Crazy sunglasses? Tick. Shouty bag? Yes. It must be the Brits
Our fashion crowd stand out on the front row — in a good way. Here’s how to spot them.
As you read this, a number of preternaturally well-dressed women across London are busy packing preternaturally vast suitcases for New York fashion week. Even they, sartorially skilled as they are, will be getting stressed about it. Certainly I am. Why? Because fashion professionals know that what they wear will be noted — make that judged — and that it’s about more than just clothes. (Clothes are always about more than just clothes, but it’s doubly the case if your job is to know what’s hot and what’s not.)
We are also aware that it’s only the beginning: there’s a whole month on the road ahead, one when we need to look good every day and we need to do so out of a suitcase. (Eastpak’s light but indestructible Tranverz — in the largest size, naturally — is the default for most; £140, eastpak.com.)
Street style has been a thing for a while, and outside the shows is one of the richest hunting grounds for photographers. Yet the women whose clothes I tend to look at most closely are not those who have become fashion plates on first name terms but those who set out to use clothes in the same way as you and I: to foreground rather than to grandstand; women whose clever way with clothes is stealthy rather than showy.
It’s my fellow Brits I peruse most avidly, in part because they are the ones whom I sit next to, but mainly because the way they dress tends to make the most sense to me. We live similar lives, endure identical weather and our approach to most things — from plastic surgery (we usually don’t do it) to eating (we usually do) — tends to chime.
For a feminine take on what’s modern — dresses and skirts and embellishment a-go-go — I track, among others, Kate Reardon of Tatler and Leith Clark and Martha Ward of Harper’s Bazaar. For a more androgynous look it’s women such as Kate Phelan and Sarah Harris of Vogue and Rebecca Lowthorpe of Grazia. For a mix of both — my preferred approach — there’s Ruth Chapman of Matchesfashion.com, the Texan turned honorary Brit Holli Rogers of Browns (no surprise that the retail crowd is good at mixing it up), Justine Picardie of Harper’s Bazaar, Caroline Issa of Tank and Anne-Marie Curtis of Elle.
These women wear mostly — though by no means exclusively — British. (Rare is the fashion wardrobe these days that doesn’t contain a soupçon of Céline, a frisson of Gucci.) They will spend good money, but — aside from that lucky pair who have two of our best high-end fashion boutiques at their personal disposal — are just as happy not to, embracing our high street and knowing that oh-so-useful mid-market like the back of their hand. So how do they do it? What can we learn from them?
It’s all about the coat(s) . . . As all show-goers know, your coat is the most important item of clothing you own. Why? Because the spring/summer shows happen — perversely — in February, and when you are dashing in and out of several shows a day it’s the coat that everyone is going to clock.
It’s also part of a wider shift towards so-called trans-seasonality; the summer coat is no longer a contradiction in terms. Not to mention an awareness that sometimes our 24/7 love affair with the dialled-down and comfy — aka athleisure and denim — needs to be upscaled, and a great coat is the best way to go about it. (As Michael Kors put it to me recently: “Ugly can be made better. Just put a fabulous coat on top.”)
All of which explains why the fashion pack tend to have several different coat options, from plain to patterned, heavy to lightweight. A current favourite is Whistles’ limited-edition checked Jerry style (£450, whistles.com).
. . . and the flats
You used to be able to tell a frow-er by her heels. Now it’s her flats that give her away. One theory is that it’s a version of the hemline index. Glossy magazines used to have the budget to chauffeur all their team around town, but now more and more people have to Uber it, even walk it. Good luck doing that in new-season Balenciaga stiletto tight-boots (I am not even joking).
No wonder the customisable trainers by the London brand My Swear are so popular. You can cook up more than 60 combinations, but should you be feeling indecisive there are also great off-the-peg styles, such as the Amy kiltie in burgundy (£183, swear-london.com). Church’s studded Burwood classic brogues are also popular (£425, church-footwear.com). Joseph’s entirely plain leather ballet pumps in black or cream are another option for the new season (£250, joseph-fashion.com).
Master the mid-market
If there is one thing that our fashion pack isn’t — certainly compared with those of other countries — it’s precious. Sure, they wear designer, but they also wear high street (see below for more on both). Above all, these women know their way around the mid-market, the labels that aren’t cheap — indeed, often are pretty expensive — but don’t approach the stratospheric realms of true designer fashion.
Favourite labels include the home-grown 1205 (for modernist separates) and Blake London (for superior knits), the French brands Maje and Sandro (for everything) and the New York-based Tibi (ditto). Amy Smilovic of Tibi is particularly good at tweaking classics to make them interesting and trends to make them wearable, to wit her white crepe de chine blazer with slits at the elbow (£710, net-a-porter.com).
Add in high-end all-British flourishes
It’s practically a moral duty to wear some posh — for which read pricey — Britishness. If we don’t support our fashion industry, how can we expect others to? Luckily it’s no hardship investing in a bit of Simone Rocha, Erdem, Roksanda. (I could go on. That’s why the fashion industry still looks so enviously at London: we are just so good at producing fresh design talent.)
Everyone has their favourites: for Picardie, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, it’s the ultra-feminine contemporary historicism of Erdem (a bloom-strewn peplumed reinvention of the safari jacket is £1,995, erdem.com). For her fashion director, Avril Mair, it’s Simone Rocha’s modishly reconstructed separates (an embellished red tulle skirt is £695, matchesfashion.com). Can’t afford the clothes? Console yourself with the accessories, such as Simone Rocha’s beauteous crystal flower-drop earrings (£180, matchesfashion.com).
Carry a small but shouty bag
Bags are smaller in size but bigger on attitude than ever, and bright colours and patterns are the way to go. Again, it’s the British labels that are favoured here, most notably Mulberry, which has reinvented its classic cross-body Clifton — one of the best bags on the market — in a bravura yellow, burgundy and grey geometric (£795, mulberry.com). LK Bennett’s pink patchwork Mariel cross-body is similarly standout (£165, lkbennett.com).
Wear just-crazy-enough denim . . . You can always spot a fashion woman by her denim. Not for her that pair of bootcuts from around the time when her child, who is finishing uni, rocked up at nursery. More than anything this is how, whatever her age, she demonstrates that she has her finger on the pulse. She never deems herself too old for a particular cut, although she is rigorous about policing what suits her shape and size. And she teams the more adventurous styles with classics — a navy velvet blazer, perhaps — rather than a similarly on-the-edge top half. Mih is the go-to brand, a cropped wide-leg with frayed hem the go-to look: its Lou style just keeps on giving (£225, mih-jeans.com).
. . . and beyond-crazy sunglasses
Another clear marker. If you see a woman in her forties or fifties whose choice in eyewear is school of Iris Apfel, it’s a fair bet she’s in fashion. This is a look that’s often parodied — check out Edna in The Incredibles — and for understandable reasons. Yet a pair of rococo frames can make you look immediately interesting, not to mention glamorous, even if everything else you are wearing is lacklustre. Homegrown Prism London is a fave. I have my eye — sorry — on its Monaco style in faux zebra horn (£235, prismlondon.com).
Make Cos and Topshop Unique your second homes
If you spot a pair of said Apfels in the environs of Oxford Circus Tube station, odds on they’re en route to one of three destinations: the nearby offices of Vogue/Tatler, Topshop Unique or Cos. Most likely it’s all three; my research suggests that the staff of both magazines are in these shops most lunchtimes. Topshop Unique is where you find the more look-at-me pieces, such as the lovely red silk, long-sleeved Aubrey dress (£225, topshop.com). Cos is where you go to dress like an architect, which is what half the front row wishes it had been (cf the navy or orange frilled-sleeve top in scuba material — yes, really; £59, cosstores.com).
When it comes to hair and make-up less is more
We Brits used to have a reputation for looking scruffy. Not any more. Now we are the best in the business at just the right mix of polish and undoneness. Make-up-wise, well, there isn’t much at all. The focus is all on having the best-looking skin, which then means you have to bother with very little else.
Favourite skincare ranges include our own Alexandra Soveral (her much-loved Midnight Oil is £41; alexandrasoveral.co.uk) and the new American brand Immunocologie (the snail-mucus-fuelled Super 7 Elixir is a big hit; £199, urbanretreat.co.uk). Then it’s either Giorgio Armani Maestro Fusion foundation (£40, armanibeauty.co.uk) or the latest cult Korean product, Erborian’s CC Crème, which adjusts — eerily but brilliantly — to match your skin tone (£38, spacenk.com).
Hair-wise is all about the chob — the choppy bob, short or long — as perfected by the super-stylist Joel Goncalves at Daniel Galvin (danielgalvin.com). For maintenance between blow-dries — yes we have those now, albeit deliberately low-key, almost messy ones (psychoanalyse that) — it has to be Oribe’s Dry Texturising Spray (£41, spacenk.com).
The final flourish? Make like every other frower on the planet and douse yourself with the scent of the chicest bonfire imaginable — next stop Eau d’Allotment? — courtesy of Le Labo’s Santal 33 (£115, libertylondon.com).