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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Flair & Square: English Manners, British Style

A surge of Britannia in popular culture brings all eyes on England.

Written by Namrata Zakaria | Updated: February 4, 2015 12:00:15 am
Benedict Cumberbatch Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the role of British mathematician, Alan Turing, in The Imitation Game.

I have been in love with Hercule Poirot for a long time now. Of course Agatha Christie’s detective books are topper and the many films made on them first-rate. But David Suchet, who recently hung his patent leather shoes after playing Poirot for BBC for over 24 years, is the real deal. I’ve watched and re-watched the show several times. I may know the killer from the start and can also mouth the dialogue in tandem with the characters, but oh, what a visceral feast each episode always is.

Suchet’s Poirot has an unrelenting elegance that takes you back to early-century Europe. He is almost always in a three-piece suit and overcoat, with a walking stick, hat, beautiful gloves, watch-chain, pince-nez spectacles, Goyard alligator skin luggage and that priceless waxed mouche.

I have arrived at the idea that our peacock-like gentlemen today are hugely inspired by this dandified Belgian detective with a preposterous penchant for neatness and Art Deco.


British fashion continues to inspire us even though the country and its snobby Knightsbridge-Oxford departmental stores are only plying in tourists. The most avant-garde fashion comes out of London’s Central Saint Martins school, among the very few schools that still treat clothes-making as an art, not an entrepreneurship.

And just look at the fashion moment the cardigan is having. The outmoded sweater with fastidious buttons is currently the favourite among fashion stars who are dressing them with leather skirts and skinny pants. I especially love Sienna Miller’s buttoned up and ready to rock style.

Two books are just out on Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, two British geniuses who thrilled the fashion world until they were both dreaded by the demons of their success and driven to failure. McQueen took his own life and Galliano was disgraced from his top-job at mighty Dior. Dana Thomas’s Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, and Andrew Wilson’s Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin, are bringing to our attention these two brilliant men who shaped the cultural world lately.

Some of the best films I’ve watched lately have been British. The Theory of Everything is the gut-wrenching story of Jane Wilde, as the lover, wife and partner of Stephen Hawking, the astrophysicist wrecked by motor-neuron disease. As she struggles to put sweaters on her husband and her kids at the same time, here is a woman who barely has time to look in the mirror. Her flouncy blouses and tea skirts are a delight, even as her hair changes and loses its sheen as she ages. Steven Noble loosens Hawking’s (played by the award-winning Eddie Redmayne) jackets and enlarges his collars, so it appears that he is shrinking. The film is in the details.

The Imitation Game’s costume head Sammy Sheldon Differ says she hunted vintage shops for her research. But her team ensured everything was code-shaped or textuxed for Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumbercatch plays Alan Turing, a code-breaker who saved the world two years of the World War II by predicting German attacks. Keira Knightley’s green checkered cardigan stays with you long after the film is over.

Sweet Paddington wears his host’s overcoat in chilly wet London, but it’s his uncle’s old hat that takes him to the adventurer who discovered him in Darkest Peru. Nicole Kidman’s snakeskin-clad villain is bit of a cliche but the English-ness of the film charms audiences of all ages.

And finally, TV series Downton Abbey has been dismissed as drab already. But not if you adore Lady Mary’s shimmering couture dresses she wears at home for dinner. Or the small army of ‘servants’ they possess.

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