The Electric Peacock

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THE ELECTRIC PEACOCK

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI PANDE

Soho is a separate universe within London. It traps time, places and memories so that once you enter through its outer streets – Wardour, Brewer, Dean and Greek – you are no longer bathed in grey London daylight but suffused with neon glowing from the semiotic invitations to sex and dining, dancing and drinking that bombard the vision and mind. Wants and wishes of both sign and person project onto each other to the point where we do not know if our desires began before we entered this Wonderland square mile or if we were instead scrutinised by these phosphor fortune-tellers and shown doors instead of cards to determine our evening: the Wheel of Fortune (Las Vegas Arcade); The Empress (Agent Provocateur); the Knight of Cups (The French House).

I have stared at the sign of 100 Wardour Street and only seen the ghost of the oversized verti-cal lettering of Mezzo, that Conran-designed haunt of the late ’90s. Standing across the street now, I could remember perfectly snatches of conversations, the taste of pale-pink hued Cosmpolitans in ice-frosted and lemon-rind rubbed glasses raised to my lips one after the other. You’ve had your hair cut, you look like a movie starlet, exclaimed a boyfriend as I strode in one night, close-cropped as Winona Ryder and dressed in a knee-length burgundy velvet Chinoiserie pencil skirt gilt-embroidered with pagodas and dragons, tight black top and black leather heels. Walking into Cafe Boheme, almost half-expecting to see my past self in corners: eating oysters on one date, mock-seriously debating going home with another as we stood with almost no space between us, that discretionary distance removed by talk and cocktails. The unknown dark bar in Greek Street where one particularly bland date was made memorable by a cucumber and elderflower martini brought to me. “But I didn’t order this,” I said, baffled. “Compliments of the house”, said the server, gesturing towards the bar. I looked over and was given a smile and nod by the tall bartender. I nodded and raised my glass in return, my date – satisfied that no one was encroaching on what he felt was his territory – sinking back into his leather chair and returning again to futures or shares or whatever intensely uninteresting banking jargon he had been regaling me with.

And yet, all around, Soho’s lights and its potential couplings brings to mind an electric peacock: the night is for joyous mating, it says here are my colours, now show me yours.

I have surprisingly been little involved – directly – with what Soho is known for at night: sex. It seems funny to think, but my experiences were always slightly peripheral to its panting heart. Of course, I have run in the highest of heels, hand-in-hand with a boyfriend or fling, laughing in the night as we try to find a black cab, racing against the clock of lust – eager to get back to my bed, his bed, or any bed that London can offer us to continue our play. At my request, I have been sent curious pornographic fragments by post in unassuming brown envelopes, a long-distance game of deciphering the other’s desires, my desires, pages carefully removed from magazines that were purchased in one of these small shops advertising the bluest shade of shade of blue movies and magazines alongside regal mannequins, staring at the dream of reality in the distance, bound in black-as-night leather and PVC – ironically, perhaps as night in Soho is always blocked out in favour of the brightest of lights that can be provided by the noble gases. I have observed the legal and the illegal, although bodies are always studied or sold framed by doorways here, calling out to passersby and offering everything but the word sex directly: massage, private dances, discreet and hungry looks – the beautiful company of these gilded men and women.

And yet, all around, Soho’s lights and its potential couplings brings to mind an electric peacock: the night is for joyous mating, it says here are my colours, now show me yours. Plush blood-red and snow-white velvet banquettes; gleaming rubbed-brass poles and pillars as shiny as Aladdin’s lamp and promising just as many wishes; back-lit and mirrored liqueurs of chartreuse, raspberry, turquoise; and the jewel-coloured satins of women in queues and doorways: violet, emerald, marigold and midnight. Maybe the point of this neon universe is that you should be infused and intoxicated with desire by the spectrum of its atmosphere, that heady mix of the debauched and innocent under its electric wings.

 

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