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02 May, 2014

the london girl, by lisa armstrong


After years of having the international beauty standard set by glowing superwoman, of trying to match the tans, the curves and – most self-deludingly of all – the hairdos of Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, London Girl has finally come into her own.

This means that it’s now OK to look a bit ragged around the edges. It’s even fashionable to wear slightly fraying cardigans from the menswear department at Marks & Spencer and to mix poor-boy sweaters with Spandex trousers.

Japenese film crews have jammed the flight paths to Heathrow eager to ask Kate Moss, a tiny waif from Croydon with limp hair, wide eyes and a million-dollar contract with Calvin Klein, the questions they put to Linda Evangelista two years ago. Meanwhile, Corinne Day another scrap of a girl with a whispery south London accent, and a great mate of Moss, has had to sign off the dole [unemployment fund] since she replaced Steven Meisel as the photographer on the hugely prestigious advertising campaign for Barney’s.

And there are hundred, probably thousands more girls like them in this country: pale, laconic creatures with fine bones, hair the colour of tea, faces that look lived-in at fourteen and an almost maddeningly cavalier attitude to their own good looks.

Upper-class girls all of them: they would be – after all, Britain is famous for the down-at-heel appearance of its aristocracy. But in keeping with the egalitarian spirit of the day, there were scores more girls across the class spectrum who began to grasp the essentially aristocratic taste for the old and tatty – two qualities that are integral to London Girl’s style.

„Even now I feel guilty about spending money on beauty treatments and coordinating clothes. It smacks of vanity when you tell people that you’ve been for a facial. You half want to tell them you’ve been boozing or at the library. Anywhere but preening yourself.“

...she is happy to spend days browsing through the rails of Portobello Market for a velvet frock coat or a droopy, floral dress that’s worn in the right places. Her pulse races at the challenge of hunting down a lace chemise that’s matured to the correct degree of creaminess and transparency.

It probably comes from being raised in a culture that reveres indiscriminately anything from the past from exquisite but crumbling stately homes, to second-rate TV sitcoms. The result can be the most remarkable synthesis of historical allusions – some days she’ll look as though she has stepped out of a renaissance painting. At other times she will look more as though she has ben modelling for the kinky artist Allen Jones.

"People think we are anti-fashion, me and Kate," says Corinne Day (...) "but we love fashion. We just don't like it when it's predictable or ostentatious. We're mad about designers like Margiela, whose clothes look like rags, and Galliano because his things are like beautiful, antique treasures."

Despite her apparent otherworldliness, London Girl will stake out bargains in the most expensive shops and barter with a steely predatoriness that would have done credit to Baroness Thatcher in her EC negotations – which is why an instant way of recognising London Girl is that she’s always wearing something „absolutely amazing“ that she bought for 45 pounds reduced from 1,500 pounds in Browns last season.

While Paris style is all about looking sophisticated and New York’s about looking rich, London Girl’s is an altogether more complex, acquired taste, perverse even – which for all its apparent understatement is no less about one-upwomanship. According to Andrew MacPherson, „It’s the result of years of inverted snobbery, of deliberately seeking out beauty where average people wouldn’t see it.
London Girl takes pride in being misunderstood by the masses and the energy invested in achieving this equals the efforts of women pursuing a more obvious type of beauty.

Supreme messines combined with some of the best complexions in the world – it’s an art-school sensibility, „ says John Galliano, „but you see it everywhere in this country, from the girl serving you in McDonald’s to the pupils hanging around Camden Schools for Girls.  Occasionally you see versions in Paris of New York but it’s much more laboured.  The nails will be too perfect, the hair too neat, and somehow the don’t have the gall to mix things in the same way that British girls do. And they don’t have the gift for that sublime kind of shabbiness."

Bella Freud discovered this when she went to Milan recently in an unravelling coat that all her friends in London had told her was the find of the year. „The Italians just kept asking me if I realised my seams were coming undone. I thought I looked wonderfully chic; after the thousandth fur-lined parka you do long for something a bit unpredictable. The reason you get so much of it here is that there’s no tradition of preening – not openly anyway. God forbid you should be seen as vain at school, but ten out of ten for being a tomboy.

Peek into London Girl’s Prada handbag – or more likely, a cheap imitation from Whistles – and among her used tube tickets and matches (she doesn’t actually carry cigarettes because she’s permanently on the verge of giving up and thus prefers to cadge from other people) is a battery of beauty products designed to make her look as though she’s not wearing any. This invariably includes jars of Prescriptives foundation and powder that don’t look or feel like foundation and powder; some neutral eye-shadow; a pair of Cutler  & Gross sunglasses for days when the dark circles are beyond poetic-looking; a hairbrush  you wouldn’t necessarily want to sweep your floor with; an Evian spray (despite the fact that the stuff falls from the sky in this country with more frequency than almost anywhere elese); a tin of Phytoplage oil to rectify hair that looks too clean; a pot of Blisteze and a shade of lip colour that, once on, looks less like lipstick and more as though she has drunk too much wine the previous night.

„In New York you could tell a girl to cut off her head because it will improve her chances of getting bookings and she’d do it. Here you tell them Ralph Lauren’s on the phone and they dither about whether or not they can bear to leave their boyfriends.“

excerpt from Fashion's New Spirit, by Lisa Armstrong
Vogue UK March 1993 (x)

P.s.: Condé Nast Fashion College is having a debate next Tuesday titled "What Makes Kate Moss So Enduring?" and I think this article goes a long way in explaining her appeal.

3 Kommentarer:


Thank you so much for posting this! I feel like this article describes "chic" today even - at least it does for me. I can't remember the last time I read an article in Vogue that felt so in touch with the fashion reality of now. That issue is definitly on my wishlist.


RIP corinne. great article btw.

Laura J

Your writing is really beautiful !!

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