The labels that have been quietly dressing British women for decades have acquired cult status in other countries. The Japanese will go to any lengths for a traditional Burberrys raincoat or checked trousers. In times of financial difficulty, an umbrella, or just a handkerchief, will do, while the Italians search out conservative preppy styles that are the antithesis of their own brand of glitz and glamour.
The companies that make British classics have a whole heritage of traditional textiles, prints and fabrics to play with. They are synonymous with quality and a certain Englishness that is the key to their success abroad. But suddenly, it is not just Anglophiles who want to wear Burberry checks, Harris tweeds and prim little twinsets. Conservative handbag and glove dressing is in vogue. And a new breed of British customers are looking at the classics in a new light. Knitted argyle separates that once seemed funny and "daddyish" have become desirable, as have knee-length boxy rain macs and Queen Mother handbags and scarves.
Burberrys, which has been in business since 1856, found a new generation of customers both here and abroad when it celebrated 70 years of the Burberrys check last year. Those customers, much younger than the traditional Burberrys buyer, are also drawn to the neat knee-length pencil skirts that the company has been making since the Sixties. And the twinset, that mainstay of Home Counties dressing, has shaken off, the pearl necklace to be worn with nifty Capri pants in the season's pastel colours or bright fuchsia pink.
But the great British brand names are not complacent. They are moving forward, embracing new customers while making sure they do not alienate loyal fans. Austin Reed has only been making womenswear since the Eighties, and the company stresses that it is creating modern British clothes for women with today in mind. She might be 45, but if she has the outlook of a 30-year-old, she does not want clothes that look too traditional.
British classics may be back on fashion's fast track for a season, but that is not what they are about. This time next year, companies such as Jaeger and Burberrys will still be producing fine-quality, wearable clothes that British women will wear season after season. And the Japanese will still flock to Aquascutum for what was, for one season at least, the British Style.
Clockwise, from top left: Ultra-lightweight wool seersucker checked jacket, £185, and plain wool wrap-around pleated skirt, £65, both by Austin Reed, 103 Regent Street, London W1, and branches nationwide. Silk chiffon ombre shawl, £210, by Georgina von Etzdorf, 50 Burlington Arcade, London W1. Silver and pearl ear-rings, £65, by Van Peterson, 119 Walton Street, London SW3. Sunglasses, £79, by Anglo American, from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1.
Pure new wool jacket, £210, trousers, £99, and cotton herringbone weave shirt with long cuffs, £69, all by Daks, Simpson, Piccadilly, London W1. Arrowhead gold pendant, £150, by Van Peterson, as before. Reptile printed leather bag, £199, and mock croc leather belt, £45, both by Mulberry, 11 Gees Court, W1, 23-25 Swinegate, York. Patent leather lace-up shoes with low heel, £159, by Salvatore Ferragamo, 24 Old Bond Street, London W1.
Wool crpe, raglan-sleeved, short, fitted jacket, £249, and pencil skirt, £69 all by Jaeger. Leather skinny belt, £6.99, and nylon gloves £4.99, both by Dents from Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1. Silver choker, £120, with silver and black pearl drop, £230, by Van Peterson, as before.
Slightly fitted wool jacket, £305, and matching short flippy skirt, £155, under short, waterproof cotton raincoat, £355, all by Burberrys, 18-22 Haymarket, SW1, and selected branches. Silk/rayon handpainted and embroidered chiffon stole, £189, by Calver & Wilson from Joseph, 21 St Johns Wood High Street, NW8.
Tweed-effect suit in acrylic/cotton/silk/wool blend, with collarless jacket with piping trim, and short A-line skirt, £495, by Aquascutum, 100 Regent Street, W1 and branches nationwide. Mock snakeskin handbag, £125, by Osprey by Graeme Ellisdon, 11 St Christopher's Place, W1. Textured semi-opaque tights, £9.95, by Hue from branches of House of Fraser. Strappy mesh-covered sandals, £95, by Sara Navarro at Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1, and Mango, 19 St Leonards Road, Windsor. Glass necklace with gold swallow drop, £82, by Wouters and Hendrix, at Jones, 13 Floral Street, WC2 and Limeys, 26-27 Sadler Gate, Derby.Reuse content