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'London is a cultural melting pot. There are so many spaces that remind you of traveling to other spaces.'
Gems in this
Bevan Agyemang believes that the spaces we inhabit can determine our identities and our outlook on the world.
The designer and founder of label and multidisciplinary design studio The Space Around Us (TSAU) grew up in a Ghanaian household in a predominantly Afro-Caribbean area of northwest London. That upbringing, combined with later travels to India and his parents’ home in Ghana, led to the development of what Bevan calls his ‘Third Eye’: a deep sensitivity to the history and geography of cultural identities — and how they can change. It’s a lens he uses in everything from his work in photography to his unique and vibrant garment collections. We spoke to Bevan about his cross-cultural life and his London Travel Playbook — including where to go for the city’s sweatiest night out.
On where you grew up and the influence it had on you
I grew up in inner city London, in Harlesden. It has a really big Afro-Caribbean community — almost like a little Kingston. So when I went outside to play, there were lots of Jamaican influences, and at school I would mix with children from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. But then at home there were all these influences from my Ghanaian parents. So there was a real cross-cultural mix within different spaces from a young age. Subconsciously, these were all things pouring into the little pockets of my mind.
On a formative trip to India
My mom’s cooking gave me a love for spices, and I developed a close connection with South Asian culture through this. When I took my first trip to India after university, I realized that my reality growing up was completely different to the reality in Mumbai. Your reality is whatever is local to you; going to India allowed me to look deeply at how I’m influenced by what I’m surrounded by, and how we, as humans, are influenced by our experiences and the things we see every day.
On a window or an aisle seat
I have to take the aisle seat, because having to always pass somebody is the worst feeling ever.
‘The more I traveled, the more I widened my perspective. That was the start of my creative process.’
On returning to Ghana and reigniting that connection
There was a day that my dad handed me the family archives, and within those images of the 1950s and 1960s, as the young postcolonial Africans were redefining their identity, I saw myself in my father for the first time. That led me to go back to Ghana, where I was originally from. And when I got there, I felt like I understood all my experiences, and I was really able to comb through every moment. I think there’s so much information they [Ghanaians] hold but they just don’t have the platform. Sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we are to be born into places with a platform and the resources.
On widening your perspectives and developing your creative process
I started off wanting to be a photographer. I was heavily inspired by Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon, who would connect with people from different cultural backgrounds and learn their story before taking a portrait of them. So I explored the streets, talking to different characters and taking their portraits. Technically I wasn’t the greatest photographer, but developing my eye was important. And the more I traveled, the more I widened my perspective. That was the start of my creative process. After that, it was more about me just finding the mediums to express my stories. I feel like some of my darkest times have been the most creative, but I’m aware now that if I’m going through another dark time, that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And sometimes, when you get there, you realize that light was just a mirror the whole time, and it’s just a reflection of you.
On the path from portrait photographer to personal stylist to designer
I was being influenced by all the images I was taking of cross-cultural individuals with a hybrid sense of identity. And I would always reference those people in my personal style. That led to people looking at me and how I was dressing and eventually requesting me as a stylist. Then, I started developing custom pieces for some of my clients. Once stores started to see the custom pieces, they asked if I’d be interested in making a collection, and that’s how my design studio, TSAU, was formed.
On being able to ‘travel’ through the enclaves of London
London’s a funny one. If I’m here for longer than four months, I feel like I need to move and come back again, but I always come back. Even though I’m originally from Ghana, London is home — and you always go back home at some point, don’t you? London is a cultural melting pot. There are so many spaces that remind you of traveling to other spaces, and I couldn’t say that about many places across the world. I live in North London in Islington, on the border of Hackney, but then if I want a reminder of Ghana, I could just go to Dalston or Ridley Road. If I want to feel a reminder of my time in India, I could just go to Southall. So that's the special thing about London.
‘Notting Hill is an upper-class side of London, and then you have neighboring Ladbroke Grove, which is majority working class, but then in spots like The Globe, you just have people coming together, and you don't see or feel any of that.’
On showing a friend around London for the day
We’d probably start off in Harlesden for some really good soul food at a takeaway called Hawkeye. Then we’d make our way down to Ladbroke Grove and Portobello and do some shopping — Herbie’s Vintage. Herbie’s the guy. He's really been in the scene for quite a long time and he just knows how to source pieces. I think about 65% of what I have is from Herbie’s. Then from there, Soho. Soho’s always a good vibe: you can still do some shopping but at the same time it's really cool, and there’s nice bars to have a drink in the evening. After that, we’d head over to Grosvenor Square to this place called The Twenty Two — really good food there. I've never had caviar pasta before I went there; it’s crazy.
On where in London to eat and drink
In Soho there’s a place called La Bodega Negra. That’s the spot. They have brilliant Mexican food and they also have a cave bar, and it really goes down after around 11.30pm. Then the best spots in London for South Asian food would definitely be in Southall, especially Rita’s Curry House on Regina Road, and also the curry houses of Ealing Road, which is in between Alperton and Wembley.
On the best night out
The Globe is a sweat box. It was started by this Jamaican boxer, I believe in the 70s. He created this space that’s a restaurant during the day, but they have like an underground club at night, and there's like an archive of the history of things that went on in Notting Hill throughout the space. Notting Hill is an upper-class side of London, and then you have neighboring Ladbroke Grove, which is majority working class, but then in spots like The Globe, you just have people coming together, and you don't see or feel any of that.
On experiencing the annual Notting Hill Carnival
Everybody chooses to experience Notting Hill Carnival in their own way. I feel there are people who would just chill out on the window of somebody who lives in the area, and then there are also people that want to get into the nucleus. So you could go to the cultural clash event; you could go to the tripping event; there are legendary sound systems that have been at the carnival for years. There’s also the parade, which is one of the most important elements because it talks about the history of it all, and you also get to see all the colors, shapes and creations.
‘Driving around London at night time, there's a rush that you feel, especially when you remember to look up.’
On a song that best represents London for you
The Streets’ ‘Blinded by the Lights.’ There’s a definitive London sound that has probably come up through the club and rave scene. It’s in the BPM, it’s the bass. Driving around London at night time, there's a rush that you feel, especially when you remember to look up. London moves on a certain BPM and I think that tune just gives you that feel.
On describing London in one word
Stew. All of the different flavors are kind of mixed into this pot and that creates something very tasteful. It’s the sauce to anything bland. London is far from plain rice.