British appetite for American cool

Maybe there’s mutual respect, but the special relationship between Britain and America seems to be as much about UK reserve seeking US cool, writes Valerie Denny

We are the nation where billion-dollar tech entrepreneurs show up to work in a hoodie. We are the nation whose First Lady leads her anti-obesity campaign by teaching kids how to dougie. We are the nation that invented blue jeans and, perhaps more importantly, the nation that gave the world Beyonce. (You’re welcome by the way.)

In America, it’s quite apparent we don’t care much for formality and rules. Our country may not be associated with high culture or luxury by the British or the rest of Europe, but instead is universally admired for an everlasting sense of “cool”.

The Smithsonian explores this intangible sense of “coolness” through its recent American Cool exhibition which argues American cool is working class, an “earned individuality” rather than the inherited entitlement of aristocratic classes. Icons of American cool “bring innovation and style to a field of endeavour while projecting a certain charismatic self-possession” as demonstrated by rebel without a cause James Dean, 1970s rock icon Debbie Harry, technology visionary Steve Jobs and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

That’s not to say America isn’t slightly intrigued by the UK’s formality and tradition. We’re suckers for the Royal Family, track Kate Middleton’s every sartorial move and have experimented with fascinators a bit after the royal wedding. And the media and fashion crowds are certainly guilty of peppering their conversations with Britishisms, such as “brilliant”, “loo” and “cheers” in an attempt to sound more posh.

Apart from a pesky conflict known as the Revolutionary War – better known to you as the American War of Independence – Anglo-American relations have been rather amicable for more than 200 years. Though we may not agree on whether it’s football or soccer, we are just as in awe of your ability to produce the world’s most prolific bands as your ability to pull off a jaunty hat.

And the feeling seems to be mutual, with our brand of effortless cool permeating the British consciousness on the high street, at the supermarket and in the restaurant scene.

BRAND AMERICA

On the opposite end of the spectrum from English heritage brands, Brits clamour for the American brands where power lies in their ability to personify casual cool. If you want a bespoke suit, you go to Savile Row, but if you want the perfectly distressed high-quality boyfriend-fit jeans, you turn to the American high street shops. The current reigning queen of casual luxe is Jenna Lyons, the six-foot-tall bespectacled icon and storied leader of J.Crew, the American retailer which recently opened three locations in the capital and quickly became the darling of Grazia editors among others.

Brits clamour for the American brands where power lies in their ability to personify casual cool

Michael Kors and Tory Burch have emerged as affordable luxury brands for well-made American sportswear. Among the younger set, Disney Channel, E! and various American entertainment programmes have fostered an appetite for US brands Hollister, American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch. And there’s no denying the growing interest in Victoria’s Secret lingerie and sleepwear with the inaugural Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to take place for the first time this December in London.

Though the high street isn’t the only place experiencing an American invasion. US junk food has its own dedicated section at Tesco, featuring a bounty of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Marshmallow Fluff, Oreos and the cult-favourite Lucky Charms on sale for upwards of £5 a box. The nostalgic eighties cereal has enough of a cult following that it’s also carried at Selfridges, although they’re currently sold out.

The proliferation of gourmet burgers and American BBQ has taken over London as well with crowds flocking from all over the city to queue outside Shake Shack and Five Guys for up to 30 minutes just for a burger and fries, or Pitt Cue or Bodean’s BBQ for a pulled-pork sandwich and a bourbon whiskey. It’s truly the perfect Anglo-American combination of good old American comfort food and the British thrill of forming an orderly queue.

But perhaps the most humorous, farfetched adoption of American trends is the abundance of secret bars and speakeasies in a country that never suffered through Prohibition (and let’s be honest, probably wouldn’t have survived it either.)

NEW COOL

Cool extends beyond personalities, with Apple leading the charge in thinking differently, which successfully resulted in their being named the most desired brand by a recent M&C Saatchi study. And by that extension, our modern-day cool crowd would have to paradoxically be the tech geeks in Silicon Valley. They are the true rebels and risk-takers of the modern age, aiming to disrupt the market and create products that change the way we interact with the world.

But for all our success importing our brand of American cool, we partially owe the creation of our culture to you. After all, an English broadsheet once off-handedly dropped in the descriptor “America, Britain’s most successful colony” in a US general news story. And I suppose we’ll take that as a compliment.