British style is classy and complex. But is it current?
I’ve recently returned from my annual trip to the UK and, as usual on returning, my accent (apparently) is a little more clipped than when I left, and I’m wearing brogues and – most startling of all – socks, despite the unseasonable Aussie heat. That will all, of course, wear off very soon. But before it does, let’s talk about British style.
It’s a wonderfully complex thing and, like the British class system, quite mystifying. For example, if I tell you that Hyacinth Bucket is working class with lower middle-class aspirations, that Posh Spice is actually anything but, and the Duchess of Cambridge is decidedly middle class, you’d be confused, right? But if you’re born in Britain those things are as intuitive as putting the milk in the teacup first and getting in the back of a taxi.
And style is similarly confounding. My favourite London hotel, The Beaumont (thebeaumont.com), offers exemplary service and delicious food, yet detractors quibble that its Art Deco interior, whilst beautifully detailed and luxurious, is actually new and therefore Not The Real Thing.
Yet down the road at Claridges (very much The Real Thing), I was served one of the worst – and most expensive – meals, not just of my trip but my life, in an interior that is not so much kitsch as daggy. Nobody’s told Claridges that Brussels sprouts are no longer boiled to oblivion because, presumably, that’s how Princess Margaret liked them half a century ago. Why change?
As a loose rule of thumb, the shabbier the British interior, the posher it’s likely to be. The late and gorgeously dotty Isabella Blow, arguably one of the greatest of British fashion icons, rattled around a draughty old home that was doubtless cold and damp. The carpets would have been threadbare and the chandeliers dusty, but the pedigree? Impeccable.
The neat and functional Scandi look we so love here in Australia barely passes muster in the UK. The Brits prefer their chairs wobbly and their sofas without springs. Of course I’m generalising, but while I was in the UK I had the good fortune to spend a night in a 17th-century farmhouse and another in an 18thcentury cottage. I have middle-class friends with upper-class tendencies. The floorboards creaked, the pipes banged, the stairs were perilous and the ceilings hazardously low. But if I can bring even half as much magic to my new home here in Australia, I will be a happy man.