What Does Love Mean In 2018?

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What Does Love Mean In 2018?

Words by Mr Richard Godwin | Photography by Ms Ana Cuba | Styling by Ms Eilidh Greig

8 February 2018

We asked five of our favourite couples the big questions this Valentine’s Day.

Why stay monogamous when there are so many other people – and there is so much choice out there? What use is intimacy in a hyper-connected world? Can you work with each other without killing each other? We sought out some of our favourite couples in London to take the temperature of modern love and get the answers to those multifarious questions. And, well, also to nose into their private lives.

The couples’ answers were surprising, illuminating and frequently made us go, “Aww, you guys. That’s so sweet!” Two out of the five couples met on Tinder, one in college, one on a blind date, and one couple exchanged a kiss before they had even exchanged a word (but wouldn’t necessarily recommend that as a pulling technique). Three couples run businesses together and wouldn’t change that for anything. And the quality almost everyone prized most in their partner was kindness.

Love has changed shape, but one thing is absolutely sure: romance is alive and well for Valentine’s Day 2018.

Mr Saif Bakir, 37, and Ms Emma Bakir-Hedlund, 38, are the co-founders of CMMN SWDN, the London-based menswear brand that they founded in Malmö in 2015. They met while studying in London – Mr Bakir at the London College of Fashion, Ms Bakir-Hedlund at Central Saint Martins – and marvelled at the coincidence that they both came from Malmö (Mr Bakir’s parents had emigrated to Sweden from Iraq, via Syria, when he was nine). “I was taken by her straight away,” says Mr Bakir. “Like, wow. I said to my flatmate, ‘Who’s that?’” But it took him two years to persuade Ms Bakir-Hedlund that he was the right man for her.

“All of our friends had gone back for the summer holidays and the two of us were just hanging out around Brick Lane,” says Ms Bakir-Hedlund. “And there was this dress in a vintage shop and I was absolutely amazed by it – not super-expensive, but at the time we were students and had no money. So, I took Saif and showed it to him and he said, ‘Yes, it’s the perfect dress.’ And then later that evening, Saif came to my place to have dinner and he had this package with him. And he’d actually gone back to buy this beautiful dress for me.” Mr Bakir ate one meal a day for a month, and gave up smoking, in order to pay for it.

The pair began working together when they were both employed by Mr Kanye West to launch his couture label in Paris, an “extremely inspiring” but “highly demanding” experience that provided the impetus for them to launch their own label. They married last April in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, outside Marrakech.

What’s Mr Bakir’s best quality?

Ms Bakir-Hedlund: He is the kindest person I know. The biggest heart. I was going to say that you’re always positive, but you’re actually not. You wish everyone well.

What’s Ms Bakir-Hedlund’s best quality?

Mr Bakir: Oh. Wow. [Laughs.] I don’t know even where to start. [Sighs]. Gosh. [Approximately five minutes of sighs, laughs and goshes.] I always introduce her as my better half. I really believe that. I wouldn’t be doing this if Emma wasn’t doing this with me. And I don’t even think it would have worked without Emma, to be honest.

What makes you proud?

Ms Bakir-Hedlund: I’m just proud of how far we’ve been able to take this as just the two of us. It still is just the two of us and six years in, we’re still best friends and just as in love as ever.

How are you spending Valentine’s Day?

Ms Bakir-Hedlund: Well, it’s usually the same every year. We’re at the fabric fair in Paris after the shows. And it’s good that it happens in Paris. It’s just such a romantic city, isn’t it? So, we don’t have to do so much – walk the streets, go for a glass of wine, have dinner. Hang on. Didn’t you propose on Valentine’s Day?

Mr Bakir: Oh yeah! I did, didn’t I? When we were in Marrakech.

Ms Bakir-Hedlund: That’s proper romantic.

Ms Sabine Le Marchand, 33, is an art director at Burberry. She is originally from Paris. Mr Ryan Barrett, 32, is a model who runs his own textile design company. He also makes ceramics. “We met on Tinder,” says Ms Le Marchand, bursting into laughter. “I was out for dinner with some friends and they told me about the app. Ryan was literally the first person who popped up.” It was his first time, too.

They went for a 14-hour coffee at Shoreditch House, which Mr Barrett describes as part date, part interrogation. “On her Tinder profile, she seemed like this sweet and innocent young girl – and I met this strong, powerful woman.” They then went on several dates – “so many dates” – including a pottery workshop, which inspired Mr Barrett to buy a kiln and a wheel and take up ceramics. “When you do something stressful, it’s an amazing way to relax,” says Ms Le Marchand. “It lets you use your creativity in a much more sensual way.”

How does dating a British man differ from dating a French man?

Ms Le Marchand: British men are much more gentlemanly than French, I find. They’re a lot more polite and gentle. They have more manners. The French are a little bit more crazy and romantic. It took a long time for us to open up to each other.

Mr Barrett: We didn’t kiss for 13 dates. We were very conscious of meeting up on this hook-up app, so we were quite old fashioned about it.

Ms Le Marchand: Three months. We like games.

What’s Ms Le Marchand’s best quality?

Mr Barrett: She’s super-chic. She has amazing taste. A great smile. She inspires me a lot, creatively.

What’s Mr Barrett’s best quality?

Ms Le Marchand: Kindness. Generosity. He’s very genuine, which is rare to find. He’s also stubborn. Tenacious. He’s a good person. And you don’t come across too many good people these days.

What are you most proud of in your relationship?

Ms Le Marchand: I feel it’s the things we create together. We’re both quite passionate about life and whenever we put our minds together, we’re really creative: painting, drawing, sculpting.

Mr Barrett: In our early days together, we made a dining table over a couple of weekends. We still have it.

Where do you see the future?

Ms Le Marchand: We’d like a family, for sure. I’m not sure we’re into marriage – putting conventions and boundaries on things. We’re very free in our relationship. Everything just works. We don’t have to impose too much on each other. Maybe it will be a fun thing we do when we’re 80 years old.

Why stay together when there is so much choice in the world?

Mr Barrett: Why have chicken when you’ve got steak at home?

Ms Le Marchand: If you think about our grandparents, the distances were so great between people that they made so much more effort with each other. Now, people take things for granted. In the same way as people are getting back to crafts, to ceramics, to film photography, maybe we need to do the same with relationships. We need to work on them. Because you might have a much better result.

Mr James Macaskill, 38, co-owns London’s four Barry’s Bootcamp gyms. His wife, Ms Anya Lahiri, 36, is a master trainer. They met at a club in Notting Hill 12 years ago. At the time, Ms Lahiri was based in Los Angeles, where she was launching an acting career, but had made a return visit to London. Mr Macaskill was then a freelance tennis coach, which allowed him to move out to LA to be with her, which was where they both fell in love with the Californian fitness culture.

They recently got married in Las Vegas. “We drove down from LA one day, called our parents on the way and just did it at a drive-through chapel,” says Mr Macaskill. “Just went through in a white Mustang.”

“It was so fun,” says Ms Lahiri. “We just turned up and were like, ‘Hmm. Shall we go and get lunch or shall we go and get married? Actually, it was all quite funny, but when you’re sitting there and they’re reading these vows – they’re still wedding vows. Suddenly you’re like, woah!”

They live near Queen’s Park in northwest London with their two-year-old son, Finn, a border collie named Crusoe and a cat named Boris.

What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done for love?

Mr Macaskill: It would have to be the night we met. I was on a night out with my brother and some friends at this place called Cherry Jam in Notting Hill. I saw Anya walk in with a big group of girls and immediately took a fancy to her. They went up to the bar, and within two seconds, some guys had bought them champagne. So, I thought, oh well. But later I ran into my brother on the dancefloor and he said: “Hey, remember that girl you liked? She’s over there.” So, I swear this has never happened before or since, but I just walked up to her and kissed her without saying a word. And for some reason that kind of worked.

Ms Lahiri: If you know James, you’ll know that’s the most out-of-character thing he could possibly have done. I don’t remember to be honest, but there was this weird fate to the whole thing.

How did you decide it was a good idea to work together?

Ms Lahiri: I was doing Barry’s all the time in LA, so it made sense to carry on doing it. There’s something about the magic of the room. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. It’s fun. Kind of horrific. But the most incredible experience I’d ever had.

Mr Macaskill: It’s also a great community. Anya teaches an 8.20am class and has done since we opened. The same people turn up time and again.

Ms Lahiri: It feels like a big party every day. People weren’t used to that Californian upbeatness when we opened, but now it’s all seeping in. With acting, you can work and work and never get any recognition and not even have anyone pat you on the back. It can be soul-destroying. At Barry’s, you do something and people thank you. You get an immediate response.

Mr Macaskill: You can tell we talk about Barry’s all the time.

What’s Mr Macaskill’s best quality?

Ms Lahiri: I’ve never met somebody who is so even-tempered. He rarely gets angry, but when he does, it’s a powerful experience.

What’s Ms Lahiri’s best quality?

Mr Macaskill: She’s literally the kindest person I’ve ever met. She’ll help anybody to get anywhere and do anything, even if it’s someone she doesn’t know.

Mr Daniel Vennard, 38 (left), is a director of an environmental charity. Back in May 2015, he was swiping through Tinder at his parents’ house when he matched with Mr Andrew Ridler, 31, who is originally from New Zealand and now works in communications at BT. “I remember just thinking, he’s the one,” says Mr Vennard.

They arranged a “pre-date” on London Fields: a couple of cans of Skol from the off-licence, which turned into an eight-hour bar crawl. Then Mr Vennard showed up in Paris, where Mr Ridler had gone to stay with his friend, and they spent a weekend walking around Le Marais. “It was probably like a less witty version of that movie with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy,” recalls Mr Ridler. “What was the first one, Before Sunrise?” They have since travelled to Sri Lanka, Greece and Colombia, and have been living together in a flat in Islington in north London for the past couple of years.

What are you most proud of in your relationship?

Mr Ridler: We really don’t fight. There’s nothing wrong with fighting – it can be helpful. But I’m proud of how we approach these things. Neither of us enjoys conflict or volatility, so we move through issues quite quickly. Then again, we haven’t really come up against things that we need to fight about.

What’s Mr Ridler’s best quality?

Mr Vennard: I don’t want to say positivity, because that sounds really lame. But he’s very optimistic and into life. He’s never angry. And dovetailing off that, there’s just this kindness. I’ve been in relationships with people who aren’t kind, and it’s really important.

What’s Mr Vennard’s best quality?

Mr Ridler: You have loads of great qualities. But I think one of them is just your get up and go. You get out there and seize life and you whip me and other people along with it.

How do you see the future?

Mr Vennard: It’s good being a gay couple right now. You’re free of expectation. And as a result, we can create a relationship that works for us. I think being gay is brilliant. You don’t have to conform to nearly as many social norms, particularly norms of masculinity.

Mr Ridler: Now people are starting to ask us, ‘When are you going to get married? Are you going to have kids?’ There’s a nice side to that, in that we’re being identified as a normal couple. But there is a bit less pressure. You’ve got to really want kids. Right now, I feel we’re really happy with what we have. Maybe a dog? But then we’d be that gay cliché of the couple with the dog.

Mr Vennard: Oh, I don’t care.

Mr Ridler: Overall, it’s just nice having your mate around, isn’t it?

Mr Bill Byrne, 57, and Ms Claire Kent, 54, are the co-founders of Iffley Road, the high-end runwear brand sold on MR PORTER. They met in 1992, introduced by a mutual friend who was a member of both their running clubs: Ms Kent was in the Serpentine Running Club, Mr Byrne in the British Airways running club. “I had been running in Réunion with the club,” says Mr Byrne. “It was a very long flight and we got very drunk. My friend Caroline was asking, ‘Bill, what do you like in a girl?’ I said, ‘Well… Red-haired, athletic.’ And she said, ‘I know just the person.’”

They now live in Richmond, southwest London, with their three children – Tristan, 20, Theo, 18, and Cleo, 16 – and their dog, Monty. After separate careers (Mr Byrne at BA and more recently a maths teacher, Ms Kent as a luxury-market analyst for Morgan Stanley), in 2015 they launched Iffley Road, named after the Oxford athletics stadium where Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954. They celebrate 25 years of marriage this year.

Are you competitive?

Mr Byrne: I clocked up some good marathon times when I was at BA. I went sub-three in New York, which was probably my finest moment. But Claire has more trophies than me.

Ms Kent: I don’t pride myself on any times or anything. I prefer to run for the mental benefits. I worked in the City for 22 years. It’s always been a stress dissipator for me.

What have you learned from each other?

Ms Kent: If you can remain calm and not get angry about things, it’s just so much better. I have to fight really hard to be more like Bill. Small things can really annoy me. But I’ve learned that it’s just not worth it. On your death bed, you’re not going to be worried about what time the UPS delivery arrived.

What are you most proud of in your marriage?

Mr Byrne: It would be founding Iffley Road. We work very well together.

Ms Kent: Having a happy family and enjoying your job is as much as you can hope for. I don’t think you can ever be genuinely happy if any of your children aren’t happy. And with a job, it’s not about making money, it’s a lot more to do with satisfaction. I’m a real believer in doing things properly, even if it takes time. Iffley Road might be expensive, but it’s because it’s very well made from expensive fabric.