Meet Slawn, the artist behind East London’s coolest new creative café
He’s the youngest artist to design the Brit Awards trophy, counts Skepta, Lil Uzi Vert and Mia Khalifa as fans of his surrealist graffiti canvases and co-helms one of the hottest streetwear brands of the moment. Nigerian-born, London-based Oluola Slawn could do anything he wanted to right now, so his latest venture might seem like a slight curveball.
“You’re never gonna know what I’ll do next — they expected us to do an exhibition and we opened a café,” he says sitting next to his girlfriend Tallula Christie inside their newly opened BeauBeaus cafe. Although he quips that it’s a money-laundering scheme (“There’s drugs under the stairs,” he jokes about the floating stairwell), in reality BeauBeaus is a wholesome, family affair. The café, in Aldgate, is named after their 11-month-old son, and both of Beau’s grandmothers are here daily — with Christie’s mum turning the first floor into an acupuncturist studio. “The tortured artist is such a tired trope,” says Christie, adding that they also want to host reformer pilates classes and eventually create a fully integrated wellness space upstairs. On the ground floor, friends of the couple serve café staples like pastries and coffees, as well as dishes that pay homage to their heritage such as Jollof rice. As for the decor: the walls are lined with Slawn’s highly sought after artwork, while coffee table books dedicated to the late Virgil Abloh (who collaborated with Slawn before his untimely death in 2021) are dotted around the lounge area.
“For me this is a space for my son to have that thing people have in movies. I want my son to walk out of the space one day and for everyone to be like, ‘Oh, hey Beau!’ That’s what I hope it will be for him, that’s why I named it after him,” explains Slawn on their decision to open the venue, where Beau took his first steps. “My mum brought me up and I loved having very close family vibes and I wanted to do that with him,” says Christie. “It’s such a communal space — I’ll have a nap downstairs and some of the baristas will look after him. The support system has been so crazy.”
Having moved to London in 2018 Slawn is also celebrating five life-changing years in the capital, which has seen him go from graphic design student at Middlesex University to the buzziest artist in town. In a post-pandemic landscape where venues are shuttering at an alarming pace, he also wanted to do something in honour of the area he now calls home.
“When I first came here, I used to go to Soho and hang out around Supreme. However, people have this weird assumption that East London is very hipster and raggedy,” says Slawn, pausing briefly, then laughing: “Well, it is. But I feel like people from East sometimes feel left out. I want this space to feel like you can come and bump into your favourite streetwear brand designer, or favourite artist or your favourite singer. When I was younger I used to go to places and hope that I’d run into someone I knew so that I could ask essential questions.” Considering Slawn’s inner circle includes Corteiz founder Clint and rappers M Huncho and Unknown T — all of whom are already café regulars — there’s plenty of inspiration for visitors. “I want them to build a community for themselves because after 10 years I’m going to fall off and no one will care what I’m doing anymore,” continues Slawn. “The next big person would have probably been in here, because that’s usually how things work.”
As the man behind Fight Club-esque auctions where people would wrestle for one of his artworks, Slawn has transferred his knack for guerilla marketing to the café. Last Sunday, swarms of kids bought coffees in exchange for entry into a raffle to win a moped spray-painted in Slawn’s signature trippy style. This weekend there’s a day party, and at some point soon expect a pop-up in Petticoat Lane, Thursday night cocktails and store takeovers from their network of creative friends.
“It just wants to be an evolving collaborative,” says Christie. “There are so many different things that we want to do and this is a base to do that.”
As for the future, Slawn is keeping tight-lipped, preferring to lean into the element of surprise that’s become one of his trademarks. As for Christie: “Loads of kids!” So a new café for each one? “Right,” she laughs.