style police; You too can look like Swampy...
...without preventing a single bypass. James Sherwood shows you how
Sunday 23 March 1997
Swampy did for environment protesters what Christine Keeler did for the oldest profession. He gave the Eco Warrior a name, an identity and a sartorial code. Once seen as a band of soap-dodging, unemployed hobos, Swampy's tribe are now a demographic group with a leader more charismatic than Major, Ashdown and Blair put together. Now submerged beneath the proposed site for a new runway at Manchester Airport, Swampy writes his weekly diary for the Sunday Mirror and inspires a host of wannabes to cast-off the trammels of civilisation, buy dungarees and hitch to the Newbury bypass.
But before you hand in your resignation, certain style challenges must be met. Whatever tree persons would have you believe, the look is anything but accidental. Jenny Alexander, a seasoned protester and visitor to both the A30 and Manchester sites says: "There is a strong sense of belonging in these communities and I suppose clothes are a tribal thing for protesters". The Swampy style demands dreadlocked hair, piercings in the most imaginative places (tongue, nose, chin, lips and eyebrows are popular), multi-layers of clashing knit jumpers and combat pants tucked into black wellies or boots.
Consult the fashion guidebook for the current year and you will see that all these elements are in this season. Everyone from Scary Spice to The Prodigy have been pierced. Combat pants are favoured by street labels Sharpeye, Dexter Wong and John Richmond. And pendants, as worn by Swampy's 21-year-old girlfriend, "Merry", are selling like hotcakes - if they have been designed by Elsa Perretti for Tiffany.
A phone call to British Men's Hairdresser of the Year, Toni & Guy's Craig Mason, assures me that dreds are it for Summer '97. "To actually style dreds can take up to 48 hours of preparation and months of matting and hairspray to finish," says Mason. The cost can be up to three figures. Alternatively, spend two weeks under a motorway in Devon and finish with a bit of police brutality and you have the look for free.
Fashion has flirted with Eco-friendly before Swampy. Hussein Chalayan buried his entire graduate collection before exhuming it for the St Martin's graduation show in 1984. Deconstruction brought us Rei Kawakubo's shredded and stretched knitwear for Comme des Garcons. And then there was Grunge, the last time Swampy was high fashion.
"I don't think Swampy would approve of being a fashion icon," says Alexander. I remind her of Swampy's Armani-clad appearance in the make-over of the Daily Express. "Well, I think he's waiting for the editor of the Express to be made over as Swampy. That would be a 'fashion moment'."
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