“Style is expressing complex ideas in a simple way”

“Style is expressing complex ideas in a simple way”

I hope I have quoted that correctly.

It was said by Kirsty Young to Alexandra Shulman, in her introduction on today’s Desert Island Discs on our inestimably wondrous Radio 4. Not daft our Kirsty, not just a radio ‘personality’.

They went on to talk about the choices we make in our dress and the subtle messages we send. It is oft-quoted that women are advised to check out a man’s shoes first. Not sure what men check out first (steady), but at a business meeting, where we are all suited up, I tend to check out the tiny details of the other guy’s jacket, like how many pockets, how many cuff buttons and are those real or faux buttonholes.

All this subtlety can be a bit of a bind, which explains the rise of the shellsuit (shudder) the hoodie (I have 2) and ‘jeans and trainers’ – easy to wear, tells everybody you are normal and don’t care about fashion, and gets you refused entry to nightclubs. 

I’m fascinated by all forms of communication, from click! languages, peacock’s plumage, C++, japanese and ASL. Clothes are just another aspect of this.

I’m also fascinated by complexity. I wrote a book about it. (shameless plug: ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’)

Complexity theory seeks to find the simplicity on the far side of complexity (Oliver Wendell Hoilmes, Jr) and the idea that ‘style’ is also engaged in the same quest is a fascinating thought, almost a revelation.



 Kirsty Young’s castaway this week is the editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman.

In spite of being in charge of one of our leading ‘style bibles’ for more than 20 years, her reputation is that of someone rather down to earth. She thinks designers cut clothes too small, refuses to let superstars have photo and copy approval and when she was first appointed editor, she’d never even been on a fashion shoot. During her tenure Vogue’s circulation has increased.

Her first job as editor was with the men’s magazine GQ and she’s had spells at Tatler, the Sunday Telegraph and writing a weekly column for the Daily Mail.

She says, “Vogue is not my personal taste, really. I think of it more as a kind of newspaper, reporting on what’s out there.”


2 thoughts on ““Style is expressing complex ideas in a simple way”

  1. ”Style is a simple way of saying complicated things“.

    That’s what Kirsty actually said, for the record. I like to think that, in this case, the quote is speaking of the complex rather than the simply complicated. A ‘look’ is a gestalt, a complex whole, not merely an assemblage of complicated things, like, for example, a watch. Some people can wear plaid and polka dots together, but not us mere mortals. Oh yes, it’s complex, not merely complicated.

    I did some thinking about elegance in design a while back, from the perspective of both fit-for-purpose and low-impact. The word style is a dirty one in design, redolent of an Amstrad ‘hifi’ with two many flashing lights and a crap sound, but I think the designer’s ‘elegance’ and the fashionista’s ‘style’ are pointing at the same simplicity on the far side of complexity.

  2. Tedious note from a writer who craves courtesy and receives it from the vast majority of his lovely followers:
    please note that I have changed my copyright and now require you to seek my permission to republish my work. Drop me a line, I will usually say yes: arthur.battram.plexityATgmail.com

    (You’ll have to copy that email and replace the AT with @ . If I didn’t do the AT thing, my email would be harvested by spammers. Sorry for the inconvenience).

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