In giving my talk recently ‘My Fashion Journey’ I started to muse about the differences between English and Italian fashion, both now and when I was working in Italy in 1969/70. Then what struck me most was the attention to detail, the craftsmanship, the simplicity of form creating a total look, a ‘bella figura’. Each outfit was meticulously researched from head to toe; from their to the shoes, every piece had to relate to the other components to create a whole outfit. We, in England , were well behind this studied approach, rather hoping that by throwing a few things together we could get away with a more studentesque presentation. Hoping that if the hair was okay, nobody would look at the shoes. 'Don’t stand out’ ,’pass in a crowd’ was a compliment. Not to show off or stand out was the aim.
I have always felt that our clothes define us, people read how we dress and make judgements, we send out so many signals by the way we dress, clean our shoes, brush our hair. Those that don’t bother, perhaps they don’t care - maybe their minds are on higher things? I didn’t think that we English had the right mindset in our D.N.A. to even start getting things right. Whereas on the continent, much more emphasis was and is placed on the choosing the right button for the coat. Who in England even thinks about the button on a coat? They don’t register that a cheap button makes the whole coat look cheap, sending out the signal that they don’t care, as long as the coat does the job of a coat.
What can be lost is the appreciation and joy of having beautiful things around us and living with fewer, but beautiful pieces, whether clothes or objects. In England we have too much stuff.
What for me defines the current English look, is the search for the offbeat, the unexpected pairing, the antique pieces the new ‘pre-owned. A look incorporating a surprise, pieces that work in harmony as a whole but from diverse sources. Dressing head to toe in say Dior, is not the English way, it takes energy to spot and source the new studied “Boho look’.
The rest of the fashion world comes to the U.K. to try and find our unique style, in a way it can’t be bought. We have learnt from our continental friends but added our own quirkiness, We are telling the rest of the fashion world that we are an island and unique, but have we truly learnt to spot the cheap button?