The men who know what's v. good: E Jane Dickson discovers that hell for hip fashion stylists is rubber-soled shoes, double cuffs and gaping, beltless belt loops

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The Independent Culture
GREG FAY and Justin Laurie are v. good stylists. Not very good, but 'v. good'. It says so on their letterhead. In the higher echelons of hip, post-ironic deconstructivist details matter.

Today, for example, Greg is wearing a stained and scrofulous camel coat, with matching food- stained shirt worn loose over geography teacher's trousers and a pair of unlaced desert boots (no socks). Justin, on the other hand, is pin- sharp, with a precision-cut goatee, limited edition denims and mirror-finish ox-blood boots. But the fact that Greg knows he looks pretentiously tousled and Justin knows his image is on the uptight side of neat, makes them equally smart in each other's eyes. Style, they emphasise, is all about attitude.

Attitude fairly drips from the pages of Fay and Laurie's editorial spreads for magazines such as The Face and Arena. A lustrously beautiful youth in a designer suit is saved from po-faced prettiness by the Tesco-bag rain hat wrapped around his head. A respectable stripey shirt and silk tie combo looks larkishly outre, accessorised with a fleecy balaclava and nylon sleeping bag.

Irreverent is the word that springs to mind, but it is quickly batted back by the v. good stylists. Calling Fay and Laurie 'irreverent', it turns out, is an embarrassingly inadequate cliche, on a par with calling Andy Warhol 'kooky'. 'Everybody seems to go out of their way to be irreverent,' says Fay in the blithe tones of a size-eight teenager wondering why on earth anyone would ever want to diet, 'but we're just trying to do things that are aesthetically pleasing in more than one sense.'

Apart from their editorial work, Fay and Laurie act as stylists to a number of bands and rock stars. They are chary of naming names (admitting to a personal stylist is a curiously unmacho thing for a rock idol, rather like telling the world that your mum still irons your underpants), but they are rumoured to have a hand in the public image of Blur and New Order.

'We try to make them look as unstyled as possible,' says Laurie. 'We want them to look extremely good, but we don't want our names stamped all over them.' Fay agrees. 'We're not saying 'our look is the only look, we are the super- creative artiste types'. We delight in clothing. We delight in fashion. We delight in looking at people in the street and then turning that into something new.'

An ear-to-the-ground, finger-on- the-pulse sensibility is central to Fay and Laurie's success. London street style - ebullient, evolving and independent of any catwalk creed - is, they argue, Britain's most marketable fashion export. 'The cultist attitude towards clothing has always been stronger here than anywhere else,' says Fay. 'The mod thing, the punk thing, the skinhead thing, the house thing, travelled all over the world, not just as fashion statements but almost as a way of life, coupled with the music and the attitude.'

Cults rely on arcana to keep them cultish, and Fay and Laurie can quote chapter and verse on the secret signs of any given fashion faction. 'Everyone wears baseball caps. Granddads wear baseball caps,' says Fay, 'but they just wear them ordinary, with a straight brim. But then you'll see young guys into the jungle thing and they'll have the front of the cap in a little peak, so that they can slip it into their pocket. Most people don't know the reason behind it, but they know that it's the look.'

There are, however, certain universal rules that span all social groupings. Rubber-soled shoes with a suit should never be seen. A shirt without double cuffs is a shirt without purpose. There are 'a million and one' ways to wear a pair of trousers, and a million of them are wrong. (This comes as distressing news to one who thought that, bar putting them on back to front, you couldn't really go wrong with trousers.) 'Belt loops,' pronounces Fay, with the haunted look of a man naming his worst demon. 'I can never understand people who wear jeans, or any trousers with belt loops if there's no belt in them. I mean, what is the point?' What - one might ask - indeed?