The origins of preppy style can be traced back to the early 20th century, at the Ivy League colleges of New England – and without even having to think much about it, once the word ‘preppy’ comes to mind, images of pastel cable knit sweaters, deck shoes, chinos, and attire for boating, tennis and rugby, immediately spring into view. In the 1950s, preppy hit its peak, before taking on a life of its own in the 1980s, finding a place in popular culture outside of the walls of Harvard and Yale. From the Hollywood Brat Pack to Princess Diana, preppy was ‘in vogue’ as much as it was a marker of social status. And, as Lisa Birnbach wrote in her satirical guide The Official Preppy Handbook, published at the turn of that decade: “For the first time [preppy dressers] are in a community of many different types of people, and this very functional uniform helps them to identify one another in a crowd.”
Of course, there are the labels synonymous with preppy both past and present: Ralph Lauren, J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, to name but three. American-Swedish heritage brand Gant, is also inextricably linked with the preppy look, and is now tackling what exactly that means for 2020 and beyond. First and foremost, for the brand’s creative director Christopher Bastin, preppy is an attitude – not just about the clothing itself. “Preppy has always evolved and taken influences from the zeitgeist of the world around it,” he tells AnOther. “Preppy used to be a pair of chinos, penny loafers, a brightly coloured polo and a club blazer, but today it’s much more than that. Now we’re seeing streetwear influencing silhouettes and fabrics, and finding its way into preppy style.” Bastin cites brands such as Rowing Blazers, Kith and Noah who have done this to great success, imbuing preppy codes with fresh meaning and relevance.
One of its latest projects redefining preppy today, is a capsule collection created with London-based artist Luke Edward Hall, who has established himself as a bastion of eclectic taste in recent years. His eye for colour, kitsch and whimsy draws inspiration from the likes of Diana Vreeland, Fornasetti, Cecil Beaton and the Bloomsbury Set. “We reached out to Luke in January this year with the idea of a collaboration,” explains Gant’s creative director Christopher Bastin. “When doing some research, I noticed that he used to wear Gant Rugger back in the day, and since he has a very preppy approach to the way he dresses, we had high hopes he would like the idea. We turned out to be right, thankfully.” After these initial conversations, Hall flew out to the brand’s headquarters in Stockholm, where he got straight to rooting through the label’s extensive archive, exploring the vintage pieces and collectables stored there.
The artist then took his research back to the UK, and began sketching out designs in his signature illustrative style that would form the basis of the Luke Edward Hall for Gant collection. “I knew he was extremely talented, but it still blew me away,” says Bastin. “It was a great process and I wish it was always this simple and joyful to design a collection!” The concept for the capsule range was to create a very British take on preppy American sportswear, “all of it infused with Luke’s acquired taste,” says Bastin. From printed bow tie blouses and chunky knitted sweatshirts, to recreations of Gant’s 1950s button-down shirts in a pinpoint Oxford stripe – plus slouchy coats in tweeds and corduroys, delicate silk dresses, and long-sleeved rugby shirts – the collection infuses Ivy League with a sideways glance at streetwear codes. “The collection is very heritage driven, but also modern in its touch and wear,” continues the brand’s creative director. “The knits are all premium fabrics such as cashmere, yak and virgin wool. All the wovens are uniquely designed for the collection by various italian mills such as Albizzate and Manteco.”
But how is Gant intending to keep pushing preppy forward? Bastin has some big ideas, and is confident in the way the label can take ownership of the style. “A lot of legacy brands fall in the trap of becoming stale and a victim of huge numbers, preventing them to be bold and move forward,” he explains. “As long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously and continue to evolve the preppy mindset, then I really think Gant is the future of American sportswear.”
Explore the Luke Edward Hall for Gant collection here.
Hair: Michael Harding at Future Reps. Skin and manicure: Olivia Cochrane. Models: Aiden Abbott, Del-Juan Brown and Yasmin Omoregie care of Sarah Small. Casting: Reuben Esser and Sarah Small. Set design: Staci Lee Hindley. Digital tech: Dave English. Photographic assistants: Jack Grange and Scott Gallagher. Styling assistant: Olivia Beharrell. Set-design assistants: Eddie Amos. Production: LaLaLand.