‘Working class safari’: When clout chasing in London goes wrong
'Burberry approached us. We’re just a British cafe doing what we do'
Morning — using London for clout can be a dangerous game, as fashion house Burberry discovered last week. The company’s collab with a north London ‘greasy spoon’ got a lot of hate for being ‘working class cosplay’, while a branding deal with TfL led to warnings of corporation creep in London’s public spaces. The moments from London Fashion Week some marketing execs would rather forget are after your roundup below.
Plus: an ill-advised Eurovision party, tension in Peckham, and world-beating pizza.
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What we’ve spied
🗳️ It’s been a wild ride for north London politics lately — starting with the child porn scandal that’s scalped Hackney’s mayor. Philip Glanville, the borough’s directly-elected boss of seven years, quit last Friday after he’d been caught out over his contact with another Hackney councillor guilty of possessing hundreds of indecent images of children. The trouble began last year when Tom Dewey — an ally of Glanville who shared a house with him in De Beauvoir — mysteriously resigned a mere fortnight after winning a seat in the local elections. It turned out Dewey had been arrested just days prior to the election in a National Crime Agency raid on his house, following tip-offs from internet companies that he had uploaded child porn to his Google Drive. But Dewey’s arrest only came to light to Hackney residents this summer, when he was finally charged and eventually handed a suspended sentence for possessing more than 1,500 indecent images of children. Hackney Labour members were furious that Dewey had been allowed to stand despite his arrest, and demanded to know from Glanville what exactly he knew about his housemate’s arrest and when. Glanville maintained he’d only been told of Dewey’s arrest after the election, and once he knew he said he cut off contact with Dewey. That story fell to pieces though when a photo came to light of Glanville and Dewey at a Eurovision party on the same day Glanville said he had been informed of Dewey’s arrest. Cue protests outside Hackney town hall, and eventually Glanville’s resignation.
🚫 And yet no peace for Hackney Labour WhatsApp groups, as local MP Diane Abbott now stares down the barrel of deselection. The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP has had the Labour whip suspended since she made remarks about racism in April, but this week she published an open letter calling the investigation into her “fraudulent”. “As a Black woman, and someone on the left of the Labour Party, I have unfortunately been forced to reach the conclusion that I will not get a fair hearing from this Labour leadership,” she wrote on X, in a sign she’s not expecting to get reselected any time soon. The next general election could be quite weird in north London, seeing as former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also considering an independent run in Islington.
📣 Tension boiled over in Peckham last week when footage of an Asian shopkeeper putting a black customer in a headlock sparked protests. Sohail Sindho, the owner of a hair and beauty shop on Rye Lane, said he was protecting his shop from a suspected shoplifter and that he was attacked. But protest groups, including Forever Family, weren’t convinced, and they organised a demo and called for a boycott of cosmetic shops whose owners are not black. Among their claims were that Asian people have a monopoly on the sector, despite a mostly black customer base, and that there have been other incidents of customers being mistreated, particularly over refund policies. Signs were put up outside Sindho’s shop, one reading “Parasitic merchants out of our community” while another read “Black women deserve better”. Sindho reportedly went into hiding amid the furore. But with the far-right also leaping on the incident, others have criticised viewing it through a racial lens. “Friction between different ethnicities and faiths hinders the fight against inequality,” writes Kenan Malik in the Guardian.
🎞️ Another, much more trivial bombshell in Peckham — the famously cheap Peckhamplex cinema has finally buckled under inflation. Since 2010 the cinema has admirably kept tickets at £4.99, but with that falling to £2.70 in real terms these days, management has now announced a £1 price rise.
🥵 London is facing 45C days in the ‘foreseeable future’, a climate report commissioned by mayor Sadiq Khan warns. The report — ordered by Khan after last year’s 40C heatwave in London — says the capital should expect 45C days in “the coming years”, and suggests the Tube, housing, schools and care homes won’t be fit for purpose in the extreme heat. Khan teased the findings of the unpublished report while at a climate summit in New York, and his comments there have been generating headlines all week. That includes telling an audience he was able to expand the city’s ultra-low emissions zone because Londoners have been “educated” on the environmental and health issues. That’ll no doubt wind up those like Peter Fortune, a Conservative London Assembly member who wrote in the Spectator this week about being called “thick” by Khan at a recent mayoral question time. Khan also told the summit that “hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on the anti-ULEZ online manipulation campaign on Twitter alone” but “we have no idea who was behind the campaign”. Back home the rebellion against ULEZ continues, with news the vigilante groups who’ve been painting over and chopping down enforcement cameras have come up with a new tactic. According to the Telegraph, they’re now using huge vehicles to box in the mobile ULEZ vans equipped with cameras that were introduced to dodge vigilantism in the first place.
👭 We’ve previously covered the foot-dragging at London’s posh clubs over letting women in, and now it looks like change is on the way at one of the most stubborn, The Garrick. The campaign to get women admitted to the all-male club in Covent Garden has been boosted by a change of heart of a barrister who had previously blocked Joanna Lumley from joining in 2012. The Garrick’s rules don’t explicitly ban women, but they’re written with the pronoun “he” — which in Michael Beloff KC’s initial view meant women like Lumley were barred. But in recent weeks Beloff’s now come to the view that “he” and “she” are interchangeable in the eyes of the law, and he’s now reversed his original legal opinion. The Times reports this has unleashed hell amongst members resisting reform, who insist nothing has changed. It’s all rather archaic, but if the Carrick does relent, it could be the beginning of the end for the few all-male institutions still left in London’s clubland.
🚨 A Met Police officer has been charged with the murder of Chris Kaba, who was shot in the head during a police operation in south London last year. The officer made initial court appearances this week, with Kaba’s family watching on, but so far judges have banned the media from identifying the officer. Their plea hearing is set for December 1. Kaba, a 24-year-old construction worker, died from a single gunshot in Streatham Hill on September 5, 2022, after he was followed by an unmarked police car with no lights or sirens. The charges haven’t gone down well with other Met firearms officers though, who’ve reportedly handed in their weapons over the risk they could be charged too. Separately for the Met, the force’s anti-corruption drive continues, with new figures showing there are now more than 1,000 officers who’ve been either suspended or put on restricted duties. Meanwhile, City Hall has announced the brother of Stephen Lawrence will sit on a new oversight panel for the Met, recommended by Baronness Casey in her recent review of the force’s failings.
😮 Some pearl clutching at a new exhibition opening in London, where you’ll have to squeeze past a pair of nude performers to get in. Marina Abramović’s ‘naked doorway’ is being restaged for the Royal Academy’s new show dedicated to the performance artist’s 50-year career — though there’s also a separate doorway for the prudish. The buzz is a welcome distraction from some other conversations in London’s culture scene right now — like unaffordability in the West End. Theatregoers have hit out at the £395 price tag for tickets for the upcoming Neil Simon play Plaza Suite, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Also facing scrutiny are London’s museums, which are apparently lagging behind in repatriating disputed objects compared to other UK museums, like in Glasgow and Cambridge, which are taking a more proactive approach.
🔴 The family of Ken Livingstone, London’s first mayor, have revealed he’s living with Alzheimer’s. The 78-year-old is being “well cared for by his family and friends” as he lives a “private life” in retirement, they said in a statement to the PA news agency. ‘Red Ken’ rose to prominence in London politics in the 1970s and 1980s, battling Margaret Thatcher while leader of the Greater London Council, before being elected as London mayor in 2000. More recently Livingstone became mired in Labour’s anti-semitism row.
🎶 There‘s hope for fans of the Brixton Academy that the venue will re-open — provided it meets a huge list of 77 licensing conditions. The O2 Academy has been closed since the crowd crush in December that killed two people, with Lambeth council suspending its licence soon after. Tentative permission for re-opening was given at a hearing on September 11 and 12, but with many strings attached. Among the conditions facing the Academy’s operator are requirements to strengthen its doors, bring in a new ticketing system and introduce a new centralised control and command centre.
🚇 FYI: major Tube strikes are taking place next month. RMT workers are staging walkouts on October 4 and 6, which will shut down services across the capital.
⚖️ Organised crime in London is under the microscope following the death of a DJ. Six people are in the dock for the murder of Mehmet Koray Alpergin, a Turkish radio DJ in London who prosecutors allege was tortured to death near Tottenham Hotsput Stadium before his body was dumped near Epping Forest. The killing has “the hallmarks of being linked to serious, organised crime — almost certainly drugs,” according to prosecutors. They say Alpergin was abducted from his home last October after returning from an Italian restaurant in Mayfair and that the vehicles allegedly used in the crime were found burnt out. The trial continues.
🚗 A big victory for opponents of low-traffic neighbourhoods with the announcement they’re being purged from much of east London. Tower Hamlets council has announced it’s ripping out the majority of the traffic-blocking schemes in the borough, even in the face of recent consultations that found them popular with residents. Not a surprise really, given local mayor Lutfur Rahman was re-elected on a pro-motorist platform. The move has led to some extra scrutiny of Tower Hamlets though and mudslinging from LTN proponents, like over the fact the council’s cabinet appears to be entirely full of men.
🍕 And finally: apparently some of the best pizza outside of Italy can be found in west London. The Global Pizza Maker of the Year prize has gone to Michele Pascarella, founder of Napoli on the Road in Chiswick.
Burberry’s takeovers backfire
Lots of famous London faces popped up at last week’s Burberry fashion show in Highbury Fields, like Top Boy star and grime godfather Kano, Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka and Blur’s Damon Albarn. As models stepped up to the catwalk, speakers blasted sounds of dogs barking, spray cans and sirens. Very urban, darling — and a glitzy way to forget about Burberry’s more controversial stunts during London Fashion Week: the takeovers of a north London ‘caf’ and Bond Street station.
At the risk of suggesting the Spy knows more about the fashion world than we really do, from what we gather Burberry is undergoing a reboot at the moment. With English designer Daniel Lee now in charge, the brand is “returning to peak Burberry Britishness”, summed up with a new take on its historic ‘Equestrian Knight’ logo it’d previously dropped. Slightly surprising, given Burberry’s spent the best part of the last two decades trying to distance itself from some British subcultures — namely chavs, which became synonymous with the brand’s check pattern. It’s all water under the bridge though apparently, and Burberry is now aiming for a “modern take on British luxury”.
That’s how Burberry ended up setting its sights on Norman’s, a cafe that opened in Tufnell Park in 2020 with the promise of elevating classic, no-nonsense British food. Glance at its Instagram page and you’ll find minimalist plates of egg and chips, beans on toast, and bangers and mash. Plastic tables and chairs are drilled into the floor and gingham curtains decorate the windows. Most pics of the food feature a huge mug of builder’s tea. For the owners and fans, Norman’s is a loving homage to London’s historic cafe culture — it channels the likes of E Pellicci’s in Bethnal Green and Regency Cafe in Pimlico. For others, it’s an overpriced pisstake, and there are plenty of Norman’s haters out there, as documented by a recent Vittles feature. The cafe’s opening “created a new unholy alliance of online hate discourses: fry-ups, gentrification, and maybe even the future of London itself,” wrote Tom Usher back in May.
Burberry reawakened that unholy alliance last week, with a Norman’s collab to coincide with London Fashion Week, running from September 13 to 17 ahead of the fashion house’s headline show. The reimagined Burberry logo was put everywhere on the caf, above the door, on the pavement outside, on plates, and much of Norman’s decor was decked out in the brand’s ‘night blue’ colour. Staff served in matching boiler suit-esque uniforms. Mary Berry turned up. And then came the haters.
Criticisms ranged from the collab being a poverty ‘safari’ or ‘cosplay’ — the posh finding a way to hide their embarrassment at being posh — to being an outright mockery of working class culture. “Burberry let some rich nepo babies experience what it’s like to be poor for a day so they could put it on their Instagram,” wrote one on Twitter. Many thought the caf glamourisation felt a bit rich given Burberry’s previous frustration at being popular with chavs. Others took a step back, wondering if Burberry’s and Norman’s depiction really reflects what working class culture looks like in London these days — basically, it was too white.
Even the BBC got involved, sending a reporter to confront Norman’s owner, Elliot Kaye, on whether the collab was “negative to working class people.” Kaye wasn’t exactly phased, replying: “We don’t really have anything to say. [Burberry] approached us. We’re just a British cafe doing what we do. And as it’s London Fashion Week, we thought, why not do it”.
But Burberry annoyed more than just the anti-gentrification lot last week. The fashion house agreed a huge branding deal with TfL, taking over the Tube station at Bond Street, the site of its new store. The slightly clumsy wordplay ‘Burberry Street’ was plastered everywhere for a couple of days, on roundels and platform signage and maps. While a bit of fun to some, the collab reportedly disorientated commuters and tourists, leading them to miss their stops and badger station staff. But it also represented a serious line being crossed for others — a corporation creeping too far into public spaces. TfL has declined to say how much it’s been paid for the collab, but some reckon it has to be at least £500,000, if not more. A TfL spokesperson said: “TfL has delivered a number of temporary station renamings in recent years and, while the station is branded ‘Burberry Street’, in-train announcements, announcements within the stations, and staff on platforms will help customers should they require it”.
Of course, outrage means attention — we didn’t think the Spy would ever be covering Burberry — and this might all have been part of the plan. But there’s a contrasting case of brands capitalising on London right now: Tube Girl. If you’ve not seen, Sabrina Bahsoon has gone viral filming herself dancing on the Tube, feat a x0.5 lens and wind from the carriage windows blowing her hair. In the space of a fortnight she’s landed makeup deals, walked catwalks and appeared in Hugo Boss adverts. Tube Girl isn’t without her detractors — some wonder if someone less yassified doing the same thing would just make everyone incredibly uncomfortable — but, unlike Burberry, there’s been no backlash at those cashing in.
Maybe that’s because what Burberry touched — London’s cafe culture and transport network — is just more precious. Or maybe it’s just more fun bashing a big brand. Anyway, while some fear London has entered its ‘flop era’ in the cost-of-living crisis, brand deals in the capital are still clearly booming. There’s a good chance we won’t have to wait till next year’s London Fashion Week for someone else to put their foot in it.
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