The Gang's All Here

London's new style collectives

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Emily King talks to the new London style collectives.

Read an extract from the feature below then buy ELLE Collections autumn/winter 2014 for more.

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I am going back 23 years, but the image is still seared on my mind. ?It was a warm day in late June and the occasion was the private view ?of Damien Hirst’s installation of paintings and live butterflies, In And Out Of Love, in a tiny gallery just ?off Oxford Street. Staggering out of the humidity of the makeshift lepidopterium, I saw the gang sitting together in the doorway of a nearby shop. In truth, my memory of exactly which of them were there – Damien himself, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Gillian Wearing, Michael Landy, Gary Hume? – has faded, as they weren’t celebrities at that point. But they were obviously a phenomenon. Their group dynamic and individual confidence was compelling.

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Since then, the media has repeatedly tried to sound the death knell for the YBAs (Young British Artists), but they have continued to thrive. Virtually every one of them ?is still making art and exhibiting at the highest level. They were never really a movement in terms of the concerns and qualities of their work, but they were a real gang. They ?had been to school together and ?they continued to eat, drink, live ?and sleep together. Collectively ?they changed the British art world beyond recognition.

A few years later, around 1997, ?a similar group emerged on London’s fashion scene. Let’s call them the Katies, after three of the leading lights: the stylist Katie Grand, the designer Katie Hillier, and Katy Baggott, the much-missed agent extraordinaire who died ?far, far too young in 2010. Other members included Luella Bartley, Giles Deacon, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Toby Mott and Edward Enninful. Initially the HQ was on Talbot Road, W11, where Luella and Katie Hillier’s studio stood opposite that of Stella and Phoebe. A couple of years on, the focus moved east to The Bricklayer’s Arms on Charlotte Road, EC2, where David Waddington and Pablo Flack (the latter of Bistrotheque restaurant and behind just about every hot pop-up) played host.

As with the YBAs, the Katies have gone on to strikingly successful individual careers: Katie Grand ?has Pop and Love magazines and numerous fashion consultancies under her belt, Katie Hillier and Luella are at the helm of MBMJ (formerly Marc by Marc Jacobs), Phoebe is defining contemporary fashion at Céline and Stella is ?stellar at Stella McCartney. Remembering those days, Katie Grand has said: ‘It was kind of cliquey, but I think it always helps when there’s more than one of you. There’s a confidence in numbers.’

Gangs, both of the above board and the criminal varieties, are commonplace in Britain. Expatriates tend to be struck by the collectivity of the national social ?life and it is one of the reasons us British are thought to be tough nuts to crack. Much rarer, however, are groups where every member has their own significant creative trajectory. Looking for precedents for the collective force of the YBAs ?or the Katies leads me to risk the aggrandisement of a comparison with the early Twentieth-century Bloomsbury Group, the key members of which included the writers Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, the artists Vanessa Bell ?and Roger Fry and the economist John Maynard Keynes.

OK, so the YBAs and the Katies didn’t achieve so much across so many different fields as the members of the Bloomsbury ?Group, and none of them has had ?an idea anything like as all-round significant as Keynesian economics, but they certainly defined the course of their own fields – art and fashion – in the succeeding decades. So, what of gangs, specifically fashion gangs today? As ever, there are numerous groups taking shape around London, east, west and central. Do any of them have the potential to remake the world in their image in the way of the Katies?

Hannah Weiland is the strikingly slight force behind the Shrimps gang (1). Shrimps was Hannah’s childhood nickname and is now the moniker of her fashion label, which has so far specialised in highly Instagramogenic striped fake-fur coats (‘Like a fur Breton sweater,’ according to Hannah) and matching clutch bags. Only launched in September 2013, Shrimps has become big news in ?the outerwear market and is selling out at Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 ?and Opening Ceremony. Hannah ?is well-connected, both in the traditional and the contemporary senses. Her father is a successful film director, and the model Laura Bailey is a family friend – she was the first to create a buzz around Shrimps by wearing a camel and shocking pink number at London Fashion Week. Other members of Hannah’s gang, specifically her PR Daisy Hoppen and the fashion blogger Susie Lau (Style Bubble), were drawn in via the web; and Hannah’s most significant professional confidante Kate Foley (a former buyer for Opening Ceremony) lives in New York – they are more likely to communicate on FaceTime than hang out at the pub.

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