LONDON — They're no longer taking their fashion cues from Queen Elizabeth II, underachieving at work, or socializing with fellow boarding school mates with names like Harry and Caroline. On top of everything, most of them can no longer afford to live around Sloane Square because all the wealthy foreigners are moving in.
But 25 years after they were dubbed a burgeoning socio-economic class in this oh-so-class-ridden country, the legendary Sloane Ranger is alive and thriving, albeit with a regular manicure, a designer wardrobe and quite possibly a first-class degree from Oxford.
Earlier this month, Peter York, the man who documented the small and intriguing tribe of posh and scruffy Englishmen in "The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook," unveiled — with co-author Olivia Stewart-Liberty — the sequel: "Cooler, Faster, More Expensive: The Return of the Sloane Ranger" (Atlantic Books).
Since York wrote the first book with Ann Barr, then features editor of Britain's Harpers & Queen (now Harper's Bazaar), times have certainly changed. For one thing, in 1986, the City of London was deregulated, and there was serious money to be made. Suddenly working in "the City" was no longer a life of three-hour, alcohol-fueled lunches, followed by four-hour, alcohol-fueled dinners at one's gentlemen's club. London was a linchpin in global financial markets, and huge riches could be earned — but one had to work to do it, which is why, often, it was the nonposh, state school-educated crowd (aka "barrow boys") who thrived in its cutthroat atmosphere.
Then, of course, there was the radical transformation of the all-time superSloane, Lady Diana Spencer, from shy, Laura Ashley-clad aristo to media-savvy, therapy-loving, Versace-wearing babe.
"The trajectory of Diana into a rake-thin icon in a Versace shift, with her gang of astrologers, therapists and global gay friends was soooo un-Sloane," says the nattily dressed York, a management consultant, over a cup of tea at his Marylebone townhouse. "She let the side down — and they condemned her."
It didn't matter that the Sloanes disapproved of the new Di, times were changing and their only real choice was to move in rhythm with the new, meritocratic age ushered in by Margaret Thatcher (not a Sloane herself, of course, being the daughter of a grocer).And while not every e's transformation has been as radical as that of the late princess, the group as a whole has altered dramatically since 1982. Sloane gals are better educated and actually have careers "rather than idiotic jobs at shops owned by their friends, selling ceramic gifts," says York.
The men are far more aggressive about making money. "There's an entrepreneurial, 'Get that money back' mentality among some," says York, pointing to "Turbo Sloanes" Ben Eliott, Ben Goldsmith and Johnnie Boden of Boden catalogue fame.
They mix with people outside their class, "like celebrities, who were once a 'below the stairs' phenomenon," he adds, and are no longer afraid of less conventional professions like — heaven forbid — the BBC or the music industry. "They're even in the contemporary art racket," says York, referring to the Eton-educated, megaSloane art dealer Jay Jopling.
To put it plainly, they're better turned out, too. "They're not quite Park Avenue princesses, but they've learned about maintenance," says York of a crowd who used to think manicures were more for their horses' hooves in the country than for their own fingernails.
Indeed, there's a whole two pages dedicated to the metamorphosis of Plum Sykes after her stint in Manhattan: The straighter eyebrows, the polished boots, the regular waxing schedule.
Sykes isn't the only new Sloane poster girl. York identifies seven new Sloane types, including "Eco-Sloane," who adores his countryside pursuits and spends his time fighting global warming (the Prince of Wales, Zac Goldsmith, Otis Ferry); "Chav Sloane," who accessorizes with large gold chains and other 'gangsta' add-ons (Guy Ritchie, Dan Macmillan, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson), and "Bongo Sloane," New-Agey, yoga devotees who may also frequent alternative therapist Nish Joshi (Nicholas and Georgia Coleridge, Cherie Blair, Prince William).
Scratch the surface, though, and York believes there's an old-fashioned Sloane beneath all the new types. "People know who they are — and who other people are — and they tend to revert later in life," says York.
"Today, Richard Branson actually sounds like the person he is: a Sloane with a public school education," says York. Branson never exactly advertised his posh background when he was building his megamillion-pound Virgin Atlantic empire.The tycoon isn't the only one: the old Sloanes also tend to out themselves once they have their first child. "They have this atavistic urge to have a house in the country one way or another — even if they're a DJ or a record producer. They want to give their children the same advantages they themselves had — like private education and a house in the country."
The future, York believes, may hold even more radical change. Sloanes — brace yourselves.
"Since Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981, the world has utterly changed. Then the heir to the throne married an aristocratic virgin," he writes at the beginning of the book. "Today it is more than possible that our future Queen could be the daughter of a former member of cabin crew."
He's, of course, referring to Kate Middleton, Prince William's on-again, off-again girlfriend whose parents are former airline stewards: A sobering thought for Harry and Caroline, as they plant their organic garden at the country house.
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