The prim, proper and pricy veneer of Chelsea, one of the most well-heeled wards of London, belies a somewhat more bohemian and daring past.
There was a time when simply the borough’s name was shorthand for a certain countercultural caché. At the heart of this unconventional spirit of the Aquarian Age was the colourful, patchouli scented unisex clothes store Granny Takes A Trip, located at World’s End, then a far-flung outpost, a long way from the ritz and glitz of Sloane Square . Granny’s philosophy reflected that of that fellow Chelsea aesthete of a bygone age, Oscar Wilde: “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.”
According to Geoffrey Aquillina’s account of menswear in the sixties, “The Day of The Peacock”, Granny’s was “one of the key places where pop stars and toffs socialised and often shopped.” The clothes were a “fanciful mix of camp, whimsy, Victoriana, beatnik and dressing room dandy.”
The whole Granny’s look and experience was personified by co-founder John Pearse, a former mod, “face about town” and Savile Row apprentice and his most famous creation was a double breasted jacket cut close to the body in William Morris floral pattern, a cloth usually reserved for drapers to run up curtains or cover a sofa. “I suppose there was a languid elegance and the clothes did look decadent,” Pearse says of the store’s inventory, “It was a sort of Art Nouveau decadence. The look was tailored and fitted.”
To coincide with this month’s Chelsea Flower Show, another echo of the borough’s more floral, gentler, past, modern gentlemen’s outfitters Oliver Brown have created a bespoke evening jacket that pays tribute to the heady days of the “Chelsea Set” and their outré fashions. This shawl collared cocktail jacket has handmade by our in-house team in one of William Morris’s most enduring patterns; The Strawberry Thief. This intricate motif of thrushes eating fruit took Morris almost a decade to create and successfully print, and a century and a half later it still dazzles with its splendour and detail.
The summer wedding and party season can often be a tricky time to dress for. Black tie season has an in-built formal rigidity to its acceptable palette, making one’s selection of evening wear pretty straightforward. By contrast, the warmer weather and bounty of blooms that herald the coming of Spring add a far greater latitude to a man’s options for event-wear. There’s space for a little more frivolity, a splash of colour. With its single buttoned front, turnback gauntlet cuffs and shawl lapel, the Strawberry Thief Cocktail Jacket has a clear heritage in the conventions of formalwear, but coupled with a light hearted and playful twist with the eye-catching cloth.
As Chelsea’s leading contemporary tailors and haberdashers, Oliver Brown could be viewed as a holdover from that time of sartorial adventure and excitement; a destination where formality and eccentricity can happily entwine and coexist. The Strawberry Thief cocktail jacket represents the perfect encapsulation of this co-mingling of traditional handiwork and bold design.
If you allow me to paraphrase the great Arts & Crafts designer for one minute; “Have nothing in your wardrobe you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” One would be hard pressed to find anything more beautiful in one’s wardrobe this season.
To book your bespoke appointment with our team, contact Bespoke@Oliverbrown.org.uk