For the shopkeepers within London's Notting Hill Carnival area, riot preparedness is a routine annual affair. Ever since the first disturbance, back in 1976, each late August bank holiday sees the area's hippest fashion boutiques, from Paul Smith to Jade Jagger, erect temporary boardings to protect their shop windows from potential attacks. But this year, the riots that tore through the capital in early August caused many stores to board up earlier than usual. This is the only date in fashion's retail calendar when shopkeepers abandon their desire to attract customers, and batten down the hatches. For the duration of the two-day festival the local boutiques surrender their ground to the overwhelming energy of carnival street life, and to a fate determined by its revellers.
As a resident of the area, I am always struck by the way the boarded up fashion stores take on the appearance of failed businesses. Notting Hill looks like the opposite of what it is -- a post-apocalyptic village in terminal decline. The conspicuous boutiques are the ones that have not boarded up -- usually around the carnival perimeter. Their naked glass fronts, displayed defiantly to the street, look odd within this temporary new cityscape. This time, however, few storeowners will be taking chances. Almost every window will be boarded up to the hilt. But marketing is not abandoned entirely, as the fascia boards bearing the stores logos remain visible.
As soon as the boards go up, a swarm of talented local graffiti artists appear, eager to claim the choicest spots to display their craft and deposit their tags ahead of rivals. The surprising thing about many of them is that they are not kids, but grown men -- oversized ragamuffins and rebels-with-mortgages, adorned in drop-down jeans, hoodies and baseball caps. They systematically set about re-fashioning these bland barricades with a gritty new design aesthetic, incorporating vibrant colours with freestyle giant-sized typography in angular and bulbous shapes. Their pop-up art contrasts sharply with the window-dressing behind the timber laminates. The images shown here, taken at last's carnival, illustrate how much more visually dynamic many of these designs are when compared to the real thing -- their oversized lettering projecting more powerfully than the storefront logos themselves.
Come Sunday mid-morning, the festivities finally get underway, and as the boom of the sound systems shift air, one wonders whether the shop boardings are actually there to keep out the roughnecks or to protect the glass from the ferocious bass blasting from the three-metre speaker stacks.
By Tuesday morning it's all over once again, the boards come down and planet fashion returns to normal.
Ben Arogundade's latest eBook, The Shakespeare Mash-up, is out now.
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