“I don’t like anything mass-produced. One of everything is enough.”
Like any market, Portobello has changed over the years; chainstores, like All Saints “of Spitalfields” have moved in, while the antique and junk offerings get thinner on the ground. But at the bottom, underneath the Westway, everything gets more diverse. Julia Chettati’s corner, on the near side, is one of the most intriguing. Her own stall is filled with jewel-like, vibrant concoctions, crafted from vintage fabrics or brightly-coloured feathers. Julia is old school: like many of us, she’s seen her own area change, pressured by development and commercialisation. But again, like many of us, she’s still in love with the buzz of the market, drawn ever back like a moth to a flame.
How did you start your stall?
I was doing vintage shoes and dresses and saw a hole in the market – this was in Portobello. How long have I been doing this? I can’t remember – years!
How would you describe what you sell?
I’m just doing my own thing, right now I’m making all my headpieces. It’s bits of design I do myself, and I do up things. How would I describe it? Unique, I’ve always been different.
What are your style influences?
I just do it off the top of my head, really. I think parts of history influence me, different periods of time: the twenties, that period, the head pieces, that’s the kind of themes I’m working on now. I just like beautiful, nice things. I don’t get influenced by high street – I don’t go to the high street, I don’t shop in those shops, I’ve never owned a pair of trainers, I don’t wear jeans, I don’t like anything that’s mass produced. One of everything is enough.
You seem to have a thing for feathers?
I do like feathers. They’re a slice of freedom. I’m working with feathers right now, making up stuff, I’ve made a beautiful little hat with butterflies, the base is leaves, then it’s all butterflies, I’m pleased how it’s turned out, I do it from my head, there’s no pattern. Then I found some beautiful old Victorian trim, that would be nice thrown round the head like a garland. That’s what’s nice, making things… I don’t make loads of money, my stuff should sell for more, it’s very time consuming. But I’m grateful I can do that.
And how would you describe your customers?
A bit quirky, artistic, unusual, you have to get it.
Have they changed over the years?
The market changed years ago. It was when the Euro first started, really. You used to see exciting people, people from European companies, designers, make-up artists, models, intriguing people, really nicely-dressed people, bands, stylists. All characters. I don’t think you see people like that any more.
What was the cause? More chain stores?
The stores aren’t as nice, I suppose they have to let the bigger stores in, the coffee shops, it’s not what Portobello is about. Greedy corporate companies push all the good little interesting people out and that’s what kills it, because they are what makes it what it is. MacDonalds did try a few years ago, at least we got rid of them!
There’s still a real camaraderie in this corner though, isn’t there – do you look out for each other?
Yes, we do OK. It’s like a family, really – like it or lump it, we’re all used to each other! Don’t forget, it’s a business-place too, it’s stressful at times, and everyone’s all chasing the same pound. But the whole area has always had its characters, always been on the edge. That’s how it will always be. Everywhere has to change and move on… on the whole, we’re alright, there’s a lot of decent, hardworking people and fabulous stuff. I love it. I’ve always been a vintage person – you never know what you’re going to find, you never know how much you’re going to take, either. And that’s how life is, isn’t it?
Do you need a particular attitude to run a stall, as opposed to a shop?
Shops are very expensive, a big commitment, it’s cost, cost, cost. A stall’s less expensive, it’s like a little office anyway, people know you’re there. In a shop you wait for people to come to you, in a stall there’s a flow of people who will pass you anyway. When it’s cold, like now, you move around and it’s alright! It’s all cosy and cushy in a shop with no preparation – but I’ve always liked to graft. I make my stall like a little picture, every time I set it up I enjoy it. I’m a free spirit. I couldn’t bear sitting in a shop all day, how depressing, Oh God, no!
Julia Chettati is at the north end of Portobello Road, under the Westway, on Fridays; on Saturdays and Sundays you’ll find her at the Ladbroke Grove end, or on the far side of the canopy.