west is best! why notting hill's on the rise
Who cares about blagging your way past a Dalston door whore or roughing it in a Peckham art squat anymore? In these austere times it’s more aspirational to be young, rich and hot – to live out the West London dream. If only I could afford it... Today...
Georgia wears coat Calvin Klein collection. Dress Céline. Photography by Angelo Pennetta.
Georgia wears coat Calvin Klein collection. Dress Céline.
Has anyone been out in Shoreditch or Dalston recently? Most likely you haven't - you're not a donut - but not to worry, I'll tell you what it's like. Every weekend the streets are full of gakked-out estate agents and Essex lads, stumbling around, shouting homophobic abuse, shuffling to bad house. You're not allowed in anywhere without a photo ID, you're patted down at every door and there's undercover police all around just waiting for trouble (especially outside the church). The cost of a drink is high, the chance of falling in love is low. There's vomit everywhere. Recently a pigeon actually flew into my hair on Old Street roundabout. Another time I awoke in the middle of the night to find one flapping about my room, and had to chase it out with a towel.
But this isn't the worst thing about Shoreditch - the worst thing is all the creative tossers. Hanging around the Vape Lab (the what?!) smoking imaginary cigarettes, throwing up awful street art to distract us from the area's otherwise surprisingly pleasant 18th and 19th century architecture. Washed-up hipsters have created this monster, and of course it deserves no better than gangs of city boys looking for a happy hour and a dirty lap dance. South London's no better either; even Peckham's got a corporate-sponsored skate park where the art's supposed to be, and a juice bar for all the dancehall tourists. Last time I went South with my flatmate we were trapped inside a restaurant by its owner and force-fed espresso martinis until, eventually, he went to the toilet and we climbed over a tall, spiky fence to escape. What's happened to London? What havoc have we wreaked upon the city we once loved so much? In the words of William Blake, who's buried in Shoreditch and was once visited by angels upon Peckham Rye: "A fathomless and boundless deep, there we wander, there we weep."
Affluence is back. Cara and her West London mates offer a dream lifestyle for the world to aspire to.
The other day I spoke to someone that hates London - really hates it, passionately - hates the accents, hates the service in the shops, hates all the attitude and can't wait to leave; and I found that funny and refreshing. A couple of my mates have already abandoned ship, and run away to California to make money and art in the sunshine, and many others fantasise about leaving too. One recently tweeted the Samuel Johnson quote: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of Life." So true. Except, what if it's not true? What if we're actually only tired of East London? What if we're sick of hipsters, and waves of gentrification, and spending all our wages to live in an overpriced, overcrowded street surrounded by everyone we've met and disliked over the years? Just the other week a Rightmove study concluded that East London is the unhappiest place to live in the UK. Of course it was a silly place in the past; but it was a happy silly place.
Wouldn't our lives be better in West London, with its bright cherry blossoms, communal gardens and townhouses that look like marzipan wedding cakes? You need only to walk through Notting Hill to tell how much nicer it is. Today I asked a fashion designer who's lived all around the city, and she assured me that everything's better over there. She said the prevailing wind blows Eastwards, and the rivers flow that way too, so even the air and the water is fresher in the West; there's many more Waitroses too. And while Rihanna never actually moved to Hoxton, despite all the stories about it a few years back, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have just bought a £5.5 million mansion with a W postcode - a private place where they can ride the lift without bouncers, and ignore wedding invitations, and make indulgent documentaries in peace - so there must be something special about the area. It's curious how completely West London has captured the world's imagination in the last couple of years.
In the same manner that MTV brought us The Hills, with its spoilt fantasies of blonde Orange County bitches slutting their way through their teens, Channel 4 brought us Made In Chelsea.
The supermodels of the moment are no longer Kate from Croydon or Naomi from Streatham: today it's all about Cara Delevingne from Belgravia; Adwoa Aboah from Notting Hill; Edie Campbell from Westbourne Grove; Georgia May Jagger from Richmond; Suki Waterhouse from, well, I'm not sure where. Of course they're very beautiful, but they're also posh and that tells us a lot about how the fashion world's harking back to the old British class system at the moment. When I arrived in London everyone wanted to be allowed into BoomBox in Hoxton Square, or one of the !WOWOW! parties in the squat in Peckham - even President Bush's niece came with her CIA bodyguards - but times have changed and we're living in a different world now, one in which no-one has any money and no-one imagines a fun night out as a poly-sexual art performance rave. The cool kids would rather party at Maxilla, a secretive night that starts with a dinner and ends with a sort of school disco, happening only every now and again in Notting Hill. They want to be young, rich, hot - or just want to sleep with young, rich hotties - and why not?
In the same manner that MTV brought us The Hills, with its spoilt fantasies of blonde Orange County bitches slutting their way through their teens, Channel 4 brought us Made In Chelsea, and for the first time I can recall - at least since… Roxy Music? Posh Spice? - the idea of inherited wealth and upper-class privilege was celebrated in mainstream pop culture and seen as something to aspire towards. That's ok isn't it? Rap and football (more or less my two favourite things) have celebrated money for a while, it's just that they've revolved around making it and spending it rather than, well, just having it.
Chelsea also has a lot of form as a fun, decadent part of town. After the death of his girlfriend, the so-called "original supermodel" Lizzie Siddal (most famously portrayed in John Everett Millais' painting Ophelia, which hangs in Tate Britain) from an overdose of laudanum in 1862, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti moved to 16 Cheyne Walk and lived an increasingly wild lifestyle with his menagerie of wombats, llamas and the like; whenever a songbird flew in through the window, he thought it was Lizzie. Around a century later Mick Jagger (at number 48) and Keith Richards (at number 3) also moved to Cheyne Walk, and both their properties were raided by police in the following years. It was on this quiet road that Mick was allegedly found in bed with Marianne Faithfull and a Mars Bar in 1969, and that Keith and Anita Pallenberg were busted with heroin, two guns and 110 rounds of ammunition in 1972. At the time David Bowie was living just around the corner as well.
So affluence is back. Cara and her West London mates offer a dream lifestyle for the world to aspire to. Not only for fashion magazines and national newspapers, but also for those who have everything: the billionaire Russian oligarchs that own our most expensive park-side apartments and footballers, the Sultans of Brunei that bought a whole street to themselves in Bayswater. Fashion's always made itself desirable through fantasies of opulence and wealth - riding a jaguar through Roberto Cavalli's gardens, sleeping in a palace full of thousands of Fabergé eggs - but London used to offer an underground alternative, seducing us with visions of the starving artist suffering for his fashion. Nowadays though, West London's the richest fantasy of all.
Text Dean Kissick
Photography Angelo Pennetta
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois