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Cool Britannia – The Kapowder Room Secrets

by Folksy Support

Do you ever wonder what some of the tags, terms and genres you encounter on travels around Folksy actually mean? The Kapowder Room Secrets is a fortnightly column in which Konnie Kapow investigates the various themes and styles to be found in the wonderful world of Folksy!

Love it or hate it you simply cannot escape the Royal Nuptials this weekend so this fortnight I am looking at Cool Britannia.

So, what is it then?

Cool Britannia was a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band released in 1967. Set to the tune of ‘Rule Britannia,’ the lyrics were Cool Britannia, Britannia, you are cool, Take a trip! Britons ever ever ever shall be hip. The song conjures images of the ‘Swinging Sixties’, think Twiggy, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Small Faces, the miniskirt, Union Flags or Jacks, The Avengers, David Bailey, Carnaby Street… and for many this is what constitutes ‘Cool Britannia’.

In the early 90s it was the name of the winning entry in a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream competition (vanilla with strawberry and shortbread) which brought the phrase firmly into the media and mainstream usage. The 90s saw the birth of ‘Brit Pop’ bands like Oasis, Pulp, Blur, Elastica, Suede, The Verve and The Spice Girls although I’m sure at least one of the Gallaghers would have an issue with being lumped in with the latter!

Royal Wedding necklace

Anyway, (I’m not scared of you Liam!) these bands became associated with Tony Blair and his ‘New Labour’ policies and younger approach to government when he started inviting them round his gaff for tea. Even those in a coma at the time will remember that Geri Halliwell wore an incredibly short Union Jack dress and maybe that Noel Gallagher had one on his guitar. ‘Brit Art’ was also big featuring YBAs (Young British Artists) Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Gary Hume and Chris Ofili among others. Euro 96 was hosted in England (in which both England and Scotland competed) and there were shiny new James Bond films with the lovely Pierce Brosnan as well as parodies of them in the form of the Austin Powers series.

What does the term ‘Cool Britannia’ mean to some of our Folksy sellers?

Cool Britannia means youth, trend, rock, individual, sense of freedom. Proud to be British but perhaps rebelling against the establishment. Nicola, Pinch Her Cheeks

Proud, young and subtly patriotic. Cool Britannia is the nicest summer day – it’s strawberries and cream and tartan picnic blankets. It’s home-grown talent, it’s Banksy it’s Shakespeare it’s James Bond. It’s William and Kate. Samantha, Esbee Ribbons

Although it’s a term often used to describe a particular style or era, to me it describes how people all over the world flock to Britain (whether literally or metaphorically) seeing it still as a world centre of culture, design, history, science etc. Cool Britannia is independent of the politicians, musicians…who either get caught up in it or try to hijack it for their own use! Rachel, Mogs Togs

I will always associate it with the wonderful Vivian Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band’s tongue in cheek mock patriotism. However, it got high jacked by the media in the late 90’s who missed the sarcasm and hoped it would be a commercial confidence booster like “Swinging London”. Now it reminds me of Tony Blair trying to be cool!

It is like the sixties phenomenon in that we seem to be able to create easy effortless style without stuffiness or snobbery. There are parallels with the 60s in music – Britpop is a descendant of the Kinks, the mocking use of the Union Jack – like Pop Art etc. Catherine, The Terriers’ Club

What does ‘Cool Britannia’ look like?

Symbols of Britain which commonly feature within the genre of Cool Britannia include Union Flags, Double Deckers, ‘Mind the Gap’, The Tower of London, Beefeaters and Black Hackney Taxis, red letter boxes and red telephone boxes.

It’s Union Jacks and other iconic signs, symbols and famous people are that instantly recognisable as being British, but reworked, funky or with a twist, making it cool! Viv, Poppy Sparkles

I was a teen in the 70s, so for me Cool Britannia is all about Carnaby Street, Mary Quant, Biba, Twiggy’s gorgeous smoky eyes, maxi dresses, cheesecloth; loons (remember them? Wide legged trousers, wider than you’d imagine possible!) and the ever-present smell of patchouli oil. For the new generation it will be retro remakes, with the union flag in various hues. Heather, NiftyKnits

‘Cool Britannia’ is red, white and blue with iconic images like the Union Jack, London landmarks; ‘mind the gap’ and other underground graphics, the British Bulldog and crown motifs. Claire, Claryce Design

The Union Jack Flag, Red buses and Red sun burnt knees! Laura, Laura Lee Designs

Ordinary things transformed with imagination, multi coloured, flowery union jacks, iconic images of buses, London landmarks, our bands – past and present. Harnessing from previous decades and making them ‘now’ by reusing or redesigning. Debbie, mezzaluna

What makes it so popular?

I suppose the word ‘cool’ is the operative one here and it’s entirely subjective. What one person considers ‘cool’ another will not. There is a lot of souvenir and memorabilia style ware out there but the application and lasting effect is in the eye of the beholder. Nostalgia is something I find myself mentioning in almost every article I write for this column and it is firmly rooted in much of our fashion and culture. On the flip-side, ‘Cool Britannia’ can be a symbol for irony and for anarchy.

However, whether you’re wearing a Union Jack brooch because of your regard or disregard for Queen and Country is almost irrelevant, you’re still wearing it and it still sells!

It’s fun and cheesy! It reminds you of what it means to be British and brings people together! Zeena, heart zeena

The ability to appeal to a real range of cultures, classes and regions. Julia, Julia Davey Ceramics

There is a huge popularity for all things British, always has been and always will be – it is much loved by customers in other countries as much as it is loved here. Carrie, Fragile Elite Design

Britain has a history of stylish moments, of being quirky so it is easy to feed into that. Gemma, Molly Moo and Jessica too

Who’s the coolest Briton then?

ME! Oh ok then, it’s YOU!

Just for fun, I asked some of our fabulous Folksy sellers who, in their mind, is the coolest Briton… nominations included David Tennant, Fearne Cotton, Jamie Oliver, Vivienne Westwood, Bill Nighy, Sir Michael Caine, Jarvis Cocker, Ian Dury , The Royals, David Beckham and a special shout to Carrie’s super supportive hubby! (1-2-3 awww!)

It’s my column though so I get to choose and the award for Coolest Briton goes to Sir David Attenborough who was nominated by me. Well in Big D!

Enough tomfoolery! Why does ‘Cool Britannia’ work well within a crafting context?

As I mentioned above, the application and effect of using a symbol such as the Union Flag is within the eye of the beholder, it can be used in a number of ways. The Royal Wedding has also given many of our sellers the opportunity to tap into a big market while putting their own unique stamp on their items.

Crafting is all about independence of ideas and trying out new things without being afraid of what other people think, because we all have different tastes; so for me it fits perfectly with what I feel are the driving values and themes of Cool Britannia. Rachel, Mog’s Togs

Cool Britannia is often seen paired with Country Fete or Shabby chic, both of which work well with handmade. The creative sector is well placed to take elements of the British Establishment and give it a spin, providing the requisite ‘cool’ that makes it popular. People don’t just want a flag to fly; they want something that can be integrated into their home or lifestyle. As a nation we’re not flag flyers, we want items that fit in our home and life from jewellery to mugs, cushions or clothes. Viv, Poppy Sparkles

It means you are determined to stay true to traditional materials and techniques whilst putting a unique design spin on the products. Julia, Julia Davey Ceramics

So there you have it! A huge thank you to all of the talented sellers who contributed their time and thoughts to this article! Don’t forget to check out their shops and it’s not too late to stock up on your original memorabilia!

List of images:
Cool Britannia Union Jack Earrings by Fragile Elite
Royal Wedding Necklace by Tea Please
Mini Cooper Car by ialbert
Embroidered Zombie – Union Jack by Fiona T
Royal Wedding Meerkats by NiftyKnits
Royal Wedding Mug by Laura Lee Designs
Mr Britain T Shirt by She Draws
Connery as Bond by Dave’s Iconic Art
British Red White and Blue Union Jack Bunting by Crabtree Lane

More about our columnist

Konnie Kapow is a superhero card designer on a mission to save the world from dull and namby pamby greeting cards! Her offbeat sense of humour combined with quirky card designs make her shop a popular destination for card shoppers. Konnie lives in Glasgow with her artist husband Mr Kapow! where they can be found collecting rock n’ roll memorabillia and knitting in bed.

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Victoria April 26, 2011 - 3:09 pm

Great article, fab timing with the royal wedding being around the corner. I’d never considered cool britannia to have so many ‘era’s from modern 90’s through to the 60’s. Maybe its that ability for Britain to move with the times thats so appealing?

heather aka NiftyKnits April 26, 2011 - 6:08 pm

Go Team Brit! I love your comment that whatever reason you’re wearing a Union Jack flag, you *are* wearing it so therefore it sells – exactly! Enjoy the long weekend fellow Brits :-)

sheridanart April 27, 2011 - 8:07 am

Very on trend for the weekend Konnie, reading your article made me realise how long ago the spice girls were and that I had a massive crush on Jarvis Cocker! The flags will defo be out in the street this week- have a good royal party everyone :)

Claire aka Claryce Design April 27, 2011 - 8:00 pm

Brills article. Feels good to be a cool Brit!!
Here’s to Wills and Kate and all things red, white and blue!

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