“Fashion is ephemeral, art is eternal… In fact, what is really fashion? Fashion is just a form of ugliness, so absolutely unbearable that we must change it every six months! It is obvious that, if it was beautiful and sensible, we would not modify it, since it is hard to change something that combines two qualities so scarce. In fact, when a dress has managed to combine those attributes, it has remained unchanged in its principles and is used for centuries”, says Oscar Wilde in one of the essays gathered in Philosophy of the Dress (ed. Casimiro). A dandy, like himself, praised the uniforms of the workers of the early nineteenth century, while openly criticized the costumes of the English court and other empires of the time, with the designer Charles Frederick Worth at the front row. Today, centuries later, we admire those courtly pieces -even the Museum of Design of Barcelona exhibits them- but Wilde emphasized that comfort was crucial, and that personality and identification with a certain type of clothing is basic. As he said, the famous sentence “in order to show off, one has to suffer” was, and is, an “absolute nonsense”.
This was demonstrated a few weeks ago by the Barça squad when the players visited England. The three-pieces tailor made, the Oxford shoes and, even, some pocket watches, caused controversy in the social networks. The collection is the work of the famous American dressmaker Thom Browne and recalls the one used by the band of gangsters that stars Peaky Blinders. In Browne’s words: “I did not have the series in mind, I would say that I was rather influenced by memories from when I worked as a salesman in Giorgio Armani and, later, in the sewing workshop of Ralph Lauren, but above all by the work of certain tailors of my hometown, Allenton, in Pennsylvania”, where the political class was dressed impeccably.
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The American designer Tom Browne, who designed the dresses that the Barcelona squad wore in London: “I did not have the Peaky Blinders series in mind, I would say that it influenced rather my memory of when I worked as a salesman in Giorgio Armani and, later, in the sewing workshop of Ralph Lauren, but above all the work of certain tailors of my hometown, Allenton, in Pennsylvania”
The twenties, the interwar period, represented a real revolution in the world of fashion. Farewell to the corset and the so-called crinoline -semicircles of metal that the women wore to be able to put inside some dresses of impossible patterns- that, more than Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret, it was Mademoiselle Vionnet who finished them with the bias-cut technique, by cutting the clothes diagonally to tie the dress on one of the sides of the body. What we actually call ‘wrap dress’ and that was popularised thanks to the great Diane von Furstenberg in the seventies, who has always mentioned Vionnet as a crucial reference.
French by birth, Madelaine Vionnet emigrated to London at the age of twenty and started working in a workshop. In the afternoons she walked through the tailoring shops of what, even today, is called the “golden mile” of the masculine dress, Savile Row. Precisely the idea of the bias-cut was inspired by the masculine patronage that, back then, was shown in the shop windows of that London street and that can be seen, today, in Peaky Blinders.
The creator of the series, Steven Knight, was inspired by his own family, the Sheldon’s, and the stories his father told him. In remarks to History Extra, Kight explains: “He told me that when he was eight or nine years old his father gave him a message on a piece of paper and said: ‘go and give it to your uncles’. His uncles were the Sheldon’s, who eventually became the Shelby’s” He never explained what was written in that note…
In the series, the family of gangsters is called “Peaky Blinders” for their cunning in fights, extortions and power struggles, having razor blades sewn onto their caps. Actually, what they were carrying was knife-edges, because those razor blades were not available in the United Kingdom until after the war and would have been expensive to get. It is believed that the idea of razor blades was inspired by the novel A Walk Down Summer Lane by John Douglas, which refers to a famous street in Birmingham. Most likely, the blinding weapons that Peaky Blinders actually used were belts and steel-tipped boots. In the series, however, the predominant shoe is the Oxford model, whose origin is precisely the university of this name and the footwear used by its students. Although there are many versions, the classic model par excellence is black and with the well-known perforations, which were born with the intention of making breathable shoes.
In the 20s, in England, men’s fashion consisted of a three-piece set, but with ankle-length trousers, shorter than today, an American jacket and a matching inner vest. The most used fabric was herringbone tweed and in grey or brown tones. The youngest, as we see in the locker room of John and Michael Peaky, began to introduce a little colour, in pinstripe suits in navy blue and red. The cap, also tweed and in harmony with the rest of the dress, was a symbol of humility, being equal to that of the workers, but made with a fabric that denoted the purchasing power.
Round collars of male shirts, accompanied by ties or bow ties, appear certainly curious. They were called Peter Pan in the sixties, when they were appropriate for women’s fashion.
Women, as we can see in the aesthetic evolution of Ada Shelby, the protagonist’s sister, wore short hair or a bob without bangs, dressed at the knees, baggy, without marking the female silhouette and with obvious winks to distant countries, both to Japan and Russia, to their famous Ballets Russes. The handbags, always in small format and rectangular or bonbon, were a tribute to the patterns and patterns of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which can still be found in second-hand markets and vintage stores in London, Vienna or Paris. The kimonos, now that they are finally on the streets again, were and are in the series a mark of those designed by Paul Poiret. As the designer and stylist of the series, Stephanie Collie, explains: “Currently, the twenties and the dressing gowns, the transparencies, the coats with floral details and the Japanese embroidery are fashionable, evidently in other materials, but they show the world map of back then. Even Coco Chanel had affairs with Russian musicians and personalities”, as shown in the film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.
As Wilde said, art has no expiration date and the real creations of clothing neither. It would be good if we made prevail the comfortable elegance and influences coming from all over the world.
Ada also wears a coat with details on the cuff, neck of hair and stockings with light tones, since Mary Jane shoes, with side closure, they were the image of the time. Today, even Dr. Martens has a Mary Jane model. Amazing in which manner trends change…
As Wilde said, art has no expiration date and the real creations of clothing neither. It would be good if we made prevail the comfortable elegance and influences coming from all over the world. Still today, and not only in Savile Row, there are artisans who, as shown in Peaky Blinders, make a difference and no longer give the visibility that many dandies shun, but rather the fusion with their own and unique personal or family identity.