“My story starts with my mum,” Dandy Wellington tells me, reflecting on the tale his own clothes might tell. “She came with a love and respect for the British-isms in life, but also a love for music, dance and black culture. I do not love theatre, jazz or art, and I don’t connect to the great poets and scholars, without my mum.” A big-band leader, renowned expert on elegance and style activist, this summer Wellington is headlining Goodwood Revival’s new Revive and Thrive lifestyle hub, bringing together a range of events and sharing modern outlooks in vintage spaces.
“There’s so much of Jamaica that I have learnt and brought into my life. I didn’t really think about it, but I’m pretty much wearing the Jamaican flag in this outfit,” he says with a chuckle. To say he’s immaculately presented would be an understatement. Over the years I’ve been cultivating my own sense of dress, which on hot summer days like this offers the impression I’m a burnt-out tennis star. While my shirt might have been reassuringly expensive, Wellington’s natty blazer and tie combination makes me look like I’m at the carefree end of a fortnight’s resort holiday by comparison. It must have taken some time to dress like this, but he still makes it seem effortless and cool. Although, he’s hesitant to suggest a definition for what ‘cool’ means. “Just like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s personal. It has to be ‘cool’ to you before it can be ‘cool’ to someone else. It’s not about trying to impress anybody or trying to gain some kind of status, it’s about what it means to you.”
His personal style draws heavily from the 1940s, finding influence in stars like Fred Astaire and Duke Ellington, dropping in a few flourishes from the Gilded Age. That’s not to say his clothes are purely vintage. The aesthetic depends entirely on decent tailoring and choosing items which are designed to last. “This jacket was made in 2015. If things are made for you, they’re made in a way which can be altered as your lifestyle and body changes. If you’re talking about a wardrobe, you’re pulling in pieces and crafting a story. That story is never complete, but you’re not throwing away details of it. Every detail matters. Every little story point matters and it continues.”
He seems on a mission to establish a line between the disposable nature of high street fashion and pure style. One is an industry depending on high turnover of products, while the other is more personal and reflective. “It’s part of the fabric of who you are – how you grew up, your experiences, your influences, your parents, the music you listen to… It all comes together and helps craft how you put yourself together every day.” This isn’t something you can authentically adopt overnight, it’s more a state of mind which evolves over time. Wellington teaches classes about style, and he says the one thing you need is patience. Discovering your own look is more about slowing things down, reflecting and having conversations with yourself about who you are and how you want to be.
Together with a cadre of leading influencers, he’s bringing his sustainable sartorial ideology to Goodwood Revival on Fri 16 – Sun 18 Sept. This promises a celebration of all things classic and second-hand, with workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions and talks. “Goodwood is doing a brand-new hub, which focuses on the joys of vintage as a lifestyle.” Based in the stunning West Sussex countryside, the festival presents an immersive recreation of the glamour and excitement surrounding the glory days of motor racing at the country estate. It takes in the ethos of ‘make do and mend’, which ensures cherished belongings offer a lifetime of use, and the motto ‘vintage style not vintage values’ suggests we can both celebrate and learn from the past.
These prescient mantras will be reflected by heritage skill-focused seminars and demonstrations, sharing ways to reduce, reuse, repair, restore and recycle for authentic circular consumption. Several crafting areas will also give visitors a chance to see artisans and experts using the wisdom of the past to revive time-worn treasures, alongside a schedule of sewing workshops, discussions about living with a lower impact and insights into this flourishing network of like-minded individuals. “There are so many of us who live and breathe this. How can we take the perspectives of the past, such as sustainability, and valuing the things you have which are carefully crafted and constructed, and bring that to a modern age?” Appearing with Wellington are Great British Sewing Bee winner, Juliet Uzor, furniture and textile designer Zoe Murphy, author and influencer Paula Sutton and vintage icon Onyi Moss. There are groups sharing these values across the world, from Japan and Paris to Sao Paulo and Australia, and reflecting this global community at Goodwood is important for everyone involved.
“There are a lot of people who’ll be at Goodwood to be a part of the racing, and there’s also this community of people who are just nerds. We love looking at every little nuance of the vintage lifestyle. But, living in a modern age, we’re social media folks. We have our phones as much as our straw boaters!” He concedes his own career has been hugely aided by technology. Social media has been invaluable in bringing people together in their love of style, whether it’s vintage purists or people thinking more about classic menswear. It really has been a big factor. “Many of the people I’ll be speaking to, like Paula Sutton, I’ve been following them for years. Here is an instance where the digital reflects the real, and now we’re making that transition and meeting in person.”
In many ways information technology has made it a lot easier to source items and discover more about the looks of yesteryear. Once only those with access to archival materials could do any substantive research. Now the barrier to entry is lower for anyone wanting to explore the vintage world. Which is great because it allows people to spend more time learning from the past. “Progress is important, it’s gotten us many of the technologies and perspectives on the world. History doesn’t mesmerically repeat, but it does rhyme. We’re able to process those rhymes because we have so much technology.”
It turns out Wellington is a big fan of Brighton & Hove. His best friend in the UK lives there, so he’s had a chance to visit and take some of it in. “No matter how large a place is, there’s always these little nuances which make it what it is. I’m proud to say I’ve not seen it all, and I’m excited to go back.” Always on the move, his busy schedule means he won’t be visiting straight after appearing at Goodwood Revival. But in October, he’ll be sailing over on the Queen Mary II with his ten-piece band, so promises he’ll be coming to town for some seaside air.
Inspired by jazz’s big band era, Wellington and his ensemble offer an immaculately-dressed take on the classic sounds of the 30s and 40s. They deliberately seek out the overlooked, but no less compelling, gems from this great music tradition – from cinema’s golden age soundtracks to dance floor fillers from New Orleans. This love of jazz reveals plenty of context to his enthusiasm for vintage-inspired clothing.
We can almost think of pop music as being the equivalent of modern fast fashion. We’re truly never content with it. There’s new crazes and aesthetics coming out, which demand we adjust ourselves to fit in. Now, let’s draw a comparison between developing a personal style and listening to jazz. Both demand you slow down and think about how every tiny facet works with what surrounds it. These two forms demand patience and greater awareness. It’s one piece at a time. And there’s a need to understand that whatever inspires you may adjust, as you’re constantly learning and finding new things. “You have these songs, which in the day were the pop songs. Then over the years you have other people’s takes and perspective on those songs. You can sit with one song and examine its evolution over 50 years, because there are still people playing them.” This dovetails neatly into the ‘make do and mend’ ethos. There’s still room for high street fashion retailers, but Wellington is suggesting our clothes can be bought with the intention of making them last. With some loving care, making small adjustments to them and attending to repairs, you can extend the life of a piece and give it a story of its own. It’s just like jazz, where you can examine the life of the song, where it can go and how it can travel with you in various stages of your life.
Whilst being a recognisable face in the booming vintage scene, Dandy Wellington suggests he’s just one part of a much bigger thing. “I’m carrying on a tradition, but also building on it. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that when you look for a photograph of people of colour dressing in this way, it’s there but not in abundance. The inspiration is present, but it’s harder to find in that vast archive of the internet. Myself and so many different groups of people, whether they’re LGBTQ+, disabled or whatever, they’re able to add to that vast catalogue of people who embrace an aesthetic from the past.” He wants to inspire people, no matter their way of life, what they’re going through or where they live, to look at what he and his contemporaries are doing and build upon this tradition.
It took people like photojournalist Gordon Parks to honestly document American life before there was better representation in picture archives. His body of work captured US culture between the 40s and 00s, particularly focussing on race relations, poverty, civil rights and urban life, providing a more realistic impression of everyday sights on US streets. “It’s also the perception of public interest. I think over years and generations, and certainly because of the internet, the idea certain groups of people are not interested in certain things has been disputed.” Wellington suggests this adjustment of thinking has provided a great catalyst for many of our institutions. Although, places like Goodwood have long been addressing inclusivity and continue to turn up the volume on these voices. “We all live and breathe, so we have a lot in common already. It’s an ability for us to slow down, be patient and listen to the variety of perspectives that are present.”
While looking at these perspectives from the past, Wellington embraces the most captivating aesthetics, bringing them into the modern age as something inclusive and welcoming. “With Goodwood, and some of the work I’ve been doing before this, it’s about learning how we can listen to each other and embrace the joy that we all share. Something being old doesn’t mean it’s not well made or beautiful.”
Dandy Wellington comes to Goodwood Revival, when it returns to Goodwood Park, Chichester, on Fri 16 – Sun 18 Sept.
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