Real people: Enter the Nuppie ...

He's young and upwardly mobile, but he isn't wearing a suit and he swears that happiness, not money, is his aim. Matt Munday reports

Matt Munday
Sunday 08 November 1998 00:02

Recently, as I was travelling to work by Tube, I noticed that my carriage was occupied by a particular kind of commuter. The time was around 10 o'clock in the morning. Most of the capital's suits had already commenced their daily grind, having endured the clammy claustrophobia that is the London Underground during peak hours.

Those reclining in the now half-empty carriage were in their late twenties and early thirties. They were wearing puffa waistcoats, hiking boots, Carhartt sweatshirts and combat trousers. An inordinately high number of the men were sporting goatee beards. These urban professionals, working in media, music, fashion and marketing are the group that, more than any other, growing numbers of college leavers aspire to join.

In the latest edition of Arena Homme Plus, writer Marco Santucci suggests that these urban creatives may be the nearest thing the Nineties has to the Eighties' yuppie. They are young, talented, upwardly mobile, but on the surface less money- orientated than their porsche-driving, champagne-swilling ancestors.

"For them, the recession actually created opportunities," Santucci writes. "Media companies were slimming down and replacing fat-salaried forty-somethings with young freelancers; studios and offices could be had at knockdown rates; and the post-acid house pop culture was throwing up new codes and lifestyles that only those of a certain age could interpret. There grew out of this a generation of creatives and media workers, usually working for themselves or in collectives, and often concerned with making their work fun and non-exploitative."

Nineties urban professionals - nuppies - make money as a consequence of lifestyle rather than pursuing it as an end in itself. Their aim instead is to both produce and consume cultural "cool". They like high-quality sound systems, minidiscs, Playstations, the Internet, loft apartments in East London, deep house, hip hop and drum'n'bass. They are obsessed with popular culture, which is unsurprising given that they have been bombarded with media images, not to mention brand advertising, all their lives.

They say they would rather enjoy their work than pursue six-figure salaries. They refuse to "sell out" to what they perceive as faceless corporations (companies the yuppies so desperately wanted to work for) for fear that they will lose their individuality. Many say they have developed a more ethical approach to business ("Don't shaft people, look after people," as one urban creative puts it). They don't want to wear suits.

"It has been wonderful to grow up and find that I can do a job that I actually enjoy," says 33 year-old Geoff Glendenning. Glendenning co-runs Third Planet, a marketing consultancy which includes MTV among its current crop of clients, and which has, in the past, completed projects for the Ministry of Sound and trendsetting record labels Junior Boy's Own and Perfecto.

"I wore a suit for years," he continues. "I worked in advertising during the Eighties, which was quite aspirational in that decade, and I found that, generally speaking, it was full of gits. They were paranoid, insecure and didn't know what the hell they were talking about. There are many advertising people to this day who are still living in the Eighties, but increasingly, advertising in the Nineties is more about honesty and subtlety - rather than saying, 'We're huge, we're spending loads of cash.'"

Money, the Nineties urban professional will swear, isn't the be all and end all. To the Eighties yuppie, on the other hand, the only thing more important than accumulating cash was making sure everyone knew how much you had. This was the decade of flashy docklands bachelor pads, of putting your credit card behind the bar and your employers picking up the tab, of living fast and (due to the amount of cocaine you took) talking even faster, of double-crossing your colleagues, your boss, your friends - anyone standing between you and the top rung of the ladder.

Nuppies set themselves up as something else. It's easy to be critical - to say that this group is aspiring in just the same way but in a different world; that they use culture and ideas as currency in the same way their predecessors used cash - cynically; but the nuppies insist that they're different.

"I don't think I'm as materialistic as the yuppies were," says Dawn Weller, 30, a successful freelance stylist and merchandiser. "I'm a very ambitious person, but I'm not particularly competitive. I don't really care what anyone else is doing. The impression I have is that the Eighties yuppie was out to get everyone else. I don't have any desire to be the best at everything. I just want to be good at what I do."

Thirty-year-old Mark Westall runs Hard Reality, a new-media marketing company whose current client roster includes Express Newspapers and Haymarket Business Publishing. Hard Reality offers guidance to clients wishing to "take advantage of the digital age". This can mean anything from devising online advertising campaigns to assisting a company with internal communications. Westall also happens to have spent the late Eighties going to Shoom, Danny Rampling's legendary club, heralded by many as the place where the UK acid house explosion began.

"I've always wanted to make money..." he says, sounding suspiciously like a yuppie. "Well, not so much make money as run my own business. At the end of the day if you're going to run a business, you want it to be successful. At heart, I guess, I'm a capitalist.

"But I don't think money is as important as having a job you like. I mean, I didn't want to work for someone else. That was more important to me than money. I could go and work in the City and earn far more cash than I do now, but I don't want to do that. I don't want to be tied down to a big organisation and to have to do that nine-to-five thing."

Not everyone is convinced that the growing number of British urban creatives bodes well for the future. "There's no doubt that we are seeing a change in large numbers of peoples' working lives," says Peter York, the social commentator. "This is as much due to the decline of manufacturing in this country as anything else. It worries me because that decline is further and faster in this country than in other European countries. If you are going to be competitive in the world, you need to be represented in a wider range of industries than we are. It's very nice to have a high export music industry, for example, but its not enough."

Portentous this may be, but it will take more than the imminent collapse of our economy to stem the growing popularity of media studies degrees, as students dream of becoming the next Jo Whiley, Pete Tong or Lisa L'Anson. In the Nineties, Britain's brightest young things want to live the designer- slacker life. They want to direct the next Budweiser commercial, make drum'n' bass records, go snowboarding, hang out in Hoxton Square and sleep with one of the girls from All Saints (or boys from Another Level). Preferably all in the same weekend.

There is a further cautionary note for all the potential Nineties urban professionals, one which might make that career in engineering seem a more enticing prospect after all. It comes from Marco Santucci. "At the individual level," he explains, "there is often little or no distinction between their work and their lifestyle. Nineties urban professionals find themselves submerged in their work to a ridiculous degree. They can't switch off."

After all, its not as if they can escape their jobs by turning on the telly, or going clubbing, is it?

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