A little piece of soho in notting hill

West London's glitterati have a new meeting place. By Millie Jenkins
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The Independent Culture
"I've spent my whole life in taxis going to Soho. There's a crying need for a club in Notting Hill," declares Ivo Hesmondhalgh, director of The Cobden Club. This new private members' club is set to put west Londoners out of their misery when it opens next month.

The Cobden is to be housed in a Victorian building on Kensal Road, until now the home of the Cobden Working Men's Club. Lord William Cobden, the Fabian philanthropist who established the club in 1882, would be turning in his grave if he knew that the society he set up for earnest political discourse and further education is to become a watering hole for the chattering classes. The "working men" will, however, be allowed to stay on the ground floor for a peppercorn rent (a bottle of whisky per annum) while the new club's members - the likes of Will Self and Amanda de Cadenet - sip their designer beers upstairs. There will, naturally, be separate entrances. The new mould of private members' clubs was born in the Eighties, pioneered by the Groucho Club in Soho, which gave rise to a rash of similar havens where the literati and the glitterati could congenially rub shoulder pads with each other.

The key, of course, is exclusivity. The Cobden has a membership committee of about 100 people, peppered with well-known names from fashion, music, film and literary circles: Kate Moss, Rifat Ozbek, Malcolm McLaren, Emily Lloyd and other illustrious residents of W10 and W11.

Committee members have all been asked to suggest 30 friends they consider to be suitable members. "They've all plundered their address books and given us the names of their bestest and most entertaining friends," says Hesmondhalgh. It is perhaps ironic that the fashionable people who have moved to Notting Hill in their droves, hoping to be a part of its bohemian and working-class tradition, are being siphoned off from the very community they wanted to belong to. "We're not being exclusive," Hesmondhalgh says. "Well, we are exclusive, just not snotty," he adds.

Founder members will pay pounds 180 a year and the club aims to get a maximum of 2,000 members, many of them, no doubt, members of other clubs, joining up for a year, for fear of being left out in the cold if it becomes the place to be. Many will also be investors who between them have put in pounds 750,000. Investing in clubs can be a highly profitable business, as those who put money into The Groucho discovered.

People are unwilling to say whether they think The Cobden will be a success - even those on the membership committee, some of whom claim to be completely in the dark about the whole venture.

Sebastian Conran says he was surprised to see his name being dropped in the club's prospectus, although Ivo Hesmondhalgh is a friend of his. "I don't know anything about it." he says. "I don't go to clubs. I have children, I'm 40, I work. I used to be a member of the Chelsea Arts Club, but the sight of a naked Quentin Crisp one night rather put me off."

JAMES HEWITT, 26, MANCHESTER

Occupation: Student (no, I'm not Princess Di's consort) ... Personal style: I'm into high fashion - I like Hugo Boss and Moschino, and Gaultier does some quality stuff ... Northern style: Up north we wear things with more attitude; when we wear a jacket, we accentuate the shoulders. Down south it's so casual ... Listens to: Trip hop, hip hop, Chemical Brothers ... Hangs out at: Prague Five, Metz, Barca ... Hero-worships: Tarantino - there's just something about him that's class. He makes killing amusing, he sets it apart from reality. Oh yes, and Gareth Southgate.

KEEMA T EKPEI, 25, MANCHESTER

Occupation: Dancer ... Personal style: I like tight jeans - they look naff on a lot of people but they suit me. These ones are from Gap. I also like wearing leggings. My favourite designer is Donna Karan, and Armani makes gorgeous coats but they're about two grand ... Northern style: Leeds is great for shopping - especially the designer arcades in the Victoria Quarter ... Listens to: Mozart, Philip Glass, Dina Carroll, the Beastie Boys ... Hangs out at: Barca, Atlas Bar, Duke's 92 ... Hero-worships: Superman and George Balanchine, the choreographer.

JAMIE TO, 26, KIRKCALDY, FIFE

Occupation: Fashion student ... Personal style: I'm from the east coast of Scotland, so I tend to dress casual and, sometimes, dead boring. I suppose I'm a Ralph Lauren man. If I had a choice I'd wear suits all the time, really good tailoring. Rei Kawakubaofrom Comme des Garcons is my favourite designer, she's ahead of her time and doesn't stick to the rules. I also like Massimo Osti ... Northern style: The West coast and Glasgow are quite dressy; Manchester style is laid back - casual but smart

NICK HARDY, 18, MANCHESTER

Occupation: Shop assistant ... Personal style: Laid back but smart, with bright colours. My favourite designers are Massimo Osti - I'm wearing one of his jumpers - and Firetrap; they're comfortable, clubby, and you can wear them anywhere ... Northern style: In Manchester you've got to have a nice pair of shoes, nothing scruffy. And you must wear designer labels, but mustn't wear them as billboards ... Listens to: Beethoven ... Hangs out at: Motorbike rallies with my mum - she has a Harley Davidson

LEE ELLIOTT, 26, LIVERPOOL

Occupation: model ... Personal style: Football is my biggest influence. I used to play for Everton, but had to pack it in because I had bad knees. I like casual styles; I got my white cords and the leather jacket second- hand. As for designers, I love Prada for its simplicity, Dolce e Gabbana (I'm wearing one of their shirts) and Paul Smith suits ... Northern style: Football, football, football ... Listens to: Oasis, the Stones, the Beatles ... Hangs out at: Cream, The Arena Bar ... Hero-worships: Bob Latchford (1970s Everton striker) and Nelson Mandela.

AMIR SHAH, 19, ROCHDALE

Occupation: student ... Personal style: My friends tease me saying I should get designer names stamped on to my arse. I love designer fashion - anything by John Richmond, Destroy, Nick Coleman, or Osti, but mainly I shop at Jigsaw and Woodhouse. The ring I'm wearing is a present from my uncle in Pakistan ... Northern style: It used to be a bit behind London here, but we're getting better. Listens to: Soul, R&B, rap ... Hangs out at: Cream. I go there every week ... Hero-worships: Robert De Niro, the God of acting, and Eric Cantona, of course.

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