England's high-flying Union Jack, once flagging in popularity, inspires a new clothing revolution.
Attention, Tommy Hilfiger: The British are coming! The designer’s stars-and-stripes sweaters are being overrun by an old Revolutionary foe, the Union Jack. With Mike Myers’ groove boob Austin Powers and the Spice Girls leading the way, the British flag is now emblazoned on everything from long-sleeved T-shirts (French Connection, $28) to bathing suits (the new Victoria’s Secret catalog is an Anglophile’s delight). “I love the American flag and patriotism and all,” says Red Carter of Los Angeles-based Rampage Swim, which manufactures the Victoria’s Secret suits, “but this is a bit more sexy and sophisticated. And more international.” And more retro to boot: Union Jack fashions flew out of stores in the 1960s, when Pete Townshend of the Who made it his coat of arms, and again in the punk era, when the flag was used irreverently by the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Today the standard-bearer is Ginger Spice (a.k.a. Geri Halliwell), whose flag dress, designed by her sister, has become the informal emblem of England’s Cool Britanniamovement. According to Spice World producer Barnaby Thompson, “Comparing now to the ’60s, what [the clothing] has in common is a confidence about Britain.” But given that Ginger Spice also sports Union Jack underwear, isn’t this a torrid act of desecration? “There must be people who are appalled,” says Thompson, “but I’m sure that [British prime minister] Tony Blair is right behind her.” So to speak.