The opening of Flannels Swindon and what it taught me about Thatcher’s dystopian Britain

A couple of weeks ago I saw something on Twitter about a launch party of a new Flannels store in Swindon, Wiltshire. Considering I loosely see myself as men’s style blogger, I thought; “maybe I should try and go to that?”

Growing up in Wiltshire I have an affinity to Swindon (sort of.) It was still 45 minutes from where I lived as a kid, but I have a staunch Swindon Town fan as one of my best friends and I have attended many a game at the County Ground.

So I popped across an email to the PR company and secured an invite. Not wanting to make this pilgrimage alone, I enlisted my good friend Anna, fellow lover of fashion and orchestrator of the rapidly expanding but still invite only “Style Squad” Facebook group.

I’m still apologising to her.

We opted for the train over. We wanted to make the most of the free booze after all. Keeping it classy we kicked off with canned Pimms and G&T. On arrival in Swindon we exited the station and it suddenly dawned on me just what a shit hole the place is. I’m sorry, I’m not one to look down on a place but there is no fucking dressing it up. Swindon is a shit hole. It’s not a class thing, it’s just a fucking human being thing. We navigated through the town centre via Google Maps like we were in a Farmfoods version of GTA.

Thatcher’s fucking Britain. And I’ll come back to that.

After heading down a few dead ends and dodging a few smack heads we eventually found Flannels – we opted not to walk down the red carpet that was laid out, it didn’t seem necessary. We were greeted by a lovely guy who welcomed us warmly, handed us a “Golden Ticket” envelope which gave us the chance of winning £1000 and were sent into the store and encouraged to get a drink.

The ground floor was dedicated to menswear and largely footwear. I like my brands but high end trainers are just ghastly. Gucci high tops and Viv Westwood plastic loafers for £200? No thanks. Give me a pair a nice pair of Adidas any day. They always seem to scream “look at me” without an iota of style. The real thing look like I would imagine the knocks off to look like. Which is never a good sign. 

And the same could be said of the attendees. I don’t know if this was the great and the good of Swindon, but these people didn’t seem like they would just go to an opening of an envelope, they looked like they would go to an opening of a wound. 

The mayor appeared to be in attendance.  And after browsing a few of the tasteful trainers on show Anna spotted the one and only Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen looking bored and bloated at the counter. Anna was keen to head upstairs to the women’s department but it wasn’t open yet, so we hassled a poor girl serving canapes for some booze. She enthusiastically furnished us with two mini bottles of Champagne. We were glad of it. Although it turns out that a straw in a mini bottle of Champagne seems to encourage it to effervesce out of the top. Our canapés server was very sweet though and we kept crossing paths. I opted for a couple of mini Yorkshire puddings having not had any dinner and Anna, bravely I thought, accepted what was presented to her as “Smoked Salmon on a biscuit spoon.” There were something about the words “Biscuit Spoon” which didn’t invoke a great feeling of confidence in it’s palatability or deliciousness. And so proved to be the case with Anna describing it as tasting like eating a lump of “biscuit base.”

I suppose the poor girl was only describing it as it was, but let’s hope she can sell handbags better than she can canapés.


We were enjoying ourselves though, discussing the merits of designer footwear and me confirming my view that high end designer trainers are fucking shite compared to the likes of Adidas, Saucony and Diadora.

On the half an hour mark there was a gathering and a little speech, I assume from the store manager. We couldn’t really hear it, but it was a nice welcome and some models strolled out to showcase Flannels finest. The models were striking it has to be said, although it wasn’t long before they wore the expression of someone who was about to be explained the intricacies of Olympic dressage.

But upstairs was open and delivered a much richer source of entertainment. It was genuinely enjoyable to browse the clothes, both men’s and women’s. Anna and I both enthused over some of the Kenzo stuff on display – particularly the jumpers. I have a love hate relationship with Viv Westwood and I think the night did nothing but confirm that. Anna’s view on the male stuff was pretty scathing – “whacking a logo on a polo shirt” doesn’t really cut it and I think that is the problem with men’s fashion. It feels like there is so much less to work with.

The women’s Gucci stuff I have to say was gorgeous. Ludicrously expensive and strangely very low key. As Anna explained to me the geek chic, stepford wives look is really in, so there were lovely floral dresses and pearl cardigans that wouldn’t look out of place in M&S on display for over £1000.

I don’t want to talk too much about our fellow attendees but there were some corkers. Anna’s favourite was the teddy bear jumpered man with Vivienne Westwood fluffy slide ons on. I love my fashion but he looked mentally ill.

I also enjoy my high end casual gear, but I think the guy in Stone Island shorts, Gucci pool slides and white sport socks and a Gucci cap took it a bit far. His tattoos reminded me of a Frankie Boyle joke, “your arms looks like the pad of paper by my phone.”

It wasn’t long before we got a bit silly. On discovery of the sunglasses section Anna had a field day. She channelled Iris Apfel and I apparently channelled Elton.

IMG-20160811-WA0009 (2)

I then confirmed our suspicion that both of us could easily fit into the junior ranges of these labels by fitting happily into an age 14 Stone island jacket. By this point we’d dropped any pretence of giving a shit and I had a go on the Gucci bucket hats and caps. I’m sorry but I cannot believe that any one thinks they look good. Gucci, just like Burberry did, are milking the tasteless but yet aspirational market who will buy them because it makes them feel a bit better about their lives. And then those brands moan about being associated with so called “hooligans.” 

Swindon Ultras – The U14s

That’s what I meant by Thatcher’s Britain. I don’t think any sensible human being would want to see Swindon the way it was tonight. Soulless high streets, ugliness, homelessness and poverty. A non-descript forgotten backwater. The fact that a new store was opening in it’s city centre should be something to be celebrated but is Flannel’s really what Swindon needs – £2000 hand bags and £300 polo shirts?

Thatcher’s Britain told us to be aspirational – that we weren’t good enough without a good car, or a house, or a new suit. It told the working class that they should aspire to “get out” of their environment and fuck those around you – they’ll only get in your way. It told us that we should desire a Gucci handbag. Even though we knew we couldn’t afford it. So it sold us the dream and then it sold us the credit for us to bury ourselves into debt for that Gucci handbag, that Stone Island coat. All the while not giving a fuck about how much people in Swindon or anywhere else might actually be suffering. Not concerned that there might be wider issues that a handbag would never resolve.

And now we seem to be living out that dystopian nightmare of individualism, narcissism and greed. Cheers Maggie.

I love the concept of people buying nice things to make themselves feel better. I am all over that. But let’s remember not to be puppets. Buy that beautiful thing that you desire. It will make you feel better. But buy it because you want it, you like it, you can afford it and you look the fucking shit in it. Not because you think you have to as some sort of twisted status symbol.

If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry…


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