Listen to a Londoner: Ellen Burney

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email

Ellen Burney

Ellen Burney is a London-based fashion journalist who has written for titles including Vogue, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is currently on a ‘six-month city sabbatical’ and living in Rye, East Sussex with her partner and their one-year old daughter Doris.

LLO: As a former ELLE columnist, W correspondent and current contributing editor to Lula, you must know quite a few of London’s best-kept fashion secrets. Where are your favourite places to spend a day shopping away from the high streets?
EB: The staple second-hand designer shops such as Bang Bang on Goodge Street and Retro Woman in Notting Hill. For the best old rags try Beyond Retro on Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and the surrounding stalls in Spitalfields Market. For contemporary labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, See by Chloe and Sonia Rykiel I like Diverse on Upper Street, and for hair bows try the crate of bow-ties, visit Episode on Chalk Farm Road! For antique lockets and charm deals, charm the woman with the very long and curling yellow finger nails and tall, fancy barnet in Grays Antique Market in Mayfair.

LLO: You’ve got a love for the printed word. What are you reading now?
EB: Well, I have finally finished A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks, which I loved. In general I read slowly but surely yet with this it was a race against time to finish it before its television debut in December. I made that mistake with Money by Martin Amis, buying it long before I read it and then couldn’t touch it after the pretty dismal television screening earlier this year.

LLO: After a bad day, you’re feeling like a little retail therapy in the form of lingerie and shoes. Where are you going?
Myla. They have a classic five-pack of tulle knickers with bows for £35 but a lot of my earnings have gone on their frilly tap pants and pearl bras. The frou-frou sleepwear is forever on my wish list. For shoes, Russell & Bromley for their classic loafers which I have in burgandy to match my tipple. I like my shoes clompy rather than sexy and so Miu Miu for platform heels. French Sole for black quilted ballet pumps, a classic cliche I refuse to snap or step out of.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to people watch for some street fashion inspiration?
EB: Anywhere with really mad old, well-dressed women. The type that use their walking sticks to push old bits of bin bag into the gutter while proclaiming it ‘a dirty sock.’

LLO: Top three London bloggers we should all read with our morning coffee?
EB: The Enchanted Hunters, Caroline, No, and Canned Fashion.

LLO: Tell us about an inspirational fashion moment that happened to you or someone you know in London.
EB: Well, I will always remember that the late Isabella Blow took time out to call me with advice on getting work-experience on magazines. It was 9/11 and she was in New York and so it was very, very kind of her.

LLO: You’ve written quite a lot about fashion during the credit crunch for Elle. Where’s the best place in London for some creative but cheap fashion buys when you’re skint?
EB: These aren’t necessarily creative but some good value investment buys are a good starting point. Very soft black leggings, £12 from Topshop. I find tights are an easy way to give some sort of style hint. Navy or grey rather than the predictable black. Wool makes for a nice texture as do ribbed. Falke or Wolford and there’s no point in spending little as they rip, no matter how soft you think the Boots bamboo pairs appear. But maybe that’s just the way I sit. I’ve always relied on a hair accessory or style to perk up my mood. A hair bow or cheap pink scrunchie from the chemist. Chelsea boots are a staple for me. At the moment I have a brown pair from the local ‘Country Store’ but last year’s were £22 from Portobello Market. I live and breathe Breton tops and the best fit and quality I have found are £35 from Labour & Wait on Cheshire Street. I have both red and blue. The sailor souvenir type shop in Greenwich has some great ‘sailor basics’ including heavy fishermen’s sweaters. My hairdresser Zoe Irwin keeps a bowl of accessories from her travels on dressing table and wears each day to spice up outfits, such as a Sonia Rykiel brooch worn as a hair grip.

LLO: Favourite up-and-coming London-based fashion label or designer that deserves our attention?
EB: TBA and Charles Anastase for princess-wear and the magnificant Maggie Cassidys for made-to-measure spectaculars.

LLO: I’m heading to London for one night only and want something to eat and drink away from the tourist trail. Any recommendations?
EB: The Grapes pub on Narrow Street in Limehouse for a candlelit dinner in a tiny, seafood restaurant  above the River Thames. Charles Dickens was a regular and the pub features in Our Mutual Friend. Today, Old Gandolf the Grey is the Guinness-drinking regular. If you’re still around the next day, there’s lobster bisque and rare beef sandwiches. Other traditional pubs I like include The George on Commercial Road for a piano-filled knees-up and The Golden Heart in Spitalfields. In Islington, the organic gastro-pub The Duke of Cambridge for vodka and plum juice never dissapoints. I’ve been going there for over a decade, as well as Frederick’s in Camden Passage, Islington, for fine-dining. A memory of an old gentleman and gentlewoman sitting side by side to survey the folk is a long-time fond memory.

Thanks Ellen!

Ellen’s fabulous blog Vagabondiana is highly recommended!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

London Art Spot: Stik

This is Stik, paint-splattered and hard at work in the Mile End Arts Pavilion on some material for his solo show. Two more giant Stik people entered the world while we chatted last Saturday. He’s been creating Stik in various forms for 10 years now. You’ll find his work mainly around Hackney Wick, Dalston and Shoreditch –  Stik people resting, dancing, entire Stik families bringing life to neglected walls or empty billboards. Recently, Stik’s been branching out, with people in other parts of London asking him to graffiti Stik on their walls, working at Glasto and putting up a few pieces in Bristol. He even did a campaign for British Waterways. 

For this week’s London Art Spot, Stik tells us how his art has seen him through his toughest times on London’s streets, about the beauty of language and movement and a little story about a woman in Mayfair.

LLO: What is the significance of Stik?

Stik: Quite often, simple images are the most noted. If I’ve got too many lines, I kind of lose track of what’s going on. I like to have very few things going on, but a lot of data compression in that. This arm’s got three bends in it (pointing to one of the figures he was painting) and I think about the way it conveys movement. Beauty is in movement. That’s what it’s about. Beauty is about the way that someone moves their body. You can tell by someone’s walk if they’re angry, whether they’re happy or if they’ve just eaten. You can tell a lot about someone just by the way they’re moving their back or their eyes. There doesn’t need to be a great deal of detail there. You can see it from across the road. You can see someone silhouetted against a white wall in the night and check whether they’re walking in an aggressive way or if they’re someone you know. That’s what I’m trying to capture in my work – that direct recognition. Before writing, before speech, it’s the language of toddlers, the language of cave people, body language. I think it came from trying to speak to people I don’t share a common spoken language with, just trying to find a way of conveying complex emotions without speech.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of and where can we see it?

Stik: Well… the one I’m most proud of I don’t talk about because it’s illegal (laughs), but the one I’m second most proud of, I really like bits and pieces I’ve done around Ladbroke Grove under the Westway as part of the Mutate exhibition.

LLO: Is Stik meant to be androgynous?

Stik: They are androgynous. They are what you decide they are and they can transcend gender.

LLO: Recently, two articles were written about you in The Big Issue.

Stik: That was through Mutate, really. I’m living in a hostel now; I was homeless for a bit. That interested me because of my own situation. I’m releasing a 3D print through a company called Squarity – 100 little images and will drop them in the city, stick them up on walls around Christmas to raise awareness for homelessness. Where and when exactly is a secret, but it will be sometime in December.

LLO: Have you ever been caught?

Stik: No. To be caught implies that you’re doing something wrong. People have caught me but then more often than not, have encouraged me, asked to take a picture. They talk about the colours. That happened down in Mayfair. This woman “caught” me. It was across from her building. She said, “I don’t like the colour. I don’t like the blue. Can you change the colour?”

LLO: How did you choose the other artists for the group show?

Stik: I never belonged to a crew really. I wanted to find where I connect to other graffiti artists. Something I found sourcing artists is that graffiti artists are quite often deep people. They’ve got meaning behind what they’re doing. It’s got a reputation for being quite an aggressive art form sometimes, or something a bit daring or radical. But some of the artists are just really sensitive and caring people and create pieces that are really delicate and perceptive. When I watch even some of the most aggressive writers up close, getting the line just so, cutting into the line so they get this perfect curve…they’re working with this spray paint which is a pressurised container of gas and chemicals and they’re trying to work with millimetres to get a curve just so. They work very gently and subtly and it’s quite touching.

LLO: Anything you want to add?

Stik: Doing this is really important. It’s an important transition for me. It’s going from being homeless and, via street art, making things more stable, a constant thing that’s been with me for a long time. It’s taken me through some really tough, dark times into the land of the living really. I’ve had an amazing time turning things around. I’ve decided this is enough to base my life on. It feels like I keep feeding it and feeding it. It’s starting to carry itself now and maybe one day it will carry me. I just want to paint all the time. I want this to be all I have to do. I want to do this because it fulfils me. It’s hard. I put every ounce of energy into it. I wake up in the morning and think okay, what can I do now? To my friends, I’m obsessed with it, but it takes a certain amount of obsession to get anywhere in this world, I think. If you’re half-hearted, people overlook you. People overlook you if you’re obsessed as well, but you just have to keep soldiering on and eventually people will go, “Hold on, that person’s got something to say; let’s listen.”  Each piece is its own piece. It’s creating a thought in public consciousness, trying to say something. It’s free art. It’s for everyone.

Thanks Stik!

Catch free entry to Stik’s solo show at the Mile End Arts Pavilion [Clinton Road (off Grove Road), Tower Hamlets, E3 5BH) now until 20 December (12-6pm, but closed on Mondays). Mutate is also running through 22 December. Check here for details!