Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness is at Jermyn Street Theatre
John O’Connor, the producer wrote about the play for Worn Through:
As you walk down Jermyn Street, past the gentleman’s outfitters, bespoke shoe shops and high end tailors, on towards the Piccadilly Arcade, you will see a statue. You have probably passed it hundreds of times without noticing which famous resident it celebrates. There are many possible candidates – Sir Isaac Newton, William Gladstone, Sir Walter Scott, Thackeray and Louis Napoleon all lived in the street. However, the iconic statue is dedicated to George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell (1778-1840). At one time, Brummell was the most famous man in Europe but is now largely forgotten. Perhaps he would have wanted it that way because the brass plaque on the front of the statue quotes his manifesto: ‘To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed.’
Who was this man and why is he celebrated in Jermyn Street today? Well, a new play a few yards away at Jermyn Street Theatre called Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness goes some way towards celebrating his achievements. Written by Emmy award-winning writer Ron Hutchinson it tells the story of Brummell’s spectacular rise and fall in the court of the Prince Regent (later George IV). Long before the Kardashians, Brummell was famous simply for being famous. Before him, you had to write a novel, lead a battle, discover a theory or win an election to become well known. His extraordinary life changed all that.
Brummell grew up in Jermyn Street and on inheriting a fortune after the death of his father, determined to become the best-dressed man in London. Despite being a commoner, he charmed his way into the inner circle of the Prince of Wales and his patronage gave Brummell immense influence. Gentlemen, members of the nobility, even royalty, came to watch how he dressed.
Before Brummell, the Macaroni fashion had held sway. Men wore high-heeled shoes, coloured wigs, pink knee breeches and striped waistcoats. Brummell put a stop to such excesses. He wanted to return male fashion to the classical form. Although he is known as a dandy, his style was in fact very understated. He tended to use just three colours in his wardrobe: white, buff and blue-black to flatter the male figure. A blue-black jacket, white linen shirt, buff trousers and muslin stock. This would be worn with a waistcoat and tailored to show the wearer off to the best advantage. He introduced innovations like the understrap for the trousers that went under the shoes and stretched the material so that there were no creases. He also espoused regular bathing and exfoliating which was revolutionary for the Georgian era but oh so routinely metrosexual today.
Brummell patronised a number of different tailors so that none could say they were the favoured one. As Ian Kelly says in his excellent biography of The Beau: ‘Because his sartorial choices were admired and copied, the character of the emerging West End began to be shaped by his shopping habits.’ For this reason, Jermyn Street, Savile Row, St James’s Street and Bond Street grew into the meccas of sartorial style that they are today. And Brummell’s stylistic blueprint can still be seen in the modern formal suit, shirt and tie.
Like that other 19th century wit and dandy Oscar Wilde, Brummell died penniless and forgotten in France but his fashionable legacy is all around us in the West End of London. As his character says in the play:
‘Is there anything in the world more flattering to a man than a plain, white shirt? What’s more affecting than the simple play of black or dark grey on white? Is there a bird more ridiculous than the peacock?’
Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness is at Jermyn Street Theatre until Sat, March 11th. Click here for more info. Images courtesy of Savannah Photographic