Welcome to Style Obituary, in which we look back affectionately on beloved brands of the '90s and '00s and wonder: What the hell were we thinking?
'Maths' and 'fashion' are two words you don’t often find in the same equation. In fact, being good at maths will likely mean you’re bad at fashion because if you had any sense with numbers you’d know that buying shit you don’t need with money you don’t have is mathematically senseless.
But every now and then a brand comes along with such an overwhelming power that it forces us into the most absurd style equations and pushes us out the other side, the strange victim of bad addition, no subtraction and worlds of illogic.
Where were you when you first passed fashion-maths? When, for some reason, you added the shorts of a young boy on a paper round, a peasant (lol) top made of a flimsy linen, a tan cross-body security bag that nobody would even want to steal, a Britney trilby at a stunning jaunty angle, a chestnut-coloured leatherette belt that cracked to reveal grey fabric that would, for some reason, make you feel quite sad every time you saw it, and a knee-high, off-tan boot with a wooden mini-heel?
That’s right. You were in a changing room in Kookaï in a regional town with six hours to spare before Becky’s birthday meal and night out in town. Your Body Shop bronzer beads had just spilled and crushed into a greasy mulch inside your Mischa Barton for Matalan handbag, covering your hairbrush, makeup bag and the charm bracelet that you and the gals got Becky for her birthday in a cakey, glistening mess. A classic panicked conundrum.
But pressure, like with many reactions in science — arguably the closest academic practice to maths — was your catalyst. You could speed around that Kookaï and grab 17 items and some-fucking-how make it both 'work' and make it look like you had very little on. Like, although that giant belt made of circles with holes in was big, and worn atop a sheer paisley gypsy (lol) dress with an uneven 'floaty' hem, some black shiny beads tied into a knot at the breastbone because you needed to let people know that you were classy and have watched Chicago, that bloody belt, sitting at your hips, somehow blended in. That’s mathematical genius — true optical illusion.
And Kookaï, founded in 1983, was all about the optical illusion: about infusing a bit of Parisian style into the wardrobes of the world, both affordably and (post-1996) ethically. It was good at what it did, for a time. And in 2019, when it is deeply bleak to be British, we must look back at this time and remember that a brand that set out to make us all more chic, more French, was divided, by us Brits, from its original purpose and added back together in a way that allowed us to literally recreate Atomic Kitten tour looks for our nights out in Plymouth.
I mean it was Kookaï who got you your first job. When you went for your interview at Thorntons, you wanted to wear something that said: 'Yes, I am professional and dressed as my mum but with an edgy twist; I am 17 but look nearly 19; I will ice names and messages on your chocolate slabs like no one else who will walk through these doors, so give me this pissing job, Liz, or I’m gonna torch your fucking store. I need the £6.55 an hour to get more unsettlingly layered outfits from Kookaï.'
Remember, you wore a tight brown (?!) dress, mid-thigh length, with black opaque tights, a beige court shoe which aged you exactly 261 years, a bag in that same chestnut material that cracked, and a shirt with pouffy sleeves and a sort of messy cowl neck in a colour that can only be described as 'was white but then I dropped it in a very muddy puddle and now my mum’s washed it three times and it’s a kind of very, very, very pale brown'.
You managed to add brown to chestnut to tan to black to beige to puddle water, and you wore your hair down with a QUIFF, and you GOT THE GODDAM JOB AT THORNTONS!
That was the power of Kookaï, the power of the optical illusion, which made things so seemingly devoid of style brim with it — it got you jobs, got you laid, got you to finally become good at maths. In the words of Coco Chanel, a woman of usually few words: "Kookaï was, really, an amazing brand. I wore nothing else for a whole decade between 1995 and 2005. It’s the only brand for which I went against my cardinal rule: before you leave the house take one thing off! Wow! The power of addition! Kookaï's got the Chanel seal of approval. You do the math!"