Heritage fashion goes punk

Who would have thought that the humble Wellington would become a global fashion brand? The rain boot popularised by the duke of the same name – and 200 years later by supermodel Kate Moss at a muddy Glastonbury music festival – is now an international phenomenon, courtesy of the brand Hunter.

And it’s not just wellies that are seeing a comeback. Barbour, the 121-year-old manufacturer of sturdy waxed jackets for hearty country folks, has been worn by Daniel Craig’s James Bond, Claudia Schiffer, Ashley Olsen and Alexa Chung. The once-fusty, 159-year-old Burberry is now seen on fashionistas and socialites around the world. Add the recent proliferation of dandyish hipsters in tweed, complete with waxed moustaches, Victorian-style beards and silk pocket squares, and it seems we may be reaching peak heritage moment.

Our ultimate Rolling Stones Fan of London was pretty excited to find out he was coming to London for an exclusive look at Exhibitionism, but what he didn’t expect was to meet his idols!

Revelling in the trend, some brands are embracing heritage fashion wholesale. But an inevitable backlash is growing too –bringing with it a plethora of designers who are putting their own twist on tradition. Some are even subverting it completely. “Some brands have been successfully rinsing the aristocratic English, Duke of Windsor look for decades,” says Patrick Grant, director of heritage-turned-trendy brand E Tautz. “It’s an easy win, but it’s not relevant anymore.”

Rakish, not retro

Founded in 1867, E Tautz originally specialised in attire for “the hunting field and military men” – Winston Churchill was a customer. In 2009 the company was re-launched by Grant, who wanted to put a modern spin on that cultural inheritance; today’s E Tautz suit draws from its Savile Row roots, but not in a retro way. “E Tautz has always been known for being developmental and forward-thinking,” says Grant. “In the 1860s, it was developing new fabrics and trying new styles. It was progressive, so we’re doing what our original founder did.” It must have worked: the brand recently won the British Fashion Council/GQ Designer Menswear Fund 2015 award and its latest collection is one of the most hotly anticipated at this season’s menswear fashion week, London Collections: Men.

For his Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, Grant looked to The Rake’s Progress, the 18th-Century series of paintings by Hogarth about the rise and fall of a bawdy, hard-living bon viveur in London. The collection embodies the Rake’s gradual descent into madness, progressing from sober, strict Prince of Wales checked suits to florid, fringed scarves – and finally to unstructured, slightly threadbare, unravelling housecoats.

Although the designs drew on inspiration from the Restoration period, they were strikingly 21st-Century in feel. “There was a sense of history about that show, but it wasn’t mired in it,” recalls Grant. “Instead of being stuck in a heritage rut, brands need to be using tradition to underpin quality.”

A twist on tweed

Marcus Jaye, the man behind the online fashion magazine The Chic Geek, agrees. “A vintage houndstooth or Donegal tweed jacket feels itchy and scratchy now, and a three-piece suit feels old-fashioned and uptight,” he says. “I want clothes that are still smart but comfortable – more sporty, multi-functional and good for travel. A lot of brands are turning the heritage dial down.” He points to the traditional English brand Hackett, which now offers a tweed jacket that is not tweed at all: the tweed-style print is on a lightweight, synthetic fabric.

Individuals can run the risk of heritage overkill, too, not just brands. The resurgence of all things vintage and artisanal has gone hand in hand with the rise of the dapper young man complete with a checklist of olde-worlde must-haves: brogues, waistcoat, silk pocket square or pocket watch, pipe, monocle. “There’s this tsunami of cufflinks,” says Jaye with a smile. “I saw a guy on the Tube the other day with the pork-pie hat, the tie, the tie bar, tie pin, cufflinks, pocket square. He looked like a Christmas tree.”

Menswear brand Sibling is another up-and-coming label that draws on heritage menswear, then disrupts it. “It’s easy to subvert menswear as there are so many rules and so few garments to work with,” Sibling’s Cozette McCreery says. “We throw sequins at classic cardigans, cover [them] in leopard print, only offer in hot pink. In womenswear this wouldn’t seem that interesting. But do it for men and, ta dah: ground-breaking!”

The design trio use traditional knit techniques but their own colours, textures and shapes – their knitted biker jacket is a prime example. Their Autumn/Winter 2015 runway show (hashtagged #PinkIsPunk on social media) featured 22 male models covered in pink from hair to boots. “We aren’t suggesting that every man should wear a full look but to us even a pair of pink socks or a collegiate scarf shows that the wearer has punk spirit,” McCreery says. Other ways to punch up an outfit, she says, might be a flamboyantly coloured tie, a plain jacket with a right lining or wearing Converse with a suit – or brogues with a tracksuit.

“The idea that a man can show individuality in a world full of filtered selfies and mass-market clobber is very attractive,” McCreery says. “And that attitude is very sexy.”

As Kate Moss proved in her Wellies, it’s all about the attitude.