Britain's Naughty 'It' Girls
Brit "It girls" like Lily Allen and Kate Moss drink too much, trash celebrities, and share their insecurities. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni on what American girls can learn from it all.
The sign of a brilliant tycoon is riding the crest of a wave. And this week, Sir Richard Branson proved his mettle by announcing that he will be publishing supermodel Kate Moss’ memoirs for Virgin Books. Whether her book will “make an exciting read” as he promises is questionable—part of Moss’ enigma is her sultry silence—but what’s certain is that both Moss and Branson will be crying (make that sobbing) all the way to the bank. Not only is Moss a fashion star—20 years of being an undisputed and much-copied style icon—she’s a founding member of the "too cool for school" British girls phenomenon.
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Just as British actresses such as Emily Blunt, Kimberley Nixon, and Emma Watson have gained Hollywood heat, a certain breed of cheeky British girl is grabbing major media attention. With a major slant on Moss and pop star Lily Allen, the others include model Agnyess Deyn—the androgynous peroxide blonde in the Burberry ads; the dreamy-looking, curvaceous Daisy Lowe who’s gracing Marc for Marc Jacobs' campaign; Alexa Chung, Channel 4’s feline-featured TV presenter who will soon have her own show on American MTV; rock-star offspring Peaches Geldof; and tattooed trustafarian Alice Dellal.
With Paris and Milan being the fashion cities, it seems odd that no French or Italian girl is in the new "It-girl" mix. Former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren chalks it up to upbringing. “The French and Italians are encouraged to live at home as long as possible,” the godfather of punk rock says. “In England, kids are pushed to leave early and that creates a humor, edge, and early floozy mentality.”
“What’s fantastic is how the way they dust themselves down and get up again. Their ambition is to have a good time—they are party animals—and that gives them an aura of fun.”
Also key to the look and character of these Brit Its is a rock ’n’ roll attitude—according to François Dorleans, the author of Snob Society and a former editor at French Vogue, it’s that very factor which represents so much power in today’s world. “Moss and others of her ilk are the poster girls for rock, which is what everyone is trying to channel now. It’s all part of that 'think black, think leather' thing, no doubt, because it suits the current and very terrifying obsession of looking young.” There’s also a certain excitement around the British girls and their spirited—drink to get drunk, laugh ‘til you can’t—verging on uncouth behavior. “They’re like English fashion: uncontrollable, unpredictable and completely non-bourgeois,” enthuses Christian Louboutin, the shoe designer and social insider.
Case in point: this week’s Metropolitan Museum Costume ball, where Moss was billed as one of the highlights. A vision in Marc Jacobs’ gold lamé dress—including a matching turban—she stood in line to greet guests. However, those thinking that being on the gala committee had tamed Moss, discovered otherwise. Chewing on a thick piece of gum, Moss ceremoniously pulled it out when deigning to talk. Punk-rock princess or what? Then there’s her noted lack of patience with the paparazzi. No simpering smiles à la Olsen sisters. “Give me a fucking moment!” Moss recently yelled at one photographer.
But such intolerance doesn’t stop Moss’ pictures from being plastered across the magazines from People to French Elle to hip Internet sites—her style and personal life laid out in excruciating detail—because she’s indestructible; no small feat. Despite selling out to Topshop—she designs a line for the mass-market chain—she’s held onto her cool factor and continues to do upscale advertising campaigns and influence endless wannabes. When she wore skinny jeans, the flocks followed, and so it continues from her opaque tights to her choice of handbag.
Lily Allen, whose talent was discovered on MySpace, is different. “She’s not too skinny, which makes her an accessible,” says Cameron Silver, the L.A.-based owner of Decades, a popular vintage shop. “But what suggests hot property is Allen’s quirkiness, yet a gift for delivering a product.” Clearly, Chanel saw the potential— they’ve chosen the 24-year-old Allen for their 2.55 handbag advertising campaign. “She’s a lot of fun,” says Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. Allen, the daughter of a film-producer mother and comedian-turned-actor father, also defines outspoken.
“They’re like English fashion: uncontrollable, unpredictable and completely non-bourgeois,” enthuses Christian Louboutin.
Allen’s fetching milk-maid appearance belies how many cages she has managed to rattle. Indeed, just as Moss has created her image by rarely speaking (but becoming mean for the sake of her girlfriends—she’s said to have hit one cheating husband with a frying pan), Allen is on a 24-hour blabberthon. In her short career, she has managed to tell Elton John to fuck off on television, dismiss Madonna as both “overrated” and unknown to her age group (an arrow in the heart of the age-sensitive Madge), criticize Victoria Beckham for being too thin, and muse that James Blunt’s name rhymes with… well.... Upon hearing that Perez Hilton—powerful gossip-blog maestro—was edging to be in her video, Allen Twittered: “We’ve already cast the jealous and bitter lonely old queen role.”
A curtain of dark hair, huge spaniel-like eyes, and an infectious smile with pearly teeth, it’s hard not to be won over by Allen. Possessing a tremendous talent for a catchy song—"The Fear" is her latest single—she’s got that bubbly little-sister-who-won’t-be-squashed quality. Meanwhile, she remains her own harshest critic. Bad at dancing, she fully admits, “I’m just rubbish at that kind of thing.” And like Moss, who was famously filmed sniffing cocaine, Allen has had her moments of falling-down-drunk as well as suffering a series of heartaches such as last year’s miscarriage at 18 weeks. “There’s a big fascination for girls who have success, can always deliver, but are surrounded by disaster,” says Silver. But what makes them different from Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan is “the F-off attitude of Moss and Allen—few people can get away with that and, let’s face it, they always get the guys,” he says.
Indeed, according to Camilla Morton, author of the style manual A Year in High Heels, the feel-good factor of Moss and Allen’s escapades is equivalent to “reading good modern-day chick lit with a splash of Jilly Cooper and Jacqueline Susann. What’s fantastic is how the way they dust themselves down and get up again,” she says. “Their ambition is to have a good time—both are party animals—and that gives them an aura of fun.” And although they are passionate about fashion, neither are victims, she stresses. “Unlike those TV Gossip Girls, they could be stripped of labels and survive, because Kate and Lily have a strong sense of themselves. Neither is capable of compromising.”
Based in Paris, Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni freelances for the International Herald Tribune, British Vogue, Elle Decor, Glamour, the Times Magazine (U.K.) and is the author of Sam Spiegel—The Biography of a Hollywood Legend, published in 2003.