Lord of the Manor
When you’re 1, you dress in what your granny knits for you.
When you’re 5, you dress in what your mum buys for you.
When you’re 15, you dress in what you ask your dad to buy for you.
When you’re 25, you wouldn’t dream of dressing in anything your parents or your grandparents ever wore
When you’re 35, you begin to ape your long-lost (and entirely fictional) great great great Uncle, the first Lord Borthbury of Wavertree Manor.
And so begins the sartorial barometer of the 5th Lord Borthbury, a country squire stuck amidst the city grime. And it’s not all tweed jackets and canary yellow jumbo chords.
Forget Kate and whisper it quietly – Burberry is back. For what seemed like several hundreds of years ‘my sort of people’ wore Burberry gabardine Macintoshes, with a checked inner collar, without fear of ever conforming to anything as vulgar as “street style”. And then, at around 4pm on 5 February 2002, Burberry crashed down from the heights of aristocratic élan, fell through the elusive street style, and collapsed in the gutter, blood spattered on its baseball cap. But by god the old bugger has sprung back to life now, and is in rude health. After the excesses of the early part of the decade, the Burberry’s Autumn/Winter 2005-6 collection sees the famous check relegated to the occasional walk-on role. The Burberry London and Prorsum ranges are almost entirely check-free, and utterly beautiful. At last, Burberry returns to the classiness of its heritage, with beautiful suits, leather trenches, and amazing three-quarter length cashmere coats for the lucky ladies – maybe they’ll do them for men next year.
Pink pink pink – everywhere you look, what what what? One can’t take a leisurely sojourn through the business or retail districts of the fine city of Liverpool without noticing this session’s favoured colour. It’s bloody everywhere, from pastel pink knitwear (shades of Pringle) to Lacoste el’s vivid pink tennis shirts and Crombie’s short-sleeved linen summer shirts. Add in the entire Commes des Garçons range from the start of the year, Lewin’s pink work shirts, and the classic pink shirts by the shirt maker and retailer Pink, and you’ve got the year’s biggest trend.
I can remember a time when only spivs wore trilbies, but now they seem everywhere due to that little fucker Pete Doherty. But forget Pete’s trilby and whisper it quietly – the new Dior stuff is great. Pete got a lot of plaudits on the for wearing Dior’s new ultra-skinny black leather stuff, but ultimately the clothes transcended the man and it’s the designs, and not the leather trilby accessory, that will stand the test of time.
Men of a certain age still hanker for a time when the charts actually meant something. That time was 1982 and it was the last time a band looked as cool as The Ordinary Boys, who eat Pete Doherty for breakfast. They’re impossibly young and impossibly cool. They have that weird smartness that the best casuals had in the 1980s, but they’re bang up to date with it. Smart jeans, cool trainers (a rarity in these times), proper English knitwear like Fred Perry jumpers twinned with Lonsdale t-shirts, and what look like Aquascutum or Burberry shirts (but not the full check ones – they’re not scum). It’s all very knowing, but because they’re so young, it seems fresh and new, not tired and old when seen stretched over a 35-year old beer belly (not that I’ve got a beer belly, the crack helps me to keep the weight off). I think The Ordinary Boys are a gorgeous bit of rough, but don’t tell the new wife (who shall remain anonymous – she wants the family estate, but she’s not prepared to take the Lady Borthbury title, the rotter).
The only other bands that come close are Hard-Fi. Neither The O’s or Hard-Fi are particularly innovative in a musical sense, and the bands’ visual style breaks no boundaries, but they’re still leading the pack on the strength of the clothes alone. In Hard-Fi’s case it’s by combining the ‘street’ with the smart – think combat jackets, denim, and just a hint of Savile Row in the later shots (presumably purchased since the royalty cheques have been banked). The impudent fuckers – my family’s account at Henry Poole & Co (number 15 on “The Row”) has been frozen, yet they can afford to pay cash. Savile Row is now full of trendy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Jackets gangster-worshipping wankers anyway. Harrumph.
Paul Smith. Ah, there’s a proper English name to conjure with. I might be blue blood, but Paul Smith epitomises everything that’s classic about Everyman fashion (well, every man earning a decent wage, as this stuff doesn’t come cheap). Some of you out there question the build quality, but I’ve never seen the problem. Era-defining stripes on so many items, and an almost ridiculously wide range. Quintessentially English, without any flag-waving.
It’s a fact that there’s only one class who spend more money on clothes than us toffs, and that’s the fashionable working class. It’s those penny-pinching middle-class bastards who dress the worst out of all of us, but Paul Smith’s shoes are too expensive for anyone to be able to justify, surely?
John Smedley knitwear. More classic English stuff, combined with New World wool. Ever since Marks and Spencer decided that they would sell anything except a plain merino v-neck, Smedley has been the label of choice for basic lambs wool jumpers, cardigans and tanktops. You plebs think us aristos sneer at the likes of M&S, and whilst we have to go to specialist shops for canary yellow jumbo chords, we used to go to M&S for the same reason as you lot, well made and affordable basics.
Crombie, how much do I love thee? Let’s count the ways… The Super 120s stripe suit is one major way - somewhere between pinstripe and chalkstripe, with a beautiful cut. Also, the grey herringbone overcoat from their Autumn/Winter collection and their classic cashmere single-breasted half-length jacket. And don’t forget the accoutrements – nobody makes a hand-stitched claret hanky like Crombie. The classics never go out of fashion, so for 2006 can we please see the return of the black full-length overcoat with the famous red lining please? And I know what you’re thinking, but they’re not just for bouncers, you know.
And the final label of the moment, Hope and Glory. Understated classics for the post-acid house generation. Again, it’s at the acid house rave where we aristos join up with the better-dressed Scally – us toffs loved pills and the deviance that went with it as much as anyone – and secure in our funds we could afford to fry a few brain cells anyway. But back to Hope & Glory - whilst the major-label diffusion lines go for ever more ridiculous colours and patterns, H&G stick to classic anoraks, t-shirts and shirts. Cool and contemporary.
Robert Elms, and who’d have thought it? Twenty years ago he was the Bastard from Burnt Oak, with a disastrous look that combined the post-soul boy era with high romanticism. It was crap, but then Elms was uncompromising – witness the famed incident where he was run out of Newcastle for saying “you can’t expect me to dress like Northern scum”. Now he’s turned a corner and embraced classicism in his old age, whilst rescuing Mod style tropes from his youth. He’s my kinda guy – a man who knows about pearl tiepins and silk hankies. His autobiography of clothes The Way We Wore: A Life in Threads is a revelation, even if his conclusions on acid house clothing are so wide of the mark as to be (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious. I know, I was there in ‘88, Barbour checked in at the door of The Underground on Victoria Street, and down the front wearing nothing but the old curtains from the drawing room as a sarong, 10 years before fucking Beckham thought of the idea. Nobody batted an eyelid in those days, a young lad in outrageous clothes, although I did get into a few scrapes walking back from The Quad. I had to ditch the flippers and run - I’d forgotten to collect my brogues from the cloakroom. Also see Robert Elms’s fashion column in The Times, extolling the new English values of 2005.
Savile Row and Jermyn Street might be going down the swanny (see below), but at least Taylor’s of St James (court hairdressers) sell the most amazing Lavender shaving cream and real badger shaving brush. Think of it, shaving with a brush as soft as a badgers arse! Lady Doris Tolhurst tells me it’s made from their guard hairs (she knows a thing or two about badgers), but I did not enquire further what the hairs were formerly guarding. Illegal in this country, so most likely imported via the remnants of the European aristocracy. My people survived Cromwell, Hitler and Thatcher, yet Mrs Guillotine reduced the French aristocracy to trimming badgers arses so the English aristocracy have a smoother shave. Ha ha ha, vanquishing the French again – the first time as tragedy, the second time as arse.
The death of the Scally shellsuit. I’m told it’s all classy blue anoraks at the Anfield Road end these days. One True Saxon, my informant tells me – 150 quid. I can’t quite make them out from Lord Derby’s box, but I’m told they look very nice.
All of the following criticisms are culled from my life as a sartorial flaneur, boldly striding up Bold Street and surveying all that I see.
Blue three-quarter length trackie/shell-suit bottoms are everywhere, and there are very few quality ones. If you want the three-quarter length look, think spats.
The Commes des Garçons/Fred Perry limited editions. Nice idea. Not very nice shirts.
Prada. The Burberry effect - an overstretched brand alienating its core market– enough of the red tab.
Lacoste Paris white trainers. That flap is yuck.
Pensioners in shell suits and trainers. Act your age, granddad.
Fat forty something lads with chunky legs, dick-length shorts and scabby trainers.
Fat ties, especially when worn by young gentlemen attending a day at the races. Where the fucking hell do they all come from? Racing is in my blood, what what, and there’s nothing better than dressing in one’s finery and standing in the Queen Mum’s stand at Aintree. But when I do that nowadays, in front of me is a sea of smartly dressed young men with money in their pocket, polyester mix trousers, fat ties and shiny black shoes. M&S suits, tufty teenager haircuts, toothpaste smiles and pints of lager - horrible. Now that the National Hunt season is underway, I think I’ll give the Queen Mother Stand a miss, and stay down the paddock in my Barbour.
Dylan Jones (GQ), a man who thinks that the only thing to wear with a suit is a Harry Hill shirt. This man is a style guru, and I’m going to get fuck all for writing this style column. That’s injustice, that is.
Ray Winstone in ITV’s Vincent. A man who can carry a suit, but that big coat just doesn’t suit him, especially as he gives the impression of wearing two jumpers underneath it, just for effect.
Savile Row is changing. As the old blood move out the old tailors collapse, and as the Guy-Ritchie wannabie wankers move in, the place no longer feels like home. I visited a couple of weeks ago. After disembarking from the Lime Street to Euston Express (eh?), I strolled down the Row to witness its pitiful decline, and then headed south through the Burlington Arcade, noting that the same thing is happening on Jermyn Street. Lewins is a good example. The styles are still classic, but their shirts used to be incredibly well made, whereas now they fall apart after several wears. That and the sizes are too small. If know you’re a 15½, it irks when the shirt is just too small. Much better to go to Turnbull and Asher, what what.
So after disappointment on
Jermyn Street, to the Row I returned, for there used to lie the finest tailors known to man - Anderson and Shepherd. The standard of the Row has fallen so low that A&S are now best known as the place where that blob Alexander McQueen started his career, but for me it’s the only tailor where my writ might still run and the family account just might remain open. I stroll purposely past Ede and Ravenscroft (who make so much producing graduation gowns they don’t seem to bother with real clothes), ignore Thieves and Hawkes, and arrive at the usual location, but where on earth has Anderson and Shepherd gone? Answers on a postcard to Borthbury Manor, Childwall Borders (*), Liverpool
(* well, Wavertree I suppose).
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