London's East End has changed a lot, now offering some of the best shopping in London and some fine sights and attractions.
“Ten years ago we were selling pieces for £200. Today they’re going for half a million,” says Mike Snelle, founder of the Black Rat Gallery, one of only ten in the world to specialize in the new and ultra-collectible arena of street art.
I’m on a tour of London’s trendiest area: the East End. My guide is Kevin Caruth, founder of luxury London tour company Urbangentry. He’s helping me navigate the backstreets and the boutiques; the imposters and the impresarios; the rising stars and the nominated tastemakers in the capital’s most eclectic district. Along the way we’ve perused historical artefacts at Westland – an architectural salvage company set in a Grade I listed church - and the secret shop of leading designer Jasper Morrison, hidden behind an anonymous black door and alleyway somewhere in the Hoxton hinterland.
We have evolved from admiring the manifest street art lining the roads to meeting the specialist who’s turned anarchy into actuality. At first glance the Black Rat Gallery looks little more than a warehouse: the edgy-looking artworks seemingly slung about haphazardly. But look a little closer and you’ll notice these are priceless works by Banksy and Shepard Fairey. The story of Snelle and his gallery is typical of Shoreditch. The East End talent pack includes artists Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George, the fashion designer Christopher Kane, supermodel Agyness Deyn and close friend Henry Holland. Their grasp of the zeitgeist has launched them from the East End to international successes.
Rebuilt after ferocious bombing during World War II, at first sight the area is unprepossessing. The streets appear faceless and impersonal, the vista is concrete and the traffic pervasive. But within this scene stands some of London’s most evocative architecture, including remnants of notorious slums and London’s criminal underworld. You can still visit pubs synonymous with Jack the Ripper and The Krays. Today, the area has grown exponentially. Major public galleries have been opened, global impresarios are investing and the young artists have been supplanted by top tier creatives and bankers drawn to its luxury warehouse conversions and proximity to the city.
Caruth explains to me over lunch at Galvin La Chapelle (the beamed roof of 19th century St Botolph’s Hall stretching some 30 metres above us) that his bespoke East London tours are by far the most requested. The locale that we are lunching in, Spitalfields, has been an immigration hub for centuries. The successive waves of refugees began with the Huguenots in the 17th century, followed by Irish labourers, Ashkenazi Jews and most recently Bangladeshis, who stamped their gourmet hallmark on London’s Indian restaurant mecca of Brick Lane. Today Spitalfields is markedly gentrified, the 17th century market surrounded by upscale boutiques, tailors, restaurants and pubs.
Raven Row is among the newest of the hundreds of galleries that make the East End a mecca for art. Supermarket scion Alex Sainsbury opened this not-for-profit exhibition space occupying a labyrinthine series of 17th century, Grade I listed domestic rooms that are as bewitching as the works themselves. Around the corner, towards the bottom of Brick Lane, Gallery S O has opened a sister to its Swiss flagship, displaying contemporary objects of art and jewellery.
In author and former interior stylist Emily Chalmer’s charming boutique Caravan you won’t just be greeted by deliciously ornate keepsakes but a marmalade cat and oodles of enthusiasm, too. It is situated next to Arnold Circus, the newest emerging East London sub-district. Set around the world’s first council housing development, the Grade II listed Boundary Estate, dating from 1890, the enclave now envelops a hotel and restaurant by Terence Conran, Rochelle Canteen (caterers cooking for the likes of Giorgio Armani, Lanvin, Mulberry and Balmain), super directional luxury menswear boutiques Hostem, Luna and Curious and the first dedicated Sunspel store. Proximity to one of London’s most impressive members’ clubs, Shoreditch House, may not be purely coincidental.
Hoxton Square lies a 10-minute walk away. This is the place the buzz first blew in from. Today, Jay Jopling’s White Cube Gallery stands as an icon. It is set just behind Old Street, around where countless designers, gallery and shop owners, fuelled by creativity and passion, first launched a decade ago. Pass Milk, where the breathtaking collection of Piero Fornasetti porcelains and furniture is captivatingly arranged behind the charming façade of one of Shoreditch’s oldest buildings, an 18th century clerk’s house, which from the outset bears an uncanny resemblance to Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop,and veer left into Rivington Street or Great Eastern Street.
Here the area’s luminaries include Joseph Corre, Vivienne Westwood’s son and co-founder of menswear brand, A Child of the Jago, and former pop star Brix Smith-Start. Smith-Start opened her directional fashion boutique with husband Philip in 2002 and has today evolved to separate menswear, womenswear and Mr. Start tailoring destinations. She juggles in-store personal styling consultations alongside her burgeoning career as a television presenter.
Many of the young creatives and artisans who settled here ten years ago and formed the fashionable East End we see today have moved on to the less salubrious areas of Hackney, Dalston and Bow; this move and improved transport links, borne of a certain nearby sporting event which took place this summer, throw into question where the next Hoxton Square may emerge. After all today’s Notting Hill was, until just 40 years ago, a piggery and one of Britain’s most notorious slums.
See our London city guide
Book one of our partner hotels in London
Browse more Luxos discoveries
Gallery S O London, 92 Brick Lane, London E16RL, Tel. +44 (0)20 7377 8008
Westland, St Michael's Church, Leonard Street, London. Tel. +44 (0)20 7739 8094
Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS. Tel. +44 (0)20 7377 4300
Galvin La Chapelle, 35 Spital Square, London E1 6DY. Tel. +44 (0)20 7299 0400
Black Rat Gallery, Arch 461, 83 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3AY. Tel. +44 (0)20 7613 7200
Milk, 118 1/2 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JN. Tel. +44 (0)20 7729 9880
Timothy Everest, 32 Elder Street, London E1 6BT. Tel. +44 (0)20 7377 5770
Caravan, 3 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DJ. Tel. +44 (0)20 7033 3532
Hostem, 41-43 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DJ. Tel. +44 (0)20 7739 9733
Rivington Gallery, 69 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3AY. Tel. +44 (0)20 7729 5090
White Cube, 48 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6PB. Tel. +44 (0)20 7930 5373.
Sunspel, 7 Redchurch Street, London E2 7DJ. Tel. +44 (0)20 7739 9729