Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Great British Style

 Welcome to today's guest post from the brilliant writer of one of my favorite blogs, That's Not My Age. Once you have met her and become addicted to her style, there is no turning back.

Here she talks about why British style is unique and "gutsy" and creative. Every year, French fashion magazines devote an issue to the subject. I think it's an excellent idea which we can pursue in this space. I trust you will agree.

          Earlier this year, I experienced a strange sensation – and no, I hadn’t been reading Fifty Shades of Grey. For the first time in my life, I felt quite proud to be British. Proud to be living in London, in 2012. There was the David Hockney exhibition to look forward to, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the small matter of the Olympic Games. Fast forward a couple of months and the city is awash with Union Jack flags, the shops are full of cheap patriotic tat and, apparently, Harrods is playing the national anthem at midday, everyday, from now until the first weekend in June. It’s enough to drive customers straight through the doors of Harvey Nichols  - and to get me playing Anarchy in the UK full blast.

So amidst all the hype and hoo-hah, I’ve been thinking a lot about Great British style. And what makes British fashion so great. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Lulu Kennedy

1.    The Art of Rebellion

Street style is such a massive influence on British fashion: Teds, mods, punks all stepped up from the sidewalk to the catwalk. Being a rebel is no longer confined to tartan, leopard print and leather - it’s more about having a punk attitude than dressing like a seventies throwback. Whether that’s Kate Moss having a fag on the catwalk at Louis Vuitton, Helena Bonham Carter in Victorian bloomers or Lulu Kennedy (founder of Fashion East and talent scout for young London designers) wearing a tiara to collect her CBE. Wanting to stand out from the crowd, to make an unexpected style statement is a quintessentially British thing. And the reason why Vivienne Westwood has gone from punk pariah to national treasure.

Patrick Grant.
Savile Row protest.

2.    English Heritage

Whether it’s as a status symbol or an ironic gesture, investing in the best of British garb is a popular national hobby. The Burberry trench, Liberty print shirt  - make that Nike Air Max, if you can get hold of a pair! -  Barbour jacket, Mulberry bag, Church’s brogue (we still love them even though they’re now owned by Prada) and good old Harris Tweed. Key ingredients that help make traditional British style, a cut above. I was delighted in April, when an elegantly dressed crowd of Savile Row tailors protested against the opening of an Abercrombie & Fitch kid’s store on their patch. With placards declaring,‘ Give three-piece a chance,’ and immaculate suits, they fired a shot across the bow of the Abercrombie upstarts. Hands off our heritage! 

Bella Freud.

3.    Imperfect Beauty

As Dame Edith Sitwell once said, Why not be oneself? That is the whole secret of a successful appearance. If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekinese?’ From gappy teeth and tousled hair to idiosyncratic style, being oneself and being relaxed about one’s appearance is part of a Brit’s DNA. It’s all about not looking like you’ve tried too hard, even when you have. Think Jane Birkin in khaki and Converse, with her customized bag and DIY haircut, Alexandra Shulman, Kate Moss, Bella Freud. All these women look distinctly low-maintenance, carefree and confident. Artfully disheveled. And, of course, very British.

Tilda in a tux.

4.    It’s a Boy/Girl Thing

From Vita Sackville West to David Bowie, to Tilda Swinton as David Bowie  (have you seen Tilda Stardust Tumblr? It’s fantastic). We’re not the only nation to embrace androgyny but we’re more than happy to experiment with gender roles and wear each other’s clothes. Unafraid of looking mannish, in my time I’ve worn second-hand men’s shoes/jackets/coats, my dad’s old shirts and my grandad’s dressing gown. Mr That’s Not My Age has dabbled with eyeliner, and sarongs. And that was way before Beckham, he’d like me to point out. Men dressed in women’s clothing – I’m thinking Mick Jagger in the Park – girls who look like boys: Twiggy, Stella Tennant, Sarah Lucas. Much better to look interesting than obvious.

Now, we’ve got that sorted…where did I put that copy of Tatler, you know, the one with the corgi on the front cover?

And I'd just like to say a big thank you to Tish for letting me loose on her blog. It's an honour and a privilege.

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