squaremeal.co.uk � 115
ake a moment to imagine turning
up at a restaurant to find facilities
neglected, the staff inattentive and
the fare distinctly underwhelming.
Imagine then that you had no choice but to
pay full price; in fact, you already had, as
the restaurant had taken the money out of
your account beforehand. �is, for years, is
how gyms have typically operated.
"�e problem with the fitness industry
has been that in many instances it's been
serving 'inedible food' - until places like
1Rebel came along and disrupted the
market," says Giles Dean, co-founder of
the London-based boutique gym. Walk
into either of its two City locations and
you might mistake it for a hipster café, all
exposed concrete and organic smoothies.
If you can divert your attention from
the gleaming brushed-copper lockers, then
you might notice that the benches in the
changing room are heated, and that towels
are lavender-scented and stored in a Smeg
refrigerator. Spit and sawdust are most
certainly not on the menu.
Recent years have seen the proliferation
of budget gyms - the workout equivalent
of fast food: cheap, fulfilling a need, but
ultimately a little unsatisfying. However,
in contrast, there's also been an explosion
of 'haute cuisine' fitness.
Where once there was a morass of
similarly priced options around the £30
to £70 mark, monthly fees now range from
£15 to £300. "�e mass-market, mid-tier
fitness clubs have sacrificed their brands
by trying to be all things to all people,"
says Dean. "�is has polarised the market,
creating opportunities for brands at both
ends of the spectrum."
Someone who would know is Dean's
business partner, James Balfour, son of
the founder of Fitness First. Established
in 1992, the chain peaked at 500 clubs
worldwide but has since shrunk to 366,
despite our growing appetite for wellness.
According to data analysts Cardlytics,
UK spending on gym memberships actually
increased by 44% last year. But our tastes
have changed, explains Dean. We now
demand many of the same things from
working out that we do from eating out:
quality, expertise, pleasing design and, of
course, good Instagram fodder.
"It's much more of an experience," he
says, "and significantly more sociable,
which is why we have an alcohol licence
on site." Yup, if you feel like you deserve
a beer after your session at 1Rebel, then
you can help yourself to a complimentary
Corona - chilled, just like your towel.
Your gym brand is thus an extension
of your personal one. "For most people,
it's not a question of 'Do I exercise?' - it's
'Where and when?'" says Colin Waggett,
the former CEO of Fitness First who left
in 2012 to found trendy spin brand Psycle,
with locations in W1 and Canary Wharf.
LEFT: THIRD SPACE
TOP: 1REBEL'S CHIC
FASHION + LIFE STYLE