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The real London
Care for a guided tour round some of London’s best shops? Perhaps a visit to one of the city’s more quaint tea houses before popping into an antique market and retro warehouse where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with some of London’s quirkiest trendsetters? Go on a London Lifestyle walk and you’ll discover parts of the city you may not even know exist.
The new ‘Fox&Squirrel’ walks are the brainchild of 26-year-olds Jojo Provatidou and Penelope Sacorafou, the former being of Greek origin, and the latter half Greek and half English. “As foreigners living in London we’re obviously used to having a lot of guests come over for a visit. They’re always asking us where to go and one day we just made a joke that we should make a business out of it.”
It turns out that the joke was no laughing matter as the creative duo set about offering the public unique experiences around London. Having grown up in Cyprus, Penelope met Jojo while doing a Masters degree together in Cultural and Creative Industries at London’s King’s College. From that point on they came up with new ideas together, did a lot of internships, and networked their way to where they are today.
First came a blog in November 2009 which created an exchange between artists in the UK and the Balkans, and then came the idea of lifestyle walks with the launch of the ‘Fox&Squirrel’ website just a few weeks ago. And why the rather strange name? “We wanted something really tied to London,” says Penelope. “At first we wondered whether to name it after a phrase, a habit, a building. But then we thought of foxes and squirrels, two animals that are always merged in the urban landscape of this city. Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t; some people like them, some people don’t. We wanted to show that we understand the real London.” She pauses for a second before proceeding with a little laugh. “Then there are just two girls who wanted to be a bit cute.”
As for the actual walks themselves, each one is led by a creative professional from various fields. With different walks to choose from, you might opt to be guided through rails of vintage clothes, explore London’s art scene, or experience the dynamic relationship between architecture and food. The main aim is that of ensuring your experience of the city is an authentic one, and that the walk caters exactly to your needs.
“We’re adamant that people realise these are bespoke walks and not just tours. You can get plenty of tours around London but we offer intimacy, exclusiveness and we’re very much in tune with emerging trends,” explains Penelope. “The walk in itself is a really amazing learning experience as people are given the chance to learn what London has to offer them as an individual as opposed to what London has to offer as a whole.”
So far proving very popular with companies buying the walks as a Christmas presents for their employees, there seems to be most interest in the art walks and personal styling. “Individuals on the other hand tend to be more interested in the vintage walks,” says Penelope. But surely there must be a few teething problems as the girls try and set their new business into motion? “Starting up something independently like this has been hard at times and it can be intimidating. The recession hasn’t helped but we’ve noticed that people are really keen on spending their money on experiences.”
One can’t forget that London also has the slight problem of unpredictable weather, with miserable days proving to be a small hindrance. But the girls haven’t let it get in their way, managing to beat the rain by choosing venues in each destination that are within close proximity to each other, with lots of indoor spaces providing a focal point.
With Penelope herself heading the art walks, Jojo conducts most of the architecture tours with a handful of professional stylists doing fashion and vintage walks. Cafés and food joints are always an integral part of any day out. “There’s always ‘talking time’ where each guide will initiate conversation. When it comes to the fashion walks the stylist will present you with different clothes suited to you.”
Open to individuals and groups of friends, it’s up you to choose between half and full day tours. As for prices, they vary according to what tour you opt for. “A half day fashion walk for an individual is £100 but that goes down the more people that join in.” Once you book for any given tour, a questionnaire is sent out with relevant simple enquiries based on your individual style and what you’re interested in. “If you’re keen on fashion, the guide might concentrate on the best area for your individual style. We’ve mapped London’s terrain using fashion as our compass; we take them into independent boutiques and not chains. The art walk on the other hand is all about new and emerging trends.” As for all those foodies out there, the idea is that of consuming “venues and space.” Bewildered? It’s simply all about how food is influenced by an area, its people and its architecture. “We might move from an East London market food stall to a more fancy West London Victorian tea house. There’s such a huge different between the two sides with so many influences to take in.”
I wonder whether the walks are geared towards more towards locals or foreign visitors. “It’s definitely a bit of both. A lot of people living in London aren’t familiar with all parts of town and then there are so many visitors that say they just get trapped on Oxford Street. These walks are about the places where real Londoners hang out and we take a look at all sorts of people; there’s a specific style that defines each area.” Foxes and squirrels have certainly never been given such a creative edge.
Vouchers can be purchased on the Fox&Squirrel website with cards printed and sent off when required as present. www.foxandsquirrel.com