How is it that Kangol, that great British stalwart of hats, has become synonymous with all that is hip and cool? Everywhere you turn these days you see a Kangol. Until now it was a secret of fashion stylists who, in magazines as diverse as Vogue and i-D, regularly used Kangol berets and caps in fashion shoots, and then bought them to wear themselves.

But now Kangol has hit the street, notably in the form of the furgora Spitfire. This cap has been made in plain wool for the last 15 years. But two years ago, the designers gave the country gentleman's model a new lease of life by manufacturing it in furgora, a fluffy angora wool.

'We were amazed by the response to the cap when it was launched in furgora,' says Graham Smith, consultant designer. 'It's a classic shape, but for the last six months it's really been enjoying a revival with the young.'

Bond, the street and clubwear specialist in Newburgh Street in London's West End, has been stocking Kangol hats since last year. 'They're a real old man's hat, but they've been a strong rap thing for a long time,' says Kevin J Reid, the shop's


Mr Reid wears a classic 504. (Kangol hats, with names such as Galaxy 8-piece and Spitfire, conjure up images of vintage aeroplanes or cars.) The 504, Kangol's first cap, was designed in the Forties to be worn by 'everyman'. It has been in production ever since. When worn back-to-front and out of context, it becomes a funky item, following the paths of Dr Martens shoes and Australian workwear.

Wide ranges of Kangol caps are now being stocked in shops that usually sport labels such as Stussy, Insane and Massimo. Young customers may well believe that their Kangol headgear hails from some obscure workshop in the US, where it has become essential wear for graffiti artists, homeboys and hipsters. They would be surprised to learn that the company headquarters are in tweedy Cumbria.

The transformation of Kangol hats from golfing gear - many department stores still stock them only in menswear - to the street accessory of 1993 began in the mid- Eighties with hip-hop. Rappers such as Run DMC and L L Cool J adopted them along with heavy jewellery and tracksuits. L L Cool J wore the red terry Bermuda casual. It looked right because it was oddly unassuming, as though he had found it while riffling through his dad's wardrobe. It is L L Cool J who must be given the credit for introducing Kangol to the underground scene.

Kangol can even claim to have lent its name to New York street jargon. About three years ago a sharp shop assistant in New York noticed that streetwise kids were coming into the shops and asking for a 'Kanga'. It was then that the kangaroo logo was devised. Since then the logo has been cropping up in all the right places, on all the right heads, the world over.

Kangol (the name is an amalgam of angora and wool, with the K thrown in to make it sound catchy), started out in 1938 as the first British company to see the potential of the French beret. When the Second World War broke out, the company became involved in making hats for the armed forces. The 10-year-old vinyl-trimmed beret design, based on the original Second World War Monty beret, is still a bestseller.

Prices start at pounds 4.99 for the original simple beret, which is still made of pure wool, to the classic design. What other item can you remember seeing in the fashion pages of Harpers & Queen for under a fiver? For the price of your average glossy magazine hat, you could afford to buy a rainbow of Kangol berets, one in each colour, to suit every outfit.

Kangol hats are still the caps for 'everyman'. They give the wearer an air of being completely dressed without being overdressed. The younger and wilder the wearer, the brighter the colour, but the styles are universal. Kangol's popularity owes as much to its crazy colours as to its quality at reasonable prices.

'The success of all those caps is that they are eminently wearable,' says Graham Smith. 'The most successful garments in fashion are the ones that are easy and immediate. The furgora Spitfires are like a good pair of jeans - you just put them on and they hit the spot.'

(Photograph omitted)