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Christmas jumpers are cancelled. Well some of them, anyway. All those reindeer-adorned acrylic knits that toe the line between jolly and naff are persona-non-grata at fashionable parties this year, since news broke that our love of novelty festive jumpers is helping fuel the world’s plastic pollution crisis.
Then what is Helen Mirren doing lounging against a brick wall in a distinctly Christmassy royal blue knit? And she’s not alone. Erin O'Connor and Poppy Delevigne are posing in the sort of prints Scrooge would definitely disapprove of, as is a brooding Nicholas Hoult - looking rather different to his last public outing in festive clothes in 2002’s About a Boy. Are the Twitterati bearing down on them with pitchforks?
Well, actually, no - because these A-listers are dressing up for Christmas Jumper Day on Friday 10th December, an excellent cause for which participants are asked to wear a colourful knit and donate £2 to Save the Children as they do so. Some of the jerseys – like the ones these celebrities are wearing – will be available to buy from 1st December at the charity's shops around the country. As well as giving to an important cause, they’re environmentally friendly, one-off vintage designs made from wool rather than itchy acrylic.
Christmas Jumper Day is now a decade old and has raised over £27 million for charity since it was launched in 2012 – the idea was clearly a good one, but along the way it fuelled a demand for cheap, uncomfortable tops that are the definition of throwaway fashion, and so are destined for landfill. Hence Save the Children keeping the tradition but changing tack by asking participants to either go vintage or shop from their own wardrobes.
“You don’t have to buy a new Christmas jumper,” says Hoult, emphatically. “I’ve got three or four old Christmas jumpers that I recycle every year and those are my go-tos. The vintage ones are really great, your mum and dad might even have a few good ones in the closet – see what you can dig out and let’s make the world better with a sweater.”
Although charity is not the only benefit a Christmas jumper can bring. Few of us can have missed the headlines about the current energy crisis, while news from Cop26 suggests we should all be turning down the heating while wearing a thicker knit this winter. Inflation may also lead to rising prices but simple ‘jumpernomics’ also means the warmer the jersey, the more you’ll save on energy bills.
And while these celebrities certainly aren’t worrying about their heating costs, Save the Children’s starry line-up shows just how keen everyone is to help the children’s charity after a particularly difficult 18 months for many young people around the world. A quick browse of the website illustrates just how much good work the charity is doing, namely feeding, educating and clothing children everywhere from Peru to Afghanistan, and at home in Britain.
Photographer, Misan Harriman, who shot these Jumper Day images, talks at length about how the pandemic made him realise he needs to give back with his time as well as his money. The Briton shot to fame when he photographed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the garden of their Montecito house in February, a few months before the birth of their daughter Lilibet. Harriman – who attended the royal wedding and who even played a hand in the couple’s meeting – posted the intimate black-and-white barefoot image on his Instagram, thereby announcing the impending arrival of the Queen’s eleventh great-grandchild to the world.
Then, like now, Harriman did the majority of his work virtually, directing Mirren in the same way he did Harry and Meghan: via iPad. This is apparently less complicated than it sounds as Harriman doesn’t work with artificial lights, and celebrities are no doubt better than the rest of us at knowing how to position themselves and when to look to camera.
“People are very used to doing things remotely,” he explains. “I always get the shot in the end, and I can see and hear exactly what’s going on over the iPad so it doesn’t make much difference whether I’m there or not. I work with great natural light so all I need is for them to be somewhere beautiful at the right moment – I speak about light like it’s an elusive person I’m forever hoping to have time with.”
Harriman may have many starry friends, but even he sounded disappointed that he wasn’t able to meet Mirren in person. “Ah, she’s our national treasure,” he says. “It was unfortunate for me it was remote as I’m such a fanboy. She was ever graceful during the shoot. I mean, she doesn’t need to do something like this. She’s very busy but she understands what it means to use her platform to change lives.”
He is equally effusive about the other big names in the campaign. “Will Poulter [currently starring in Disney’s Dopesick] is an incredible ally,” he says. “He is unapologetic about standing up for what is right. Erin is another activist campaigning for the rights of women. She conjures up echoes of something celestial.”
Using the sort of language regularly deployed by the Duchess of Sussex, Harriman adds that he hopes his own two young daughters will learn from people like them. “I’m teaching them what humility and empathy can do – and hopefully they will grow into women who – as they climb – lift others.”
For the rest of us, wearing a jazzy jumper and donating £2 (all you need to do is sign up on savethechildren.org.uk before 10th December) is a great start, so long as you eschew the polyester fast-fashion offerings for something a little more… ahem, graceful. After all, there’s nothing wrong with buying something new and smile-inducing – a piece that is neither Christmas-specific nor too drab – so long as you plan to wear it often. That means no flashing lights or slogan Dad jokes; instead lots of fun, flattering colours in natural fibres and a style you’ll want to wear until spring.
After all, a Christmas jumper should never be just for Christmas.
Sign up to Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day here