“Elegance in England,” wrote Nancy Mitford “is of such totally different stuff from that in every other nation that it isn’t straightforward to make foreigners consider in it in any respect.” Nancy – and her aristo sisters Diana, Decca, Debo, Pam and Unity – have been a part of the case for English magnificence because the 30s due to a mix of tweedy fits, ballgowns, tea attire and jumpers. And with a brand new adaptation of Mitford’s 1945 novel, The Pursuit of Love, now on the BBC, the allure of the Mitfords look is prone to hit the radar of yet one more era.
The Mitfords, the daughters of Lord Redesdale, who grew up in a rustic pile, stink of privilege, and a few of them have been downright heinous: Unity was in Hitler’s inside circle, whereas Diana married Oswald Mosley and was imprisoned for her Nazi sympathies. However, partly due to Nancy’s novels, they continue to be a reference of eccentricity, up there with Large and Little Edie from cult movie Gray Gardens. “How they get away with it’s what fascinates me,” says Laura Thompson, creator of Nancy Mitford: Life in a Chilly Local weather and Take Six Women: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters. “My concept is that it’s so much to do with The Pursuit of Love. It reimagines them, because it have been, and creates what I’d name the Mitford mythology whereby every little thing is submerged in allure.”
The Pursuit of Love tells the story of hopeless romantic Linda Radlett, as narrated by her extra smart cousin Fanny Logan. Set between the wars, it’s partially a thinly veiled retelling of Nancy’s life. The variation stars Lily James, Dominic West and Andrew Scott, and is directed by Emily Mortimer. It has its flaws – the persistent lack of colour-blind casting in a interval drama feels retrograde in a post-Bridgerton world – however the costume design expresses the 2 type sides of the Mitfords. There’s the scruff-with-money search for boring afternoons in chilly nation homes and the dressed-up glamour of debutante balls. Within the first episode, we see Linda and Fanny in unironed pyjamas with do-it-yourself knits, wilting do-it-yourself attire after which feathers and organza at balls as they get older.
“I believe the Mitfords are synonymous with an eccentric aristocratic British type,” says the present’s costume designer, Sinéad Kidao. “That they had a specific confidence that permits you to set conference and eliminate it in a single go.” Thompson agrees: “In my biography of the household, I speak about this mix of ritual and anarchy that that they had, which you simply can’t have at the moment,” she says. “In a roundabout way I believe that permeates their type.”
Kidao says she took plenty of her cues from the e-book. “You possibly can inform from Nancy’s writing that she adored garments,” she says. “However, sarcastically, she is usually very disparaging of the extra typical type you’ll affiliate with the Mitfords – tweeds and knitwear.”
Nancy cherished garments and have become more and more subtle as she acquired older. Transferring to Paris within the mid-40s, she grew to become a shopper of couturiers together with Christian Dior, as part of her Francophile transformation. This journey is featured in The Pursuit of Love. On shifting to Paris, Nancy writes: “Linda had by no means absolutely realised the prevalence of French garments to English.”
The impostor syndrome of being an Englishwoman in France is spelled out when Linda buys a brand new gown from Galeries Lafayette earlier than even going to a couture home. Thompson says it’s observations similar to this that makes Nancy’s writing particular – and relatable, even when it’s set within the well-heeled world of couture salons and nation home balls. “It was the primary time I had ever learn a lady with a form of hotline to feminine insecurities in the best way they are surely,” she says. The biographer believes this perception partly got here from the Mitfords’ precarious place within the aristocracy. “They didn’t have any cash as a result of Redesdale inherited an enormous quantity, and kind of misplaced all of it,” she says. “In fact you all the time have a security web in the event you’re posh, however they weren’t a wealthy household. I believe that’s the reason they’ve this, in the event you like, ironic tackle their very own privilege.”
Nancy’s dedication to type nonetheless appeals at the moment. “Even when she is struggling to put in writing her books, you’ll be able to’t think about her as I’d be, in pyjamas or one thing,” says Thompson. “You all the time think about her maintaining appearances even on her personal.” Kidao says, for the TV collection, the staff purposely went for “the extra characterful kinds of the interval: massive bows, exaggerated collars and hats”. She hopes this will rub off on what we put on in 2021: “We’ve all been sitting at dwelling in sweatpants for a yr. I believe it might be great if folks introduced a bit extra color and enjoyable to their look after they do truly get to go away the home.”