From a distance, the Camp Fish Shop, on the corner of two quiet streets of red-bricked houses with pebbledashed walls, doesn’t look like Mecca. Until June it was known only by reputation locally in St Albans. But now, along with the Hammersmith Apollo, a pub in Highgate and a club called Birthdays in east London, it’s on the Harry Styles pilgrimage trail. Assuming the fans can negotiate the Thameslink connection.
Earlier this month, Gucci released an autumn campaign: a short film starring Harry Styles, shot in and around this chippy. In the video, Styles walks down the road in a splash-dark beige gingham dressing gown, carrying a live chicken. The Beatles’ Michelle plays. Inside, Styles deposits the bird on the counter and orders some chips.
Leaning on the counter where the chicken once stood, I too order chips (£1.75) from fryer Martin Cheng, and ask him about the campaign’s breakout star. “The chicken was good. It was quiet. But it was moving around a bit on here,” he says, tapping the counter. “I was worried it would …” Cheng flaps his hands like a live chicken flying into hot fat. “I said to them, I’m frying chips, but you need to watch the chicken.”
Gucci and a fish and chip shop are an unlikely pairing. The idea, says the Italian fashion house, was to shoot a British star in a British institution – a chippy – in north London, although “this isn’t north London, and I don’t get what it has to do with Gucci,” says the Camp’s patron, George Robbins, 21. Robbins likes Styles, though, and went by a few days later in case Styles was there. No joy. His friend saw the whole thing from his house opposite, though. “There were girls screaming outside, he said.”
Cheng has worked here for seven years, and was present for the shoot, flouring and frying fish (his hands are in shot at one point) and serving food to a mix of actors and locals. Gucci reportedly paid the chippy £20,000, although Cheng was not able to confirm this.
Other residents were unfazed by Styles. One, Nicola, 36, who lives opposite the Camp, was disappointed there weren’t more “fashionistas”. She remembers girls screaming outside, being asked to move her car and being shooed away from the window. She isn’t a fan of Styles, but likes the chippy. Fair enough; they’re good chips. Since filming in March, she says, more Stylers have passed by and she thinks more may come.
“I’m guessing Gucci chose it because it’s very British-looking, isn’t it? It’s old school,” says Sean, a 49-year-old train driver, carrying his fish dinner. “But what do I know? I don’t think I’m Gucci’s target market.” Massimo, a sixty-something Italian, from Capri arrives on a yellow Vespa. He knows Gucci, but hasn’t seen the campaign. “O Madonna!” he says, when I show him the video, before riding off with his dinner.
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