The social working space Forge & Co on Shoreditch High Street is a good place to talk about stripping in London. On the outskirts of the City, this is stripper country — The White Horse and Rainbow Sports Bar are just across the road; further up, Browns squats across the top of the street, The Horns is mounted up near Old Street, while down in Whitechapel there’s the knackered old Nags Head, and secreted further into Hackney is The Old Axe.
We’re meeting three members of the East London Strippers Collective, a group of mostly women looking to improve the lot of London’s strip-teasers and reinvent the job for a 21st century city. The collective is currently crowdfunding to cover the expenses for an Art of Stripping festival taking place over the last 10 days of October at the Red Gallery in — where else — Shoreditch.
Everyone’s name is a ‘nom-de-nude’: Chiqui Love is Venezuelan but grew up in the Canaries; she’s all warmth and vigour and glitter on her skin. She has a carrot juice. Zoe Trope (white wine, red curls, white skin, punk attitude) is from the USA and has been in London for four years. We think Lily has recently escaped back through the looking-glass; she is an adult Alice, still a little-way down the rabbit hole. All three are bright but Lily’s outlook is offbeat with it; she has a double-espresso.
We wanted to see behind the boarded-up windows and stereotypes of strippers and the London stripping world. Chiqui, Lily and Zoe are not almost-starving single mothers or drug addicts, but they did all begin as the newer cliché says, when they were students. Chiqui has “shown her tits all over London” including venues without a stage where “you have to get your knickers off on a pool table” and says that stripping paid for her degree.