what it means to be a londoner in 2015
Whether you’re born and bred in the Big Smoke or just passing through, even if you’ve been priced out by gentrification, and forced to thrive somewhere else, it doesn’t matter, because in 2015 being a Londoner is no longer about where you live, it’s...
As 20th Century London was drawing its last breath, the city was pulsating with its own sense of national pride. The Labour Party had returned to power for the first time in 18 years, the music industry was heaving with the likes of Brit pop bad boys Blur and Oasis, while the Spice Girls were spreading their updated version of girl power all across the capital, galvanizing London's youth in a way the Beatles had four decades earlier. Leading the charge in the fashion industry was Vivienne Westwood with all things Anglomania, while Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell were being heralded as the posters girls of a hedonistic 90s London. Rich in its history of subcultures, the streets of London were still haunted with the ghosts of Pearly Queens and screaming Punks, while the city itself had been reduced to a series of iconic tropes - a black cab, Big Ben, the Queen, a red letterbox, the Union Jack - emblems of pride and glory, as London cut itself off from the rest of the world (even the rest of the country) and ultimately became synonymous with all that is British.
However, fast forward to the here and now and London paints a very different picture. Gone are the days of just being born and bred; to be a Londoner in 2015, it's all about having the right mentality: cool, cutting edge, creative, ballsy and wry of wit. "There's no one like a Londoner," model Adwoa Aboah told i-D earlier last year, "Their vibe, their humour…their exceptional taste in parties! I love everything about London, even the grey skies inspire me!"
With the internet opening up the city gates to anyone and everyone, and with immigration having more than doubled to over 500,000 since 1995, we've never been more connected to the outside world, and not just to those with Commonwealth ties. Today the city encompasses more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages, spoken by the 8.1 million people that live here, which is more than in any other city in the world. In fact, more than a third of Londoners are foreign born. "London is very diverse and very creative as a city," says model Malaika Firth who was born in Kenya and grew up in Barking, "I find it very inspiring… from the people and how they dress, to the variety of food. It's so multicultural."
However, in terms of emigration, which has doubled by over 100,000, things haven't been so positive; with rising rents, London's housing crisis, its astronomical tuition fees, and rabid gentrification, many small businesses and low income families are being pushed out to the suburbs, while sky high living costs have forced other young Londoners to move to cities such as Lisbon and Berlin. But, of course, there are also those who have left happily on their own accord. "I left London over a year ago," muses model and Paris émigré, Lily McMenamy, "but I carry the tenacity and audacity that the city taught me everywhere I go. The other capitals could learn a lot from it I think."
With the city forever in flux, London has now become a destination for the whole world to pass through, soak up, inspire, and its mentality be dispersed elsewhere. Sure, there's now a Starbucks and McDonald's on every street corner, and yes London's iconic black cabs are rapidly being replaced by anonymous Uber's, but the city's rampant globalisation has also meant it's constantly alive with new ideas and fresh talent from all over the world. At last, London is no longer stagnant, or stuck in its nostalgic red, white and blue image of itself - the effects of which have been unparalleled.
Politically speaking, we're living in a brave new world; while social media has given London's dormant youth a voice with which to speak out about issues relating to race, housing, mental health, feminism, and just generally saving the planet, Corbynmania is breathing new life into the city's stale politics. Even creatively we've never been in a more exciting place. From pop up galleries in Peckham squats to art communes in East London, the city's underground art scene is booming. "What's the best thing about working in London?" artist and filmmaker Sean Frank told i-D earlier last year, "Meeting and working with lots of interesting people and brands."
The same can be said for London's thriving fashion industry, with London Fashion Week remaining the most cutting edge and cool of all the fashion weeks out there, thanks to figures like Ryan Lo, Claire Barrow, Marques Almeida, and Ashley Williams, who all moved to London to shake the city out of its sartorial slumber. "London makes me feel constantly excited and slightly on edge," admits Claire Barrow, who grew up in Stockton-On-Tees, "It's inspiring to see how one road leads to the next, which takes you into a completely different environment. The possibilities are endless." "London's inspiring because it makes you feel like you can do what you want and not worry!" adds Ashley Williams, who was born in The United Arab Emirates, "The downside is it's expensive and I'm poor at the moment..." But remarkably it is within these harsh economic climates, that talent and ingenuity somehow find a way to thrive, with people being forced to come up with new, exciting, and ultimately makeshift ways of generating creativity, and now thanks to the all seeing iEye of the internet, you don't even have to live here to be a part of what goes on here.
Similarly, London's skate scene continues to thrive what with the widespread assimilation of skate brands such as Supreme and Palace to mainstream culture. "London is my favourite city in the world," remarks Palace founder, Lev James Tanju, who was born and bred in here, "there are so many amazing people doing good shit for themselves, rather than doing it to be cool." As is the same for London's music scene, thanks to the resurgence of underground genres such as grime, while in the face of Soho's withering nightlife, young creatives are popping up all over London with their makeshift parties and cult club nights like Maxilla in Notting Hill, Eternal in Islington, and Work It in Shoreditch. The same can be said for the city's burgeoning zine scene with the likes of Mushpit, Polyester and Cuntry Living challenging the status quo and the backward ideology propagated in the city's slew of outdated mainstream glossy magazines. And most of them are online anyway, always accessible, and forever spreading that cool, cutting edge London mentality all over the world. "You can literally do anything," says i-D cover girl, Sam Rollinson, who grew up in Doncaster, "it's unlike anywhere else in the country." "There's nothing you can't do," adds best friend and fellow Northerner, Charlotte Wiggins.
So what then does it mean to be a Londoner in 2015? It means, quite simply, that you have the world at your feet. Whether you were born in the city or just passing through, with so much opportunity in front of you, so many fresh ideas circulating as so many diverse people move in and out - or even if you've don't physically find yourself in the city, having that London mentality, that intrinsic wit, sharpness and audacity, that willingness to thrive and create somewhere, no matter what - now has never been a better time to be a Londoner. So make sure you make the most of it!
All quotes taken from The Creative Issue, No. 330, Spring 2014
Photography Scott Stegenga