There have been many times in our city’s history where the future of London has felt uncertain. That’s why we want to bring you our Citymakers portfolio, celebrating the enduring positivity of Londoners. Meet the seven people whose work is set to make the future brighter for all of us living and working in the capital.
For a deeper dive into the lives and careers of our Citymakers, search ‘The Jackal Live’ on Apple Podcasts.
Camille Walala – The woman making our streets brighter
You might not know her name, but, if you work in London, the chances are one of Camille Walala’s artworks has caught your eye. From her technicolor pedestrian crossings in Southwark, to her bold, smile-inducing ‘Dream Come True’ building on the corner of Great Eastern and Singer Streets in Shoreditch (formerly a nondescript office block, now a five-storey riot of colour and geometry), Walala’s ‘Tribal Pop’ design is a visible and wholly public part of our daily lives. It brings brightness and levity to the most ugly and mundane concrete corners of our city.
Originally from a village in France (population 300), Walala arrived in London in 1997 at the age of 23, having been sent by her father to improve her English. ‘I really hated him. I was so scared,’ says Walala. ‘But it’s now been 20 years and I really love it. It’s the best thing my dad could have done. I found my creativity in London. The city has made me.’
After finishing a degree in textile design in her early 30s, she stumbled into the art world while dating a street artist. Soon, the sketches she’d do in her notebook became two-feet high cut-outs of glamorous women she’d paste around Brick Lane under the cover of darkness. ‘Sometimes they were gone by the morning even before they were dry,’ she says. ‘I got a buzz from doing stuff like that.’
These days, her public art is much more permanent – and legal. And despite having collaborated with various fashion labels, designed chocolate eggs for Harrods and exhibited at the London Design Festival (not to mention being commissioned to make her mark on buildings around the world, most recently in Hong Kong), public art remains the core reason why she likes to work here in London.
‘What I want to achieve with my work is to bring a bit of joy to the city,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t take much to make people smile a little more.’
This year will see a new wave of her projects appear on our streets – all under wraps right now, of course, but she assures us they’re big, bold and people are going to see them. So if you haven’t knowingly clocked Walala on your commute yet, you’ll be certain to do so very soon.
Ben Hunte – A new voice for the LGBT community
Ben wears jumper, £630, by Salle Privée
There’s a new face on your news. Ben Hunte, the BBC’s first LGBT correspondent, has been tasked with reporting exclusively on queer affairs at home and abroad. After studying neuroscience in Malaysia and then journalism at City University, Hunte joined the BBC two years ago as an intern on the Victoria Derbyshire show while also running a YouTube channel, Our Swirl Life, with his then boyfriend. Following his tenure as the frontman for BBC Africa’s What’s New? (a news programme for children in Africa), he’s arguably set to be the most prominent queer person in mainstream news. A heavy burden of responsibility, perhaps, but Hunte isn’t worried.
‘I’ve been an LGBT YouTuber. For that I was always on, I was always broadcasting,’ he says. ‘I’ve been in the LGBT bubble for a while, and this role, being outside of it facing a mainstream audience, is going to be very different. I’m ready for it.’
Why does he think the BBC has created the role at this moment in time? ‘There’s a lot of debate around people’s existence and a lot of confusion about identities,’ says Hunte. ‘I think it’s a good time for the BBC to allow people to tell their own stories.’
Of course, broadcasting the stories is only the start – it’s how they’re told and what they’re about that Hunte is most concerned about. When it comes to reporting on queer topics in the capital and across the country, the news tends to err on the negative. It feels like there’s a balance that needs to be redressed in the mainstream media – and Hunte feels it, too.
‘It can’t just be trauma porn,’ he says. ‘We need a way to report on positive stories that uplift the community and make us feel good about ourselves.’
Jake Grantham and Alex Pirounis – The men behind the city’s most Instagrammable tailoring house
When many shop-based retailers are scrambling to master the online marketplace, Anglo-Italian has done exactly the opposite – and, in so doing, become one of the most cult-like new tailoring houses in the capital. Founded by Jake Grantham and Alex Pirounis, who bonded over their love of unstructured Neapolitan tailoring a decade ago while working in Hong Kong, Anglo-Italian’s store on Weymouth Street in Marylebone has become a magnet for men looking for a fresher, freer take on tailoring. But it all started on social media.
‘We consider ourselves purists when it comes to tailoring, but we have to adapt and want to be as contemporary as possible,’ says Pirounis. ‘We have a business that’s growing daily thanks to Instagram. It’s an incredibly powerful tool.’
Both men are what you could call accidental influencers. Rather than growing their business by promoting their own accounts, menswear enthusiasts have showcased the pair’s impeccable sense of style and enviable heads of hair on their feeds, making them frequent features on street style blogs and social media across the globe. Through this, they’ve become their own brand’s best advertisement, allowing their fans to find and interact with the label before they set foot in store.
They’ve used this very ‘Millennial’ rise to fame to found a business that caters to modern men in an old-school way. As the line between work and play blurs in men’s wardrobes, Grantham and Pirounis want Anglo-Italian not only to provide solutions to help men navigate the murky waters of an increasingly dress code-free society, but also to be a space to ask questions and feel comfortable.
‘We’re heavily influenced by those old tailor’s shops you find in Italy,’ says Grantham. ‘Because the door is open Monday to Saturday and you can walk in and discuss anything you need.’
It’s an approach resonating with men looking for dressed-down workwear, not just in the City, but in all walks of life – even ones the two could never have imagined.
‘I used to play in punk bands growing up and was a huge fan of all the things Peter Saville designed for Factory Records and New Order and Joy Division,’ says Grantham. ‘Now he’s a regular customer of ours. That was a real “pinch-me” moment.’
David Abramovich – The entrepreneur who made coffee chains cool
It’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t a Starbucks on almost every street corner. Coffee has become an integral part of many people’s mornings – but until recently the gap between the big chains (with their quick service and loyalty schemes) and achingly cool independents (with curated roasts and superb craftmanship) felt vast. Back in 2011, David Abramovich decided to change that by launching Shoreditch Grind. Eight years later, he’s the mastermind behind Grind, London’s fastest growing food and drink chain with 10 outposts across the city.
‘Grind has evolved from something that serves takeaway coffee to an all-day, all-night leisure brand,’ says Abramovich. ‘I often think of it as the pub for millennials.’
There’s a definite millennial vibe at play. The neon-drenched branches can be found in youth hubs like Clerkenwell, Soho and Whitechapel, with a menu that includes turmeric lattes, espresso martinis and, yes, avocado on toast. The spaces look like they’ve been lifted straight from Instagram, with plush teal velvet chairs, matt brass metalwork, and sleek marble tables. They’re just begging you to use them as a backdrop for a photo – as is the company’s first range of merchandise, recently launched in an instantly recognisable shade of blush pink.
However, this year Grind’s growing up. With new openings on the horizon in the Square Mile and next year in Canary Wharf (plus franchises in London Bridge, Waterloo and Victoria stations), it’s clear Abramovich’s dream of bringing speciality coffee to a mass market is becoming a reality. But if you think that means the standards and atmosphere of his outposts is going to slip, think again.
‘I think it’s a mistake for people to think you need to compromise as you get bigger. If you don’t compromise as you grow, you get better.’
Richard Riakporhe – The boxer fighting knife crime one young person at a time
Richard Riakporhe is the current WBA Inter-Continental Cruiserweight champion – but he almost wasn’t. During his teens he got increasingly involved in gang activity, and aged 15 he was stabbed on the estate where he lived in Peckham. He nearly died.
‘The only thing I could see was that everyone around me was up to no good, but they looked good,’ he says. ‘They wore nice clothes, they had respect around the area, they had women interested in them. I wanted to have the power and attention they had.’
It took nearly five years to pull himself out of that world (what he calls ‘deep in the mix of street culture’), when his passion for boxing became the strength he needed. Now 29, he’s made it his life goal not only to dominate the sport, but to steer young people away from danger. Today, he tours London talking to youth groups about the dangers of knife crime and getting caught up in gangs.
‘I wanted to take that road because when I was younger we didn’t have people to direct us and put us on the right path. Instead, the elders around my area would prefer me to sell drugs, to risk my freedom,’ he says. ‘Because I didn’t have that role model, I decided to take that on myself.’
He feels his life experience has given him a responsibility to those children 15 years younger than him who are getting stuck in a spiral of bad advice from people who don’t have their best interests at heart. It drives him to be a better boxer, to be the most successful version of himself he can be. He aims to prove that you can get more out of life – and get the same rush of power and respect from your peers – by pursuing a competitive sport or indeed any other creative or physical outlet.
‘If I’m more successful, I have more power and influence. The success I’ve experienced so far is just the beginning. It means I can do more to help influence my community to do better,’ he says. ‘I realise life is about more than boxing, it’s about leaving a legacy.’
Jamie Fobert – The man re-imagining an icon
In 1896, the National Portrait Gallery opened to the public. Designed by Ewan Christian, the building hugs the north (aka rear) wall of the National Gallery, a structure that dominates the area with a pride of place position on Trafalgar Square, arguably one of London’s most recognisable public spaces.
Now, over 120 years later, architect Jamie Fobert has an audacious renovation plan that will coax the National Portrait Gallery out of the shadow of its imposing neighbour and make visiting the building a more egalitarian experience for all Londoners.
Originally from Ontario, Canada, Fobert worked with architect David Chipperfield before setting up his own firm in 1996. Since then he’s worked on projects for companies such as Versace, Givenchy and Selfridges, but has always had a close connection with the art world, whether it’s designing artists’ homes or gallery spaces (he recently worked on the extension to Tate St Ives). He’s also enthusiastic about the importance of public space.
These two passions collide in his plans for the National Portrait Gallery. To overcome the problems of its current, very small entrance hall (‘It feels more like an exclusive gentlemen’s club, not a public building’), he proposed moving the main access from the east side of the building to St Martin’s Place on the north, facing up towards Soho. In the process, he hopes to turn a once-forgotten pass-through area into a new square for people to enjoy.
‘While the space we’re going to use is already public, it’s currently a small bit of garden completely surrounded by railings [which also] block the view of the facade of this really handsome building,’ he says. ‘People perch on these narrow little iron bars because there’s nowhere to sit. Our intention is to create a more open space.’
Fobert is committed to a truly holistic consideration of the areas his projects inhabit, maximising every inch inside and out. Because, as the city becomes denser, taller and more populated, we can’t afford to have wasted space.
‘I think public space is an integral part of what makes a city great or not,’ says Fobert. ‘The interesting thing isn’t that most of these public spaces already exist, it’s how they’re handled.’