Sunday 26 February 2017

So is Sam Cameron really that stylish?

The wife of the British PM has topped Vanity Fair's best-dressed list. Not a good choice, says our writer

Alexander Fury

Samantha Cameron with her Prime Minister husband, David
Samantha Cameron with her Prime Minister husband, David
Taylor Swift
Misty Copeland

Is Samantha Cameron the best-dressed woman in the world? Of course not, you scoff contemptuously. Don't be preposterous. You may also highlight the issues with focussing on such ideas - best dressed for what, exactly? And should we be focussing on how someone looks rather than what they do, either to their detriment or falsely to their credit? It's problematic.

Vanity Fair magazine, however, have placed Cameron top of their list of best-dressed women for 2015. It's a problematic list, for me: it contains women like HRH The Countess of Wessex, HM Queen Letizia of Spain, and Charlotte Casiraghi.

Charlotte doesn't have a title - because her mother, Caroline, Princess of Hanover, refused them at birth. She is, however, eighth in line to the Monégasque throne.

Cameron herself is daughter of Sir Reginald Adrian Berkeley Sheffield, 8th Baronet - not just the wife of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.All that minor European royalty - none of it especially ostensibly fashionable, bar Casiraghi, who fronts Gucci's make-up line - give the list a stilted, stagnant air of pomp and privilege.

It feels like it could have been created in about 1955, give or take Grace Kelly and Wallis Simpson. Haven't we moved on - in terms of fashion, and our view of women as something more significant than ornament?

I'm not saying Vanity Fair is rampantly anti-feminist: indeed, it's an equal opportunities offender. There's a men's 'Best Dressed' list too, populated with more royals (Prince Harry, Carl Philip of Sweden) in unexceptional clothing.

There are also a few focussing on Hollywood and fashion industry types that intermingles the sexes. Azzedine Alaia, the French designer who only wears black cotton Mao-style pyjamas, tops one of them, dedicated to "Originals". Which is quite great.

But back to SamCam, and her supposedly world-recognised style. Now, I don't want to rip Cameron to pieces.

She doesn't deserve that - at least, not stylistically. But, stylistically, she also doesn't deserve a best-dressed accolade. Cameron's clothes are perfectly adequate, in a sort of mumsy, toff-y, Chipping Norton way.

She used to be creative director for Smythson, and continues to consult for the label's expensive leather goods. She wears lots of British designers, acting as an ambassador for British Fashion by sporting labels like Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Kane and Michael van der Ham (not British, but he lives and shows there), and showing up at their shows to smile and nod and not express an opinion.

Sometimes she invites them round to 10 Downing Street by means of a slap on their collective, stylish backs, albeit avoiding questions about her husband's education policies that threaten the creative industry as whole.

Cameron dresses fine, for what she has to do. But she's no Michelle Obama, whose dress sense has, in a narrow way, revolutionised the role of the First Lady in promoting American fashion. Where is Obama, by the way? Maybe she's been ubiquitous - but she's more conspicuous in her absence.

"I couldn't get very enthusiastic about any of the list, Samantha Cameron in particular," says Irish designer Paul Costelloe. "But I do think Sophie Wessex is certainly one of the better dressers in the Royal Family. She always looks very elegant, and she dresses very age appropriately. Better than Kate Middleton? Well, I think Sophie always looks great."

"To me, the list doesn't celebrate the individual, and there's very little fearlessness," agrees designer and TV presenter Sonya Lennon. "With someone like Rihanna, when she does the high drama on the red carpet, it's very theatrical. But best dressed should be about more than that - if it's just about the red carpet, that's a highly manufactured environment."

Lists like Vanity Fair's annual best-dressed are odd, regardless of who they champion, because you're left wondering by what criteria they rank their honoured few? Why does SamCam's "Conservative charm" nudge her above the number two, Taylor Swift, for instance? She leap-frogged Rihanna - whom I would have personally pegged for the top spot. I like Rihanna because she's bold, and seems unafraid yet not unhinged, a pitfall that has floored a number of her contemporaries.

Rihanna and SamCam. That's an odd mix, in a sentence. But really, the dress of each isn't so different. Rihanna wears clothes engineered for her performances; so does Cameron.

Cameron's are possibly easier to digest than the cloak by Chinese designer Gui Pei that Rihanna sported for May's Met Ball, quickly photoshopped into a million online memes to resemble omelettes or Cornish pasties. Cameron would never take that risk. Perhaps it's SamCam's middle-of-the-road consistency that Vanity Fair are lauding? That, in 2015, she's been highly visible but hasn't put a foot wrong. I suppose that's worth a round of applause. But only a conservative one.

Additional reporting by Vicki Notaro

Irish Independent

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