Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Tribes of East London

London demands a certain commitment from its inhabitants. This isn't just one of those places you can live without nailing your flag to some kind of standard and much has been made over the years of the North-South divide. Those of us who have lived in this intimidating city for a long time know that it is more complicated these days than North versus South and the tribes of London are constantly evolving. If someone had told me when I was a little girl that one day the young people of London would decide for no apparent reason to migrate East I would have been rather incredulous. But if you in any way consider yourself 'creative' 'artistic' or 'fashionable' it seems you must head East or be damned.
As a born and bred North-Westerner I can't honestly see the appeal. East London smells funny, is difficult to get to and isn't even cheap these days. When I was little and my Dad used to take us to Spitalfields market on a Sunday it was fun and exotic, a crumbling neighbourhood with equal amounts of charm and filth. Artists lived there because space was cheap. 
Now they're knocking down arts building to replace them with hotels and developers are systemtically transforming old warehouses into cynically designed bars and expensive lofts for city dealers, all the appeal has been sucked out. Even the old market has been cut in half and homogenised while Broadway market, which used to be a typical London bit-of-everything and some fruit and veg affair has now been overrun by organic goods and expensive cupcakes (not that I mind an expensive cup cakes but ther eis a time and a place for these things). 
There are of course, like with all parts of London, some very nice old buildings and nice places to live and if someone was nice enough to give me a flat in one of those I wouldn't turn it down. But blow me if they aren't a million miles away from any decent public transport (which is obviously good for any bike thief with a keen eye for a sucker at Brick Lane market). 
I'm not totally anti-East. There are some great bits. I'm more against this idea of East London as some kind of young artistic mecca.
Never the less, every art college student and hipster in London seems to think it's the place to be, and golly there seem to be an awful lot of them.
Of course, this has all been happening for a while. But recently I've noticed that there are two new style tribes emerging out of this odd youth migration. I have dubbed them the ChimChimeneys and the Hackney Sailors.
Hackney Sailors are predominantly male. You'll be able to spot the Hackney Sailor by his striking similarity to Wally of Where's Wally. Except he'll look like he hasn't had a shower in a while. He likes shrunken knitted sailor beanies with pom poms on the top, chunky knits, corduroy and breton stripes and takes style cues from Steve Zissou and The Monkees' Michael Nesmith.

Michael Nesmith

Klaus Daimler of Steve Zissou

ChimChimeneys are named after a song from Mary Poppins and were only identified as a tribe after a particularly entertaining conversation with a black cab driver who grew up around Brick Lane. Unsurprisingly it turns out that the locals are not hugely enamoured of these new tribes of trendy young people overrunning their neighbourhood.
This friendly cab driver told me a story about walking up Broadway Market recently with his mother and seeing a group of young people emerging from a pub looking like extras from Mary Poppins dressed as trust-fund chimney sweeps. The word he used was "embarrassing". Best cab conversation of my life for sheer enjoyment.
Anyway, you can spot your average ChimChimeney around Broadway Market. They wear lots of dark coloured velvet and corduroy, waistcoats, flat caps and the occasional topper or bowler hat, untucked oversized striped shirts and lace-up shoes. Your lesser spotted ChimChimeney actually really does look a bit like a rich man's Dick van Dyke or an extra from Oliver Twist. Limited edition pewter Mac glitter dust is optional for a classy 'soot' effect.

The role model; Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins (still from Amazon.com)

Get the look: Bert the Chimney Sweep outfit from fancydressfancydress.com

Done well, either of these two styles can look very good. But mostly they're just entertaining...
Over the weekend I heard that The Sartorialist had been spotted on Broadway Market, home of the ChimChimeney. I think he might be losing it. 


  1. "bowler hat, untucked oversized striped shirts and lace-up shoes"
    holy shit. am i a chimchimeny?

  2. Oh man, this is going to be such a good game - ChimChimeney spotting!
    But no, you are not a ChimChimeney. I think. Might have to check with that cab driver for verification though...