Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of beige and I concede that my mixed feelings about what Marylebone has become may seem a tad hypocritical. But even so.
I have been trying to pin-point exactly when I fell into the thrall of tonal dressing and have narrowed it down to somewhere between the mid-1980s with the release of Out of Africa and the first time I visited Nicole Fahri’s eponymously named NICOLES restaurant in Bond Street in the mid-1990s.
For a kid from small town Australia, desperate to be sophisticated, sitting among the caramel banquettes with lunching ladies felt like going to heaven. It was all cream, coffee, camel, toffee and calm. This was a room where spillages on cashmere were not an issue, and I could only dream of becoming part of this exclusive club where wash cycles didn’t figure in fashion choices.
Be careful what you wish for.
I hadn’t been to Marylebone on a weekend in an age and so wasn’t prepared for what hit me when I did it recently. The area has never been ‘struggle street’ exactly but I don’t recall it being this…co-ordinated.
Firstly, the crowds. I had imagined whiling away a relaxing hour browsing the shelves at Daunt Books. But apparently hundreds of others had had the same idea – it was packed. Maybe it was just me and my limited day of outings in London since the end of you-know- what, but it was jostling room only. I was out of the door in minutes.
Then, back on the pavement, it struck me that everyone was dressed the same, me included – hundreds of people attired as if to complement a Farrow and Ball colour chart. I was drowning in a sea of understated elegance. Seeing the global professional class – and their children – in their weekend wear is quite a thing to behold. I was reminded of the brilliant Instagram account @officialsadbeige, a comedy take on the trend for muted tones and expensive peasant dressing.
Even the streetscape was gorgeously tasteful with nary a typeface out of line and the pastries and sourdough on display all conforming to the approved hues. The retail offer is designed for people who don’t need to check price tags. And judging by the crowds in-store there are plenty who are both immune to the cost of living rising and quite certain one can never have too many beige wraps.
So, what’s the issue? Well, it’s not a problem so much as an observation. It’s the realisation that all areas of our lives, including our streets, are being curated like a Spotify weekly ‘chill’ list. I freely admit tending towards the easy-listening end of the cultural spectrum, and on paper I should have been in my element lapping up the European aesthetic. And yet I felt a bit out of place. The reason I love London is because it’s the exact opposite of that. My London is eccentric, colourful, always surprising and constantly stretching the tolerance muscle.
Of course, Marylebone is just one pocket of London. If it’s not your thing there are plenty of other places where you can get your kicks, and I wasn’t strong armed into the visit. But be warned that the allure of the tasteful is a contagion that is spreading. A city designed to match my algorithm is not what I want London to become.
On London strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for just £5 a month. You will even get things for your money. Learn more here.