Swellboy on... Philip Mould’s sideburns

The art historian and TV star sets an example in elegance to our voluminously bearded youth

Image: Glenn Dearing/BBC

One of the pleasures of Masterpiece London is seeing Philip Mould. He is good on the telly, but much better in person; he could sell you your own body parts and convince you that you had an amazing deal – he almost had me buying a massive portrait of Prince Charles from 1989 for which I would have needed to construct an extension to the ancestral lean-to.

However, it was Mould’s sideburns that made the deepest impression on me. Mould has youthful, alert, intelligent vulpine features and hair swept back from an intellectual brow: along with the open-necked style of dress that he favours, he gives the impression of the youngest don at high table in an Oxford college. The sideburns are totally in keeping with the modern aesthete persona that has made him a TV star, because they are a refined antidote to the beards that still seem to be in fashion.

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I keep wondering when the trend for looking like an Assyrian bas-relief from the time of Ashurbanipal – or Charles Darwin and Wilkie Collins – will end. I am simply too old and too unhip (as I believe young people say) to understand this fashion in facial follicles. While a beard may be perfectly acceptable when driving a chariot on a lion hunt in Mesopotamia c645BC, discovering the origin of species or writing bestselling sensation novels, I still find voluminous facial hair slightly overdoing it if you are just popping out for an organic flat white at your local artisan coffee shop.

Happily, Philip’s facial hair is not of the mutton chop or Piccadilly weeper variety but something rather more subtle and culturally nuanced: imagine early Roxy Music drawn by Giacometti. With his swept-back hair it imparts an air of insouciance and rock-star glamour to the business of being an art dealer – and sets an example in elegance to our bearded youth.

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