HANNAH BEER discusses hipster elitism and the pursuit of cool.
You know that feeling of inadequacy you get when you walk through Dalston? That sinking sensation in your stomach when you’re suddenly surrounded by septum piercings and shiny PVC backpacks and people who somehow manage to make socks and Birkenstocks look enviably cool? Who give you and your Urban Outfitters clothing nothing but a withering glare? Well, good news! There’s a company called the Anti-Agency that is doing its best to ensure that we’re never free of East London induced self-loathing, by paying these people to immortalise their disdain in the pages of magazines!
Wait, this Anti-Agency does what, exactly? In its own words, the Anti Agency “isn’t your average casting agency”. Its models are “London based girls and boys” who “could’ve been models and decided not to”; people who are “too cool to be models” who have “real lives on the verge of exploding in music, fashion, art, illustration & creative industries etc.” It’s a company that has been heralded as promoting a refreshingly diverse type of model in an industry that exclusively embraces the tall and thin. When I first heard of it in these terms, I was really excited. At last, the fashion industry is joining the real world! But that excitement quickly turned to disappointment, and later, anger.
The agency’s “anti-models” are all tall, thin and alarmingly beautiful. The only difference between these people and those on the Models 1 website is that the ‘anti-models’ are all photographed in the same Terry Richardson-esque manner: pulling funny faces to show their “personality and individual style” against a white wall with a too-strong flash. They have multi coloured hair and tattoos, and wear mesh and chokers; in short: they’re edgy. Too edgy for the fashion industry, obviously, which is just embarrassingly self-conscious and desperate in its pursuit of cool. Which is why the Anti-Agency doesn’t deal with the mainstream industry, right? Wrong. Written directly beneath their ‘too cool 4 u’ manifesto is the list of companies they’ve cast for, and it reads like Vogue’s guide to shopping destinations: Marc Jacobs, DKNY, Saint Laurent and Selfridges appear amongst other decidedly mainstream brands. Sounds a lot like “your average casting agency” to me.
What angers me about the Anti-Agency isn’t their parade of beautiful, thin people (although this doesn’t exactly make me jump for joy). It’s this; this snobby, snooty, pleased-with-themselves assertion that what they’re doing is different from and better than everyone else. They imply that they’re somehow above the inherent elitism of the fashion industry, because they reject perfection and embrace ‘alternative-ness’. In reality they’re enforcing a different, equally toxic form of it.
The Anti-Agency is just as invested in and enslaved to the fashion industry as any other modelling company, because it is built on the fact that, for the time being anyway, grunge is “in”. Whilst they’re busy implying the superficiality of models who don’t have that all important ‘anti’ in front of their job description, they are making money in the exact same way, catering to the exact same brand image, and alienating just as many people. Their claim to be “different” from other casting agencies would be acceptable if they actually were; like if founders Lucy Greene and Pandora Lennard used their “over ten years of experience in the fashion and music industries” to champion unknown British designers, for example. But as it stands, the Anti-Agency feels a lot like the fashion version of trustafarian eternal Gap Yah kids, looking down on the yuppies for their pursuit of money, whilst spending their entire inheritance to look like they couldn’t care less. It’s an entirely hollow ethos, the hypocrisy of which is demonstrated perfectly by the fact that there’s an ‘Apply’ button on the website – you know, for all those people who ‘could’ve been models but decided not to’.
The fashion industry, for its many faults, never pretends to be anything other than what it is. The Anti-Agency however, with its focus on “London based boys and girls” is just as shallow, image-obsessed and elitist as the industry it implicitly scorns. Worse, it’s hypocritical. And this brings us right back to that feeling of inadequacy that hits the minute you step off the Overground anywhere between Highbury & Islington and Shadwell. The Anti-Agency is just a small representative of the East London Elitism that is so prevalent in our city. Chasing coolness isn’t cool, we know. But doing so and cynically pretending otherwise is even less so, and ultimately, completely futile. Today’s cool is, as these people so readily remind us, tomorrow’s butt of the joke. And London, with its increasingly gentrified east end, is in danger of becoming the biggest joke of all.