I wanted to save Margaret Howell until last because she’s always such a tasteful treat. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m currently reading another book about the interwar period: this time, it’s Debs At War. In this case I would ask you not to judge a book by its cover. Looking at this one, you’re perhaps anticipating a Jilly Cooper-esque romp through Blitz-era London, all ripped stockings and officers and gentlemen. I get a bit embarrassed reading it on the train in case people think that. It’s actually a dead good round up of the era — a little lightweight in parts, but generally an interesting read. All of which (sort of) leads me back to Margaret Howell. Hang in there.
I’ve been into Howell for the longest time. I remember printing out pictures of past collections to stick in my ~learning journal~ back in the dark fashion days, but not quite managing to convince myself or anyone else of the relevance of her stuff with what I was doing, or trying to do. Not saying my brains are better than yours, just that I couldn’t quite convey what I wanted to say about her stuff and how it linked in to my design vision. This was, of course, pre-Alexa Chung days. It was weird to me that she didn’t get on board with the brand earlier because I link them together so intrinsically and her wearing it makes the whole thing make sense to a whole new audience, I reckon. Girl/geek/chic, with a double dose of British, right? Now she’s wearing it so much, I think it sort of represents a bit of a sea change that Margaret’s not just for fashion editors and rich women in the country any more. Like wearing a Barbour and carrying a Mulberry, it’s cool and a bit retro and a bit knowing and generally quite charming. This collection was more of the same, with more of the sheepskin and shearling jackets that we’ve been bombarded with this season, as well as lots of really nice washed wool coats.
What brought it all together for me, and got me thinking of Debs At War (remember that?) was the fantastic masculine, utilitarian styling which Margaret always seems to nail. The leather belts are an obvious thing to point out, but they add such a boyish, dressed down touch to it all that they can’t go unmentioned. The chunky knits slung over shirts and courds suggest country house weekends, although anyone who’s read as many books about the landed classes in the interwar era will of course be aware that a gal wouldn’t dream of wearing such a thing, at least not where anyone would see her. That’s where the Debs At War comes in again, I guess. Girls embracing (or being forced to) dress down and knuckle down. The turned up cuff on those black pants is just… swoon, gosh it makes me a little weak at the knees. I also could rave about the evacuee duffle, the washed cotton mac with HRH at Balmoral neck tie, the quilted singlets, the fingerless gloves, the plaid blanket coat which just makes me think of some deb in the country pile who’s gone to investigate a bomb in the garden… hey, wow, sorry, getting a bit Jilly Cooper on myself. Anyway, on a similar note, I wanted to add that if you’re in Brighton go see the Land Girls exhibition at the museum, it’s ace and you can try on land girl uniforms.