Feathers, organza and unironed pyjamas: why fashion can’t get enough of the Mitford mythology | Fashion


“Elegance in England,” wrote Nancy Mitford “is of such completely different stuff from that in every other nation that it isn’t simple to make foreigners imagine in it in any respect.” Nancy – and her aristo sisters Diana, Decca, Debo, Pam and Unity – have been half of the case for English class since the 30s due to a combination of tweedy fits, ballgowns, tea clothes and jumpers. And with a brand new adaptation of Mitford’s 1945 novel, The Pursuit of Love, now on the BBC, the allure of the Mitfords look is more likely to hit the radar of yet one more technology.

The Mitfords, the daughters of Lord Redesdale, who grew up in a rustic pile, stink of privilege, and some of them have been downright heinous: Unity was in Hitler’s interior circle, whereas Diana married Oswald Mosley and was imprisoned for her Nazi sympathies. However, partly due to Nancy’s novels, they continue to be a reference of eccentricity, up there with Huge and Little Edie from cult movie Gray Gardens. “How they get away with it’s what fascinates me,” says Laura Thompson, writer of Nancy Mitford: Life in a Chilly Local weather and Take Six Women: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters. “My principle is that it’s loads to do with The Pursuit of Love. It reimagines them, because it have been, and creates what I’d name the Mitford mythology whereby every little thing is submerged in allure.”

Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935.
{Photograph}: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

The Pursuit of Love tells the story of hopeless romantic Linda Radlett, as narrated by her extra smart cousin Fanny Logan. Set between the wars, it’s partly a thinly veiled retelling of Nancy’s life. The difference stars Lily James, Dominic West and Andrew Scott, and is directed by Emily Mortimer. It has its flaws – the persistent lack of colour-blind casting in a interval drama feels retrograde in a post-Bridgerton world – however the costume design expresses the two model sides of the Mitfords. There’s the scruff-with-money search for boring afternoons in chilly nation homes and the dressed-up glamour of debutante balls. In the first episode, we see Linda and Fanny in unironed pyjamas with selfmade knits, wilting selfmade clothes and then feathers and organza at balls as they get older.

“I believe the Mitfords are synonymous with an eccentric aristocratic British model,” says the present’s costume designer, Sinéad Kidao. “They’d a selected confidence that means that you can set conference and eliminate it in a single go.” Thompson agrees: “In my biography of the household, I speak about this mix of formality and anarchy that that they had, which you simply can’t have at present,” she says. “In a roundabout way I believe that permeates their model.”

The Radletts, as seen in the BBC’s adaptation of The Pursuit of Love
The Radletts, as seen in the BBC’s adaptation of The Pursuit of Love. {Photograph}: Robert Viglasky/Theodora Movies

Kidao says she took loads of her cues from the guide. “You possibly can inform from Nancy’s writing that she adored garments,” she says. “However, sarcastically, she is usually very disparaging of the extra typical model you’d affiliate with the Mitfords – tweeds and knitwear.”

Nancy cherished garments and turned more and more refined as she obtained older. Shifting to Paris in the mid-40s, she turned a consumer of couturiers together with Christian Dior, as an element of her Francophile transformation. This journey is featured in The Pursuit of Love. On shifting to Paris, Nancy writes: “Linda had by no means totally realised the superiority of French garments to English.”

Linda and Fanny have tea with Andrew Scott’s Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love.
Linda and Fanny have tea with Andrew Scott’s Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love. {Photograph}: Robert Viglasky/Theodora Movies Restricted & Moonage Footage Restricted

The impostor syndrome of being an Englishwoman in France is spelled out when Linda buys a brand new gown from Galeries Lafayette earlier than even going to a couture home. Thompson says it’s observations akin to this that makes Nancy’s writing particular – and relatable, even when it’s set in the well-heeled world of couture salons and nation home balls. “It was the first time I had ever learn a lady with a form of hotline to feminine insecurities in the method they are surely,” she says. The biographer believes this perception partly got here from the Mitfords’ precarious place in the aristocracy. “They didn’t have any cash as a result of Redesdale inherited an enormous quantity, and roughly misplaced all of it,” she says. “In fact you all the time have a security internet if you happen to’re posh, however they weren’t a wealthy household. I believe that’s why they’ve this, if you happen to like, ironic tackle their very own privilege.”

Nancy Mitford in 1970.
Nancy Mitford in 1970. {Photograph}: Reg Lancaster/Getty Photos

Nancy’s dedication to model nonetheless appeals at present. “Even when she is struggling to put in writing her books, you can’t think about her as I’d be, in pyjamas or one thing,” says Thompson. “You all the time think about her maintaining appearances even on her personal.” Kidao says, for the TV collection, the staff purposely went for “the extra characterful kinds of the interval: massive bows, exaggerated collars and hats”. She hopes this will likely rub off on what we put on in 2021: “We’ve all been sitting at residence in sweatpants for a 12 months. I believe it could be fantastic if folks introduced a bit extra color and enjoyable to their look after they do really get to go away the home.”


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