The Penny Lane Coat Is Our Winter Heroine

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Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (2000)
The pandemic doubled our propensity for practical dressing this year. Thanks to a hokey-cokey 10 months of lockdowns and lifts, we’ve been faced with one of two sartorial choices: comfortable and cosy loungewear made for sofa-surfing weekends and WFH, and hardwearing hiking boots and weather-beating rubber-soled treads for hitting the outdoors (or whatever local green space we could find). After years in the literal and sartorial wilderness, anti-fashion performance classics like Columbia, North Face and Berghaus went mainstream. So why has one coat style, devoid of any real practicality but oozing with rock and roll glamour, become the dark horse of our winter wardrobe this year? 
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According to shopping platform Lyst, search for shearling coats spiked 56% this winter, but it’s not Del Boy’s aviator variety that gained cult status in 2020. You’ll know it as the Penny Lane coat, dubbed so after Kate Hudson donned one in her turn as the free-spirited star of Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous. Suede or leather with shearling lapels and cuffs, the ‘70s staple has taken over our Instagram feed this winter, with indie labels like House of Sunny and Charlotte Simone creating sell-out contemporary takes (both named Penny), while the vintage revival – fuelled by a booming resale market – has seen prices soar for original pieces on platforms like Depop, eBay and Etsy. The bohemian longline style, favoured by everyone from Pamela Des Barres (one of the real-life groupies who inspired Crowe’s Penny) to The Beatles, is surely the antithesis of the practical cropped puffer jacket – so how did it become fashion’s comeback kid?
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Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, 1971
Long before the Penny Lane moniker stuck, the Afghan coat was brought to the West by Craig Sams, owner of one of the most buzzing 1960s Kings Road boutiques. Along with many young people looking for a psychedelic expansion of the mind, Sams travelled well-trodden hippie trails, picking up traditional clothing expertly made by local craftspeople – the Afghan coat becoming his most legendary import. Selling them on to Sheila Cohen, Nigel Waymouth and John Pearse, who owned legendary boutique Granny Takes A Trip, when The Beatles were photographed leaving the store in matching Afghan coats, that was that: the defining outerwear of the decade was born. From then on, musical royalty from Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix to David Bowie teamed their flared denim and shaggy hair with the Afghan, dousing their new wares in patchouli oil to mask the sheepskin smell. Their girlfriends and groupies followed suit, leading to a generation of countercultural cool kids wearing the style. 
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Though the coats were typically hand-embroidered with intricate patterns, once the style found mainstream fame in Carnaby Street and beyond, British manufacturers were unable to keep up with the artistry and the coat became popularised in plain suede instead. The late Swinging Sixties’ outerwear of choice fell out of favour soon after, though, with the punk scene kicking back against the kaleidoscopic dreaminess of their predecessors with a much more severe approach to music, politics and personal style. By the end of the ‘70s, gone were incense-infused handcrafted pieces inspired by the East and crashing in their place came homemade studded, torn and shredded leather.  
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Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Fast-forward to the new millennium and the British high street was flooded once more with Afghan coats, albeit shorter styles in denim and oversaturated beige. From Jane Norman to Morgan, stalwarts of the ‘00s gave girls with low-rise bootcut jeans and high-heeled Kickers something that felt a little less ‘60s but a little more R&B glam, partly inspired by J.Lo, who had offered up a loose take on the style in her snow-covered music video for "All I Have". As the traditional style evolved into simple thigh-skimming coats with generic fluffy cuffs and collars, the Afghan as we knew it again fell out of favour. If Kate Hudson’s turn as complex groupie Penny – plus Angelina Jolie’s excellent Afghan coat in Girl, Interrupted – were mere footnotes in the style’s history back in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, how did it become the pop culture reference that inspired not one but two contemporary labels to name their hero coat after? 
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The answer, no surprise, is Instagram. Thanks to throwback accounts dedicated to reposting every look that was ever turned out in the ‘90s and ‘00s, Hudson will have popped up on your feed as much as J.Lo in her green Versace dress or a pastel-hued Naomi on a Chanel catwalk. Styled throughout the movie over crochet crop tops, corduroy flares and, most famously, nothing but red and white star-print knickers, Almost Famous costume designer Betsy Heimann was inspired by a coat worn by Shirley MacLaine in 1960 movie The Apartment when creating the heartbroken hippie’s wardrobe. The coat – along with her Botticelli curls – has once again become synonymous with an effortless rock and roll glamour, a much sought-after feeling when the whole of 2020 (edgy, yes, but for all the wrong reasons) was a blur of loungewear and outdoor walks. Though the ‘00s and early ‘70s revivals have been going strong for some time now, in times of crisis we double down on nostalgia, and in a year when live music, travel and any potential for spontaneity have been cancelled, it makes sense that we’d look to a film – and its impeccably dressed leading lady – that inspires free-spirited bohemia.

Now, shearling-trimmed suede and leather jackets are everywhere – just look at UGG, Stand Studio, Burberry and Celine. Of course, many are leaning all the way into the ‘60s and ‘70s aesthetic – see Miley, who paired her bleached blonde mullet with Charlotte Simone’s black Penny coat while performing her cover of The Cranberries’ "Zombie" back in October, or feminist influencer Florence Given, who teamed hers with orange velvet trousers, Farah Fawcett hair and square, face-shielding sunglasses. Then there’s The Hippie Shake, the contemporary label that sells both vintage and its own ‘60s and ‘70s-inspired new pieces, including the sell-out orange and brown Liza coat with Afghan-style exaggerated faux fur trims. “Being a ‘70s brand, the Penny Lane coat is the queen of all coats,” founder Naomi Hession tells me. “Any vintage lover will know when you put on a Penny Lane, either vintage or new, they really do make you feel rock 'n' roll. Original pieces are extremely hard to come by now, so we created our own for our AW20 collection, Stargazer.” 

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The beauty of the Penny Lane 2.0 is that it’s not simply ‘70s shades like rust and chocolate doing the rounds. Charlotte Simone’s sell-out Penny coat comes in baby pink (worn by the likes of Lottie Moss and Clara Paget) while House of Sunny’s pistachio Penny was the cult hero of last winter and Saks Potts’ Foxy coat comes in glossy oil slick and duck egg blue. There’s no need for flares and retro floral shirts, either: Instagram’s coolest are styling theirs with box fresh kicks, 2020's loungewear and ‘90s mini dresses. Though Simone took “inspiration from London and the Swinging Sixties” when sketching out her Penny coat, she styles it with “jeans and a T-shirt...a chunky sneaker. The great thing about Penny is her versatility – she’s fab but not too fancy.” 
Unlike heels or restrictive evening dresses, the Penny Lane coat adds a heavy dose of glamour to our 2020 wardrobe while still being comfortable – cosy, even. Rather than falling into fancy dress territory, she can be worn with contemporary pieces in your wardrobe while still providing a serious dose of nostalgia and a sprinkle of effortless rock and roll. Most of all, she feels like a rebel in a scene dominated by weather-appropriate, sensible outerwear. 
"We amended this article to state that Sheila Cohen, Nigel Waymouth and John Pearse owned Kings Road boutique Granny Takes A Trip. We originally stated that Craig Sams did."

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