If you wander along posh Jermyn Street lined with men’s outfitters, you’ll spy a statue of Beau Brummell, a man who defined the very idea of dressing well and being a decorative dandy.
Today to be a dandy is often assumed to mean someone who overdresses, but at the time it was someone who dresses so sensibly that they almost fade into the background as nothing is out of place. A perfect ornament for a room.
And it was George ‘Beau’ Brummel who set the trend for elegant dressing in the Regency period.
Beau was born locally, in Downing Street, when that was still a residential street as opposed to the heart of government, to middle-class parents who were quite the social climber and groomed their son to elevate him to the upper classes.
He did well, going to Eton then Oxford and already demonstrating the early fashion awareness that would later make him famous. He was left a sizeable fortune when his father died, and that supported his years in the army when being an officer was an expensive occupation, and it’s there that he met the future Prince Regent and King George IV.
After military service, he set up home in Mayfair, where he honed his appearance, reputedly spending as much as five hours a day getting dressed. His efforts became a spectator sport in itself and people would be invited to watch.
Unfortunately, he started to spend beyond his means, and although his upper-class connections kept him afloat for some time, he made a huge mistake at a party in July 1813 by insulting the famously chubby Prince Regent, which caused a lot of his admirers to distance themselves from him. Eventually, in 1816 he fled to France to avoid being sent to the debtor’s prison and died penniless in 1840.
Despite his fall from grace, he is remembered as a bit of a folk hero, thanks mainly to many reports at the time of his sarcastic wit which became known as Brummelliana.
That manifested itself in 2002 with this statue.
Organised by The Beau Brummell Statue in St James’s SW1 Trust, it was designed by Irena Sedlecka and is based on an 1805 watercolour by the caricaturist Richard Dighton.
A plaque on the base is inscribed with his own words: “to be truly elegant, one should not be noticed.”
“George ‘Beau’ Brummel’s connections with Court, clubs and tailoring embody the spirit of St James’s past and present”
“Unveiled by HRH Princess Michael of Kent on 5 November 2002”
There’s a list of the donors who paid for the statue on the side, and when it was installed, the road was narrowed to create the wider pavement, which sits right in front of the Piccadilly Arcade as if Beau is considering a walk through the avenue of shops.
The statue is also the starting point for a modern event, the Chap magazine’s annual Grand Flaneur Walk.