How lo-fi can you go?

Kate Winslet serves her wedding guests bangers and mash, Meg Mathews swears she wears Gap, not Gucci. Even Joanna Lumley buys second-hand shoes for royal birthday parties. For fad's sake, what's going on? By Emma Cook
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
How the papers cooed over Kate Winslet's wedding this week; the absence of showbiz buzz, the quaint little local church; cheese and onion crisps for all the guests and Embassy fags for the bride - well almost.

How adoring they were about our Kate's low-key tastes. "There's nothing showbizzy about Kate's marriage", gushed the Mail. The Sun, that great arbiter of popular taste, was positively fulsome. "Kate, adored by millions, could have chosen the swankiest venue... but she invited the people she really wanted at her family church and treated them to bangers and mash at her local pub."

Welcome to the pared-down world of lo-fi living; suddenly one of the luvviest actresses around - best chums with Emma Thompson and prolific weeper at the Oscar awards - is praised as a down-to-earth girl refusing six-figure sums from OK magazine to cover her wedding, and "keeping it real" down her local boozer. Kate's not alone in her lo-fi tastes. In a style column last week, Meg Mathews was desperate to play down her image as designer-clothes animal. "One paper said I could wipe out the Guatemalan national debt with one swipe of my platinum Amex card," she moaned. "In the picture of me and Kate Moss out shopping, I was wearing flip-flops from Marks & Spencer and a cheap sarong." She regales us with quaint details of cosy evenings in with Noel watching footie, consuming fish and chips and mugs of tea.

Elsewhere, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson boasts about a recent visit to South London's less than salubrious Streatham. As she says, "Now there's a word you never thought you'd read in my column." (Yes, along with Wittgenstein and dole-cheque.)

Now it's smart to play down-at-heel; when Joanna Lumley turned up at Charles's 50th birthday bash, she wore a pair of Dolcis shoes which cost, she boasts, 50 pence from Oxfam. "I dyed them burgundy to match my outfit. It made me laugh just thinking I must be the only person there in junk- shop shoes. One of those little babe girls from All Saints said they were fab, so I had to tell her where I got them from. She was very impressed."

Hand in hand with spendthrift fashion goes the comfort zone of white trash food; sliced bread (white of course), Rowntree's jelly and Mattessons Sausages (not hand-made venison) are de rigueur for the in-crowd, according to the thirtysomething style magazine Frank. There are plenty of places where celebrities can slum it, notably, The Good Cook, in Notting Hill, west London, part of the Tabernacle community centre. Allegra McEvedy's restaurant typifies this shift from glamour to grit. Allegra says, "When I worked at De Niro's restaurant in New York, every table was VIP. It was full of glammy people. I came away thinking everyone should be VIPs. I think that things are working their way back to basics. We're trying to knock off the frills that are so unnecessary. We offer good, honest food." Good honest celebs can't keep away; Anna Friel, Tim Roth, Rachel Weisz, et al.

In east London's Shoreditch, the anti-glitterati, including the fashion designer Alexander McQueen, favour the Vietnam Community Centre, where you can get cheap noodles. If you're fabulously wealthy, forget Conran's glut of grand deco-eateries. Instead, think Formica and sarnies in clingfilm (best eaten outside your local Age Concern).

Avril Mair, the editor of the street style bible i-D, confesses that she's one of Shoreditch's new breed of lo-fi livers. She loves the area, especially her local lo-fi eatery on Kingsland Road, Viet Hoa. Slumming it in the name of style, though, can have its disadvantages, she admits. "I live in one of those lo-fi Shoreditch warehouses and I bought my sofa for pounds 60 at Brick Lane market," she says. "Twelve thousand square feet of concrete is a fantastic idea but it's also freezing." Perversely though, she says, the whole idea of having style but not money has become deeply fashionable.

It's no coincidence that this idea has gained currency as recession looms. As financial anxiety spreads, conspicuous consumption begins to look more than a little vulgar.

The search for the lo-fi alternative also marks a significant move away from homogenised style that seems to exert such a stranglehold on consumer culture. Richard Benson, the group editor of Arena and The Face, says, "The more we see these well-designed, slick bars crop up, the more people are interested in old-bloke pubs." Like the Dogstar in Brixton, south London, and George and Nicky's in north London's Camden. He adds, "There are a set of people who want to `keep it real,'" he says. "I think there is a backlash against sports cars, Gucci and the rest of it. People are appropriating the scummy, lo-fi end of the mainstream."

This is true among pop stars, where wearing scruffy, urban clothes guarantees authenticity. The All Saints look sexily "street" in their combats even though their over-produced music couldn't be more "hi-fi". Neither could their trousers, sold in Gap and now worn by the post-Armani Eric Clapton.

In the theatre, too, you don't get more lo-fi than Ewan McGregor playing at the Hampstead Theatre and biking to work everyday. But don't be fooled by the "we're just like-you" aesthetic of lo-fi life. Just remember next time you're trying to get into the members-only Met Bar, it's a one-way exchange. While Ewan, Meg, Kate and Alexander can slum it in our world, we'll never be able to lig it in theirs.

Comments