The SohoistIssue 12

An Embarrassment of Riches

They’re coming. Spring has begun its slow and tentative squat over London and so they are coming. The itinerant rich. They choose this time of year to slip lightly into London just as the sour white cherry clouds begin to open in the parks. London is their #favouritecity but only when the smothering rain relents. This special kind of tourist embodies the mobility of capital – gadflies free to travel wherever they wish. Citoyens du monde. Never chained to the rhythm of work they enter and exit cities with an easy weekless grace. They are unhinged, and they are coming.

London as theme park only really opens for business at this time of year – when the railings in the squares begin to slough off their paint in the sun. There are spots to hit in the international calendar that make this city a good hub for bespoke summer fun – Cannes in mid-May, Art Basel in June, Fashion Week(s), August in Patmos. Once off the plane, our guests pelt into town and take residence in the stucco fortresses and glass panic rooms of SW[lowprimenumber]. These visitors are not restricted to the minor Arabian princes that so exercise the parking attendant and the Mail; London indiscriminately sucks in all stripes of sockless flâneurs in loafers.

Unlike the detached but aesthetically attuned saunterer that Walter Benjamin fetishized, this swarm exhibit equal parts ignorance and disinterest, deriving nothing from their journeys around the world. Mistaking youth and beauty for accomplishment, these psychogeographers are lost. Experiences become nothing but copy for a filtered instant biography1. New cities to them have the quaint differentiation of so many airline lounges – each with an unthreatening familiar luxury. Their fixation is on this last feature is not surprising. Luxury is bland, childish, soothing. It has a seemingly constant presence similar to that which most of us used to associate with god-like parents. Louis Vuitton looks the same in Tokyo or Milan, Krug bubbles as pointlessly in Portofino as in New York, the Four Seasons will always be there for you – #luxurylife is the mewling of arrested development.
It does something to your mind – the citizenry of no-place – constant airborne flurry at the surface barely masks the shallowed quiet beneath. The old have the defence of surfeit, the young are inexcusable.

What do these young voyagers do? How do they spend their time? The rich have known for years that true indolence is actually a difficult act to sustain. Plus it’s no longer tribally respectable – one must have something on which to spend the days (that doesn’t involve supervision). They cluster round peripatetic roles. Some ‘work for the family office’ (the equivalent of rising at noon, walking into the fields, grazing one’s trousers on the corn, leaning over the shoulder of the sweating serfs and calling yourself a ‘farmer’). Others profess ‘collector’ – your author once met a daughter of a Lebanese man of many noughts who claimed that as her day-job. I imagine that a ‘collector’ must chiefly occupy herself in spending money. As the defining function of a job is to acquire it, this employ seems to me not just inadequate, but the exact opposite of an occupation. I was taken in a driven car to her stronghold in Hampstead but walked back briskly and without my jacket.

Certainly, the easiest way to make a certain kind of friend in a foreign city is to become a benefactor of the arts. It is a world where ‘cunts sell shit to fools’ – a quote so Damien it Hirsts. Drop a small amount on a Fontana and you’ll be beating off Sotheby’s brunch invites with a stick2. The plutocratic flock need not even have taste – it is available for hire. There are things that call themselves ‘art advisers’ – who have a guild to pursue slow redistributive justice. The most effective art advisers are either serious operators (the one who trades Klimts like baseball cards) or the flighty beautiful ones who find it’s the easiest commercialisation of their assets. This is helpful because a piece of modern art is about the right kind of price point where the whispered insinuation of sex might make a sale – no-one will buy a $40m yacht if you offer to fuck them but the brush of an arm, the incline of a head, may make a man of means give you $80,000 for that Jonas Wood in the corner, just to prolong contact. At a certain level of wealth it is just like him offering to buy you a drink. It is a trade to be plied when the sun shines.

Until they leave, these sightseers will live in a parallel city – emptying their days into their nights. With our enthusiastic co-option, they craft a London that never existed – with Wodehousian effectiveness – and then rent it from us. Gliding from Cecconi’s for Bloody Mary’s to the Bond Street bouncers and the shops that lie behind them. Dinner at Chiltern before sliding under Lou Lou’s duvet to buy vodka shots for hookers. And when September chokes into October, they’ll go – following the sun one swallow at a time.

1.The hash character (# or hashtag) was originally used in computing to highlight a special meaning – notably by the inventors of the programming language C: #include int main(void) { printf(“hello, world\n”); } It now denotes the reverse – a kind of lowering of meaning – ‘air quotes’. For example, #aboutlastnight denotes nothing beyond dull tittering coquetry.

2.As a bonus, modern art is exceptionally good for money laundering as there are often multiple versions of the same piece – fungible tokens to cross borders with – much easier to smuggle Koons #2 out as Koons #1 than to pretend there is more than one Laughing Cavalier.