British Style Genius, BBC2

by | Oct 9, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

• Aside from the odd punctuation of interest, it was unintentionally hilarious. It spouted risible aphorisms like a bunch of six-year-olds snuggled up in their woodland den who have concocted an incestuous naïve philosophy by which they expect the rest of the world to adhere.

What was good about it?

• Narrator Richard Coyle must have thought he was back in the school play as he admirably intoned in a stone-dead voice the most ludicrous and funny opening line to a programme we’ve heard in a long time. “The latest collection from style icon Kate Moss has gone on sale. The fashion conscious are making their way to the high street to buy a piece of supermodel style.”

• But this was trumped by Grazia’s Paula Reed: “Kate Moss’s look should be the most inaccessible thing… and yet this collection lets you get closer to her and that supermodel allure.”

• The only common sense on Kate Moss’s collection was spoken by Colin McDowell who said it was “insulting” to the young designers around the country who have more talent than Moss but lack her celebrity status. However, for an industry that relies on flimsy celebrity and rootless fame to keep it afloat, Kate Moss is the ‘best’ designer in the world.

• Some brilliant music, most notably Pixies’ Cactus – written by a fat, bald man who wears clothes that make him resemble a slow-witted woodcutter, but more crucially he is a far greater genius than any fashion designer featured in this series. Also, REM, Happy Mondays and Gang of Four.

• Yet not all of the fashion designers should be dismissed as gurning charlatans. The two who stood out in this programme were Ossie Clark and Mary Quant. Quant was the innovator who helped popularise women’s fashion in the 60s. It’s questionable whether she was a bona fide ‘genius’ but she certainly had a colourful vision that she made real with panache and skill.

• Ossie Clark, on the other hand, was akin to a doomed rock star. Alluring and tragic, he created clothes that cost way too much to produce, and had very little notion of how to run a business yet was compelled to design. Sadly, he was treated here as just another face in a pit of faceless automatons, and we didn’t discover what happened to him. He was, in fact, killed by his lover in 1996, and now is just a tag by which inferior designers aspire to elevate their reputation through association.

What was bad about it?

• The narrative that compared today’s orgy of high street senselessness as women blindly snatched the Kate Moss collection from clothes hangers to the early-60s. “It was not always this way; young girls aspired not to look like supermodels, but more like their mums.”

• Firstly, young women are generally far too intelligent to “aspire” to look like ‘supermodels’, based mainly on the unhealthiness of such ambition and partly on the fact that there are so many more worthy icons to inspire them.

• But worst of all, it’s a lie. It pre-supposes that before the fashion explosion in the 60s all women were meek little creatures who stared at the ground when a gentleman asked them to dance before becoming a baby machine. Sure, fashion added colour to the generation, but it was a symptom of a wider emancipation rather than being the central cause but the myth of Swinging London re-wrote history.

• On the subject of M&S’s revival: “Twiggy, in her second flush of youth…” She doesn’t look as if she’s in a “second flush of youth”; she looks like an attractive woman in her mid-50s. But there is nothing wrong with that, it’s only that she’s been laid out on the wrack of fashion scrutiny for 40 years that every single line in her face has been dissected and pored over like the Enigma Code that causes a curiosity. Despite billions of years of evidence, the fashion industry still seems revolted that people grow old, and that it is an irredeemable horror – when of course ageing clinically flushes the system out to prevent sterility and inertia, two of the problems that habitually afflict fashion.

• And to look back on the history of fashion using such a suspect bunch of talking heads such as Anna Wintour, Paula Reed and Hadley Freeman – who would probably eulogise the merits of radioactive sludge if it was slung about the shoulders of Kate Moss – is as reliable as documenting the Roman Empire aided only by a Betamax copy of Carry On Cleo.

• In the offices of Grazia the team objectively assessed Kate Moss’s clothes collection; or rather serve up sycophantic opinions as if gleefully supping from a ladle dipped into a cauldron of fawning pus.

• “Thirty years later the ‘Swinging Sixties’ were rebranded as ‘Cool Britannia’.” As the ‘credit crunch’ throttles the life out of the financial system, so ‘Cool Britannia’ did the same to British culture in the mid-90s, constricting artistic expression so much that it was reduced to a doleful single-file that was coerced by fear of obliteration to pay blind homage to music dominated by impotent Mancunians; ‘Northern Souls’ who practised onanism as a substitute for their incapacity to inseminate a single emotion from their plastic breasts; and cheeky-chappy Essex boys, who, had they been beheaded, would have spilled from their necks a miasma of pound notes, property deeds and fake, jabbering London accents on to the boots of the executioner.

• The trumpeted fallacy that British fashion was made available to the high street as some kind of beatific gesture of altruism, when it was concerned solely with profits, profits, profits.

• The oddity of how beauty is actually diminished in the fashion industry rather than being enhanced, best illustrated by a troop of fashion models marching down a cat walk. Their blank homogenisation perversely drains all the pulchritude from their faces, that very facet that enabled them to strut that hallowed ground in the first place. Perhaps this blanket shapelessness is to draw attention to the clothes they are wearing, but such is the deadness in their eyes, allied to their endemic frailty, that you wince at their discomfort, staged or otherwise. Maybe the heartless fashionistas view things differently to human beings.

• The notion that the fashion world is now leading a campaign to ensure that its goods are produced in an “ethical” fashion, only now when it has become ‘fashionable’ to be ethical and to hold out a soothing hand to the developing world workers who have been slaving away making ‘high fashion’ garments for decades on a salary of 2p a year. This ephemeral phase will pass on when it becomes non-fashionable again, just like the anti-fur movement.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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