Urban Icons – London’s most stylish people
Stephen Tennant, 1906-1987
Stephen Tennant, son of Lord Glenconner, 1920s Bright Young Thing and second cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas was one of the twentieth century’s first fashion eccentrics. A poster boy for the new youth movement, Tennant couldn’t care less what people thought of his Charles James leopard pyjamas, full face of makeup and dyed gold-dusted hair. “The Honourable Stephen Tennant arrived in an electric brougham wearing a football jersey and earrings,” wrote The Daily Express in 1927.
Whilst his days were spent dressing up and reading tales of himself in the gossip columns, his great love was poet Siegfriend Sasson, the pacifist old enough to have fathered him. Serving as literary inspiration for fellow Bright Young Things – Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate – the dandyish beauty rubbed noses with the glittering stars of the time, from Tallulah Bankhead to Greta Garbo and Jean Cocteau. One of his many beauty tips included “an absolute ban on facial grimacing or harsh, wrinkle-forming laughter”; he was, as Osbert Sitwell described after World War II, “the last professional beauty”.
Following the war, Tennant spent the consequent seventeen years in “decorative reclusion”, but still “reeking of perfume” and “covered with foundation”. Despite his growing obesity – he would reason, “but I’m beautiful… the more of me there is, the better I like it” – he continued to recreate the sensational picture of his youth until his death in 1987.
Mary Quant, b.1934
In 1955, out of the post-war fog, smog and darkness, Londoner Mary Quant opened Bazaar, a boutique for young people on the King’s Road. Leading light of the swinging sixties, she is often cited as the inventor of the miniskirt, and it was this garment and the later hotpants that she became most widely associated with, as well as her trademark black and white flower logo. She considered these developments practical and liberating, allowing women to run for a bus.
One look at Quant’s trademark bob evokes vividly the Sixties mod subculture, which she was instrumental in developing. As her business became successful, a second store was opened in Knightsbridge, stocking unique pieces that appealed to the free-spirited youth of the city. Plastic knee-high boots, boxy shift dresses and ribbed polo necks all found their place at Bazaar.
Remaining true to her mod roots, Quant expanded her wares to include makeup and accessories including the patterned tights she designed to match her micro miniskirts. Now constantly popular in stores worldwide, the miniskirt lives on, as does the legacy of Mary Quant.
David Bowie, b.1947
Ziggy Stardust started with a haircut on Beckenham High Street and some red hair dye, inspired by Marie Helvin. A cultural mash up of everything the young Bowie was inspired by, the makeup was a la Alice Cooper and the outfit A Clockwork Orange-esque, Ziggy Stardust was to become David Bowie’s most visually memorable persona. But glam rock was just one chapter of his encyclopaedia of style; the ultimate early adopter began a trend for tapered-leg trousers at his school in Bromley, and dyed his hair with food colouring. Undoubtedly a piece of London, honoured earlier this year at the V&A in their David Bowie Is… exhibition with the infamously long queues a testament to his legendary status.
Slaughtering Ziggy for new soul influences, 1976 saw the arrival of Bowie’s Thin White Duke. Part inspired by Judi Dench in Cabaret and life in Los Angeles, he adopted dandyish tailoring, often favouring a Yves Saint Laurent suit in powder-blue and monochrome Ola Hudson ensembles.
By 1980, following some time on the Continent, Bowie’s theatricality was back, care of the New Romantics. Think cyber-clowns and London’s own Blitz club, duets with Queen and the Goblin King in Labyrinth.
All pretty freaky, but all in a day’s work for David Bowie, the icon of style icons.
Isabella Blow, 1958-2007
The outlandish former assistant to Anna Wintour turned fashion editor, mentor and muse, Isabella Blow truly captured the scene of London. Driven by unrivalled creativity, she is recognised for having inspired a generation of designers, and discovering models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant. The first champion of late design maestro Alexander McQueen, she famously bought his entire graduate collection up front and there began her continued support.
She never dressed down: discovering milliner Phillip Treacy in 1988, she wore his designs at her wedding and henceforth throughout her life, having them made in duplicate. A true fashion maven, she delighted in shocking. One of her favourite outfits was a McQueen tulle and hide dress with a visible hole where the dagger had killed the animal; she was married in a dark purple medieval robe and wore a crystal-studded lobster headpiece for a fashion show.
Her dear friend Daphne Guinness, in the year Blow took her own life, recalled to the Financial Times the “laser-cut black leather dress Alexander McQueen had made her”, and the “shocking pink Jun Takahashi burka she had insisted on wearing to a show in Paris”. A lover of red lips, and later collaborator with MAC, Blow described her lipstick habit as necessary: “if I put my lips on, it just makes me feel alive.”
This winter, Isabella Blow is honoured in a major fashion exhibition celebrating her extraordinary life and wardrobe. Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! is open 20 November 2013 – March 2014 at Somerset House. Visit somersethouse.org.uk for more information.
Kate Moss, b.1974
Love her or loathe her, mega-model and nineties teen star Kate Moss is often the first named as London’s style icon. Dubbed “London’s most-copied girl” by American Vogue in the millennium, her personal style credentials have skyrocketed her to eternal paparazzi fame. Like any high style priestess, her off-duty looks have launched a thousand fads, from denim cut offs to mismatched bikinis, Ugg boots, ballet flats and all things leopard print.
As if being captured on film by photographic greats Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Irving Penn wasn’t enough, Ms Moss has produced a whopping fourteen Topshop collaboration collections and launched four perfumes. The high street brand have recently announced that the next Kate Moss x Topshop collaboration will hit stores for summer 2014, bringing her total up to fifteen. And as if her schedule wasn’t packed enough, this season British Vogue have named her as contributing fashion editor, meaning she’ll spend some time on the other side of the camera too.
/ ELEANOR DOUGHTY/ QUEEN MARY / CONTRIBUTOR