The neighbourhood that gave us Brit Art has become a byword for fashion victimhood. But don't hate me because I'm hip, says Lida HujicLida Hujic The Guardian, Friday March 31 2006 Article historyI am a lucky girl. I met this lovely bloke. I think he likes me too. We laugh a lot and have a good time together. There is just one problem. We are at that stage in our relationship when we are starting to meet each other's friends. And I am dreading meeting his best mate. You see, when Mr Yummy described me to him, the mate, upon hearing, asked suspiciously, "She's not too Hoxton, is she?" The thing is ... I am. My name is Lida, and I am a Hoxtonite.
"Hoxtonite" is the term used to describe people like me who, since around 1993, have populated what was once a forgotten land of housing estates, pie and mash and cheap market stalls in east London. These days, we have become a joke because of all the phoneys who have moved in on our turf. Hoxton has grown into a kind of lifestyle theme park, with numerous bars, restaurants and clubs claiming to offer authentic Hoxton-style entertainment, even though most of the original Hoxton hang-outs closed down years ago to give way to these new corporate-run venues. Every night, but especially at weekends, these bars are populated by countless wannabes in the latest haircuts.
I should know. I used to have a mullet myself, a few years ago. I was going through a big 80s nostalgia, and had a particular obsession with Nena of 99 Red Balloons fame. Around that time, early in the noughties, I also got a sudden desire to wear legwarmers. I have never understood how come someone, somewhere, at the same time as you, decides to revive the same fashion accessory, but it happens and then you start sporadically seeing them around: soon, there were legwarmers in Topshop, then in music videos (J-Lo, Gerry Halliwell). Within a year, legwarmers were the craze across European cities - although by now, of course, they were passé in Hoxton.
At the turn of the noughties, the satirical fanzine the Shoreditch Twat captured the moment when the organic Hoxton community began to be infiltrated by types whose intentions were dubious. The Shoreditch Twat distinguished between the genuine creatives who were drawn to the area in search of similarly minded people and the fakes - opportunists who wanted to cash in on this creative hub, or faux artistes pretending to be scruffy and yet having loads of money from their parents. If you laughed out loud at the Shoreditch Twat, then you were real. If you laughed out nervously, looking at others' reactions before you could take the joke, then you were a phoney.
There is no point in lamenting the demise of underground Hoxton. Its epitaph is long written. What is most interesting about Hoxton today is its legacy. While a lot was written about the first wave of Hoxtonites, who are British artists, once radical anti-establishment and now très White Cube gallery, the second generation of Hoxtonites remain the unsung heroes.
Inspired by the first generation, this second wave of Hoxtonites - of which I am one - began to populate the area in the mid 90s. Us second-generation types are innovators who are passionate about what we do and are prepared to take risks. Over the past five years or so, we have been mined for ideas by both the creative industries and the media. Because production is typically small scale, we are vulnerable in that our ideas get appropriated often without adequate material reward (trend scouts have a lot to answer for here). No doubt many have heard of the "knitting club", but few know the name of Rachael Matthews (one of the figures responsible for the current knitting revival); many know of "second-hand clothes" coming back into fashion under the new label "vintage", but few know of Mei Hui Liu who, by recycling vintage fabrics to give old Victoriana a modern spin, was one of the main instigators of this trend.
Despite disparate activities, second-generation Hoxtonites share a set of lifestyle values. Genuine passion and a belief in craft have replaced the obsession with irony and the celebration of inauthenticity that came before. Our values are reflected in a new breed of quirky-but-upscale boutiques, reflecting demand for a new kind of premium product to express a new kind of individuality. We are New Premium Consumers, born as a reaction to the uniformity of the high street and to that of traditional luxury brands.
We distinguish ourselves from what we perceive as the nouveau riche - millionaires from ex-communist states, footballers' wives, the famous-for- being-famous reality-TV types. Where they are hungry for established labels to assert their newly found status, NPCs have a set of values that, I would argue, combine a rock'n'roll attitude with bohemian creativity, openness to diversity, ethical consumption and sociopolitical consciousness. This new kind of luxury is not really about the money, even though items do come at a price, not least because they are not mass-produced. It is about sharing the passion and belief of those who came up with the ideas in the first place. We are prepared to pay for what the French would call coup de coeur and what may translate as "labour of love".
The Hoxton way is already spreading: look at Dover Street Market in Mayfair, which combines the feel of a street market with high-end luxury, or at the proliferation of small, individual boutiques with a personal touch - Kokon To Zai, Labour of Love - selling an eclectic mix of items specially curated by their owners in an informal, very "street" environment. Hoxton is not a joke. Far from it: our way of life is here to stay. I just hope I can convince Mr Yummy's best mate.
· Dr Lida Hujic is an insight consultant at New Solutions strategic innovation agency.