The London fashion scene is synonymous with eccentricity, unconventionality and irreverence. A hotbed of creative talent, the capital has reared some of the most talented artists and designers in the world. But as the cost of living skyrockets, the city is becoming increasingly more inaccessible to a new generation of creatives seeking to broaden their horizons and reach their potential. Does this mark the beginning of London’s decline as a leading creative capital?London’s thriving fashion scene has always been propelled by a steady current of enthusiastic and ambitious young people pouring into the city and injecting it with vibrancy and vitality. In the past five years, however, there has been a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. Once the natural destination for budding designers, artists and writers alike, London’s creative reputation is now threatened. As average rent prices hit an extortionate £1500 a month, the young, eccentric and determined have stopped flowing. Coupled with the unpaid internships that pervade the creative industries in London and the typically low starting salaries that follow, it is nigh-on impossible to comfortably exist in the capital.
Director of the Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota, recently spoke about the issue to the Evening Standard: ‘Over the past twenty years London has been one of the greatest successes in the field of creativity. That success is very much threatened at present […]. Young artists that might have thought of coming here no longer do because they can’t afford to live in London. That must give us pause for thought’.
The government celebrates London’s status as a world leader in the arts but fails to recognise that creativity needs to be encouraged and nurtured and requires particular conditions to flourish. Not long ago, inner neighbourhoods such as Camden were home to the bohemian. It was normal for fashion and arts graduates to get a flat together and work part-time to cover the rent whilst being able to actively pursue their creative ambitions. Today, these areas are slowly but surely being sapped of their artistic lifeblood as property prices soar to astronomical heights, pushing out not only artists and designers but people from all walks of life. Gentrified boroughs such as Shoreditch have capitalized on their trendy image and destroyed their authenticity in the process. It is faux edginess marketed to those wealthy enough to afford a swanky warehouse apartment in the East End.
It is a known phenomenon that once young, creative people occupy a formerly deprived area, it slowly and steadily begins to regenerate. The crucial difference now is that there is nowhere left in London for the new wave of designers and artists to discover. Foreign investors drive up property and land prices and fill every available square inch with expensive apartments to maximise their profit. The city is rapidly becoming a stagnant playground for the global elite and the gates are effectively closed to young creatives. Whilst this may serve the economy in the short-term, it is detrimental for the next wave of fashion talent.
New ideas belong to the youth and they need a suitable place to develop; typically cheaper areas where disparate people can congregate and cross-pollinate influences. Today the synergy and inspiration to be drawn between all kinds of designers, artists, computer specialists, scientists and engineers offer fantastic creative opportunities. The most creative designs are not evolved in a vacuum but depend on conscious and sometimes unconscious outside influence. Connection to the internet is not enough and will never replace direct human inter-disciplinary contact. If people do not have the freedom to experiment and create due to London’s capitalist property pressures, creativity cannot flourish. The very reason so many people are attracted to the city is its stylish edge but this will rapidly erode if there is no breathing space for the next generation of emerging fashion talent.
How much of youthful, experimental London can be taken away until it consists solely of luxury apartments and bland, glassy uniformity? Some argue that the capital’s creative demise would prompt young people to revive and remain in their home towns. As of yet, however, there is no indication of a cultural renaissance outside of London. By definition, the young, restless and curious must leave their home towns and seek a focal point of creative interest: a pressure cooker of exuberance and energy where ideas can blossom.
Young designers and artists will eventually find another outlet, they always do. But it will be in another town, another city, another country. Currently, Berlin seems to be the favourite with its rent control legislation, burgeoning creative scene and laid-back atmosphere.
It remains to be seen if the concept of a mass creative exodus from London is exaggerated but if these conditions continue it is surely inevitable. Unfortunately, the solution is seemingly beyond the wit or control of anyone at present. Samuel Johnson once remarked ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ but without young, creative blood London will atrophy and become tired itself.