Wayne Hemingway with his wife Geraldine
Published: 21 June, 2012
DESIGNER Wayne Hemingway and his wife Geraldine were feeling the pinch. It was the early 1980s and with the country mired in a recession, work was not easy to find.
So they emptied their wardrobes in their small flat in Wembley, drove down to Camden Lock in the early hours of a Saturday morning, and set up a stall.
It was the start of a career that has made the pair household names, helped put Camden Lock on the map for fashion and art, and catapulted them to the forefront of the contemporary British design movement.
Wayne now uses his expertise across the design spectrum, from being an adviser on social housing schemes to running an annual celebration of the coolest things about Britain from the past 100 years. Called Vintage, it runs across a weekend in July, and with Wayne and Geraldine as curators, it is all about the very best elements of our nation’s creative industries.
He still comes to Camden Lock, walking through his old stomping ground that was the springboard for his company, Red Or Dead, which quickly became the epitome of late-20th century cool.
While he notes how much the markets have changed since he would tip bin bags of clothing onto a table, he says Camden is – and can continue to be – the centre of London’s cutting-edge fashion.
“It is still good,” he says. “We used to make so much stuff to sell there, but the problem is, when somewhere gets as much publicity as Camden Lock did, it can start to lose the sense that it is totally underground.
“When more people want a bit of the action, it means it loses that edginess. It is not as left-field or as gritty as it used to be. However, it still has some great stalls and the area hasn’t been sanitised.”
With the University of the Arts just a short walk along the canal at King’s Cross, the redevelopment of the Hawley Wharf area offers a chance to reinvigorate Camden Lock, Wayne believes.
Many who have commented on the development proposals – turned down in February and now being redrawn – have called for cheap-to-rent workshops and studios to be integral to any scheme. Young art entrepreneurs should be encouraged, helping the market cement its reputation as London’s home for fashion, with the market owners getting once more a product people want.
Wayne says that Camden Lock has a massive amount of cachet that stems from the UK being a leading exponent of design. “The fact is we are very good at it,” he says. “We are brilliant at taking risks. We as a nation have a history of design that pushes boundaries.
“It has always been this way: think about the E-Type Jaguar – it was revolutionary at the time. It is why our designers are such good exports. Look at Jonathan Ive, at Apple. Look at how our fashion designers go to work at the major European houses. We have good design in our DNA. It is within us. It is part of our national psyche.”
He says various factors make it so, even down to our weather.
“We have excellent art colleges, and a climate that means people are inside, doing things that are creative,” he says.
His belief that the British are hard to beat when it comes to decades of cutting-edge design is celebrated by the Vintage Festival.
It takes place in Northamptonshire this year, having previously been on the South Bank in 2011 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain.
“When I moved to London, clubs would show films, they would be as much about fashion and art as well as music,” he says.
“Now you find clubs and festivals are one-dimensional.
“They are very commercial and have become just excuses for 15-year-olds to get drunk. The point of Vintage is to celebrate timeless design, timeless music, great film and art, great fashion, and bring this all together. We wanted it to include all these elements.”
The idea came to him while at a festival with his family. “My son pointed out that the people there are dressed down and it was all a bit directionless. We felt it was unclear what the festival was about. Too many have become bog standard, too mass market: it is like a chain store that has lost all design direction.”
So Wayne decided to fight back.
“We set about thinking how we could create a festival that did not have this to it,” he says. “How could we do something that was better thoughtout, better set-dressed, better curated, instead of simply just trying to sell as much beer as possible?”
The answer is Vintage.
“People come to do things: to make things, learn to dance, hear music they have not heard before,” he says.