Sun. Nov 28th, 2021


“When I heard that the Duke of Devonshire was wearing a sweater that said ‘Never Marry a Mitford’, I just thought it was so hilarious and I had some personalized sweaters made as Christmas presents for my family. “People asked where they could get it and we started making it: they love them for shooting parties and during the ski season.”

Pierre Lagrange, owner of Huntsman, explains the ducal inspiration behind the entry of Savile Row’s largest tailor into new knitting. To keep his target client in mind, Huntsman cast Lord Ivar Mountbatten, his husband James Coyle and Mountbatten’s three daughters to model it. An online design service enables buyers to choose their own colors, words, fonts and necklines.

Only on Christmas morning in stately homes can you imagine the length and breadth of the nation: the rustling and tearing of wrapping paper followed by the sniffing of laughter and cries of “bag fun”.

There is a particular British weakness for slogans on pillows, slippers and sweaters. And among those for whom new knitwear is not just for Christmas but for life, there are few people better representative of that glorious national tradition of not taking yourself too seriously than broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, knitwear icon and eponymous of a recently re-launched pullover brand Gyles and George. (The “George” refers to its original co-founder, the late George Hostler.)

Gyles & George 'I'm a luxury' jersey, £ 280, gylesandgeorge.com

Gyles & George ‘I’m a luxury’ jersey, £ 280, gylesandgeorge.com

Warm & Wonderful Sheep Sweater, £ 280, warmandwonderful.com

Warm & Wonderful Sheep Sweater, £ 280, warmandwonderful.com

Huntsman custom jersey, £ 850, huntsmansavilerow.com

Huntsman custom jersey, £ 850, huntsmansavilerow.com

Huntsman custom jersey, £ 850, huntsmansavilerow.com

Huntsman custom jersey, £ 850, huntsmansavilerow.com

During the 1980s, when there were four TV channels on which he appeared to appear incessantly, Brandreth claimed to have worn more than 1,000 different jerseys, which only stopped when he went into politics.

“During the pandemic, someone got hold of me on Twitter and said: ‘Desperate times demand desperate measures, wear the jersey again, life needs to be clarified.’ So I took out the sweater and put it on TV, on Zoom and on shows like This morning, The One Show and Famous Gogglebox. I have not worn many of them for almost 40 years, ”says Brandreth, as his voice floats fluently over the phone.

For those old enough to remember the 1980s and Brandreth’s jerseys, these are the tea-soaked madeleines reminiscent of a softer age when British breakfast television was a novelty, when Richard Stilgoe played piano (there’s a keyboard jersey and scarf which, says Brandreth, “strikes the right note”), when “Mad Lizzie” Webb offered training sessions, and when Russell Grant told the country’s horoscopes.

It was a whole other world to which those sweaters belonged – at the time most were sold at a boutique in Kensington Church Street – and they might have stayed there if it were not for Jack Carlson. Rowing jackets. Carlson is a remarkable man; a champion American rower and Oxford-trained archaeologist who once worked at the College of Arms. Four and a half years ago, he opened a preppy sportswear brand called Rowing Blazers, which had just opened a pop-up shop in Covent Garden showcasing the revived Gyles & George knitwear.

Carlson has a touching reverence for British life and an American can-do spirit. Where others might be looking at the knitting and seeing a charming reminder of a bygone era, he saw a “heritage brand” ready for revival.

Carlson began to recreate the benevolent madness of the early 1980s media world: the website for Gyles & George looks like websites would have looked as they did in the 1980s. At 34, Carlson may not have been born when the country ate breakfast with Brandreth, but he knows his market: American comedians Ziwe Fumudoh and Pete Davidson and basketball player Dwyane Wade all embraced the Gyles & George look.

Indeed, Carlson has a knack for culturally important, Thatcher-era British knitting. He also recently revived Warm & Wonderful, manufacturer of the black sheep sweater known by Diana Princess of Wales (and Emma Corrin in The crown). The jumper at the time sparked speculation that she felt herself an outsider in the royal herd.

The people’s princess was also a bearer of Gyles & George knitwear, but you do not have to be an expert on sheep metaphors to decipher the message of her favorite design. The front reads “I am a luxury. . . “with the ellipse leading to the punch line on the back”. . . mine can afford ”.

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