Subtly chic: 20 secret style heroes
They are not supermodels or red-carpet regulars – but while our well-dressed band of academics, artists, performers, politicians and sportsmen may not work in fashion, they will always be in style...
Sunday 23 October 2011
In an age in which relativity rules, our obsession with classification is curious. The top 10 this, the 100 best that – nothing is safe from being serried into ranks. Paradoxically, despite being notoriously subjective, fashion is especially susceptible; best- and worst-dressed lists appear weekly and even those of us with a dedicated interest find it hard to fathom their calibration.
What's particularly irksome about the style laurels is that they are generally passed around incestuously among a small group of people who are fashion professionals. Whether models, socialites or red-carpet regulars, do people who have their own stylists, fashion houses on speed-dial or oligarchic budgets to play with really merit an award for looking good?
Which is why we've compiled an alternative list of our secret style heroes. None are Vanity Fair regulars, few have even a loose connection to fashion. But they all dress with personality while demonstrably spending their time on other matters. Of course, we can't pretend our list is less subjective than any other, so feel free to disagree as you see fit...
Do you have your own secret style hero or heroine? Send your nominations, along with a brief explanation of the thinking behind your choice, to email@example.com. We will publish the best entries in a future edition of The New Review
Jens Stoltenberg, 52
So, female Norwegian electorate, what was it that first made you consider voting for debonair silver-fox Stoltenberg? Genetics give him an advantage, but Stoltenberg is the rare politician who can pull off black tie or a tweed blazer with equal aplomb. Where Cameron looks like the PR man he is when tieless in shirt sleeves, the Norwegian PM looks like he means business. He also has an instinct for when to button his jacket. Ed, Boris: please take note.
Philippa Perry, 53
Psychotherapist, author and wife of cross-dressing artist Grayson, Philippa Perry risks constant outfit upstaging by her husband. No bother, Mrs P more than holds her own with her deconstructed bob, super-sized specs and predilection for poppy colours. It figures that her debut, Couch Fiction, was a graphic novel – she looks like Velma from Scooby Doo and, as her readers will testify, talks equally good sense.
Pep Guardiola, 40
Managers who peacock around on the touchline arguably put themselves under even more pressure to accessorise with some silverware. Having decisively taken care of business at Barcelona, Guardiola has also proved himself more than a straightforward Armani poster-boy. Smashing a sharp suit or a fine-knit cardi is one thing. Doing both at the same time, quite another. Also: a masterclass in balding gracefully.
Lucy Prebble, 30
Writers generally fall into two fashion camps: no identifiable style whatsoever (a risk of working from home); or a recognisably cultivated boho look based on interesting scarves. The prodigiously talented Prebble, who wrote West End smash Enron, bucks both trends with a nice line in pretty dresses and minimal styling that proves you can bring the glamour without looking contrived. In red-carpet photos, she's one of the few who appear to be having a good time.
Richard Ayoade, 34
Actor-writer-director Ayoade's skinny ties and natty shirts are – like his directorial debut Submarine – received by some as charming and quirky and by others as affected. The latter should spend a weekend in London's Shoreditch area or check out Sean Lennon at Paris Fashion Week for a quick lesson in what affectation really looks like. We think the IT Crowd star looks utterly natural in his lo-fi dandy gear. And it's not his fault he has great hair.
Dr Lucy Worsley, 37
For too long David Starkey's ties enjoyed a monopoly on the limited sartorial interest offered by historians on the telly. Worsley, whose personal style is a 1:1 ratio of 1920s flapper to Enid Blyton heroine, exploits her didactic role to the hilt, donning all manner of bloomers and bonnets in the name of cultural history. Starkey doesn't like this sort of thing, but we do.
Lord Richard Rogers, 78
There's something reassuring about people whose style runs through everything they do, and Lord Rogers is the human embodiment of the buildings he designs. In the same way that Paris's Pompidou Centre brazenly sports its colour-coded structural innards on the outside, Rogers plumps for jackets and shirts in shades meeker men dare choose only for the lining of their suits.
Rachel Reeves MP, 32
Unless you're a complete fool and/or Silvio Berlusconi, nobody expects female politicians to resemble supermodels. It would just be less perplexing if they managed to turn themselves out as well as the average professional woman. Step forward rising Labour star Rachel Reeves, recently appointed to the role of Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has an eye for nice jackets, drapey dresses and strong colour. She's a little fixated on purple, but hey, it beats creased black synthetics.
Zac Goldsmith MP, 36
Jeans are sartorial kryptonite for a politician (cf. Barack Obama et al), which is probably why ditching his tie and donning a V-neck is as relaxed as Goldsmith's look ever gets. Admittedly, he sometimes looks as though he's slept in his suit, but the slight dishevelment, accessorised with the Princess Diana eyes and occasional roll-up, offset the Tory toff factor winsomely.
Alex Crawford, 47
The award-winning Sky News correspondent could deliver her dispatches – most recently from Libya – wearing a bin bag for all that it matters to the quality of her reporting. Somehow, though, she sustains a curious glamour, pulling her appearance together with a judiciously draped pashmina, entirely rehabilitating a garment we had pinned
Jamie Oliver, 36
Appropriately, the "naked chef" earns style points not so much for what he wears – a safe, blokey, checked shirt/denim/Nike combo – as what he doesn't. Oliver is surely of the age and demographic to have at least considered the skinny jean and then wisely abstained. Ah, would that so many other men had done the same.
Karren Brady, 42
Judging by catwalk shows you'd think designer clothes were made for Eastern European teenagers, so Brady is an excellent reminder that the business of fashion actually revolves around women who occasionally, you know, buy the stuff. She also proves that the poise that comes from earning enough to pay for clothes yourself does as much for the overall effect as a size-zero frame.
Paddy Considine, 38
Loving pretty much everything about Considine really ought to be in the Turing test for consciousness. But enormous bias aside, the actor and Tyrannosaur director brings a moodiness to the red carpet that's a welcome break from the show-pony norm; he wears a tux with vague defiance. And forget the haters: we love the pea-coat and slicked hair he's been sporting of late.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, 61
Media descriptions of Baroness Greenfield generally contain the words "blonde" and "mini-skirt", which makes the Oxford Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology sound like an extra from The Only Way is Essex. In fact, her signature style tends towards smart suits and knitwear, punctuated with scarlet lipstick and an enviably obedient eye-skimming fringe. So occasionally she reveals her knees; it's the least interesting aspect of the woman or her wardrobe.
Jonathan Safran-Foer, 34
Foer's detractors, and boy there have been plenty since the literary wunderkind made his debut with Everything is Illuminated, find him self-conscious. But in an age when every douchebag is grabbing a pair of specs and declaring it geek chic, Foer's nerdy postgrad schtick is refreshingly authentic. He looks like an overachieving, slightly worthy Princeton alumnus, because, er, he is. If only things were always this simple.
Bruno Julliard, 30
Female French politicians are routinely used as a sartorial stick with which to beat women at Westminster, so here's Monsieur Julliard, deputy mayor of Paris and young Parti Socialiste star, to smooth out the gender bias. Noteworthy here is that while Christine Lagarde, Rachida Dati et al set the bar unfeasibly high with Birkin bags and daily blow dries, Julliard's aesthetic success simply rests on a decent winter coat and mildly fashionable hair.
Mary McCartney, 42
Sir Paul's eldest has achieved invisibility by rock progeny standards, pursuing a career on the other side of the camera. With natural good looks and access to sister Stella's covetable collections, Mary could easily spend her time clothes-horsing around on red carpets. Her default setting, however, is understated in sweaters and skinny jeans, proving that even if you've got it, you're under no obligation to flaunt it.
David Hockney, 74
Hockney may often be celebrated as a paragon of style, but why does the praise usually come illustrated by a picture from 1967? His own photo collages aim to capture individuals through time and, likewise, it's the evolution of his appearance that's heartening. In old age, when society likes to tug hardest on the threads of personal identity, Hockney is more himself than ever with his round specs, knitted ties and cheeky cigarette welded to his hand.
Jennifer Saunders, 53
Credit due here not for one wardrobe, but two. First, as Ab Fab's Edina, whose slavish pursuit of fashion produced some of the 1990s' most memorable visual gags. Second, as herself, since off-screen Saunders is a model of understatement, relaxed but polished in black. That she's willing to forget vanity and be eternally thought of as the former makes her all the more endearing.
Diablo Cody, 33
Diablo Cody may be the worst pen name ever, but Juno screenwriter Brook Busey continues to make up for it with her professional talents and an ever-changing look that makes her as interesting a red-carpet proposition as the stars she writes for. She picked up her Oscar for Juno in a leopard-print number that showed off her pin-up girl tats, then, just when we were thinking she was rockabilly through and through, suddenly appeared with an angelic blonde pixie crop.
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