Boy or girl, you‘ll need a frock and face paint to join the wild weekly party that has redefined London‘s fashion scene. Time Out explains how BoomBox is helping our city set the global clothes agenda
London's fashion tribes rule the world
Anyone who has tripped up on Hoxton Square on a Sunday night over the past year could be forgiven for thinking they’ve entered an alternative reality where drag queens in obscenely high patent platforms and matted wigs, straight boys wearing dresses and smothered in fake blood and girls (or boys who look like girls) with cropped peroxide bobs in bikinis and heels rule.
Welcome to the sublime, ridiculous and totally bonkers world of BoomBox, one of the wildest weekly parties in the world over the past year, splicing freaky fashion, a fierce musical mix and carefree flamboyance.
Yet despite the club’s current influence, you’d be forgiven for never having heard of it. You won’t have seen flyers littering the streets, you won’t have been pestered by emails and you won’t have seen it listed in magazines, because BoomBox host Richard Mortimer wants his club to be strictly word-of-mouth.
Word-of-mouth works. Even in the digital age it’s still the best advertising, and there’s a surfeit of BoomBox wannabes joining the queue formerly marshalled by ‘door bitch’ Jeanette (more recently Nuno and Cozette), the majority pushing to look as outlandish, original and different as they possibly can. BoomBox club kids happily mash up Beyond Retro vintage or charity shop finds with designer – perhaps a little House of Holland, Dior or Giles (Deacon). They thrive on breaking all the sartorial rules: marrying wigs, hats, animal masks and oversized plastic glasses with their own bare flesh and freakish make-up. There is no official dress code but as resident DJ Jerry Bouthier says, ‘If you want to get in, you have to make a little effort.’ In other words, the clubbers at BoomBox like to dress up. Big time.
BoomBox and its mixed-up, mashed-up eclectic style has become the symbol of contemporary London’s style, as the capital starts to lead the world in the fashion stakes once more. Indeed, perhaps it’s as much the cause as the symbol, for ‘social epidemics’ like this are, as Malcolm Gladwell says in his book ‘The Tipping Point’, ‘driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people’. BoomBox has taken up where legendary polysexual party parades like Taboo, Kinky Gerlinky, Kash Point and early-years Nag Nag Nag left off and what started as a niche club night for a few creatives in east London will eventually become mass-market; the purveyors of the scene will be oblivious promoters of the style as it features more regularly in Grazia trend pages, Elle fashion shoots and on the rails of Topshop.
So where do they gain their inspiration? Seventeen-year-old performance artist The-O, a regular BoomBoxer says: ‘Everything I wear is either lost, stolen or bought for 50p.’
The-O shops in the fancy dress section on eBay or in charity shops in Golders Green (‘They are the best!’ he declares). By contrast, Randy Rockstar, a 26-year-old Norwegian, favours McQueen heels and vintage frocks with a bit of high street.
Occasional BoomBox doorman, Nuno, partially explains why London is currently such a fertile stamping ground for those who want to push their look to its limits. ‘When you are in London you have the freedom to wear whatever you want to wear and no one will look twice at you in the street. But when I go back home to Lisbon, everyone is just staring at me and laughing.’
There’s no denying that the clubbers are vying for the attention of the lens of the club’s in-house photographer Alistair Allan. Allan is at the the club every week, and immediately uploads the pictures to his website dirtydirtydancing.com, so there is instant documentation of the BoomBox style for the world to see. The club’s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/familylondon) had 1,772 friends at the last count; everyone, it seems, wants a part of it.
Randy Rockstar throws some shapes
Pitti Immagine, the Italian fashion events promoters, flew out 50 BoomBox club kids to attend a party at Milan Fashion Week last season; Brit
model-of-the-moment Agyness Deyn, another regular, called it ‘the fashion week party to end all fashion week parties’. In a couple of weeks, the BoomBox clan are off again, briefly abandoning London for Paris where it’ll launch a BoomBox CD, partly because it’s home to the ultra-hip label Kitsuné. It’s compiled by Bouthier, whose eclectic mix proved so popular with fashionistas that he provided the music for six London Fashion Week shows this spring. But Kitsuné label bosses Gildas and Masaya head a long list of nightlife luminaries who’ve guest DJed at BoomBox, especially this summer.
So what makes BoomBox so special? The lust for unbridled hedonism? The constantly changing music? The expectation that something exceptional is about to (and usually does) happen: a guest DJ set by Wolfgang Tillmans or Sam Taylor-Wood; or a live show by a bunch of topless lesbians? Ultimately at BoomBox, it’s the punters that matter most. With a capacity of just 550, everyone here knows each other.
‘BoomBox is the only place I could ever go on my own,’ says designer Gareth Pugh. ‘It’s like a youth club; you can be sure you’ll know half the people in there.’ It’s no accident that the previous club night Mortimer ran was called Family. Like Golf Sale before it, Family finished when he decided that the spark had left the night. No doubt he is already thinking about life after BoomBox, which is currently burning bright but, like any other club night, has a life-span.
Dan du Bois
As absurd and, let’s face it, frightening as BoomBox club kids can sometimes appear, the nature of their appearance is also intrinsic to understanding why London is currently in the ascendancy for fashion and style. The drab 1990s, the neutral-toned era of grunge and combat-pant uniformity, has been replaced with colour, creativity and wild liberation heralded by a new generation of fashion designers including Pugh, Henry Holland, Roksanda Ilincic and Giles Deacon. Luella Bartley, the London-based designer, who long ago defected to more commercial New York, is returning to the capital this season to coincide with her first shop opening in Mayfair. Even Stella McCartney, who has been showing in Paris for years, will be presenting her collection for Adidas on the London catwalks, just like New Yorker Marc Jacobs did last season. It may not be the commercial hub of the fashion world but designers know London gives them street cred.
So the current mania for dressing up and expressing yourself in whichever way you see fit (whether that’s by covering your face in glitter, wrapping yourself in plastic bags and donning a pair of slutty stilettos) can be seen as a symptom of London’s buoyant, individualistic new spirit. The twenty-first century in this city is about vibrancy, rebellion and celebration. The BoomBox club kids are part of a subculture, but there are no common codes between these individuals. Nothing as identifiable as the safety pins of punk, the DM boots of the skinheads or the mods’ scooters. And it’s this individualism that the rest of the world is currently craving as BoomBox displays the British (or more specifically London) tradition of eccentricity at its best.
'BoomBox', £45, published by Richard Mortimer, is available at MAC cosmetics and Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover St, W1 (020 7518 0680).
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