There are certain British cultural rites of passage that cannot be avoided — including the footwear.
“If you’re British, you wore Clarks as a child and you got measured for them — let’s keep it real!” explains British actress/TV personality Liz Fuller at the BritWeek 10th anniversary reception and gala on Sunday at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif.
The annual charity benefit united British stars and anglophiles in a celebration of British contributions to the arts.
Amy Willerton, a former Miss Universe Great Britain, also remembers having “Clarks shoe fittings” when she was younger, but the beauty queen recalls an embarrassing moment in heels more vividly.
“My first catwalk — when I was 15 — one of my shoes fell off at the very end of the runway,” she explains.
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At the event, Willerton complemented her striking gold jumpsuit by British designer Julia Clancy with a pair of simple New Look pumps.
“The jumpsuit was so loud, so I wanted to keep it simple,” she says.
Willerton praises another Brit’s style — Princess Charlotte, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 1-year-old daughter.
“Kate has been criticized in the press for dressing [Charlotte] in similar outfits, but Kate goes very classic with what she dresses [her children Prince George and Princess Charlotte] in and they both look adorable,” said Willerton. “It’s nice to see such a normal upbringing with the kids.”
Echoing Fuller and Willerton’s early memories of donning chunky footwear, former “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Carlton Gebbia recalls wearing the shoes as a young girl.
“When I was living in Wales, I had to wear these awful bulky, black shoes,” she shares. “They were desperately oversized Mary Janes — and it wasn’t when it was in fashion. I might be in therapy now.”
Though the theme of the evening was unmistakably British, she has no loyalty when it comes to her footwear, preferring Giuseppe Zanotti sandal heels rather than a British brand. “I’m not faithful to my shoes,” she admits. “I love Louboutin and have a really favorite pair of YSLs.”
British actress Victoria Summer recalls wearing booties when she was a youngster. “My mom — or my nana— used to knit for me,” she adds. For the fete, the “Saving Mr. Banks” star had on a Rhea Costa dress and Loriblu heels.
On her footwear style, she says high heels are “an absolute must.”
“At least four inches,” she adds, “You can only dance in six-inch heels — that’s the only way.”
In Buckingham Palace’s kitchen, only traditional footwear will do, says Darren McGrady, former chef to the royal family who served BritWeek guests desserts the late Princess Diana enjoyed at the palace — bread pudding and chocolate cake.
McGrady says he has a no-nonsense policy of observing British royal dress codes from head to toe.
“I come from Buckingham Palace for 11 years — I’m a traditional chef,” he explains. “I cannot wear Crocs in the kitchen or out of the kitchen or ever,” he says.
McGrady adds, “I believe you should never trust anyone who wears Crocs,” jokingly referring to chef Mario Batali, who dons bright orange Crocs and colorful clothes while cooking.
The flashy attire, McGrady says, wouldn’t cut it at the palace.
“In the royal kitchens, you wear black pants with white coats,” he explains. “You do not wear anything with red hot chili peppers on whatsoever. It’s traditional white with black pants, very classy. Shoes are just comfortable work shoes.”
For British actor Jimmy Akingbola, his fashion choices are a matter of following traditional British silhouettes — not brands or labels.
“When I’m out here and I put something on, I want to connect to who I am,” he says.
The actor had on shoes from Michael Ferrera and a bespoke three-piece suit. “They’re both American [designers], but they have this British style of putting clothes together,” he explains.
So what does he think Americans get wrong when it comes to fashion?
“Trainers,” he says, “You guys call them sneakers. They’re too big. Too loud. Too messy. I like the classic style. Everything is a bit big — a bit Kanye. I like the classic look. If I want to hold it down and not do shoes I might wear white Converse — you can wear them with a suit.”
Paying a tribute to groovy ’60s British style, Richard Halpern, “the fake Austin Powers,” channeled the Mike Myers’ character wearing Chelsea Hi-Shine boots by retro designer Beatwear.
“These are Beatles boots — directly from the U.K., brand new from Liverpool with a Cuban heel,” Halpern shares. On his shagadelic outfit, recalling its origins is a bit of an international mystery for him. “Somewhere there’s a Ramada Inn missing a bedspread,” he explains.