THE LOFT WINGERS: TOM & ANNA
Tom and Anna have always insisted (somewhat falsely) that they are not concerned with being trendy, just with being “creative”. In practice this meant working in the marketing departments of fashionable electronic-entertainment companies, while earning good money in their spare time organising events, publishing one-off magazines and selling their knowledge of emerging trends to friends at marketing agencies. Up to about 2008, this seemed like a job for life – well, until they hit 40 anyway.
Back then, they were confident that they would soon be moving from their flat in a Victorian terrace in their gentrifying working-class area to one of the cool new live-work loft spaces being created in the old warehouses down the road. Live-work lofts were something they aspired to, because such spaces felt like part of an anarcho-squatter heritage that, Tom and Anna felt, would link them to their leftist ideals even as they pursued what were really pure capitalist ambitions.
However, it didn’t work out like that. By the end of 2008, the work on the side was drying up. The advertisers and sponsors pulled out of Tom’s magazine, and the agencies and brands he consulted for became less concerned with aping trendiness than they were in the boom. In fact, to pay off credit-card debts, Tom has now had to take on some part-time work doing what is basically admin for a B2B newsletter organisation. He calls it, ironically, suffering for his art.
Accordingly, the flat, once full of new, modernist pieces from SCP and Skandium is beginning to look a little tatty. There are drink stains on the rug, the coffee maker has stopped working, and the vintage G-plan coffee table is still broken from when a friend fell on it during a mad party (they always have expensive broken things in their apartment).
Anna is faring slightly better, working for a small fashion PR agency (used to specialise in young designers; last two new accounts were a Littlewoods Christmas project and a relaunched search engine), and running her own club night, called “Trash Bitch”. They play a mix of electro-pop, US 1980s power-pop and dubstep (actually, they say they play dubstep but play only one or two records a night – no one really likes it). Anna djs of course – she IS “Trash Bitch” and despite carting records to the warehouse venue every other Friday, she only ever “mixes” on her iPod.
The Loft Winger snobbery applies strongly to music. For example, Anna is a downloader, trawling through music blogs for all her new music but is always careful to leave a selection of CDs and seven-inch singles strewn across the coffee table in case of unexpected visitors. Likewise her dress-up parties; thinking of a new theme will take her weeks.
Likewise cycling. Bikes, which Tom protests are better and greener in every way than cars, are as important to him in terms of status as cars are to
the Damn-Wrights (Page 36).
He loves to visit “the track” with his friends from “the (bike) scene”, but does not think of this as having anything to do with status; he takes comfort in the knowledge that he is saving the Earth and is therefore much better than you. He gets around on his “fixy” (fixed-speed racer bike) and spends a lot of cash on the latest tyres (he frequently likes to swap colours), frame (vintage ones are his favourite) and lights. Tom is currently riding a 3Rensho, a bike his “friend” in the shop had imported from Japan; Anna is also a keen cyclist, and her bike is an old one Tom built from parts when he first got into riding – it’s got a basket on the front now.
The Loft Wingers were always the only middle-class group to be downwardly mobile, copying habits and clothes from the proper geezers and working-class girls in East London, and to an extent that still applies. However, there has been a slight shift. The white working class has lost something of its appeal (the BNP thing meant you could dismiss them as intolerant; secretly it meant you could stop feeling embarrassed about being better off) while sexuality and non-nationality are sources of the new credibility. They have little time for fellow Brits or Antipodeans – especially, in Anna’s case, the attractive ones.
The large crowd among which you will find Anna when she is out is mostly young gay men who hail from countries such as Slovenia and Portugal. Tom, meanwhile, is “totally fine” with bisexuality, irrespective of who is in on the action. He did in fact recently snog his best friend Alex while drunk; Anna thought it was quite cool. This attitude to sexuality is all part of a camp, draggy, Euro-trashy aesthetic, with its multiple levels of reference and irony functioning to exclude outsiders. This can be quite complex. For example, when a Loft Winger goes out for breakfast at a fashionable restaurant on Saturday (they like going out for breakfast on Saturday, not having gone to bed until 7am) they will sometimes archly say, “Let’s catch brunch at a hip café in [insert name of their fashionable area]” to show they are self-aware. Should there be people in the café who have come from outside the area to look at the trendy people, Tom and Anna will sneer at them the way that, say, landowners in Wiltshire might sneer at chav tourists. In fact, the Loft Wingers will refer to them as “chav tourists” or, more likely, “bridge and tunnel”.
Still, while it is easy to knock the Loft Wingers, the fact remains that they’re doing stuff and consuming new stuff that most of us might disdain now, but will be doing ourselves in two years’ time. They are open to new ideas, and this is surely a Good Thing (“A God Thing”, Tom says). As to what the future holds though – that is open to question. As a group they in many ways came of age in the 1990s, and they were the gatekeepers of new ideas in this period when Britain was going through a boom-time spasm of enthusiasm for the future and new ideas. In some ways they were the shock troops of New Labour; Oona King certainly knew a few of them.
In 2010, Britain seems to have had enough of the future for a while; it is cosying up to tradition again. There seems a certain (multiple-layered) irony in the fact that when you see the Loft Wingers tucking into the pike and samphire or beef on the bone at Mark Hix, several of the older ones are likely to be wearing Barbours, Belstaffs, Tattersall shirts, shooting jackets, brogues and the like; country clothing associated with everything they detest. You could draw various meanings from this, but while it might be attractive for its authenticity, it doesn’t really mean anything.
Perhaps that’s the point. Superficiality was always the Loft Wingers’ trouble. They didn’t have beliefs, just a great sense of what looked right at the time. As it becomes harder to make money from that sort of thing, they may discover who they actually are.