Since when did the Union Jack go from chavvy to charming?

Fuelled by Murray-mania, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, the national flag is exploding onto the scene in wild colours and wacky creations
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The Independent Online

Not so long ago, the Union Jack was considered a straightforward emblem of British values and traditions. You would drape yourself (or your home) in the national flag only if you were the Queen, you were in the military or obsessively patriotic. Today, the youtube generation tweet like parrots about the hottest Union Jack discoveries in fashion boutiques, home stores and car boot sales.

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In the Seventies, BNP thugs adorned themselves with the Union Jack. Much to middle England’s horror, their flag (duly shredded and safety pinned) became an angry insignia of youth culture. Such was its subversive message that image consultants advised British Airways to remove the "stuffy and institutional" flag from its tail fins - how offbeat they were. In no time at all, the Union Jack was back in favour; Blair, the Spice Girls, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst rode the Britpop tsunami of the Nineties culminating in Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit canoodling under a Union Jack duvet cover on the Vanity Fair cover. 

But that was then and this is now. The Union Jack of today has shed its skin of sneery Cool Britannia rebelliousness. Far from the taint of football hooliganism and the Far Right, the Union Jack of 2009 embodies nostalgia, patriotism and the fashion forward. TopShop and Debenhams, two shops which act as a barometer of the country’s sentiment, are pushing the Union Jack hard this summer.

The Union Jack china and cushions at Debenhams and the hand-painted teapots and mugs at Emma Bridgewater are selling faster than strawberries at Wimbledon. Chuck in the wooden Union Jack bunting from notonthehighstreet (all available at mydeco.com) for the ultimate World War Two street party. After designing a punk Union Jack t-shirt with Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood embodied the same spirit in her rug for The Rug Company. The Union Jack is stenciled onto the roof of a Mini Cooper, etched onto Andrew Martin's distressed leather sofa and ingrained (using fruit images) on the Union Jack worktop saver by funky kitchenware firm Joseph Joseph.

But the greatest shock is discovering the Union Jack in controversial colours.  Team Great Britain ventured beyond red, blue and white and created a green Union Jack to unite the country in the run-up to 2012 Olympics. Barker and Stonehouse offer a leopard print and a purple Union Jack cushion and Heal’s sell Union Jack mugs in green and red. The latest range of wittily coloured Union Jack cufflinks for www.deakinandfrancis.co.uk, designed by my brother James, come in wild yellows, greens and blues. They're made for Great Britain by Great Britain.

But how has the Union Jack held its appeal? "Vintage is still really in vogue and you can pick up some amazing old flags, traditional bunting and street awnings at the moment which people are reworking and selling extremely well all in the original Union Jack colours," says Sophie Walker, founder of Blue Black and Red. Walker's denim and drill cotton Union Jack Table Mats  were used at the Williams F1 Press Breakfast at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix. "We are a very patriotic nation and I think the general state of the economy at the moment has brought the jingoism out in us all."

"Foreigners love the [British] flag. For them it has no negative connotations in the way it has for some Brits," says clothes designer Kinder Aggugini. "They don’t look at it and think of colonialism and Millwall football fans. They think of Kate Moss and The Who."

Unlike many flags which feature three horizontal stripes, our well-conceived design is comprised of about 13 sections. Designers can play with colours and the pattern while still keeping it instantly recognizable as the national flag.

Four hundred years since its conception, the Union Jack has been - once again - rehabilitated. To drape yourself (and your home) in neon yellow and green Union Jacks is a modish  - and tongue-in-cheek - return to British values and traditions. This summer is all about flying the flag, just not as we know it.

Annie Deakin is Editor of mydeco.com

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