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Walter Pfeiffer’s class of 2016

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‘Take more away and I’ll always make more’ – four years after Dazed first asked the question ‘Is east London dead?’, we investigate how the city’s creativity is surviving against all odds

Taken from the 25th anniversary issue of Dazed: 

Four and a half years ago, Dazed ran arguably the most charged coverline in its provocative three-decade history: ‘Is East London Dead?’ But this wasn’t the name of an archly monikered bedroom producer, nor was it an exclusive literary extract from a hot new author. No, it was a serious question. The air had begun to feel different. The Olympics were coming. Ramshackle premises were being replaced by shops featuring the word ‘artisan’. And the ‘norms’ were becoming the norm, set on bathing in the magic aura that comes from young artists and oddballs: bless you, for your existence has been ‘approved’.

‘Is East London Dead?’ was largely rhetorical – it was, after all, plastered across a Walter Pfeiffer image of a then-unknown performance artist by the name of Theo-Mass Lexileictous. Lexileictous was emblematic of how ‘East London’, as a byword for creativity, was very healthy. He was a masked, mysterious Greek figure that moved to the capital and invented himself in the classic bright-lights, big-city manner. He would march unannounced into the Dazed office with all the ceremony of Darth Vader, assured that he had something which would make life more interesting for us all.

Pfeiffer and Dazed creative director Robbie Spencer also cast Ed MarlerClaire BarrowJosh Quinton (half of Disco Smack) and Yasmina Dexter (AKA Pandora’s Jukebox) in their 2012 story, and they’ve all become established talents since. The shoot you see here is very much a spiritual successor: the new players will be just as referenced in years to come. But the class of 2016 faces a heavier battle of mind over obstacle than before.

Rent across the capital has increased 7·7 per cent since 2015, a crippling rise that is prompting even the splashiest Canary Wharf employees to eye up the suburbs. On top of all that, we now have the UK’s place in Europe to worry about. While 73 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted for Britain to remain in the EU, it was ripped from their grasp anyway – and they’ll have to live with this decision the longest. The latest development: a placeholder prime minister who is unelected. There’s uncertainty about what she truly stands for.

“I’m lucky to be surrounded by influencers. From fashion designers and artists to the harsh, hard-working businessmen on the tube who cannot under any circumstances crack a smile” — Bradley Sharpe

“I needed a place that I could call home, a place I felt nerved by,” says Bradley Sharpe, a 20-year-old studying womenswear at Central Saint Martins. “I came to London last September and I moved here alone because I wanted to figure myself out in a way which was tough and honest. It’s so hard to say it without offending London itself, but this city can be incredibly harsh a lot of the time. I wanted that.”

Sharpe has modelled for Charles Jeffrey, whose fierce collections and Loverboy parties wouldn’t thrive in many places the way they do in this city – you’ll recognise him as look 13, the iconic red-white-and-blue facepaint in this season’s show. Jeffrey marries immaculate Savile Row tailoring and seat-of-the-pants accessories so DIY they’re almost violent, proffering more make-up than the back room of Boots (and that’s just the boys). The Scottish designer’s contribution is an optimistic movement of non-binary thinking, a utopia within the already romantic idea of London – this city where you can be more than free in your identity, you can soar with it spiritually.

“I’ve been encouraged (at CSM) to make a masterpiece out of something shitty that didn’t cost a penny,” Sharpe continues. “You just have to make things work. I’m lucky to be surrounded by influencers. From fashion designers, artists and set designers to the harsh, hard-working businessmen on the tube who cannot under any circumstances crack a smile.”

Last year, the London living wage was raised to £9·40 per hour, addressing the fact that life in the capital is more expensive in every single way. However, unlike the national minimum wage, employers are not obliged to pay it – and around a quarter of those paid below London living wage are under 25. This is obviously fucked up when you’re working in a shop or a bar to support your art at the beginning of your career.

With no rent caps and (immorally) cheap labour, more than one in ten of the capital’s homes is said to be overcrowded. When you’re young and couldn’t care less about having a million housemates, there is the unique opportunity to turn this to your advantage, getting to meet new people very quickly. There’s the potential to be shaped, and strengthened, by a community of like-minded individuals.

“Insane amounts of money have been pumped into the city, which has alienated everyone. It’s almost impossible for this to not affect you, because you are never calm about money” — Reba Maybury 

“Share your room! The more the merrier,” says 22-year-old artist and co-founder of Creamer magazine, Hannah Hetherington. “We just have to stick together and stay productive. Power in numbers!”

“I’ve been living here on and off for about (four years),” says 22-year-old Lili Sumner of her story. Free spirit Sumner hails from New Zealand, likes to draw and write, and is putting together a collection of her work at the moment. She has modelled for everyone from Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent to Haider Ackermann. When she puts clothes on it’s like she’s recharging them, a rock’n’roll lightning rod.

“When I was 17 I had no money at all but I had three great girlfriends and some friendly people’s couches,” she says. “There was a winter spent in Hackney Wick with four of us sharing a bed! The water didn’t always run hot. A mix of naiveté and curiosity about the world made it a very special time. It felt very different then to now, only four years ago. The current situation in politics is definitely reflected in the spirit of the city, but love keeps me here!”

More than ever, London is truly an international city. Not just for the melting pot of cultures, but the fact that people are coming here and throwing down serious cash. Art fairs. Major auctions. Oligarch property. Tech money. Going about your everyday life and having your face pressed up to a pornographic level of affluence can be soul-destroying. Ever seen a blacked-out, velvet-flocked Ferrari, just waiting for the inevitability of pigeon shit? As 26-year-old publisher Reba Maybury puts it, “Insane amounts of money have been pumped into the city, which has alienated everyone. It’s almost impossible for this to not affect you, because you are never calm about money.”

Lotte Andersen, a 26-year-old art director from Ladbroke Grove, is someone who truly makes sense of what a weird time it is to be finding your voice here and creating culture. She’s filled with the romance of what London can and should be as well as a simultaneous rage against the city’s bullshit. Her west London party Maxilla – which plastered a Portuguese working men’s club in W10 with photocopied artworks and pumped out soulful jams to a sweaty dancefloor – was all about optimism, falling in love and reclaiming the area she grew up in.

“I’m part of a culture that makes work rain or shine: being creative is the very action of making something out of nothing” — Lotte Andersen 

“I feel the spirit of counterculture through everything I make. I used to think it was in postcodes, now I realise it’s in people’s mentalities and their approach to work as much as in my bedroom or my studio. Currently it’s embedded with frustration and fury at the current system. On the plus side, I’m part of a culture that makes work rain or shine: being creative is the very action of making something out of nothing. Take more away and I’ll always make more.

“My future is to create alternatives – alternative parties, alternative work – and find institutions that support what I’m trying to do. A few years ago I saw my future as a combination of falling in love, getting laid, dancing around and wearing great shoes, and, to be honest, I’m upset that I now feel some kind of responsibility to sort out the current mess in this city. But, hey-ho, every little helps.”

The fixes to give the next generation a solid foundation: a London living wage enforced by law. Rent capped so that three quarters of people’s earnings don’t go straight to gluttonous landlords with carefree standards. And the return of grants and reconsidering of tuition fees for those who do want the certificate behind them and the endorsement that brings: our art colleges are world-renowned.

The new wave of talent is passionate about expressing unity – ‘stick together’ is the phrase that keeps coming up – and they’re vocal about being taken for a ride. Expect protest to be just as prominent as creation over the next few years.

“The future of London could only ever be bright if you let us paint it,” muses Sharpe. “Give us an outlet for the love.”

Hair Cyndia Harvey at Streeters using Bumble and bumble., make-up Thomas de Kluyver at Art Partner using Chanel, set design Polly Philp, models Elliot Brown at Wilhelmina, Charlee Fraser at IMG, Jack Laver at TIAD, Katie Moore, Jess and Reba Maybury at Elite, Edwina Preston at Select, Lili Sumner at Next, Natalie Westling at The Society Management, street-cast models Sophie Cheah, Daisy Eltenton, Elizabeth Farrell, Hannah Hetherington, Alex Komrein, Chet-Lunn Lo, Eilidh Nuala, Wilson Oryema, Babymorocco, Bradley Sharpe, Kate Zelentsova, photographic assistant Torvioll Jashari, fashion assistants Louise Ford, Raul Castilla, Katy Fox, Charlie Schneider, hair assistants Paul Jones, Jennifer Lil Buckley, Abra Kennedy, Randolph Gray, make-up assistants Joel Babicci, Robyn Fitzsimons, Verity Cumming, digital operator Rhys Thorpe, production Michaela McMahon-Dunphy at Art + Commerce, model casting Noah Shelley, street casting Anna Pesonen