For me, Dom Bridges – filmmaker, director and perfumer – is a perfect example of why Margate feels so exciting now. It’s as if all of the reasons that I love this town beside the sea have been distilled, combined, balanced and enhanced.
Bridges and his global expansion-ready brand Haeckels are a working experiment perfectly reflecting the exciting direction that Margate is taking. In the grip of regeneration, the town and its inhabitants – whether the newly-arrived or those who have been here for generations – are on the cusp of… something.
Lisa Richards: What brought you to Margate? Is it true (or just a Margate myth) that you and your wife Jo were choosing between LA and Margate as a move?
Dom Bridges: It’s true! We got married up the lighthouse in Dungeness and as part one of the honeymoon we drove back and stopped off at every coastal town we could find. I wanted to go to Margate because I remembered it from the film Last Resort.
The place was empty, dark, scary… It felt like the whole town was ours for the evening. It was brilliant, yet with sad echoes of its greatness everywhere
We both have a love for fallen grandeur and Margate didn’t disappoint. We stayed at the Nayland Rock Hotel [where Mick and Bianca Jagger had their wedding reception] and ran around all night taking long exposure photos. The place was empty, dark, scary… It felt like the whole town was ours for the evening. It was brilliant, yet with sad echoes of its greatness everywhere.
After a spell in LA, we came back to the UK, and then to Margate for the weekend because we had heard about the Turner Contemporary being built – and that was it: the more time we spent here, the more it started to feel like home. We met cool people. It had everything that we needed: the sea, multiculturalism and a wealth of opportunity!
What put Margate on your radar?
Margate was always around. I’m a big Chas ’n’ Dave fan and the film Last Resort really summed up – in a very negative way – how immigration was being dealt with in our country. The film hit home about how the government was not thinking through the knock-on effect of dumping people from other countries in rundown towns within the UK; yet at the same time I was drawn to this. Coming from the West Country, I was cut off from different faces and different cultures, and for some reason I craved it. I’ve always been obsessed with the fact that everyone has a story.
Tell me about the neighborhood that you live and work in.
We’ve been here for nearly four years. Our house is just up the road from the shop, which is in Cliftonville – The Bronx as locals call it, or The Ville as us “new locals” call it.
For us it’s the perfect combination of everything we ever wanted in a home: the ocean and the beach at the end of our road. It’s edgy, and reminds us of London and its cultural diversity. Cliftonville is the beginnings of something big, something of nationwide significance.
It’s an obvious question, when sitting in your shop looking out to sea, with the wonderful red beacon of the Lido glinting in the sunshine, but what is it about Margate that lured you away from a life of swaying palm trees and wall-to-wall LA sunshine?
What made us set up home here is the heritage. For me, Margate is the original seaside town, and represents the very core of what’s wrong with our nation. We are a negative people, a sarcastic people, a pessimistic people and all of these traits added together have contributed to all of our seaside towns taking a battering.
Our coastlines are amazing hubs of ingenuity outside of the city and we have to reconnect on all levels to start celebrating our heritage again. We need new ideas and new concepts to sell our towns back to ourselves and promote year-round coastal living.
Haeckels stands for transparency on all levels, and through this I’ve found the core of what makes me truly happy: making and selling products of worth which at the same time create cool jobs and advertise Margate’s natural health-giving core.
You’re one of those people about whom I wonder ‘How do they find enough hours in the day?’ You’ve a new baby girl, Dulcie, you’re a beach warden, you run Haeckels and make its products by hand, you’ve just run a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a modern-day sea bathing machine…
We are all out on the frontier here. Every one of us is presenting England’s new wave of artists, shopkeepers, designers, inventors, musicians and makers
I think everyone is pushing themselves to push the town forward. Every business that’s survived here long before we got here and all the new ones are all flat out. You have to be: we are all out on the frontier here. Every one of us is presenting England’s new wave of artists, shopkeepers, designers, inventors, musicians and makers. I want everyone to be successful. I want everyone to celebrate what we have here.
So, give me the background on Haeckels. Not only does it look like a world-class brand (the packaging and ethos happily rub shoulders on the shelves with the likes of Aesop and Kiehl’s) but its mission is amazing.
I take inspiration from all of our competitors, but our ethos is so different: Haeckels is selling our coastline. It sounds crazy, but it’s something I feel so strongly about. We have a globally-recognised Jurassic chalk reef here in front of the shop that nourishes three types of seaweed that don’t grow anywhere else in the world. We are surrounded by incredible, natural botanicals that we haven’t used for years on our coasts.
In terms of the presentation of this philosophy, everything about Haeckels has to be high-end: if it wasn’t, we’d be doing our natural heritage a major disservice.
I regularly clean the beach as I harvest the seaweed early in the morning – the weed provides my income, so I maintain it as volunteer beach warden.
Manhattan and West End retailers would give their right arms for a store as beautiful as yours. Can you tell me a little bit about the space, how it was designed and what’s in it?
I loved making the shop. Friends help me out, but I designed it myself as an extension of what Haeckels represents. The shop is the HQ with the lab at the back where you can see us making the products – it’s the theatre of everything. An everlasting film set, it communicates everything in a single shot to our clients.
Many of the main display cabinets I got from the Natural History Museum in London, as well as gifts from local companies like Margate Retro, Gilly, the owner of Belvedere Place, and Junk De Luxe.
I’m totally self-taught; I’m not some flamboyant nose; what I create is for the love of nature and the need to promote the beauty of what surrounds us.
We source our fragrances via GPS, so we are only really mixing that which nature has put together and has grown in that location. We take the best and the unusual, distill and extract it through CO2 infusion and then we mix these as a sound engineer would to create something that represents the area – an aromatic snapshot. The perfume bottles carry no names, only the numbers of the GPS location.
Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign to recreate a modern-day sea bathing machine.
I have had the idea for long time and went to the council who loved it, but it was always a question of ‘how?’ Then I decided to use Kickstarter, which I knew of from all the films it had funded.
The dream is that the machine will create some very cool jobs and will also help promote year-round beach use. As soon as the weather turns cold, we’ll get down on the beach, have a sauna and watch a storm from the safety of the sea bathing machine.
Margate has seen a huge influx in visitors from all over the world – especially London – in the last few years. Can you share a hit list of places and things people should see when they’re visiting the town?
The town has a beating pulse and is changing at such a rate that by the time this is read it will be out of date. My only advice is to come and feel it and get involved. It is undoubtedly the best place I have ever lived. C