Ilford style: Any shape as long as it's short, darling

Once the butt of endless jokes, Essex may soon be Britain's most chic county. Harriet Walker on an unlikely fashion phenomenon

London, Milan, Paris... Ilford. That's in Essex, where last night in a marquee at Fairlop Waters Country Park a new pin was placed on the fashion map. At least, that's what the one million viewers of ITV's hit series The Only Way is Essex seem to think. The programme, which returned to our screens for a second series last Sunday, pulled in an audience of 1.1 million – 900,000 more than when it first aired last October.

The county known more for its white shoes and WAGs is also in the throes of its own Fashion Week – as well as enjoying something of a cultural renaissance. Essex hotspots Chelmsford and Clacton-on-Sea have seen visitor numbers shoot up, with Travelodge reporting booming demand for rooms.

In the past year, the county has given us The X-Factor winner Matt Cardle, queen of the jungle Stacey Solomon and Strictly Come Dancing winner Kara Tointon. Even fish and chips cook-turned-model Alexander Beck, who was on the Prada catwalk this season, hails from Essex.

Despite its detractors, the area does well when it come to populist sentiment – its sons and daughters have a mass appeal, to which television favourites such as Dermot O'Leary and Denise Van Outen are testament. They are humble but fun-loving, hailing from a county which unashamedly enjoys aspiration and the good life.

"I think Essex comes out of it quite well," says Grazia columnist Paul Flynn of the show. "It looks a whole lot less neurotic, competitive and elitist than neighbouring London."

The Only Way is Essex is a "modified reality" programme, which uses non-actors in improvised, semi-scripted scenarios, and has won not only notoriety but also genuine affection from viewers for its brash, overblown and rather stilted dramatis personae.

"Slightly obsessed with [The Only Way is Essex]," said a fan on Twitter on Sunday. "Second series better than ever. I've never seen so much make-up, fake tan, fake hair, fake nails..."

The show's stars have become tabloid darlings and it is they who are populating the prestigious front row seats at this week's event. Glamour model Amy Childs, self-proclaimed "Mr Essex" Mark Wright and his long-suffering on/off girlfriend Lauren Goodger have been thrust into the limelight. The earthy Nanny Pat, Wright's grandmother, has taken the role of fashion doyenne, forsaking her sausage plaits and spray tan for something more stylish.

When the series debuted on ITV2 last year, it kicked off a certain amount of fascination with the glamorous world of fake tans and "vajazzling" – a grooming process in which diamantes are glued to the pubic region – and spawned a whole new vernacular, in which the word "babes" is applied as a suffix of every utterance.

"It's particular, tribal, funny, and comes with its own recognisable sense of style, language and an instant hit cast-list," says Flynn. "That's the holy grail of TV. There's a mix of empathy, shame and simple heart-throb telegenics involved in reality TV, for which Essex scrubs up perfectly."

The format is loosely based around the US-derived formula for shows such as The Hills and Jersey Shore, both of which purport to follow the antics of "real" people, but which are heavily directed according to what is most entertaining. While the first season of TOWIE – as it is known to its fans on Twitter – was based around a group of glitzy Essex natives, the second has so far seen some more heavy-handed manipulation, including the introduction of a former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner.

Still, the show appears to have lost none of its allure. Dismissed as tasteless, naff and trashy, the show rather brings out the more humane side of a culture usually scorned. The usual amount of liberal Lutherans have come out to condemn the cash-splashing, heavy-drinking protagonists, but the programme speaks of a righteously light-hearted working-class sensibility.

That comes in harsh relief to some of the more middle class shows that tend to reflect the straitened circumstances in which we find ourselves.

"Lily Allen's shop opening on TV is a relentless cacophony of dread, because she and her sister give off the impression of wanting to appear sophisticated," says Flynn. "The opening of Minnie's in Essex on Sunday night looked like an absolute hoot by comparison, because they didn't."

The second series has come under fire for the micro-managing of its players' lives, constructing plot twists that take them more into the remit of acting. Purists have decried the series for focusing too heavily on the affluent areas Gants' Hill and Brentwood. But the legions of fans don't seem to care. "Even at its most over-produced, [TOWIE] gets those things right," says Flynn.

Born in Essex

Dick Turpin It is thought the notorious highwayman was born in Thackstead, Essex.

Joseph Lister The scientist was born in Upton, Essex and was the founder of antiseptic surgery.

Jilly Cooper The novelist was born in Hornchurch, Essex, though she grew up in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

Alan Davies The star of Jonathan Creek and QI was born in Loughton and grew up in Chingford.

Dame Maggie Smith You'd never guess it from her cut-glass enunciation, but one of Britain's best actresses was born in Ilford, which was then (1934) part of Essex.

Denise Van Outen The actress, who began her career at 12 in Les Misérables, was born in Basildon.

Jamie Oliver The popular chef, who has taken it upon himself to reform the UK's schools and now the world's eating habits, was born and raised in Clavering, Essex.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

    £8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

    Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

    £55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

    Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines