British Style Genius: Review

British Style Genius. BBC2 11.50 to 12.50am

British Style Genius is a homage to the democracy of fashion- the idea that Britain has achieved the feat of providing high-end fashion at high street prices. We, as the consumers, occupy the unique and privileged position of having fashion accessible in every town of Britain, where every street doubles up as a catwalk.

A young Viviene WestwoodOne of the opening lines in the show, from 60s supermodel Twiggy, is: “We forget how much the British fashion industry has achieved, and it deserves a show dedicated to it.”

From this point on, it becomes abundantly clear that this will not be a diagnostic analysis of British fashion. The show is unapologetically charmed and enthralled by the country’s most eccentric and extrovert industry.

Much of the show is, inevitably, a whistle stop tour of all the designers that have impacted on modern British life- Mary Quant, Alexander McQueen and an uncompromisingly camp Ozzy Clark all lay their claim as the founding fathers of today’s high street.

It is a bright eyed, bushy-taled self-aggrandisement and a paean to the swinging 60s, when both music and fashion exploded on the streets thanks to the cottage industries of Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood.

But British Style Genius really comes into its own when it focuses on the apparently seismic significance of the marriage between Kate Moss and Topshop.

Indeed, the show is so effusive about the impact of both Kate Moss and Topshop on Britain’s fashion conscience that Philip Green was probably wondering why he bothers spending so much cash on advertising.

He spends much of the show looking so pleased with himself you half expect him to reach round and pat himself on his back, or at least get one of his handlers to do it for him.

The sight of Kate Moss discussing her Topshop range with Green and a bunch of publicists and Topshop number crunchers is rare.

Kate Moss’ success has been built on her ability to divorce her personality from her public persona. She is a supermodel, constantly in the public sphere and the central fashion icon of her generation, but has simultaneously managed to largely conceal her personality from public consumption, building a kind of mystic aura in its place.

And who can deny, she more than ticks the boxes. She looks fucking good.

Sat in a Topshop office, she is told how many separate items of her range were sold in the first week. She seems girly and flirtatious and eager to please, and also remarkably normal. The amount of control she appears to command over her own collection seems to extend to saying whether she did or didn’t like this or that piece of clothing, and not much more.

For those who perceive her as having an almost totemic, messianic significance for the aspiring youth of this country, and whom consume everything she touches, I can imagine this was quite an anticlimactic experience.

The show argues that she represents a generational aspiration, but by unwittingly separating Kate Moss from the Kate Moss persona, it succeeds in unwittingly exposing her limitations. By revealing her as plain old Kate, the allure she has worked so hard to build is quickly wiped away.

One can see why she is a marketers dream, embodying the every-woman and the unachievable woman, but offering little more than a figurehead – a moving, smiling mannequin.

The high street is selling the idea that, even if you can’t look like Kate Moss, you can dress like her. This is, for some, a wonderful ideal and, for others, a worrying portent. Not that you’d know it from British Style Genius.

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One thought on “British Style Genius: Review

  1. Pingback: British Style Genius: Review « Camera Obscura

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