Meet Angela Hill, the Photographer Behind the World’s Coolest Bookshop

Angela Hill

Angela Hill, photographed by Hamish McMillan.

On a typical gray afternoon in London, I found myself inside a cozy Soho bookshop surrounded by a mosaic of vintage books and magazines. Architecture guides, Vogue Italia, David Bowie biographies, and Japanese film books were stacked by the hundreds. George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass spun on the record player. Shortbread cookies sat on a table with fresh flowers and a calculator. “It’s like you’re in my living room!” Angela Hill, the co-founder of IDEA books, told me. She offered me cookies and tea and led me to the interior design section. IDEA has occupied this space since 2009, but in February, it opened to the public. Hill never planned to own a bookshop, she revealed. She’s a fashion photographer who just loves collecting books and magazines. But when a friend of a friend asked to buy her collection to sell at Colette in Paris, the grand idea, if you will, materialized. From then on, Hill said, “it just got bigger.” I left the shop with a magazine and a hat, wanting to know more, so I called Hill last month to talk accidental career paths, 1980s Ibiza, 19th century literature, and her own photography practice. 


LEILA SHERIDAN: How are you? How’s the London weather?

ANGELA HILL: It’s our one warm day out of 365.

SHERIDAN: Oh, and I missed it.

HILL: Yeah. People go nuts when they see a bit of sun here, literally pulling their shirts off. The guys are topless, the girls are all down at the lido. 

SHERIDAN: Well, happy to hear that it’s nice outside. What makes your ideal reading spot? 

HILL: It’s the same whether I am researching, reading a novel, or just flicking through a magazine. I like being on my own. There’s quite a few ideal environments. One is indoors at home, might be winter. You feel cozy and comfortable and you’ve got the luxury of maybe an afternoon ahead of you—you can use that time to read. Or my childhood house in the garden after school, which is my mother’s house now. She has a Scandinavian summer house with a little terrace deck. I’d either sit in there in cooler weather or sit out on the terrace on the deck with a cup of tea.

SHERIDAN: Perfect. Are you reading anything right now?

HILL: I’ve been reading the 19th century female authors. I’ve done Jane Austen, all the Brontës, and now I’m getting through the works of George Eliot while concurrently reading Martin Amis, which is a good contrast.

SHERIDAN: Wow. Could you take me through the birth of IDEA? 

HILL: I never meant to be a bookseller, but when I was working as a photographer in the ’90s, I wasn’t getting the jobs to make it work full-time. I was getting editorial, but they weren’t paying. Sarah [Andelman], who owned Colette in Paris, came to where I lived in West London with flatmates, because she was a friend of one of them, and saw my books that I had for photography and said, “Can I buy your books?” I said, “No, but when I come over to Paris for a job or something, I will bring as many books as I can carry.” And that was what we did for quite a while. I used to go to Paris with a couple of plastic bags and she’d give me some money and put the books in her shop, and it just got bigger. I bought more and more, got other clients who were mostly just coming around my house, and this just continued. And then Sarah said Dover Street was opening in London, the first Dover Street, and that I should have a space in there and go and talk to them. So I did. By this time, my husband had joined me because he was doing two freelance jobs and they’d both fizzled out at the same time. Our accountant rented us half an office on the street and when I moved in, I told him, “One day I’ll have this whole building.” And now I do.


HILL: But it was a slow process. It didn’t happen overnight. And I never meant for it to happen in the first place. 

SHERIDAN: Were you always collecting books or was it mostly for editorial inspiration?

HILL: That’s easy to answer. Always collecting books.


HILL: Ever since [I was] a child.

SHERIDAN: Did you always gravitate to specific types of books?

HILL: When I was a child, I was obsessed with horses and ballet. I bought all of those. I also used to do a lot of reading when I was little. And then I got into fashion. I buy a lot of film because I like my photography to look like film stills. We find that a lot of creatives buy film books, but fashion people don’t buy fashion books. They buy interiors, film, graphics, but not fashion books.

SHERIDAN: Speaking of fashion people, I know that you rent out the shop for days at a time and sort through inspiration. What does the shop look like when this happens? How is it different from a normal day? 

HILL: Yeah, sometimes teams of 10 come along and we shut off the rare book room so that they can have peace and quiet in there. The shop does look different because then people who come can’t go into that room, they go in the magazine room. That’s always fun because I love to help people. I notice them looking at one particular book and then I think, “Ah, I bet they don’t know about …” and then I show them something that’s complementary. I love that whole process.

SHERIDAN: How did the fashion world discover IDEA?

HILL: Instagram was a real turning point for us. It transformed our business, and we suddenly got a cult following.

SHERIDAN: How have you used Instagram to leverage the book selling business and connect with people?

HILL: We try and make it fun and instantaneous, because Instagram is a very, very good place to show books. I might have a 150-page book and only show you three images, but if they’re cleverly chosen, they will make you very curious to look at more.

SHERIDAN: Right. Do you think your background as a fashion photographer helps you determine what would be the most captivating Instagram posts?

HILL: Yes, in some ways. It’s mostly my partner in the business, David, who does Instagram, but we tend to weirdly totally agree on imagery. And sometimes it’s very obvious. We do very well with books about Ibiza. There are just certain images from the ’80s of Ibiza playboys and clubs and everything where one page can sell a book.

SHERIDAN: I’ve never been to Ibiza, but—

HILL: Nor have I. Nor have I.

SHERIDAN: Really? None of these pictures make you want to go?

HILL: Yes, in some ways, but we mainly deal in the old Ibiza. We even have books going back to the ’60s in black and white. And then the proliferation of the clubs and everything, ’80s supper clubs. Even the ’90s books sell. It never ends.

SHERIDAN: Is there a time period where you have sourced most of your books and magazines?

HILL: We both love the ’80s. But we have a lot of ’90s and 2000s, too. 

SHERIDAN: What makes a good book or magazine to resell? How do you know if something’s going to be coveted?

HILL: That’s a difficult one because I don’t know why I picked something out from the shelf. It’s got appeal, it’s got imagery. I always have the feeling I need to store things so that I never forget them. I might record it in a book with a Post-it note, but I might not revisit that book for 10 years. Then I pull it off the shelf and I think, “Oh god, I remember that. That’s why I put the Post-it note there,” and then I’ll use it. So I have mental storage in my head at all times.

SHERIDAN: Do you know how many books and magazines you have in your entire shop inventory?

HILL: Whoa. I literally have no idea.

SHERIDAN: Do you have a favorite? I know it’s like choosing a favorite child. 

HILL: It’s easier to choose a favorite child. But she’s never going to see this, so she won’t know. I’m just joking. Tina Barney is a favorite photographer of mine, any Tina Barney title. Interiors from the ’80s I particularly love. I like Japanese interiors. I like Japanese gardens. I also love any kind of hippie, West Coast of the States, utopian attitude of, “Yeah, we can all live in a commune together. It will work perfectly. We’re going to save the world.” That kind of attitude in the ’70s, including literally making your own clothes from an old tea towel, it’s amazing. Paris, Texas is also never going to go away for me. The book of the film is almost as good as the film itself. Because you get all the Polaroids from the location hunting before, you get the full script, you get all the stills. And then at the end you get those wonderfully charming cast biographies and the picture from when the crew wrapped up the film and they get together for a picture and they’re all waving. It’s just so charming and real, and it takes you through the whole process of making a film.

SHERIDAN: You’re also a book publisher.

HILL: Yeah.

SHERIDAN: I was hoping you could talk about what started this venture, and how it feels different to sell a book that you created versus one that you sourced?

HILL: There’s an artist, skateboarder, filmmaker named Gosha Rubchinskiy, who had a little installation in Dover Street Market, London around 2009 or 2010. I found a couple of his little zines he’d made to go with his collection. It was a very small collection of tracksuit bottoms, skateboard style. They were shots in St. Petersburg of some young boys, skateboarders, because Gosha is Russian, and I bought everything that was there. I said to the guys in Dover Street, “Does this guy ever come in?” And they said, “Yeah, sometimes.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to leave these zines here, but can you ask him to sign them?” Then I found out that one of my very good friends, a Russian girl, actually knew him. So through her, I contacted him and said, “Can you come in the office sometime? Have you got spare images? Do you want to publish with me?” And we weren’t publishing at all, I just really wanted to do it. My partner in the business was very reluctant at first, because he didn’t think we’d make money, but I said, “Okay, I’m going to do it anyway and I’ll publish it under my own name, not under IDEA.” So that’s the only book we’ve ever published with the name “Hill” in it, not IDEA. That was the first and it sold out.

SHERIDAN: And it proved that you guys could really do it.

HILL: Then we moved on to Collier Schorr, Willy Vanderperre, Glen Luchford, Suzanne Koller. Over the years we’ve published so much.

SHERIDAN: And you published your own photography book, Sylvia, right?

HILL: Yeah. And Edith, the number two. I’m doing a trilogy, so I’m working on number three now.

SHERIDAN: This is a question going back to a previous conversation we had. Your shop was initially appointment-only. What made you want to open up the doors to people like me?

HILL: When we were able to expand and get the whole building, we moved the publishing department and admin to the third floor, which is where I am now. We expanded and renovated the second floor and made it into the shop. The first floor is all about packing parcels, more admin, dealing with customers over the phone, couriers. But to go back to your previous question, it does make a difference when I’m selling my own publication versus IDEA’s publication, because you want people to like what you like, but also what you’re showing them. You want them to go away happy and maybe a little changed after they’ve been in the shop. Maybe they come in with a whole set of ideas in their head, we can show them other stuff, and they go out with a whole different route of thinking, like “Oh yeah, I could shoot it like that,” or, “I could design a skirt.” Or you’ve got the best gift for someone and that makes you happy to see them happy. All of those things add up. 

SHERIDAN: Yeah, I could imagine how incredible that would feel. How many books do you publish a year? 

HILL: This year’s the biggest ever, 10, 12. 

SHERIDAN: Do people come to you? Do you go seek them out?

HILL: A lot of people come to us because they all think they’ve got a bestselling book. We see a lot of beautiful things, but we know from experience that some aren’t going to be sold to anyone apart from family members. So most of the books that are published  are those we seek out, and some people we’ve been working with over and over again. We just ask them, “Have you got anything else? What are you working on? Should we do a book of this?”

SHERIDAN: Is there a recently published book that you’re most excited about, or an upcoming one?

HILL: Always Nadia Lee Cohen. She’s just an amazing, creative filmmaker, photographer, actress, model. We’re doing something with her at the end of the year. I’m also really proud of the Buck Ellison book we just published. He’s an American artist. We launched Winter Vandenbrink’s VANDALS in Paris last Saturday, and that is great. Anything we ever do with Glen Luchford, Suzanne Koller, all these people at the top of their game. It’s their brilliance we’re just putting onto paper.

SHERIDAN: So in addition to reselling and publishing, you have some fun hats and accessories. What inspired that?

HILL: I wanted to do a bag or a t-shirt and I started to think, “Why are some people cult figures?” Chloe Sevigny, Sofia Coppola, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves. We also sold and still sell these Japanese icon books produced in the ’80s, ’90s, where it’s just photos of one particular model, actress, actor, whatever. They can be anything from Robert De Niro, Sofia Coppola, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Moss. She’s always going to be cool, I suppose. I thought, “What names are out there that make you only think of one person?” Winona is very much one of those names. So we started with a bag or a t-shirt for Winona and they’re still selling now. Keanu is another one where you say the name and most people think Keanu Reeves. The Keanu Reeves cushion sold out. 

SHERIDAN: And now your merch says things like “Spoilt Brat,” which I have.

HILL: I love “Spoilt Brat.” Our bestselling hats are, “Sorry I Don’t Work Here.” And the “Collier” hat. It’s very, very big in South Korea because one of the K-Pop stars wore it.

SHERIDAN: What’s your favorite slogan? 

HILL: At the moment, I like “Risk Management.” I don’t know why. I just like corporate sounding things.

SHERIDAN: I like “Annual Leave.”

HILL: “Annual Leave” is good. We used to do an “Intern” t-shirt with the idea that the boss of the company would wear it in an ironic way. We haven’t made any for a while, but yesterday in the shop, a guy came in the pale gray “intern” T-shirt and looked really cool in it.

SHERIDAN: You should bring it back. I would get one.

HILL: I should bring it back.