BENJAMIN CHAIT ’16
Fashion week has become more a of fashion month. Although fashion week began in New York, the shows have moved on to London, Milan, and Paris. That doesn’t include the additional shows in Germany, Japan, China, South America, Los Angeles, and Miami. Twice a year there are the ready-to-wear shows, the menswear shows, the couture shows in Paris, and then the cruise, pre-fall, and resort collections. In addition, there is custom-made clothing for editorials and high-end clients. There is an astounding amount of clothing made each season, which makes the choice of what to wear much harder than it appears.
Despite the claim that fashion is art, people really crave clothing they can wear on a daily basis. Although the days the editors, buyers, photographers, models, and the fashion elite world spend in London are relatively short compared to the full weeks spent in New York, Milan, and Paris, they are wildly important to the way that those in the stylish world dress.
The key to understanding London fashion is practicality. While Paris has mastered the frivolous, stunning, and Avant-garde fashion, it is London that has mastered the elusive cool of street style. There is an eclectic mix of people in London who all have to face city life, country life, and very unpredictable weather. While in London over Trinity days, I was taken aback by the incredible style I saw. Everyone in London dresses up more than people in America do.
I was staying with a friend in the Chelsea area, the Upper East Side equivalent in London. However, there was no single homogenous style like the well dressed but predictable people of Park Avenue have. The people in Chelsea each mastered the tricky art of personal style. There is an overall interesting mix of influence in London street fashion: partly a play of masculine and feminine, partly posh and stuffy, and partly 80’s underground punk. And as I ventured to other parts of the city, the style only became more eccentric and stylish.
Contrary to popular American belief, London is not a preppy city, but rather a classic one. Hunting coats and camel sweaters are favored over whale-embroidered pants and popped collars. Signet rings are everywhere and so are penny loafers. Penny loafers are classier and more formal than boat shoes and when worn-in well, as they can hold the same unique worn and torn look as a favorite pair of sneakers. There were also as many women wearing them as there were men. Black jeans are favored over blue ones, and on rainy days they’re tucked into hunter boots to weather the storms.
Many Londoners favor fur, which isn’t as popular in the United States. Fur—fake or real—can really add class and glamour to an outfit. One reason the English are more stylish is because their go-to staples are fancier than ours. Instead of hoodies, Londoners favor old oversized cable-knit sweaters. Instead of ratty t-shirts, people favor ratty flannels. And instead of bright colors, people favor neutral colors and black and white. Some of the best style I saw on my trip was on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The overall crowds of people were more stylish in the rainy streets and pubs than they were out at various chic London Clubs.
The minimal cool, often associated with Paris, is really alive on the streets of London. This is perhaps due to two of the most creative fashion designers of the past decade, Phoebe Philo and Stella McCartney. These two Brits have climbed to the top of the fashion world, each with their own distinctive minimal approach to dressing women. Female designers are simply better at designing women’s wear because they’re better at understanding how women feel, which is just as important as how they look. Compared to the work of the late English mastermind Alexander McQueen, the clothes made by McCartney and Philo can be worn everyday. Their influence on fashion can be seen in trickle-down brands like Topshop as well as on the streets. Though Philo designs under a French label, her British practicality can be seen in every look that comes down the Celine runway.
Another stylish British designer Christopher Bailey, is the current creative mind behind Burberry. The military heritage of the brand is strict, and that gives Bailey a wonderful boundary to push against with his punk sensibility. Over the past several seasons, Bailey has added spikes, roses, and leopard to the classic look of the English brand. The high fashion of old England is merging with a grunge sensibility is seen in the Bailey’s collections, but also in the wardrobes of London’s biggest style icons, like Jude Law, Eddie Redmanye, Kate Moss, and Poppy and Cara delevingne.
To get the London look, all one must do is think simple and classic. For a great place to shop here in the United States, I recommend Jack Wills, a clothing company who prides itself for being “Fabulously British.” The company takes the place of the now dead Rugby line from Ralph Lauren. The Jack Wills look is part preppy, part nightclub, and part hunting party. The closet store is in New Haven.
But if one piece will totally transform your look and give it a British cool, it is a Barbour jacket. The classic hunting coat was seen all over the streets of London, the more worn-in the better. I was lucky enough to find a great coat from the 1970s from a vintage shop on Portobello Road in Notting Hill that specializes in vintage Barbours. Barbours are as practical as they are stylish, and wearing one can mentally transport you to a gorgeous street in London on a rainy day, a very chic place to be.