Women-only club taps feminist London tradition

The AllBright has warm decor fusing British chic and Scandinavian design, and a quote by 19th-century British feminist Virgina Woolf at its entrance.
The AllBright has warm decor fusing British chic and Scandinavian design, and a quote by 19th-century British feminist Virgina Woolf at its entrance.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The AllBright has warm decor fusing British chic and Scandinavian design, and a quote by 19th-century British feminist Virgina Woolf at its entrance.
The AllBright has warm decor fusing British chic and Scandinavian design, and a quote by 19th-century British feminist Virgina Woolf at its entrance.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • A refuge for gentlemen over centuries, private members' clubs can now be enjoyed by British women, continuing the country's tradition of female activism.

A short walk from Oxford Street, in the heart of London's West End, sits an elegant five-storey brick Georgian mansion. It houses The AllBright, a newly opened private club and the latest in the British capital to cater exclusively to women's needs - both personal and professional.

Founded by Ms Debbie Wosskow, a start-up entrepreneur, and Ms Anna Jones, formerly of the Hearst Media Group, the club - dedicated to "working women" - already has 400 members and a long waiting list.

"It's by women, for women, and we think that has been missing up to now," Ms Jones said.

Ms Wosskow said they have tried to empower women throughout the venture. "Everything in the building... the art on the wall, to the wine that we serve, is by women for women and showcasing female talents," she said.

Although Britain has its second woman prime minister - Ms Theresa May - gender equality is still far from assured, said the club founders.

The pair want women to spend their days working and their evenings unwinding at The AllBright.

The AllBright has warm decor fusing British chic and Scandinavian design, and a quote by 19th-century British feminist Virgina Woolf at its entrance.
The AllBright has warm decor fusing British chic and Scandinavian design, and a quote by 19th-century British feminist Virgina Woolf at its entrance. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"The objective is to try to make Britain the best place in the world to be a working woman," said Ms Wosskow, pitching the club as "a combination of networking alongside great food, cocktails and events".

There are no smoke-filled cigar rooms or Chesterfield leather armchairs - staples of many men-only clubs. Instead the decor is cosy, refined and warm, fusing British chic and Scandinavian design.

Members can relax in deep sofas or work at shared tables. There is a dining area on the ground floor and an art deco bar on the top floor, while other floors have rooms for working and holding meetings during the day.

New member Le'Nise Brothers, a nutritionist, joined "to be around like-minded women" and for networking.

"It's just a different atmosphere when you're around women," she said.

"(I'm) not saying that if men were here it would be a negative thing, because it's not, but naturally, women's spaces just tend to be warmer and more welcoming and just very inclusive."

Although the club is female-centric, men are still welcome. "It's definitely not anti-men," said Ms Jones. "Members can invite men in as guests."

The AllBright follows in the footsteps of other new London establishments aimed at women, such as We Heart Mondays, which opened last year as "a diverse creative space for female entrepreneurs".

Although they cannot match their male counterparts' histories, female clubs in fact have a long history in the British capital.

The Pioneer Club, founded in 1892 by Ms Emily Massingberd, who was considered a feminist in the cultural circles of her time, was among the most famous .

"Women's clubs have above all been an attempt to claim social and physical space for women, especially in city centres," wrote David Doughan and Peter Gordon in a book on the subject, Women, Clubs And Associations In Britain.

The venues "provided a haven for middle-class women from the demands of family, children, servants, and tradesmen and even, as Virginia Woolf put it, 'rooms of their own'", the authors said.

Appropriately, an inscription emblazoned across a glass window above The AllBright's discreet ground-floor entrance quotes Woolf, the 19th-century British novelist and feminist: "A woman must have money and a room of her own."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Women-only club taps feminist London tradition'. Print Edition | Subscribe