Why, Grandma, what big heels you've got!
Throw on a cobweb shawl and sip Darjeeling, darlings... Granny style is de rigueur among the hiperati. CAYTE WILLIAMS reports
Sunday 01 August 1999
In fashion, crocheted shawls, beaded handbags, tweed and Liberty prints - once the preserve of your grandmother's wardrobe - have found their place in the hearts of the nation. At home, Gucci has revived the ultimate granny cooking accessory, the oven glove, while patchwork quilts have come out for an airing. Names like Emily, Grace and Amy are more popular than ever, even sherry and shopping trolleys are making a comeback. It's enough to make you dash out and buy a rain hat.
Fashion has slowly been piling on the granny style for the last two seasons, adding shawls and throws like it's getting hypothermia. Bella Freud, Alberta Ferretti and Elspeth Gibson have all lined up twee, tweedy collections for autumn; Missoni's knitted a floor-length scarf out of 101 tea cosies (sic), Marc Jacobs has reinvented the shopping trolley for Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney's winter crocheted shawl is already a millennium must-have.
Liberty fabric is off the life support and back on the high-street, furnishing Jigsaw's apron-fronted frocks, Joseph's wraparound dresses and Elspeth Gibson's skirts. And, yes, pashmina is dead - only to be replaced with the latest cod-Khan craze, the kilim slipper (think tapestry footwear last seen on your gran in 1975).
It's a heady world of cardies, thermal vests and floral toilet bags. Anna Sui's latest face powder smells of parma violets, comes in a black plastic casket and looks like a postwar Avon classic. So why has fashion gone AWOL over OAP?
"Granny Chic is about the comfort factor," says Ian Glenville, fashion historian and co-writer of The Cutting Edge. "Grandmothers have that war spirit we find so comforting. They say things like `put the kettle on, darling' during disasters." It's that fin de siecle thing again, but now with added angst. If the millennium bug bites us bad, we'll just get out the Tetley's and wrap up warm.
Glenville also reckons it's very English to look like a gran. "No other country has charity shops like us," he explains. "It's very English to do the thrift shops. It's still inherent in this country to think those who obviously invest in new clothing are `common'. If we spend pounds 4,000 on something we like to pretend it cost next to nothing. We love Fendi patchwork baguette bags because, after two outings, they look like they've been around for years. We love anything that reminds us of what our grannies used to make for nothing."
Then there's the P-factor. While the summer muse is part-Lara Croft ladette, part-androgynous Tank Girl, real women want pretty - granny style with a Nineties twist, that's why we love those sweetly patterned bias-cut dresses with enough cleavage and leg to make them modern.
As women are seen as sex-mad sirens in lad mags and ads, perhaps our way of reacting is to look demure. "I hate that Ibiza babe stuff," says Jane Evans, a graphic designer. "That tarty look has been overdone. Wanting to look pretty can be just as sexy but it's not so obvious." Nicola White, a lecturer and writer in fashion history, agrees. "I love that embroidered cardie over the frock look. My boyfriend says I look like his granny, but I think it's pretty and comfortable."
Granny Chic is running riot outside as well as inside our wardrobes: floral wallpaper, crochet cushion covers, patchwork throws and quilts are bringing the intimate back into interiors. Ruth Corbett, Associate Editor of Living Etc, reckons it's a reaction to blokey minimalism. "Most high-concept homes are inhabited by architects or designers with a certain lifestyle," she explains. "That plaster and concrete look is very cool, very hard-edged. The rest of us have boyfriends and parents coming to stay and lots going on in our lives. It's not practical to have that very cold, high-maintenance look.
"People are going back to a more floral, feminine look," she continues, "because we want a more cosy, warm environment. We still want a cool look but with more colour, patchwork and spriggy, floral wallpaper like Cath Kidston does. It's a new look because we've not seen floral wallpaper and crochet in modern homes before."
Certainly we haven't seen so much prettiness chez nous since The Little House on the Prairie got its first pair of curtains. It's welcome home to hand-printed cotton bolsters and willow-print chair covers and the kind of wallpaper we spent the last 10 years trying to scrape off.
Granny Chic is even invading London's most exclusive clubs. While The Met Bar is still the place for starlets to get an A-list snog, Home House is challenging its hold on celebrity membership. Granny heaven, it's a cross between a stately home (it was designed by Robert Adam and built in the 1770s) and a Victorian parlour; you can sip afternoon tea in the huge drawing rooms and nibble on fancy cakes as well as keel over the back of over-stuffed sofas after too many Martinis.
Even booze hasn't escaped the G-force. Granny force is now making sherry fashionable (according to Wine magazine it's "very hip") and the Martini Revolution is in full swing as witnessed at Teatro and Old Compton Street watering hole Lab.
In fact you can split Granny Chic into Sherry Granny (demure cardiees) and Martini Granny (a more sophisticated trend that's more pithy than pretty).
Granny culture is infecting the arts, too. Penguin Press have reissued two PG Wodehouse's The Code of The Woosters and The Mating Season as Twentieth Century Classics, and has given its Jeeves and Wooster backlist a swishy new revamp. And Noel Coward is enjoying a renaissance. Juliet Stevenson gets all breathy in Private Lives at the National; Declan Donnellan directs Geraldine McEwan in Hay Fever and Greta Scaatchi stars in the Maria Aitken- directed Easy Virtue at the Chichester Festival. All three divas wear ravishing costumes and impart more witty one-liners than in a year's supply of Auntie Beeb dramas.
Perhaps Nineties culture has got so infantile we need a bit of adult entertainment. We've had enough of Denise and Johnny, geezer chic and gingham cleavage. What we want is Granny Chic, modern style: less quiff, more quip, less throwing up and more holding forth.
Even holidays are more 1930s than 18-30. "It's very trendy to go to the English seaside," says Marcus Field, editor of Blueprint magazine. "Cornwall, Suffolk and Norfolk are very fashionable. People love to sit outside their beach huts drinking tea and eating cucumber sandwiches."
The leisure industry is cottoning on to our new love of sophistication as clubs are replaced by bars more home to Wallis than Homer Simpson. "People want to dress up and drink cocktails not fall into their pints," says Field. "Circus in Soho Square has a Thirties feel. There is a move in design towards smarter bars. The Great Eastern Dining room in Hoxton is a classy bar where you might have cocktails and we're seeing the return of glamorous hotels here similar to New York's Soho Grand."
Myhotel Bloomsbury in Tottenham Court Road and the forthcoming St Martin's Hotel, which opens in September, are getting ready to cash in on the new sophistication. St Martin's Hotel is part-owned by Philippe Starck, cost pounds 20m to refurbish and is sister to the Mondrian in LA and the Paramount in New York. Like the American hotels, its bars will be open to a Martini- drinking, wisecracking public.
So take it or leave it. Wear the cardie, buy the frock; drink the cocktails, do the bars: granny style is in. Anyone got an antimacassar?
IT'S A SHAWL THING
Try designers Elspeth Gibson or Joseph. Think crochet shawls, Miss Marple tweeds and face powders that smell of violets.
Sprigged wallpapers, patchwork throws and hand-printed bolsters. Very Little House on the Prairie.
CRACKING REPARTEE, OLD CHAP!
Watch Noel Coward and PG Wodehouse. Scintillating!
MORE SHERRY, DEAR?
Quaff Martinis or sip sherry in the new breed of hip deluxe hotels.
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