Guernsey goes global

Guernsey jumper and waves

They say that if you wait long enough, then anything from the past will eventually come back into fashion. And true enough; over the decades we’ve seen all sorts of unlikely fashions from yesteryear experience a new lease of life on the high street Disco pants, eighties neon and double denim… I’m looking at you.

However, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who was slightly amused and bemused to see our very own Guernsey jumper (which is over 400 years old) hit the headlines recently. At first, it may seem quite hard to imagine how a fisherman’s jumper, with humble seafaring origins, could make it into a glossy spread in Vogue – and be sported by none other than world renowned supermodel Kate Moss. Recently the Guernsey was promoted on ITV news by intrepid explorer Ben Fogle – It seems official; the Guernsey is in the media glare, it’s being worn by the fashion set. Celebrity endorsement has elevated our much loved Guernsey jumper into the upper echelons of glamorous knitwear. Forget cashmere and forget angora… it’s all about the Guernsey.  It’s never been cooler to be seen in vintage look clothes, brogues and chunky knits that could have been worn by your grandparents.

The Guernsey or ‘Gansey’ is a garment that was originally valued for its practicality. Knitted using oily lanolin wool, it serves as a great insulator against the elements. It’s important to remember that not so long ago, the main stays of the Island’s economy were the tomato trade and the fishing industry – the latter job requiring the fisherman to be outdoors in all weathers and temperatures.  The Guernsey was therefore seen as a vital item of clothing. Traditionally, a wife would knit a Guernsey for her husband – once completed, she could sleep safe at night, secure in the knowledge that her fisherman would be snug in his woollens, mostly protected from harsh winds and relentless sea spray.

The Guernsey has a simple yet unusual shape. For example, if you look closely at a Guernsey, then you’ll notice that the sleeves are much lower on the arm than on your standard jumper. The sleeves are stitched on below the armpit, (knitted on by hand to the main body of the jumper as a finishing touch) allowing for unrestricted movement – something that is a priority when you’re controlling a boat in unpredictable weather. The tightly woven stitching on the sleeves denotes different maritime symbols, such as rigging, ropes and waves breaking upon the shore. Occasionally, certain patterns on a Guernsey could be used as an identifier for men from different families or parishes. So you’d be able to tell your Queripel from Torteval from your Le Page from Castel just by his clothes. Looking back now, this creativity may have seemed like a cute personal touch, however this decision to customise the Guernsey was not fashion based. The grisly truth, was that the unique pattern meant that if a man had been lost at sea and his body eventually washed ashore, the pattern of his Guernsey – the lanolin wool not being damaged by the sea – would lead quickly to his identification. The high symmetrical neckline meant that the Guernsey could be worn back to front – if you got one side dirty or it started to show a bit of wear and tear then you could just flip it round. It was seen as an enduringly loyal item of clothing – iconic Guernsey.

Guernsey jumpers and stockings are historic objects with a rich heritage – and date back as far as the 1600s when English wool was first imported to the island. According to the BBC and The British Museum’s  ‘A History of the World’ project, Guernsey knitting even had royal connections – Mary Queen of Scots is said to have been executed in her favourite pair of Guernsey stockings.

If you go down to the Fermain Tavern today, there’s a fair chance that you will see one or two middle aged professionals (and maybe even a sixth form student) wearing their Guernseys with nonchalance. However, if you ask these finance types why they wear their fisherman’s Guernsey, you’ll notice that they’ll tell you their sentimental reasons for doing so with a typical Guernsey donkey sense of pride. My sixteen-year-old brother even asked for a Guernsey for Christmas – and when I questioned him why, he replied that not only was it an ideal garment for outdoor pursuits (you’ll often find him down the shooting range on a Sunday) but also that he liked to support local industry. Furthermore, it reminded him of his roots and heritage. “If I’m looking for a quality jumper, then why wouldn’t I go for the best?” The Guernsey is not disposable fashion – for many it’s an heirloom.

So what do we make of the Guernsey becoming ‘on trend’? Well, we won’t settle for anything less than the very best, will we? It’s only natural for it to be modelled in one of the world’s leading fashion bibles and by top models. Because what does a publication such as Vogue, Kate Moss and the Guernsey have in common? They’re timeless.

This article was written by Louise Le Pelley (of http://www.lavalisedelouise.com) and appeared in the Fashion section of Gallery Magazine Guernsey’s 2014 Passion Issue

A taste of Marc Jacobs – An ode to Soda

Image

I have a confession.

Diet Coke is my downfall. If I have a deadline due, I will always need to dash to the shop first to get some of this elixir in order to ensure that I keep my cool (literally – sorry for the bad pun). If I’m in a restaurant and I order a Diet Coke with my meal, I will experience a few seconds of mild outrage if my drink turns out to be Pepsi masquerading as Diet Coke, often to the bafflement of the people I’m with. You know those annoying people who claim to know the difference between brands of Cola, and whether sugars or sweeteners are used? Yeah. I’m one of THEM. (I worked at a music festival once where the sponsor was Pepsi. No Coke products were available, and buying a Pepsi was cheaper than water. It was a sad time)

When I’m at home in Guernsey, Diet Coke is a drink that I keep for special occasions. Tapping into this concept of keeping soft drinks/soda as a treat or experience, Diet Coke have been releasing beautiful artistic cans and bottles across Europe in the past few years. When I lived in France last year, I noticed that the supermarket chain Monoprix was selling eyecatching limited edition bottles of Diet Coke designed by Karl Lagerfeld, the current mastermind behind Chanel… Thus began my collection of unusual Coca Cola vessels.

Since Lagerfeld’s bottles, I have seen numerous other limited editions come and go, including lacy nautical designs by Jean Paul Gaultier, who did a collaboration with Diet Coke last year. Last summer, whilst on the road from Germany to France, I bought a lacy JPG can from a motorway stop in Belgium, pleased by the glamour of the design. Daft Punk, David Guetta and James Bond have all since made an appearance on Coke Zero bottles. As an aside, it is interesting how Coke Zero appears to be marketed towards men, whereas Diet Coke is clearly marketed towards women. I think that the marketing concept for Diet Coke collaborations is genius – with the purchase of a can, women can claim to be drinking something designer – not only making high end designers accessible to the masses, but also tapping into the psyche of women obsessed with fashion. It has paid dividends with regards to their sales growth.

With the arrival of Spring 2013, comes a new creative director for Diet Coke, the designer Marc Jacobs. I have yet to see any designs for bottles, but the latest incarnations of limited edition Diet Coke cans are inspired by the 30 years anniversary of the brand, with three Marc Jacobs designs each referencing a decade (80s, 90s, 00s) from the past thirty years. So far I have only purchased the above design, but I think it looks quite chic. I don’t drink the limited edition bottles, but I do drink the cans, afterwards using them as cheap yet elegant design features/vases for dried flowers in my student bedroom!