Wedged between a KFC and a Pret, Josh Quinton and Jeanie Crystal are reinvigorating one North London high street
Camden in 2021 is a far cry from its transgressive roots. Once one of Central London’s richest and most vibrant subcultural hangouts, its high street is now tragically riddled with tourist traps ready to peddle the latest mass-produced knock-off Minion toy. But amidst the sticky waffle stalls and late 00s emo shops lies a tin-foiled gem bringing subversion back to Camden. The Fabootique! is the latest venture of the queer underground collective Faboo. Led by Josh Quinton and Jeanie Crystal, Faboo has produced club nights, performances, and a bizarre digital magazine show that can only be described as the botched lovechild of Dee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” and The One Show. Jumping out of your screens and climbing up from the underground, the team behind Faboo are now triumphantly bringing their world to the high street.
Working in collaboration with the space’s owners, The Bomb Factory, Quinton and Crystal have set up a pop-up shop for queer creatives to peddle their wares. “At first we reached out to the people that we've been working with on the TV show. We really wanted to give something back to people that have contributed to us, people in our close network of friends. But anyone can actually come and drop their stuff off here, their clothes, anything they’ve made! We’re a totally charitable space, so 90 per cent of the profits goes back to the designers, with the other 10 per cent going to The Bomb Factory who’ve given us the space,” says Quinton. This open platform has produced a vibrant collection of garments from London’s most exciting young creatives, from anti-fashion mainstays like Max Allen, to burgeoning designers like Dr.Creatur3, whose imp-like hoods speckle the foil walls.
The pop-up is more than just a space to pick up looks from London’s trendiest up-and-coming designers, however. Quinton and Crystal are challenging the capacities of what a retail space can be by opening the space up to their own creative queer community. “We’ve been giving the back of the store to people who need rehearsal spaces, we’ve done screenings of new queer films, we’re even going to set up a little music studio for people to come in and experiment, and in a few weeks some of our friends are going to be doing a movement workshop for trans* and non-binary people,” says Crystal. “It's not just a shop, it's an art centre and community space. That’s what Faboo is all about: the artists, the designers, the community.” As swathes of queers piled in to ogle the wild variety of clothes, this sense of community – as well as the joy and whimsy that’s so often lacking in the fashion world – was palpable at the store’s belated launch party.
As the crowd laughed and danced out front, Quinton, Crystal and I slipped behind a hot pink fluffy curtain, poured some bubbles, and chatted all things Fabootique!
So, first question. How did you two first start working together?
Josh Quinton: Jeannie used to run disco dancing lessons in this little basement in Dalston. I used to go every week, and have a glass of wine and a cigarette beforehand. The dance lessons were literally like boot camp so I’d be exhausted afterwards. Then we started working together as Charles Jeffrey’s DJs. That's when our friendship really blossomed. She's so driven and forward thinking and I've learned so much from her.
Jeanie Crystal: One of my earliest memories of Josh is when I asked Josh to play at this dodgy underground club night I used to run. Josh had been doing some huge gigs, and this was really makeshift. The equipment was terrible and we barely had any decks. One of the DJs was so outraged about the equipment that they left before their set. But Josh insisted on staying and played with me throughout the night. For someone who presents themselves the way Josh does, I was amazed at how kind, open and down to earth Josh was – Josh could’ve been a real dickhead but was just dead nice. I think our relationship has always been one of holding space for each other. We just want to encourage and support each other to do what we're really good at. And that's the basis of Faboo, collectively holding space for us all to grow. That ethos comes from the dynamics of our friendship.
Why has Faboo decided to open up shop?
Jeanie Crystal: Faboo is all about our favourite artists and designers – it’s a community. We thought a pop-up shop would be the perfect chance for everyone to sell their stuff on the high street rather than online. The high street is full of fucking boring clothes, just the same thing over and over again. So we chose people whose clothes we would wear. Josh’s style is very unique, and you can't just pick up that kind of stuff on the high street – well, actually, thanks to us you can now!
Josh Quinton: It’s been so nice to offer the shop to people without demanding a commission. With commissions and market stall rates, it’s so hard for people to simply sell their clothes. We get the shop from The Bomb Factory for free so why can't we all share this nice space together?
Jeanie Crystal: That ethos is really felt in the stock. The shop is a queer bazaar of anti-fashion treasures. A lot of the designers are going against capitalist fast fashion, alchemising detritus and recycled materials into beautiful objects. You can really feel the hand of the artist on everything in the shop.
Josh Quinton: Also, we thought it’d be fun! I love being frivolous and just having a silly clothes shop. On the one hand it has a queer, community, anti-fashion message to it, on the other it’s just camp, silly, and loads fun. I’ve been to too many brightly lit shops where everyone's awkwardly standing around with a glass of prosecco too afraid to look at anything. We just don't need that at the moment.
“It feels so important having this outrageous queer space right on Camden High Street. To be so seen is to be so powerful. And the footfall here is ridiculous: we're right between KFC and Pret, it couldn’t be more chic” – Josh Quinton
How did you go about creating the stock?
Josh Quinton: After getting the people who worked on FabooTV on board, it naturally echoed out as people were telling friends about the shop. There are some specific people who've really made an impact, like Robert George Sanders, whose clothes we actually managed to save from a bonfire. He usually burns his whole collection but we managed to salvage a few pieces. Waj Hussein, a designer from Birmingham, has also been really popular. He has these fantastic prints of Sharon Le Grand which captured the mood of the shop perfectly.
Jeanie Crystal: Curating objects and clothes together is also really important to us. We’ve got some fantastic zines from Rub Magazine and Celia Croft and there’s some great digital prints by Nancy Violet Jolene.
Josh Quinton: We’re all underdogs and outsiders, that’s what connects everyone together. I've always felt like an outsider in the fashion industry – it’s always been quite elitist. I love fashion but I don't like the industry as a whole, it makes you feel like shit. Like being a model was the worst couple of years of my life. I think Jeanie feels the same. Even in our DJ world we've felt rejected. A lot of people feel that way, and now we’ve found a way to come together and celebrate each other’s work.
What’s been the response of people passing by?
Josh Quinton: It’s a bit like being in a goldfish bowl 24/7. There’s a lot of gawking. But it feels so important having this outrageous queer space right on Camden High Street. To be so seen is to be so powerful. And the footfall here is ridiculous: we're right between KFC and Pret, it couldn’t be more chic.
Jeanie Crystal: We’ve had a real variety of responses. There’s been a lot of “Wow!”, a lot of “Oh my God!”, and a lot of “What the fuck?!”. We’ve had people asking if we do karaoke and there was this one kid who walked in, started crying and immediately left.
Josh Quinton: We’ve also had some really exciting people come in. Michael Costiff came to the opening. With his involvement with Dover Street Market and running Kinky Gerlinky in the 80s and 90s, he is a living example of the connection between past and present, fashion, and club. And that is alive in Faboo. It's so important to the whole brand.
Is Faboo bringing subculture back to Camden?
Jeanie Crystal: Definitely!
Josh Quinton: Camden used to be known for its independent boutiques, and we want to bring that back. So many shopkeepers have popped in saying it reminds them of the old Camden in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I suppose we’re harking back to the likes of Michael McLaren.
Jeanie Crystal: We’re all about excavating queer archives. When researching for the first episode of FabooTV, we discovered Patty Belle’s shop in Birmingham which was an eye-opening example of how retail could offer a real haven for the queer community. So when the chance to do Fabootique! dropped into our lap, we saw it as a chance to continue that genealogy and carry on the archive. The TV show started as a way to create an intergenerational portal to help people understand the importance of queer arts and culture. The shop is just a way of doing that face to face. Like it’s been great to connect with young queer people who aren't old enough to go out. By continuing this genealogy, we’ve been able to offer them an access point into better understanding their queer identities.
“Queer nightlife could really benefit from having more shared daytime spaces. A community centre would be amazing but that’s obviously a lot to ask for under a Tory government. The shop has become a really nice hang out, with people coming in for a chat and a cup of tea, using it for free to make work and I think that’s really needed” – Jeanie Crystal
Why has it been so important for you both to showcase nightlife creatives?
Jeanie Crystal: So much great culture comes out of nightlife. It’s an absolute load of crap when people try to elevate the art gallery or the fashion magazine above the club – they’re just elitist institutions where not everyone is accepted. Starting the show was such an organic step for us because we had access to an amazing community of nightlife artists. When putting it all together, it felt like we’d created something really meaningful: it’s high art, there’s no way around that! That’s what influences us in this shop too. It comes from the underground and that’s valid! This is fashion too.
Where do you see the future of nightlife heading?
Josh Quinton: The future of nightlife in London is looking very rich right now. I could go on for hours about all the drag performers, nights, and music projects coming up. I think since lockdown, everyone's been able to regroup, rest, and come out creatively stronger than ever. I’ve lived in London for 10 years, and shifts in the scene definitely come in waves. Right now, it feels like we're all about to go through a real moment. I think London’s about to explode again, and I'm really excited to be here and to go through it.
Jeanie Crystal: Queer nightlife could really benefit from having more shared daytime spaces. A community centre would be amazing but that’s obviously a lot to ask for under a Tory government. The shop has become a really nice hang out, with people coming in for a chat and a cup of tea, using it for free to make work and I think that’s really needed. With all the craziness, it’s so important to provide calm, sober spaces where people can work on their cultural output.
The Fabootique! is located on 235 Camden High Street at The Bomb Factory’s ‘The Shop’. It will be open until the end of September. Faboo is also throwing a party in Stoke Newington on September 4, head here for details.