09/02/11

Richard Curtis, go home!

Categories: GQ, News, Opinion, Travel

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If I had a pound for every time I have told someone that I wish I still owned my old flat in London’s Notting Hill, I would probably be able to buy the damn thing back. Well actually it was in Bayswater, but that’s close enough for the purpose of this blog.

I was there in the Eighties when Notting Hill was still somewhat bohemian and still had interesting independent stores and cool bars and cafés. I saw it develop incredibly quickly into a haven of luxury brands. Then in the early Nineties I lived in New York and saw exactly the same thing happen to Soho. Then ten years later it was the turn of Tribeca over there and Marylebone High Street here.

Today the latest candidates are Shoreditch here and Williamsburg in Brooklyn over there. Both have lots in common, as have their predecessors. Both are adjacent to affluent districts and both are extremely accessible. Both have a history of being inhabited by a mix of ethnic cultures and races, and both have become known as breeding grounds of creativity for, in particular, artists, musicians and designers.

For the mass market, they will still seem to be pretty undeveloped, but it’s during the last stage of its development that an area’s character changes the quickest. The rumour is that a certain American mega-brand named after a man called Ralph is about to move into Shoreditch: a perfect example of how once the big boys realise the hip credibility that can be gained simply by being there, they move fast, drive up the rents and change the landscape in a matter of years.

Shoreditch is wonderful right now: it’s alive with creativity, full of independent bars and cafés; it’s a paradise for the young. But how long will it last, and is it good or bad that it will eventually lose its “independent”, creative soul?

People who have been there a long time are up in arms of course (and praying that Richard Curtis doesn’t set a film there), but I’m afraid it’s inevitable. It is simply the cultural development of a city. It’s actually more likely in Shoreditch than anywhere, because it is right next to the Square Mile and the financial boys will migrate across once the area is smart enough for them. Some are fighting it hard – like Shoreditch House, which has reportedly banned city boys.

Yes it’s a shame, but then Shoreditch wasn’t always hip. It wasn’t long ago that it was a dangerous dump much like Williamsburg, so it’s really just another stage in its development. It’s not as if we are losing hundreds of years of creative culture. Shoreditch has lost much more of its religious culture over the centuries than its creativity – just ask the Huguenots.

My main point, however, is that the creative people will always find somewhere new and they will be the first to gather in an area as they need low rent and solitude. They create their own community which in turn attracts the luxury brands and hey presto! Here we go again.

If you’re a brand, your timing has to be perfect as you need to arrive just as the footfall is there to make it commercial, but before the area has lost its soul and the rents are too high.

Oh, and by the way, guess where the new Grenson store will be opening in a few weeks? No, it’s not Williamsburg…

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