Alexa Chung and Derek Blasberg outside the Valentino show during Paris Fashion Week, March, 2020 (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)

Cut and thrust

Hannah Betts admires a pair of quality-obsessed British labels

Fashion

This article is taken from the November issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.


Of late, I have found myself thinking not, “I am a fashion addict, where’s my next hit?” but rather, “As a responsible citizen, which brands do I want to support?”

The answer has been smallish, quality-obsessed British labels: fashion fetishist Alexa Chung, tweed maestros Holland Cooper, silk and cashmere queen Tabitha Webb, and maximalist long frock and coatigan guru Hayley Menzies. Chung and HC founder Jade Holland Cooper make for an interesting comparison. On the face of it, they couldn’t be more different. Chung, 37, has long been high-fashion’s gamine du jour: all pie-crust blouses, baggy sweaters, and puckish lads’ rags.

Cooper, meanwhile, is the poster woman for the racy, tightly-trousered, slighty gin and Jag county set, all fiendishly nipped jackets and high-heeled boots. Each personifies her brand: Chung boasting her “iconic” George Northwood messy bob, Cooper an ultra-long status blow dry.

And, yet, both are obsessed with cut, quality and Britishness in its myriad guises. They both occupy the upper end of the once unfashionable, now ultra-modish mid-market (by which I mean 450 quid a jacket rather than, say, Chanel’s £4,500) and are committed to producing clothes in which one can do things, then hand down.

Both are bloody brilliant at practical, outdoor garb; not an area that fashion tends to do well, but really rather crucial in this sceptred isle. Both play on Sloane stereotypes: satirical in Chung’s case, sexed-up in Holland Cooper’s. Think: Brit girl It girls taking the cunt out of cuntry matters.

The Alexachung label is three years old and our heroine regards this autumn’s Suburban Punk collection as the epitome of her aesthetic. She elaborates: “Imagine the world through the eyes of a suburban teenager at the pivotal moment in the late 1970s when punk is arriving in the UK. The result? A collection which melds the worlds of Felicity Kendall in The Good Life with that of Johnny Rotten.” Behold, the wardrobe of a rebellious rural teen, all zips, lurex minis and clashing stripes meets wellies, windcheaters, and pearl-buttoned navy cardis.

When I interviewed Chung, she impressed me with her iron grip on production values, while bursting into the self-authored song, “I love clothes, I love clothes!” The AC pieces I have subsequently acquired make up my very first capsule wardrobe.

Namely: two wing-collared satin spot blouses, the perfect jewelled velvet flats, and a navy Coney trench coat (£325, reduced from £650). I adore them as madly as one should adore one’s clothes, almost punching a dog that dared to bite my Coney. Classic, but not tediously so, exquisitely cut, it is school-uniform sober with a certain minxish irony. In it, I long for rain.

The quality of Chung’s garments is bliss, from the items themselves to the way in which they are packaged, to Cookie’s cheerful response in customer service. Moreover, despite fashion’s 2020 apocalypse, the brand has seen steady growth. Knitwear, in particular is flying, the Cosmo tank having twice sold out (tanks tops being achingly this season).

Holland cooper, 33, launched her brand in 2008 and it has since become the go-to for the luxury equestrian guise; an eminently saleable concept. After all, country clothing is all very well in theory, but there’s a reason why Coco Chanel felt forced to create her own when holding hands with the Duke of Westminster. At its worst it is stiff, bulky, scratchy, clumsily contrived, and cut for chaps rather than chapesses. At its best it is Holland Cooper.

Cooper, the scion of a farmer and a fashion designer, twigged that to embody country chic, one required metropolitan tailoring. A Royal Agricultural College drop-out with no formal training, she began cutting her designs herself. She now manages a crack style squadron cutting thousands of tweed and wool garments by hand. The tweed is woven in the UK, only you’d be mistaken for imagining there were some Italian element so fluid are HC’s lines, so soft and supple its fabrics.

Some elements are a tad bling, but one would rather look Made in Chelsea than Last of the Summer Wine.

One might reserve one’s tweeds for après-ride, so beauteous are they. Still, Cooper’s colours are as sublime as her textures, demonstrating that there is life beyond goose-turd green. Compare the ankle-swishing Marlborough shearling trench, an ultra-vivid take on Black Watch tartan (£995).

I worship my Prince of Wales check Kempton Coat (£449) so ardently that it reduces me to happy tears. An impeccable, thigh-skimming riding jacket, my feelings about it verge on the erotic.

In my fashion fantasy life, I maintain a revolving wardrobe of three Kemptons — my beloved PoW, a dashing houndstooth incarnation, and the navy and scarlet military take I’m praying is still available at the brand’s Bicester Village outlet. Altogether now: “I love clothes, I love clothes!”

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