I'm a Philatelist and I'm Not Ashamed

I swear, this is related to fashion.

May 17, 2012 at 12:30pm | Leave a comment

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The queen geek looking slightly shifty with some of her stamp collection

Oh come on, you had to give me that one! Yes, I am a philatelist; in other words I collect stamps. Since I was young, I’ve been filling albums with strange and beautiful little squares of paper from all over the world, each a miniature work of art. I also love the special collector’s edition sets that the Royal Mail produces to mark significant events, like the centenary of the Girl Guides in 2010, or amazing people like Roald Dahl and Winnie the Pooh (is Pooh a person? I think so) and moments in history.

The latest collection celebrates great British fashion designers and it’s a very special set. Now we English aren’t terribly good at blowing our own trumpets, excelling instead in the fine art of self-deprecation, but if there’s one thing we could shamelessly brag about, it’s fashion and these 10 stamps are a fantastic showcase.

They show examples of the work of some of the most influential British designers of the past century: Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Granny Takes a Trip, Ossie Clark with Celia Birtwell, Tommy Nutter, Jean Muir, Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen.

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Vivienne Westwood and Hardy Amies

Fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø shot the outfits -- many of which were sourced from vintage stores or direct from the designers -- on models whose faces were then digitally removed to allow the clothes to speak for themselves. My favourites are McQueen’s dramatic black feather dress and the neat navy suit by the Queen’s couturier Hardy Amies.

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Alexander McQueen

Royal Mail Stamps’ Philip Parker sums up for me why fashion (and those who enjoy it) shouldn’t be dismissed as shallow or superficial: “British fashion has grown to become a major national industry. It employs about a million people and contributes directly some £21 billion to the UK economy. So it is an honour to be able to pay homage to some of the designers who made the industry what it is today.” Hell yeah!

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Zandra Rhodes and Jean Muir

I’m fond of William Morris’ famous entreaty, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" and to me stamps are both, which makes them something to treasure. But then I started thinking how often we actually use them these days, because we invariably email rather than send a letter. Stamps are probably most used in the run up to Christmas to send cards, but even that convention is falling out of fashion in favour of e-cards, which is a great pity.

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Norman Hartnell and Ossie Clark

Bills and junk mail aside think what a nice -- and rare -- feeling it is to receive a letter in the post from someone you know. Handwritten, maybe with a funny little drawing, on special notepaper and bearing a stamp on its envelope. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures and I miss it. In my teenage years my friends and I would write long, intense letters to each other all the time, especially during the long summer holiday when we’d be separated for a few weeks. This was before email and even before most of us had mobile phones (I’m sooo oooold.) It was so exciting to get a letter, especially if it was from a boy!

It feels sadly anachronistic to send a letter nowadays, as if you’re deliberately and stubbornly resisting the convenience of pinging off a quick email or text, like a 21st century Luddite. And there is much to be said for email -- it can be romantic in its own way; that little lurch of excitement you feel when a message pops up in your inbox from someone special, the satisfying immediacy of a razor-sharp back and forth e-exchange.

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Tommy Nutter, Paul Smith and Granny Takes a Trip

Still, these days when I want to let someone know that I’m really thinking about them, I sit down and write a letter or card, put it in an envelope, address it and stick the prettiest stamp I can find on it and pop it in a letterbox, knowing that when it lands on their mat, they’ll know how special I think they are. Doing this outside the usual conventions -- birthday, Christmas -- just to let them know how you feel, is even more meaningful.

So tell me, am I alone in my nerdy collector habits and love of physical objects like stamps and letters and other such 19th century nonsense? Should I chuck all my paperbacks and digitise my record collection while I'm at it? Talk to me!

Find me tweeting about fashion, books and all sorts of random London-related jazz at @PhoebeFrangoul and @xoJaneUK