Claudia Schiffer on the school run, Lily Collins at the Coachella festival, Dita Von Teese out shopping – not since Margaret Thatcher in 1986, riding a tank headscarved and goggled like Amelia Earhart, have silk scarves been so ubiquitous.
The scarf revival took off in 2003 with Alexander McQueen’s skull prints, and is now reaching critical mass. Designers at the vanguard of digital print design such as Jonathan Saunders, Hermione de Paula, Michael van der Ham, Christopher Kane, Erdem and Peter Pilotto are all embracing the scarf, while a group of scarf design specialists have re-emerged: Michael Birch, Jane Carr, Emma Shipley and Richard Weston, whose geology-themed scarves feature images of minerals (from £38 to £205).
“Scarves are an introduction to print for someone who is not ready to commit to a fully printed look,” says Mary Katrantzou, who last year launched her scarf line depicting stylised interiors on modal/cashmere, chiffon or twill (£340).
London store Liberty saw scarf sales increase by 16 per cent in 2011 after the launch of its scarf hall in September 2010. Indeed, Liberty print scarves are appearing in collections from Sunspel, a company known for its British classics. “Everyone is accessorising their pared-back, slightly minimally designed outfits with more exuberant accessories – primarily scarves,” says Liberty’s Ed Burstell.
Sunspel co-owner Nicholas Brooke says the scarves, which retail at £25, are part of a project “to use salvage fabrics from the factory”.
Scarves by Michael Birch, in crêpe de chine, double georgette and silk satin (from £145), feature eclectic collages with unexpected juxtapositions of everything from dogs and beetles to funky renditions of Windsor Castle, and can extend to two metres in length.
Lincoln Moore, vice president and DMM of accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue, describes Birch as “an artist” and recently introduced him to a US audience. The appeal of the scarf is that there are so many ways to wear it: “Women are wearing them all ways, although probably the most popular is still an oversize oblong wrapped a few times around the neck in a nonchalant way.”
Like the flourish of a signature, no two flings of a scarf are ever the same. Just compare Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s with the style of the British horsey set: tied choker tight and knotted deftly under the chin.
There’s even a step-by-step photo guide on Editer.com, a London-centric lifestyle blog by publisher and scarf addict Charlotte Poole. “After visiting a friend in Paris I wanted to show Brit girls how to wear scarves the chic Parisian way,” she says.
They may, however, soon be wearing scarves the British way, thanks to Helen David of English Eccentrics, who has revived the commemorative scarf, first seen during the second world war when London-based label Jacqmar produced propaganda-themed scarves. “It’s a British tradition and a lovely way of communicating that we sadly seem to have lost,” she says.
English Eccentrics’ silk scarf in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee – based on a 1952 portrait of the monarch repainted by David and paired with a Victorian Union Jack and offered in three sizes and five colours – retails exclusively at Liberty for £85.