Beau Brummell and Stephen Fry

This is the spot where I passed Stephen Fry … and he didn’t tweet about it. (Nor was I mentioned in the  banknote debate that followed). I can only assume he was equally stunned. Totally unaware of the magnitude of the incident, the statue of Beau Brummell on Jermyn Street choose to turn its back.

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George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men’s fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored clothing. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat.[1]

Beau Brummell is credited with introducing, and establishing as fashion, the modern men’s suit, worn with a tie.[2] He claimed he took five hours a day to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne.[3] His style of dress is often referred to as dandyism.[4]

 

Kelly’s focus is London’s ultimate dandy: Beau Brummell, the man whose clothes defied wrinkles and whose breeches clung to his legs like a second skin.

Beau Brummell was the subject of Kelly’s 2006 biography which was described as ‘a magisterial and utterly gripping parable for modern times’ (The Independent), ‘superlative – as good as biography gets’ (The Times), and ‘witty, vibrant, a tour de force’ (The Telegraph). It was subsequently adapted for television by the BBC – Beau Brummell: This Charming Man.

 

Ian Kelly’s ‘biography of the year’ on Beau Brummell.

Brummell cut a dramatic swathe through late Georgian society. A favourite of the Prince of Wales, he became the Age of Elegance’s arbiter of taste – setting in motion a fashion revolution that defines the way men and women dress across the world to this day.

In this lecture, Ian Kelly will present new images from his lavishly-illustrated biography to reveal the man behind the ‘Beau’ image, and unlock the scandalous world half-hidden by the decorous façade of the world’s first metropolis.

This is a story of the modern age as much as it is Brummell’s own – one in which men’s fashions and masculinity were redefined. But as Kelly demonstrates, the clothes and the fame were only part of this intriguing, complex man.

Ian Kelly comes to Te Papa courtesy of Wellington’s Decorative & Fine Arts Society, and with a history of rave reviews. Stephen Fry described his lecture on Brummell as ‘All the wonders of an incomparable age touched on with wit and mastery’, while Stephen Calloway of the V&A boldly declared that ‘Ian Kelly gave one of the wittiest and most informative talks we have ever had’.

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