The idea grew, said Pugh, from a day in 2018 when Kartel Brown, house father of Vogue Rites, came and proposed putting on “the biggest Vogue Ball in UK history. There’s a huge community here. So we said, well, let’s do it here in the courtyard!” It’s taken care to build this utopian, egalitarian celebratory fantasia into a realit, and it comes just in time to provide a much-needed space for joyous community consolidation after the traumas of the pandemic.
Back on the ground, I met Kartel Brown rehearsing with the Vogue Rites crew, and asked what occupying this space signifies to them. “It’s great to be in an institution and to be visible and speak, and to be bringing in people who might not have felt invited or welcomed here previously. So it’s really dismantling a lot of barriers. I’m looking at kids here that have never been to Somerset House, and these are kids born and raised in London.”
There are treats galore on the schedule. A Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz street party will showcase the incredible breakthrough of that uprising of London talent. Unmissable for fashion audiences will be the free event by choreographer Patrick Ziza highlighting the dandy culture of Congolese Sapeurs (outrageously well-dressed men and women in sharp suits) with workshops on “how to pose, walk, and boogie.”
Friday night open-air DJ sessions will be hosted by the Latinx club night Movimentos and the ESEA Sisters, who “create space for women, trans, non-binary, and genderqueer folks of East and Southeast Asian Heritage,’ among others. And next Sunday, there will be a Drag Syndrome street party thrown by the collective of Kings and Queens with Downs Syndrome, celebrating neurodivergent culture with performances, talks, and music. Don’t Call Me Exotic is being hosted as a recording of a podcast with The Bitten Peach, the UK’s only pan-Asian cabaret collective.
It will culminate in exactly what Pugh, McColl, and Kartel Brown dreamed of: London’s biggest Vogue Ball, booking now. “It’s a new view of London, literally and figuratively,” said Pugh. “We’ve been asked what success looks like. For us, it isn’t money. It’s a ripple effect. We want the messages to bring people together, who maybe haven’t talked before. Beyond these walls.”