Moving to London this fall, I’m poised with the challenge of packing perfectly impolite. If this contrast of adjectives sounds confusing then good – I’m already on the right track.
London has a pretty peculiar reputation that combines tradition with subversion, structural-architectural tailoring with hodgepodge market finds, and a healthy dose of rebelliousness.
England is the Motherland of punk – an ideology and style grounded in an anti-establishment ethos.
London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design churns out some of the world’s greatest design talent (my favorites? McQueen, McCartney and McLaren).
Savile Row is the mecca of bespoke tailoring. Central to the Mayfair region of London, this particular block is world renowned for its suits. Costing upwards of $6,000 for made-to-measure services, these ensembles are made from thirty five separate measurements, four different fittings, hand picked materials and the utmost in talent and expertise.
In fact, the concept of bespoke was invented by Savile Row, after customers chose the bolt of cloth from which they wanted a suit made, the fabric was said to “be spoken for.”
Needless to say the Savile Row Bespoke Association is eager to preserve this excellence in craftsmanship and artisan tailoring by uniting the “founding fathers of Savile Row” with the talent of “New Establishment” tailors.
Acknowledgement of a national treasure, and subsequently the encouragement its longevity, is something that England does very well. Of course it certainly doesn’t hurt that these creators have been in business for two-hundred years. At this rate we expect Savile Row to be at the top of their game, don’t we?
Even the British-brand Burberry has set a phenomenal standard for corporate and image rebranding of a heritage label. At the crux of a counterfeit luxury goods battle and a fight for brand credibility, overexposure of the tartan had once compromised the house as a fashion forward luxury goods provider.
The brand’s redirection was successfully launched by CEO Rose Marie Bravo with 38-year-old Christopher Bailey at the creative helm.
Bravo initiated the Burberry Prorsum (latin for forward) collection and hired high-profile photographer Mario Testino to shoot advertising campaigns staring Kate Moss and aristocrat turned model Stella Tennant. Since 2006 CEO Angela Ahrendts has continued to work along side the creative director in “purifying the brand”. According to Bailey, the two even wiped out Burberry whiskey: “We’re not experts on whiskey, so why the hell would we do whiskey?”.
Bailey is one of London’s greatest talents, demonstrating a vision that balances cutting-edge design with pride in one’s heritage. In an interview with Laura Collins Bailey ignited in enthusiasm over a particular piece from the Burberry archives: “I’ll get into trouble if I say it, but, basically, it’s the Queen’s trenchcoat that she had when she was shooting, and it looks like there’s some blood on it!”
London has a reputation for fostering design leaders. Paul Smith and Dame Vivienne Westwood are English fashion icons, both renown for their quirkiness (Westwood more so) and strong tailoring.
A new generation of English designers are contributing to this reputation, including Christopher Kane at Versus, Pheobe Philo at Céline, Hannah MacGibbon at Chloe, and British-born Stella McCartney.
Regardless of the strong, wearable fashion coming out of London we can’t deny there’s a certain weirdness to it.
Perhaps its the balance of proper and eccentric that makes London style so unique. Maybe it’s this hint of accessibility – this hint of “common folk”, the invention of high street, and the popularity of street and underground style – that neutralizes its tradition for heritage and stodgy style. In fact, British Vogue has long featured the editorial “More Dash Than Cash”, decades before budget-priced fashion was of interest to prominent fashion publications. Perhaps it’s this down-to-earth, humble approach that guides English style-consciousness.
At the other end of the spectrum, Savile Row has meant the same in terms of significance to that of Paris’ Haute Couture. Even the royal family has long inspired London’s fashion scene, from “God Save the Queen” emblems on punk t-shirts to international fashion icons like Princess Diana. Thus, there’s still an element of convention, tradition, and “upper ground” that juxtaposes its eccentricity.
Of course I really don’t think the publishing industry or fashion journalism as a whole would be what it is today without the presence of British-born editors: Hilary Alexander for the International Herald, Hamish Bowles Vogue’s European editor at large, the late Isabella Blow (international talent acquisition and the original Gaga-weirdo). Oh yes, lets not forget Anna Wintour. She runs American Vogue. And the world.
Despite an array of stylistic references one things for certain, there’s room for growth, room to push boundaries, room to challenge the status quo of style.
Needless to say I’m excited to compile 32kg of the most unconventional ensembles I can put together.
So please enjoy some London inspiration. While you’re looking at these jolly English photos you must promise to listen to this jingle and have a spot of tea.
Credits: Kate Norton, “Savile Row never goes out of style”. Business Week. http://bit.ly/ba2Z45
Lauren Collins, “Check Mate.” New Yorker. Vol. 85 (28), September 2009.