Is happiness the secret to personal style? We join the debate with Zandra Rhodes, Dawn O’Porter & Jim Chapman

Last Thursday 16 October, shinyshiny put our glad rags on and joined TK Maxx and a panel of industry pioneers for its the inaugural #StyleByMe debate about the future of fashion.

Hosted by presenter, writer, vintage-inspired designer and owner of TV’s glossiest bob, Dawn O’Porter, the panel featured ‘high visibility’ grand dame of British fashion Zandra Rhodes, legendary fashion editor Hilary Alexander, fashion director and celeb stylist Andrew Davis and vlogging supremo-turned-model Jim Chapman.

The debate focused on the question that has eluded us since the very first caveman threw on the very first animal skin (probably): what IS personal style?

TK Maxx Style by Me debate panel
L-R: Zandra Rhodes, Hilary Alexander, Andrew Davis, Dawn O’Porter

‘It’s all about being happy,’ claims Andrew, who has dressed the likes of Tinie Tempah and Gwyneth Paltrow as well as plenty of French tarts (he used to be a pastry chef). Wonderful! Shall we call it a day and open the wine?

Happiness isn’t the whole story though, of course. Hilary, former fashion director at The Daily Telegraph and a familiar fixture on the front row, feels style has more to do with visual trickery. ‘It’s a bit like being a magician,’ she says. ‘You have to find clothes that emphasise what’s good about your body while concealing what’s bad. Look in the mirror – not just from the front, from the back too. Shield your face and ask “what would I think if this was walking towards me?”‘

But before we check the room to see if Trinny and Susannah have snuck in via a back entrance, Hilary also concedes that we should ‘find one thing that makes you feel passionate and happy, then build your wardrobe around it.’ So having fun isn’t necessarily a bad thing? ‘I admire [Japanese Vogue’s] Anna Dello Russo because she doesn’t mind going out looking like a crisp packet on legs.’ So that’s good to know.

Jim Chapman, Zandra Rhodes and Hilary Alexander debate
Jim Chapman, Zandra Rhodes and Hilary Alexander debate

Meanwhile, the inimitable pink-haired Zandra Rhodes is a cheerleader for style mavericks, especially London’s street style scene. ‘Individualism really flowers in this country… people come to the fashion week and you see them making their own statements – it’s exciting.’

And everyone agrees that fashion is there to be used, but not slavishly followed. ‘The music industry is similar,’ muses Hilary. ‘You know what you like and what you don’t – you don’t have to go out and buy it all.’

So, will our generation see a style revolution equivalent to punk, mod or the new romantics? In an era where every look is recycled and trends whiz round so quick that scrunchies are back before we’d barely taken them off, is it even possible to create a style that’s brand new anymore?

Yes, apparently. General consensus on the panel is that having thousands of years of history at our fingertips should make us all the more able to create a unique look. ‘Basically it’s pick’n’mix,’ says Hilary, whose signature style tends to revolve around huge, statement pieces of tribal jewellery. ‘I love clothes with a sense of history. The older the better, a thousand years or more.’

‘You don’t always recognise new ideas until they’re right on top of you,’ adds Zandra.

Lauren Bravo with Zandra Rhodes
shinyshiny’s Lauren with the legendary Zandra

But while the archives are bursting with inspiration, it’s technology that has really shaken up fashion in recent years. ‘Digital print has changed everything,’ says Hilary, citing London-based Mary Katrantzou, queen of the computer-aided floral. ‘To the point where some designers are going back to screen print and hand blocking, just to be different.’

And if digital rules in the studio, social rules in the marketing office. ‘I am living proof of social media allowing people to express themselves,’ says Jim. ‘For success online it’s all about personality, my fans relate to me because I’m an individual.’ And that’s not just a handful of fans; at last count, his YouTube channel has 1.8 million subscribers, and he’s recently signed with top agents Models 1 too.

Jim’s also engaged to beauty and style vlogger Tanya Burr, who he admits has a much tougher time with online commenters than he does. ‘As a woman, people can be quite horrible to her,’ he says. Listening to Zandra and Hilary’s stories of youthful experimentation (‘I used to shave my eyebrows off and pencil spots on instead,’ says Ms Rhodes), you could conclude that for all its self-expressive potential, the internet actually makes today’s teens more cautious for fear of putting a foot wrong.

‘For young people, following trends is the easy option, but as you get older you realise what does and doesn’t work for you,’ says Dawn. ‘It’s brave to step away from trends and embrace your personal style’.

She also claims that on average, 29 is the age where women tend to ‘find’ their personal style – a stat that we haven’t been able to locate anywhere, but does give hope to those of us under the magical threshold that one day we’ll stop coming home with bags of odd neon separates that don’t go with anything, and become the type of person who slings on something in grey cashmere and looks perfectly chic instead.

And for those over the threshold? ‘I don’t feel the need to buy as much,’ says Hilary. ‘Often the answer is in your wardrobe already.’ So all those reckless high street hauls could just be laying the groundwork for the future… which, as long as they make us happy, is quite a reassuring thought.

Find out more about TK Maxx’s Me. By Me. campaign here.


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Lauren Bravo