A very British (and stylish) scandal

Many of us, not content with family tittle tattle over Christmas, were thrilled to indulge in some proper scandal, courtesy of the brilliant A Very British Scandal, the drama series starring The Crown's Claire Foy and the brooding marvel that is Paul Bettany. The series follows the affairs, quite literally, of Margaret Campbell, the famously beautiful Duchess of Argyll, who although famous from even her debutante years, shot to international infamy thanks to her involvement in the  ‘divorce of the century’, which ended her marriage to Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll in 1963. 

The marriage was doomed from the start. The Duchess was at once brilliant, vivacious, complex, infuriating, demanding, troubled, obstinate and brave, while the Duke suffered from PTSD from his internment in Germany during World War II and as a result was addicted to drink, prescription drugs and gambling. The writer Norman Mailer, who married the Duke's daughter from a previous marriage once described him as “one of the coldest, nastiest men I’ve ever known”. Not a match made in heaven, then.

We won't spoil the series for you by divulging any more, only to say it's well worth a watch, not least for the costumes on show. The styling responsibility fell on one Ian Fulcher who created no less than 85 looks for Foy alone across three episodes!

Bettany's wardrobe is replete with house tartans, tweeds, business suits and a sumptuous black tie ensemble. There is nothing flamboyant about his codes of dress, since a man of his age and breeding would not have veered too far from the classic British sartorial rule book, even with the 60s in full swing. Military references such as epaulettes work well to cement an idea of hardened discipline, but all said, the Duke's wardrobe is largely unremarkable and a signifier of a man spiralling into chaos.

Midnight Hampton Barathea Wool Dinner Jacket

Midnight Hampton Barathea
Wool Dinner Jacket

White Poplin Cotton Gatsby Shirt

White Poplin Cotton
Gatsby Shirt

Black Twill Grosgrain Silk Bow Tie

Black Twill Grosgrain
Silk Bow Tie

A black tie scene is one of the highlights, as Bettany drapes a beautiful cream silk scarf over his dinner jacket, and punctuates it with an elegant and perfectly sized silk bow tie. Another is the rather splendid three-piece pinstripe suit he wears to court, featuring beautifully full, wide lapels and strong roped shoulders. 

Foy's wardrobe on the other hand is a revolving door of outrageous luxury and contemporaneous fashions, although Fulcher steered away from trying to directly recreate historical looks. Speaking to British Vogue, Fulcher said:

"From the beginning, I decided to avoid faithfully recreating the Duchess’s most famous outfits. The fashion is more about capturing the essence of Margaret, and her powerful sexuality. So, for the scene when she’s opening Inveraray Castle [the Duke of Argyll’s family home], I kept the full ’50s skirt that Margaret is wearing in the real-life photos, but tailored the jacket so much that Claire could hardly move, adding a fur stole to make her feel more ‘tactile’ and sensual.”

Fulcher's attention to fine details throughout the first series is evident, perhaps nowhere more than in the tailoring the Duchess wears. All of her suits and coats were specially made for Foy from either Venetian wool or cashmere to help bring out her curves, create a tactile lustre, and make the transition between the umpteen wardrobe changes that much smoother. Fulcher was also extremely aware of the details of the set and surroundings, something we can't always predict in real life. Speaking to Vogue, he said:

“I worked within different colour palettes for different locations. There’s ‘bright and light’ in Biarritz, then you’ve got autumnal in Scotland, and then roses and blues in London. So everything’s considered. One of my favourite looks is the beaded turquoise dress in episode one. The production designer told me that the house where the scenes were taking place would be all pink marble, and the turquoise just looked phenomenal against that backdrop.”

One of the most noticeable elements of the Duchess's style is of course her three-strand pearl necklace which is her style signifier throughout the series, just as it was in real life, too. There are images from the 30s which show Margaret wearing smaller, more delicate pearl necklaces, replaced with larger, bolder styles in the 50s and 60s and it is this style that Fulcher uses throughout the dramatisation.

Collarless Duster Coat Aubergine Cotton Velvet

Collarless Duster Coat
Aubergine Cotton Velvet

Carnaby Coat Black Pink Virginia Silk Jacquard

Carnaby Coat Black Pink
Virginia Silk Jacquard

Therese Coat Peach Gold Darwin Silk Velvet

Therese Coat Peach
Gold Darwin Silk Velvet

It's always interesting to note which elements of fashions past have made it through the unforgiving filter of time. While the much of the Duke's tailoring can still be readily found on Savile Row today (even his casual v-neck cashmere sweaters haven't evolved much), the Duchess's suits and jackets are probably much too waisted and waspish for today's aesthetic of boxier, more draped silhouettes.  There are plenty of animal stoles and real fur elements, too, which while popular at the time have certainly not aged well. 

The Duchess's dresses however could certainly be worn today, although one thinks they would be styled in a more modern manner (and sans matching gloves!) We love, for instance, the cream ball gown pictured above for those wonderfully art deco pleated shoulder details - that kind of eye-catching structure will work no matter what decade you happen to be tripping through!

Feeling inspired? Shop the sale at Favourbrook now