History Boy: George Skeggs

Gentlemen with truly unique style can be hard to come by, but George Skeggs is a master of owning your individuality and not apologising for standing out from the (usually admiring) crowd.
History Boy: George Skeggs
Artist George Skeggs is undoubtedly one of London’s last remaining legends. It only takes a short time in his company to realise that he is the sort of gentleman everybody knows, or wants to know. His mischievous grin and wicked sense of humour are the feathers in his (probably bespoke) cap, and the combination of a colourful personality and a striking, dandified style draws people in like no one I’ve ever met before. Within minutes, people had stopped to take his photograph, say hello, and admire his look - or all three. “I don’t follow trends. It’s all about detail, really; anything in the arts – writing, painting, it’s all about editing. Get the detail right, and you’re laughing.” Mr Skeggs’ bold taste and devil-may-care take on tailoring challenges many a convention, none more so than that which is expected of a chap like himself. “You’ve got to step up to the plate, stick your head above the parapet and take chances – people are going to shoot you down. I’ve been shot down all my life and I don’t care.” He may be 74, but the fact remains that he has more style in his little finger than the majority of people half his age. “I’m doing good for my age – I’m not going to sit indoors and vegetate. When I was younger, this lightbulb went on one day and stayed on. As I’ve got older, it’s got brighter and brighter and brighter. It’s bloody beaming now. But some people never turn their lightbulb on, or they don’t have the confidence to do it.” This metaphorical bulb has lit the way for a successful art career and a huge following, and George is the first to admit that his style echoes his art; in both creative outlets, he likes to go where others haven’t, and enjoys injecting an element of surprise into everything he does.
When I ask George where his hat is from, he is quick to tell me, “I’m not really into names, I’m not a fashionista”. That said, his penchant for well-made products has guided him effortlessly. “It’s by Stephen Jones millinery in Covent Garden. Stephen is a good friend, and it’s a great hat – I’ve got about ten in different colours. This style is a pork pie with a wider brim; you can’t buy this off the peg.”
Nothing George wears matches – but somehow it all works, the bold check cloth of his suit balanced by a delicate flower in his lapel. “I’ve always loved flowers – it’s something that’s in my family, I suppose. My grandfather used to have flower stalls all over London – Covent Garden, Spitalfields...”
“This tie is nothing special – if a tie catches my eye, it can be from anywhere. This is from a charity shop and cost £2.50. It’s about you and your eye being able to pick it out.” It turns out the tie has come all the way from Hawaii, and his so-called handkerchief is equally curious. “It’s a scrap of fabric from Borovick on Berwick Street. It’s a great place to find different pieces that you can’t find anywhere else.”
With a sense that he’s letting me into a huge secret, George tells me his watch is from “bog standard M&S”. Nevertheless, it has a timeless (excuse the pun) simplicity to it. “It’s not Rolex but I like it – it’s more about what you like and how you put it together. In the 1970s I bought a watch, took the glass off and painted the face. You couldn’t tell the time, but it started many interesting conversations about time, astronomy, the speed of light.”
As with most signet rings, George’s holds a special meaning. Passed on from his father, he inherited both his name and his jewellery from George Snr. He talks in at length about his father’s role in the military during the second World War, and his fascination with history matches his obsession with detail.
George wears a beautiful antique tie pin. “It’s a sunflower, which is an Egyptian symbol for their god, Amun-Ra. I got the cufflinks from the British Museum, where I used to work in the rare books department.” George’s passion for trinkets and treasures is at one with his eye for detail. “I go over every now and then, and usually I walk straight past the shop but these just stood out – they’re gold plated and I love history. I don’t know what it is, but I go a bit bonkers for it.”
“Sometimes,” George tells me, “I start trends. I bought a bunch of NHS stock before this kind of thing was ‘in’. You can’t buy them anymore, of course, you have to go to Opera Opera and buy vintage specs. That’s what these are – they’re the originals. I like the blue tint.”
“This is my signature style – the tab collar. It’s also by Mark Powell, and people always compliment me on my ‘vintage’ shirt. I tell them it’s not vintage, it’s modern – it’s 2016. I’m not vintage – people who wear vintage wear a costume, but I wear this all the time. That’s the difference between original and unoriginal.” Mr Skeggs acknowledges that we all imitate, copy and “plagiarise” stylistically, but stresses the importance of “stepping away from the crowd”. “I always wear braces because I like a high-waisted trouser.” Also from Mark Powell, George isn’t afraid to stick to what he knows and likes.