As our attention is turning to London Fashion Week and our designers’ inspiration, I felt it was a good moment to talk icons. Onstage at a recent event I was asked who my style icons were. It’s a question I’ve never consciously thought about, and in the glare of eager fashionista readers’ eyes I panicked. My mind went blank. I mentally grasped for someone. Anyone. I think I said Anne Hathaway.
Anne Hathaway is very nicely turned out. She carries off her post-Fantine, ‘I sold my hair and body to feed my starving child’ haircut with the kind of aplomb few mortals could manage. She rocks monochrome better than a penguin. But, after years of working the fashion industry, I know it’s not really her who’s the style icon. Behind her look will be a team of personal shoppers, a stylist, hairdressers, make up artists, designers who will send her freebies (I’m looking at you, Karl). She will have learned the tricks of the trade after spending years being professionally tweaked and photographed.
I might be wrong. Anne Hathaway may be the exception among the ruling celebrities. By odds, there should be one or two who truly possess innate style. I’m fairly certain Kate Moss is one. Then again, she was immersed in the fashion industry at the age of fourteen. She literally grew up fashionably. But, Kate aside, I never really view those who frequently appear in the pages of the glossy magazines as my style icons. I may think: nice dress, great shoes, I wish I had your dentist. But I won’t ever consciously ape their style. It’s too constructed, too professional, too artificial. So who does inspire me? Away from the glare of the stage lights this is actually a very easy question to answer, because I draw wardrobe inspiration from so many, many people and sources. Here are just three of them:
Those who are not familiar with either the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, or her revolutionary self-portraits, often focus on one thing when they first see an image of her. The unibrow. Oh yes, Frida was blessed with an abundance of facial follicles. But rather than reach for the early 20th century equivalent of Immac, she embraced and celebrated the unique angle her beauty took (there’s a lesson for us all there). An intelligent and vibrant woman, and a key campaigner for Mexican freedom, she suffered with ill health all her life following an accident in her teens. It didn’t stop her enjoying countless and scandalous (in the eyes of society) love affairs with Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and Josephine Baker, among others. Frida was a strong, beautiful woman at ease with herself. Whether you feel she’s in need of a decent pair of Tweezermans or not, you can’t fail to be inspired by the flowers she piled into the tower of her hair, the rich, embroidered textiles she wrapped round herself in the form of long multi-coloured skirts and scarves, and the heavy necklaces she layered over high necked shirts and patterned tops. Her artistic talent is showcased in her everyday apparel: she was a walking work of art.
Not Chanel the brand – though I’ll take it if you’re offering – but Coco Chanel the person. Away from the quilted suits, and the multi-million pound ad campaigns, and the Lagerfeld extravaganzas, you’ll find the bewitching raw style of the young off-duty Coco. Many of the most endearing looks that are now cornerstones of the modern fashion industry, were worn and trialled by her first. She borrowed extensively from her own style, to create bestsllers for others. Coco was a master of effortless cool, long before Mossy was a twinkle in Croydon’s eye. Her off duty look is relaxed, comfortable, and flawless. As if she’s just grabbed the nearest item of clothing, and notched it artfully with a belt. In the photo above it’s conceivable she’s borrowed every item from a male friend. But, oh la la does it work! She’s even accessorised with a dog: truly ahead of the pack. Coco instinctively understood the impact of personal brand. Once again, a commercial concept eons ahead of her time. She was her best advert.
Ok, Margot isn’t strictly a real person, and therefore falls perilously close to the artifical style I dismissed in my opening paragraphs. But what an artificial style! What a creation! The snobbish suburban neighbour in the 1970s sitcom The Good Life, Margot is a comic foil to the a self sufficient Barbara Good who lives next door. While Barbara’s all old men’s cable knit jumpers and patched jeans, Margot is quintessential brash seventies kitsch. Flowing jumpsuits, floral kaftans with matching headscarves and acres of beads, I cannot deny she is a perennial style favourite of mine. I have a whole section of my wardrobe dedicated to 70s vintage that I particularly enjoy rocking at Home Counties dinner parties. Margot would be proud.
True style isn’t about designer labels, or how much money you spend on your clobber, it’s about letting your personality and creativity beam from your apparel. Inspiration for an outfit can come from anywhere: Blackadder’s Prince George’s frilly shirts and britches, the tonal shades of Autumn leaves, or the shape of a Teletubby. The more unusual the better. Your clothes project your personality, and no one wants to be generic or, worse, forgettable. Stand out. Fangirl your dressing up heroes. Embrace your loves. And if you feel brave, share your own favourite style icons below.