in London?
I love going to galleries on the weekend or seeing stand-up at the Invisible Dot; but if I’m being totally honest then my favourite thing would probably be having a posh fry-up in Stoke Newington on a Saturday morning.
You should always aim to shake things up and introduce new ideas…
Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a career in buying?
It’s definitely a career where you learn on the job, a lot of people start on the shop floor. You have to have good instincts and an eye for design. Everyone else will have an opinion on what products you should choose, and the opinions will be conflicting; you can’t please everyone so you have to stand by your choices and be bold sometimes. It’s a fairly accessible job if you’re willing to work your way up; what’s harder is keeping it interesting. You should always aim to shake things up and introduce new ideas.
Describe the Barbican in five words.
Concrete beast with some fountains
You’ll find Margaux’s own Barbican inspired illustrations on sale as postcards in the Barbican Shop and also a print, available online.
Visit more work on: margauxsoland.com
Emerging designer? Find out how you could become a Barbican Maker and see your products in our new shop.