Would you know good taste if you saw it? Or would you have to have good taste to spot good taste? And how would you know if you had good taste if you weren’t sure what good taste looked like?
You see how quickly these things can get difficult. This is the circular conundrum we can all find ourselves in, in a cultural landscape as quick-moving, trend-obsessed and opinionated as our own. Thankfully, however, there are riders in the storm — beacons in the blizzard.
Would you know good taste if you saw it?
Every year at Gentleman’s Journal we compile our list of so-called ‘Tastemakers’ — the most influential (and tasteful) people in London’s art, design, and hospitality scenes. They are an aesthetic test-and-trace system, for want of a better phrase, to assess the cultural health of our capital. And this year they present a creative industry in fine fettle and full flight, despite the overwhelming odds.
Duncan Campbell, Design Consultant
Duncan Campbell uses the word “fun” a lot — and when you meet him, you soon understand why. He talks quickly, peppers the conversation with references high and low, and adores what he does. Actually, even if you’d never met him, you’d get it, too. With his creative and business partner, Charlotte Rey, he has forged a lovely niche in the world of design and creativity — it is playful and eclectic, surprising and beautiful, colourful and clever. If you asked them to re-decorate your mansion, they’d start with the poolhouse and go from there.
Campbell Rey is five years old this year. Charlotte and Duncan met when they edited Acne’s in-house magazine together. They were good on the page, but they’re great in the real world — and now the company is “more of a traditional design agency,” Duncan says. When they’re taking on a new client or brief — and it could be anything from a restaurant group to a coffee table book — “the connection is the most important thing. It has to be fun. We try to make the process enjoyable, and hopefully that spirit becomes imbued in the final product.”
“It’s the same with objects — I think you can feel the hands of the maker in things,” he says. “Ideally, the things we make can be useful and beautiful at once. But things can be useful in their beauty alone, too. The things you look at everyday are important — they shape your mood. Get a nice teacup. Buy some nice socks. The little moments in our routine, especially first thing in the morning or last thing at night, can really make a difference.” That seems to be a wonderful mantra for 2020, when the smallest moments have replaced the grandest plans.
“I love the idea of a space that can whisk you away — especially to a place that doesn’t exist. The world can be pretty grey, particularly at the moment, and people need to dream a bit,” Duncan says of Campbell Rey’s interior style. “We’re not slavishly tied to a period. But what’s exciting for us is to mix things up and create a bit of tension. Items in a room talk to each other — and that dialogue is sexy and exciting. It’s like a dinner party with lots of guests, where nobody is taking all the attention, and everyone is different. Our style is about eclecticism, mix, and being surprising. It should evoke wonder and playfulness.” In that way, it seems, Duncan is a wonderful beast of his own creation. Long may the fun continue.
Gabriel Chipperfield, Developer
“There are two ways of gathering inspiration,” Gabriel Chipperfield says. “By seeing things, and by experiencing things.” And while the first is often easier, it’s the second that really does the trick. (“Which is why, from a creative standpoint, the lack of travel right now is the main inhibitor,” he says.) A case in point: as a young man, Gabriel was obsessed with hospitality — the idea of hosting; the power of spaces to entertain and delight.
“I wanted to go into hotels and design them, but I knew I needed to see hospitality from the other side,” he explains. “So I worked for Jeremy King and Chris Corbin. And I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard physically, or learned so much about the way people are or how they interact, as I did there. I started in the back office, with a headset on — six of us in a glass box, answering 1000 calls a day. Then you graduate to the floor, but you’re still on the bench. Later on you earn your stripes, and you can work on the floor. The whole journey — it’s like going to the most incredible university.”
Since then, Gabriel has designed shops, homes, galleries, newsstands — spaces of both function and beauty. Shreeji News, for example — the nostalgic, stately newsagent on Chiltern Street which he re-imagined with his wife, Laura de Gunzburg — has quickly developed an orbit and a scene to rival the Firehouse opposite. But you sense it is still the complex magic of the hotel that really holds his attention.
“We are currently working on this Margate project,” he says of a new hotel venture on the Kentish coast. “It’s the only building in town that Turner would recognise if he were alive today. And we’ve kept the exterior as it was, just in case he drops by.” The project is two years old, but it has neatly anticipated the atmosphere of the past few months. “People who are fed up with the city right now — most of the time, they don’t want the Riviera. They just want the sea. Between the choice of looking out every day over the north sea or over some telephone pylons, they’d rather the sea. And that’s why Margate is interesting.”
It will not be a straightforward seaside hotel, however — despite the town’s faded heritage as a coastal resort. “I am only interested in doing things that are different from now on,” Gabriel says. “A hotel in Margate. A newsagent in an age where print publications are at risk of expiring. I see that as my goal in the next five years — to go off-piste as much as possible.”
Will Bowlby, Chef
If you can’t stand the heat, they say, then get out of the kitchen. Well, Will Bowlby can stand it, that’s for sure. In fact, he positively relishes it — and is known to leap from the frying pan into the fire with delicious results. His career started in Mumbai, where he worked cooking European food for Indians. A few years later, he returned to do the reverse — to make beautiful, modern, accessible Indian cuisine for a discerning London palette. Kricket was born in a shipping container in Brixton when Will was 26, and today it’s one of the most adored culinary brands in the capital. In other words: the chef-patron doesn’t necessarily need to spend his days in the kitchen chopping the onions and simmering the garlic. “But I have to,” he says. “It makes me feel good.”
Perhaps that sums up the no-nonsense, hands-on, pragmatic approach that has made Kricket such a rapid and lasting success. “Rik [Will’s business partner] and I have always thought that you’ve got to do everything before you ask other people to do it, whether that be cleaning the loos or chopping onions.” More important even than this, however, is the team. “You have to accept that, whoever you are, the business is greater than you. And the most important thing is the people who work for you. Training, nurturing, looking after your staff — that is everything.”
Introducing the Tastemakers
The most influential people in London’s art, design, and hospitality scenes
This is not empty bluster. When the pandemic hit (and if you own a restaurant group, it really hit), Kricket employed 80 people. Now, they employ even more. “To date, we haven’t let anyone go. Our business has actually grown since covid,” he tells me, touching wood. “It’s a major challenge. It’s been easily the most challenging year we’ve had,” he says. “And it was a rollercoaster already.”
But every problem is an opportunity. The pandemic has given Will a moment to reflect. “I’ve been thinking about what we could do next…” he says. He doesn’t want to reveal any details — part superstition, perhaps, part confidentiality — but one gets the sense that there is another project in the works. Whatever form it ends up taking, we all stand to gain. Anyone who has stepped foot in Kricket in Soho, say, or the railway arch sister restaurant in Brixton, or the bright and beautiful spot in White City, knows the unique mingling of spice, chatter and excitement that greets you as soon as you open the door. We need that now more than ever.
Charlie Casely-Hayford, Fashion Designer
Charlie Casely-Hayford once claimed to own 100 pairs of red socks. They were the defining hallmark of his unique daily uniform — a colourful standard, pulled up high and taut, worn under black military boots, paired with a t-shirt and a suit. “A uniform acts as a second skin — we feel comfortable in it. But at the same time, you can elevate yourself in a uniform. It did that for me — in the suits, and the boots. It becomes a body armour. It’s a powerful thing.”
When Charlie talks about clothes, he’s never really talking about clothes. Instead, he’s talking about culture and people and history. He can detect a whole world of socio-economic theory, of class anxiety and pride, of protest and playfulness inside even a red sock. “There’s always been a correlation between what the anti-establishment wore and how they acted,” he says. “The clothing therefore takes on a memory, and that’s very powerful.”
“I’m very fortunate that I have grown up in a country with a very clear social system. You get these very vivid styles associated with different classes in society. But there is often overlap at each end of the spectrum — and it is often how you wear it that’s important. I consciously adopted that thinking in my uniform. I’ve always been interested in duality and hybridisation — what I call discordant synergy,” he explains. High and low, left and right, east and west.
Charlie often succeeds in teasing these conscious uniforms out of his long-standing clients. In that way, he is not so much a tailor as a therapist with a tape measure. “Clothing, at its best, is a manifestation of your inner thoughts. We have clients that have been coming to us for ten years. As they evolve, the clothes evolve with them,” he says. “This idea of knowing yourself is very important when choosing the clothes you wear. Some people know themselves at 12 years old. Some people know themselves at 90. It’s not defined by age, and I don’t think it’s related to clothing, when it comes down to it. It’s a reflection of self-confidence.”
And clothing itself can be a tonic, he explains, when that notion of self is shaken. “Getting dressed is incredibly important to your mental wellbeing,” he says. “This year, many people have found that there is no separation between their two worlds — particularly if their office is their bedroom. So it’s the little things, like getting changed, that actually make a difference.”
Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, Gallerists
Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt have long been the outsiders in the gallery game — the young, playful, rebellious voices in a sea of navy suits, heavy doors and grey side partings. Trouble is, if you’re really good at being the outsiders, soon enough you’ll find that the insiders invite you for tea. They want a piece of that energy, that pep, and that exposure, mostly. And then, before you know it, you’re inside the rooms whose windows you used to bang upon, and you’re battening down the hatches against the oiks outside, and you’re being measured up for a new navy suit, and your name is Giles or something.
But this, you sense, won’t happen to the boys from Unit London. “Yes, we’ve now got one foot in the door. And the conversations we’re having are so different, because we’re dealing with people from that old guard,” says Joe. “But now the question is: how do our principles play out in the new context we find ourselves in? How can you be accessible in an industry that values exclusivity?”
To answer that, you only need to pop down to their gallery on Hanover Square for 15 minutes. The staff stand up and greet you warmly with a smile; the boys will talk to you excitedly about a piece they’ve just put up, and a giant English Sheepdog called Rafa will bound up to you for a fluffy embrace. (A lot of it, now that I think about it, comes down to Rafa. He has his own Instagram account — 1100 followers — and a nickname around these parts: the Bear of Mayfair.)
“Sometimes you’re walking around these amazing shows, but you don’t enjoy yourself because you’re worrying about what people are thinking about you,” says Joe. “That doesn’t happen by chance. That’s the way these galleries build value into their artists and their brands — by creating this language of exclusivity. The main focus for us is just quality of content.”
The art on the walls of Unit is always of a uniquely high quality — striking, original, playful, beautiful — with recent exhibitions by Philip Colbert, Damian Elwes and Ryan Hewett. There is a long held embrace of figurative art that anticipated the mores of a locked-down collector class, and it’s no mistake that Unit’s artists are naturally suited to an Instagram audience. In the past year, all the establishment players have jumped on that particular bandwagon. (“They used to say it was the death of the art world, but they’re all doing it now.”)
But Joe and Jonny, the insider’s outsiders, have been at it from the start. “That’s where we’ve always nailed our flag,” says Jonny. “To that mass audience. Because if we can get our artists’ work seen by five million people a week — that’s so exciting.”
The 2020 Tastemakers was create in association with Church’s, click here to find our more about the iconic British shoemaker…
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