Working-class hero, innit?

Frockney, as spoken by the Cockney queens of the fashionable world
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Time Was When you went to a couturier for a frock and felt you had landed in a cut-crystal version of Are You Being Served. The vendeuses practically called you Modom and the designer, even if he was a former Barnardo's Boy like Bruce Oldfield, sounded as though he'd been educated at a cost of pounds 12,000 a year by way of La Cage aux Folles. Vowels were drawled, expressions were camp ("You look ehbsoleeoutely dee-vi-ahhne") and the mwa-mwa of the air-kiss cossetted your ears.

That was five years ago, but what a difference a demi-decade makes in fashionspeak. Enter Frockney, the new lingua franca of fashion as perpetrated by couturiers Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. Galliano is a plumber's son from South London, McQueen the offspring of an East London cabbie. This is not as startling as people pretend. Lots of designers have hailed from working-class backgrounds in the past, it's just that they've discovered their haitches on the way up.

Frockney designers still call you darling, but it's pronounced "darlin'" as in "Awrigh' darlin'?" And while you hardly feel "safe" on the streets in this season's transparent shift, this will be the adjective of approval offered if you look good in your chiffon. It's not unreconstructed, though; there's got to be a Cockney queen intonation to it, usually accompanied by a bit of eye-rolling, as in "'Oo did she think she was in that Goat (Gaultier) jacket, then?" Real aficionados might go so far as to fox the unfashionable with some Frockney rhyming slang, as in "Oliver Reed" (tweed) or "Alan Alda" (off-the-shoulder).

Simpler Frockney expressions to bandy about are "wicked" (with an "aad") and "killah" (with an "aah") - Lee McQueen's favourite fashion accolade. "Sweet" is dodgier. It's Frockney when you aspirate the "t" and use it as a response to "What did you think of the new bin-liner trousers?" It's posh when prefixed with a "so" or a "rilly" and used in response to "What do you think of this little cardi?" Posh is one accent that's definitely crashed as fashspeak. But of course, you don't have to be to the manor (as in "down my manor") born to give good Frockney. Damien from Blur is the original Mr Mockney, and after sitting near upper-crust supermodel Stella Tennant in Pizza Express recently, I can confirm she's made rapid vowel movements in the direction of East London.

It's not just Estuarene (as Cockney is known in polite society) that's hip. Katie Grand, fashion director on ultra-cool Dazed magazine, reckons Brummie is the next big thing. According to Grand, "Eet's grr-ate" and "Breel-yant" ennunciated with a Brummie squeak are moving up fast. Expressions like this are disseminated on the scene by hip Brummie hair stylist Eugene, and Kelli, the terminally cool singer from the Sneaker Pimps who was bred in Bartley Green.

Just because you're cool though, your accent doesn't automatically make the grade. Vivienne Westwood still has her flat Yorkshire vowels. But while she is the mother of street cred fashion, followers don't breeze into Harvey Nicks asking if they've got "owt by Westwood". Her Northernness, and hence her accent, was never part of her image. Instead, people associate her with punks and New Romantics, and consequently, London.

Rural accents, anyway, never translate as fashion parlance because fashion and music are not agrarian phenomena. Julien McDonald, the boy wonder who wowed the fashion world with his cobweb knits for Karl Lagerfeld, is from the Welsh valleys. But while he retains his singsong accent, it's unlikely to catch on. The crochet may be happening, but the voice is too heavily associated with the male voice choir. Scots, on the other hand, has had a radical intervention, thanks to Trainspotting and Irvine Welsh. Once associated with the White Heather Dance Troupe, Scots' new link with skaggy council estates make expressions like "Ma heid's foo' a mince" almost too cool to contemplate in the fashion world.

It's a case of 'orses for courses. Frockney is spoken in West London's fashion-stricken Notting Hill, but the real voice of choice here is OK Yardie, an unlikely coupling of the area's upper middle-class dropouts with the black roots they aspire to. White Notting Hill girls wear "camo"(flage) trousers, masses of gold sovereigns, hang out at drum 'n' bass clubs and suck their teeth a lot. Confusion sets in when they pronounce your outfit "pure fuckrie". Does this mean it's plain bad, or bad as in "kicking"? The whole point is, if you don't know, they don't need to know you. Fashents, like any other accents, are for keeping the wrong people out as much as counting the right ones in. Sweet, innit?

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