question: why are iron maiden like a frilly lampshade?
Answer: if you like them, then you are guilty of Naff British Taste (you probably also buy coloured lavatory paper, drink Piat d'Or and own a fridge magnet). Look out, says Emma Cook, the fashion police are watching you
Sunday 29 September 1996
But how can this be? Iron Maiden have sold 40 million albums world-wide and on Monday EMI gave them a gold disc to mark their success. Sadly for Iron Maiden, as much as they're hugely successful, they're also crushingly, irredeemably, terminally unfashionable. Almost as naff in fact as, well, as a frilly, chintzy lampshade of the type which Hyacinth Bucket might own - and which has also recently become the target of the fashion police, in the form of the much-commented-upon IKEA Chuck Out Your Chintz commercial.
In the ad, women "liberate" themselves by throwing their candlewick bedspreads and flowery curtains into the street. Their oppressors aren't men but the "naff" objects and ornaments that dominate their suburban interiors. Liberation, it seems, equals stripped floorboards and white walls.
Like poor old Iron Maiden ("Music for people who wear denim jackets and live in villages..." sniffs Andy Pemberton of the trendy dance magazine Mixmag) frilly lampshades are also extremely popular - so much so that even Paul Lewis, manager of Selfridges lighting department, is surprised. "There's one particular style that seems to fly out the door whenever it's in stock," he says. "It's pleated and frilly with a bow in middle and very over the top. I thought personally they were so disgusting they could never sell. But people love them, though we're out of stock at the moment."
It's enough to make Conran despair and Corbusier turn in his grave; offer the masses modernism and they'll want to put a bow on it. But so what? And who says it's necessarily in bad form? The cultural elite, for a start, who will endlessly justify their dislike of vast areas of traditional British taste on "objective aesthetic" grounds.
Tyler Brule, editor of the aspirational lifestyle magazine Wallpaper, says that in terms of trendy-bad-taste-revivals "anything has potential", but later qualifies this view. "All those horrible, over-stuffed leatherette three-piece suites are not what it's about right now. They're universally seen as naff and awful."
By whom, I wonder? "Well, it's us, isn't it," says Brule almost sheepishly. "The marketing-media machine. Those are the people that deem it horrible." Naturally his rejection of the leatherette suite springs from functional concerns. "They simply don't work," he insists. "They're not good for your posture and they're horrible when your legs stick to them."
Tony Thorne, a lecturer in British studies at Kings College, London and author of Fads, Fashions and Cuts, believes that swirling, patterned carpets and flock wallpaper can be problematic for psychological reasons. "It goes back to very basic responses; we don't see those patterns and colours in our natural surroundings, which makes them difficult to handle. It's almost unsophisticated, like a very primal response to colour and texture. So we think the people who do like it have a warped sense of aesthetics." Aesthetics? Psychology? Or just another way of saying "dead common?"
And common appears to be the key word here; once any artifact is universally available - and extremely popular - then it's somehow debased in the eyes of the "connoisseurs". Take Frame Express, who sell posters of classic paintings at very reasonable prices. The biggest seller to date is "Flaming June" a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Frederic Leighton. Yet even one of Frame Express's senior managers admits she's not a great fan. "I wouldn't have it in my home because I see it being sold every day," she says. "Without wanting to sound patronising, the general public haven't got a clue about art. As long as it looks pretty and matches their decor, they don't care who it's by."
If "Flaming June" is perceived by some as the Iron Maiden of the art world then Piat D'Or is surely the chintz lampshade of the wine industry. "It's a product that still sells in frighteningly large quantities," says David Howse, communication manager for Threshers. "The point of a brand like that is it's safe. People say 'I like it and I'm used to the taste', while others have used it as a stepping stone to find out more about wine." The very ones, no doubt, who would view Piat D'Or drinkers as terminally old-fashioned and unadventurous. In this sense, judging other people's taste is often bound up with rejecting our own past; it's a way of saying: "I've moved on, so why haven't you?" As Tony Thorne says: "In our lifetime we go through loads of transitions. As students we like posters, for example, or fluffy rugs, then we go off them. But we always despise the ones we've left behind."
Mention coloured Christmas fairy lights and gold tinsel to Lizzy, 33, a photographer, and she cringes at the memory. It never used to be that way. "I was bought up in quite a working-class family. I can see there's a real shift in my taste because I mix with middle-class people. I feel appalled by flock wallpaper and patterned carpets because I see it as an imitation of opulence. Conran, though, you can't keep me away from it.
"I've also really noticed that middle-class people tend to point out what they like and dislike, whereas the working-classes wouldn't comment - they'd be scared to say they liked a vase in case they were seen as envious." It can be hard for her to reconcile these differences. "There's a huge dilemma when I buy anything for my family. I know they won't appreciate the things I like and it seems to be such an impossible divide."
Lawrence, a 32-year-old graphic designer, uses his taste criteria to judge the divide from one side only - the middle-class one. "I continually watch out for and make decisions on the various signs that people give out. To me lower-middle class taste can be a number of things," he says, reeling off a few of his key indicators. "Any carpet that is too thick and soft, even if it's not patterned, the pastel colours sold by Dulux in light blue or pink, the smell of air-fresheners and fabric conditioners, lavatory paper that's colour coordinated with the wallpaper, everything on Richard and Judy and any television that's huge." Surely, this is where design sensitivity crosses into pure snob territory. He admits, at least with refreshing candour: "It is disapproving and judgmental - and yes, it's pathetic, too. But at the same time I can't escape the conditioning that was part of my upbringing.'
Paula, 34, a researcher, also tends to use taste as a signifier of social position. "I can't bear TVs in teak cabinets, smoked glass mugs or cork boards in kitchens and magnets on fridge doors," she scowls. "To me it reveals a certain lack of individuality - glass coffee tables and bowls of pot pourri are also unspeakably naff for that very reason."
The tendency to turn taste judgments into social categories certainly runs deep in the British psyche. It seems almost unthinkable that other nations would claim to be able to judge their neighbour's class on the shade of their lavatory paper. Indeed, our habit of criticising and categorising other people's taste is an institution in itself - especially in comedy. Alan Partridge and Hyacinth Bucket are archetypal parodies of the aspirant snob in action. As Tony Thorne observes: "In Britain, we have always, and still do, analysed and laughed about our neighbours' taste. We're much more self-aware than any of the other countries; we may mock kitsch or 'bad-taste' but we celebrate it as well."
Understandably, the boys from Iron Maiden would certainly disagree.
Framed posters (even clip frames)
Pine 'country-style' fitted kitchens
'Collectable' pottery cottages
Customised number plates
Gold address labels
Big birthday cards (or padded, or musical)
Matching duvet and valence sets (in fact, anything 'matching')
Lavatory pedestal covers
Dried flowers in your fireplace
Air fresheners (and any product that colours the water in your lavatory)
Giving your house a name
Prints of works of art
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