When I was making a vague attempt to house hunt in the oh-so-hot-right-now area of Walthamstow, estate agents would constantly bleat on about a property being in the vicinity of the William Morris Gallery and why that made it xxx amount more expensive.  That broken record did wear thin after a while, which is why I’ve probably never actually ventured in to the “charming” Lloyd Park to experience the “local hotspot” that is the William Morris Gallery.  Shame on me to allow estate agents’ schtick to affect my judgement.

As I approached this former childhood home of William Morris, on what could only be described as a gorgeous day in London, there was nothing to do except be bowled over and charmed by this gem of a museum that happens to be the only public gallery devoted to this most famed of British aesthetes.

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I was here to see House of Hackney‘s new collaboration with the William Morris archive, whereby the gallery invited the eclectic lifestyle brand to reimagine key prints with a HoH twist.  The synergy between the House of Hackney and William Morris was immediately apparent as we were led up to the first floor where HoH founders Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle had created something of a print maverick’s haven, blending seamlessly with the house’s Georgian architecture.

House of Hackney started their fashion-led interiors brand in 2011  with the moniker “Colefax & Fowler on acid” but dig further and the roots of their inspiration certainly lie with Morris, whose prints we might think of as “traditional” but at the time of their creation were considered radical as the aesthetic movement combatted claustrophobic Victoriana.  Similarly Gormley and Royle have been going up against the West London stranglehold over the world of interiors to create a unique aesthetic born out of Hackney, that can also travel far and beyond E8/E9.  There’s a irreverent take on Britishness that makes Gormley and Royle perfect for breathing new life into iconic Morris prints like the Peacock and Dragon, Hyacinth and Blackthorn.  Just as Royle and Gormley incorporate surreal elements from nature into their signature prints like Hackney Empire, Morris prints were intended to “interpret” nature rather than represent it with realism.

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House of Hackney have also created a print called “Artemis” seen below in the psychedelic swirling flora covered cushions and chesterfield sofas, which is an homage to the work of Morris.  Another key inspiration for the print was Diana Vreeland’s red living room – created to “look like a garden but a garden in hell.”  HoH’s Artemis print is less than hellish but there’s definitely a devilish naughtiness simmering beneath the feral flowers, especially when the print is rendered in black.

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The Morris prints which Gormley and Royle chose to work with have been tweaked with different scalings of the motifs as well as a brighter and more amplified colour palette, which at the time was limited by Morris & Co’s use of natural vegetable dyes.  I love the way all three re-worked HoH x William Morris prints and the HoH “Artemis” print all work with one another in tandem, sitting pretty not as a cacophony but as a more-is-more interiors delight.

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My personal fave has to be the Artemis with the teal background though…

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The range of course covers HoH’s breadth of cushions, wallpapers, soft furnishing fabrics, lamps and custom made furniture, as well as china and other bits and bobs that the brand have expanded in, in recent years.  Like Morris, who tirelessly aimed to make his art as democratic as possible and stimulated British manufacture of his textiles, Gormley and Frieda have also scoured the country to look for the best small-scale and skilled manufacturers to craft their wares.

When I first discovered House of Hackney, they had based their designs on fashion-led interiors.  Now the conversation is two way as their clothing line is also a significant complimentary part of their brand.  Submerge into your House of Hackney sofa or cushion in a matching printed dress.  Or subtly work the print in with panelled denim – a new addition for A/W 15-6, as are the stripy fur coats to go with the more “simple” brightly striped design to add to the HoH print stable.

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Descend back down the stairs and you’re faced with the weirdly complimentary work of British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, who was commissioned by the William Morris Gallery to reinterpret Morris family portraits.  He invited residents of Waltham Forest to pose for a series of portraits wearing Dutch Wax ensembles, created by costumier Dee Sheehan, to reflect the changing diversity of the area.

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Downstairs in a series of galleries, all things Morris come to life.  I only had a short period of time to browse the displays but the gallery certainly gives you an in-depth understanding of this anarchic aesthete’s life and design outlook.

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House of Hackney’s collaboration with William Morris will be housed in a specific concept shop for September and the partnership will continue for S/S 16 as well.

The other day, when I saw a PR from Alexander McQueen, he told me he had just returned from holiday to recuperate from what had been an intensely mammoth month for the brand.  The A/W 15-6 show in Paris was quickly followed up by the spectacular opening of Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the intensive media spotlight surrounding the homecoming of this exhibition.  The exhibition may be done and dusted in terms of the media hubhub but the visitors are continuing to stream in, with sold out ticketing and even the accompanying book has been flying off the shelves.  The iconography of Lee McQueen will have been swirling around in the minds of a wider audience, far and beyond the fashion crowd and one question that will invariably have popped up in their heads is this – what’s it like to wear a piece of Alexander McQueen clothing (I’m talking specifically about the clothes created during the Lee McQueen era of the brand).  When accidentally eavesdropping on visitors at fashion exhibitions, you always hear murmurings of “Oh I’d love to wear that!” or “Who would wear that?”

We may have Lee McQueen’s collections ingrained in us through grainy catwalk footage, stills, editorial images and now behind glass vitrines and on exhibiting mannequins, but I thought it would be interesting to explore a different side to Savage Beauty – one that’s closer to the body – and to demystify the myth that there’s a certain intangibility to those clothes.  Spurred on by American Express, a supporter of Savage Beauty, and their call to a few bloggers to create a post inspired by the exhibition, I thought I’d attempt to do what I like doing best and that’s to try the stuff on.  Save for one not-so-exciting skirt and a jacket that I had sold, my bodily interaction with McQueen’s clothes has been minimal next to none.  To use a no-pun-intended McQueen quote: “Fashion is a big bubble, and sometimes I feel like popping it.”

And with the help of Kerry Taylor Auctions, the experience of wearing McQueen is a bubble I gladly popped.  Kerry Taylor has sold many Alexander McQueen pieces at auction ranging from commercial garments to museum-worthy collector’s pieces from notable collections collections and with a price range that can be anything from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands of pounds as noted in her book “Vintage Fashion & Couture: From Poiret to McQueen”.  “When we get pieces from collections like Salem or Plato’s Atlantis – something that stops you in your tracks, the value rises greatly,” says Taylor.

Browsing through the rails of Kerry Taylor’s latest auction, you could say that even the not so special pieces are a cut above what you see in shops today.  “I went to Brent Cross Shopping Centre the other day,” said Taylor.  “There was not one thing I would want to buy.  I come in here and everything here is special, rare or precious – or has an interesting sleeve, button, cut or a print.  For £200 you don’t get very much for your money in a shop today, but here you could have a beaded 1920s dress.   For me, it doesn’t compare.  I sell haute couture by the masters.  I’ll sell Yves Saint Laurent couture by him, Balenciaga by him, Madame Vionnet by her.  You look inside these pieces and the workmanship is incredible.”

Similarly from his bijoux store in Marylebone and online, William Banks-Blaney of William Vintage, dubbed the “King of Vintage” also prescribes to this purist notion of selling pieces designed and created by the founding name that sits above the door of a maison.  And whilst generally speaking, Style Ambassador to American Express Banks-Blaney sells haute couture vintage pieces that stop at 1975-8; for McQueen, he makes an exception.  “After his death, we’ve see the real legacy he’s left and the role he has played in British and global fashion,” said Banks-Blaney.  “His pieces are increasing in value and in desirability at the same rate as a fantastic pre-1957 Dior.”

One upside of ‘theorising’ McQueen as it were, is that a detailed knowledge of his individual collections are embedded into the collective memory of fashion-obsessives.  For curators and experts like Taylor and Banks-Blaney, different moments define McQueen’s prowess.  “He was groundbreaking,” said Taylor.  “The bumster was a new fashion statement in a very long time.  Rudi Gernrich went really naked.  Skirts went up and down.  Shoulders in and out.  But that elongating of the torso by moving trouser the down and redefining the focus of body was new.”  For Banks-Blaney, it was McQueen’s time at Givenchy that helped him become a more accomplished designer.  “Before Givenchy, there was a touch of brutalism to everything – with harder fabrics and a harder look.  After Givenchy, for his own house, it became a much broader offer.  He understood finesse and more about elegance in construction and finish.  He became more of a couturier.”

Both Kerry Taylor and Banks-Blaney sell to people who will physically wear the clothes and where McQueen is concerned, even in his commercial pieces there’s merit to be found.  “There were some collections where you’d have just a few statement pieces – and you’d have lots of very good commercial and wearable separates,” said Taylor. In the current auction catalogue, there’s a dress from the ‘Deliverance’ collection that whilst made in multiples is still deemed a “lovely” dress by Taylor.  “With McQueen, the construction quality of those pieces are very good,” said Banks-Blaney.  “The commercial pieces that go into production are really important because they make financial sense and are the things that people wear.  They’re pieces that are still under the designers’ realm.”

Inside Kerry Taylor’s auction house, I tried on an array of McQueen pieces that would fall under the “commercial” category as well as some bone fide runway looks from collections from the latter half of McQueen’s career.  Save for the Phillip Treacy butterfly hat, it didn’t feel like these pieces were purely destined for mannequins of a museum or for editorials – they’re physical proof of McQueen’s ability to elevate the familiar to dizzying heights.  With regards to the hat though, I’m not personally averse to having my head swarming in a cloud of hyper coloured butterflies.  It’s quite possibly one of the most smile-inducing, delight-giving thing that I’ve had on my had ever.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0203Phillip Treacy hat from 2003 worn by Naomi Campbell on the cover of Tatler in 2004 and the basis of the red butterfly hat in Alexander McQueen’s S/S 08 “La Dame Bleu” collection worn with vintage Chinese jacket

McQueen’s S/S 01 Voss show is given its own section at the Savage Beauty show because of its incredible set-up and theatrics but the trickle down from that show is a deceptively simple grey dress with obi-inspired detailing at the neck – a tried-and-tested silhouette with enough of a hint of difference about it to make you take notice.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0057Dress from S/S 01 “Voss” collection worn with Vans x & Other Stories shoes

A scallop-edged leather jacket with slashes in the back from the A/W 06-7 Widows of Culloden collection felt especially like someone had worn it repeatedly, giving it a weathered quality that only makes it more appealing.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0178Leather jacket from A/W 06-7 “Widows of Culloden” collection worn with McQ t-shirt

McQueen’s finesse in tailoring is evidenced in a digitally printed dress from his S/S 09 collection (before digital print became overused and overexposed), where slightly raised padded shoulders give the simplest of shift dresses a rigour and a backbone.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0138Dress from S/S 09 “Natural Dis-Tinction Un-Natural Selection” collection worn with Chanel trousers and J.W. Anderson shoes

The satin gown that pooled at my feet from his last A/W 10-11 “Angels and Demons” collection was probably the most dramatic of the pieces I tried but is actually a more commercial version of its runway counterpart.  Its intricate silver metalwork embroidery on the bodice might have fooled you though.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-9946“Angel Drape” Dress from A/W 2010-11 “Angels and Demons” collection 

Taylor will be selling pieces from Sarah Burton’s era of Alexander McQueen for the first time in a future auction and these beekeeper’s hat and bee-encrusted neck choker are evidence of the way Burton is carrying on the legacy of what Lee created for this house.  Like the earlier McQueen pieces I tried on, they immediately changed my overall posture (and yes, I have a notoriously bad one…) and stance.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0422Beekeeper’s hat and tortoiseshell choker from S/S 13 Alexander McQueen collection by Sarah Burton

On a side note, I couldn’t help but also get a sneak preview of some of the choice pieces going into their sale on the 28th April.  I won’t physically be there with my bidding paddle but I have left a few cheeky bids on choice pieces.

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0360Rainbow lovin’ in a 1990 Thierry Mugler jacket

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0442Yet another chinoiserie jacket?

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0341Grappling with a 1971 Jean Varon geometric dress

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Kris-Atomic-Susie-Bubble-McQueen-0321The back of a most beautiful Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell ‘Lamborghini’ jacket from 1968

Rummaging around these rails and trying on these fantastic pieces only emphasises what Taylor said about the comparative mediocrity that comes out of today’s “sausage factory” as she calls it.  To wear McQueen is to experience quality in cut and construction – even in his commercial offerings – as well as an eye for embellishment and of course the obvious narrative backdrop only serves to enhance the clothes.

Going back and revisiting these clothes got me thinking about people today who embody the spirit of Lee McQueen. Not necessarily a designer with the same aesthetic but someone who can leave a similarly emotive impression on the mind and body. I’m collecting suggestions of names on social media and on comments here. There may be no equals but is there someone working today that could leave that level of legacy? Tell me what you think.

All photography by Kris Atomic.  Thanks to Kerry Taylor Auctions for allowing photography of their auction pieces.  

When I went to Bath, there was one destination that I was eager to see whilst I was in that part of the world.  Having been out to Los Angeles with Mulberry on an admittedly razzy trip during awards season, I was eager to contrast that experience with an altogether quieter and gentler side to the brand seen at their factory The Rookery, in Chilcompton in Somerset.  The Rookery together with their nearby newer factory The Willows forms the largest manufacturer of luxury leather goods in the UK with over 700 craftspeople working for both sites.  These aren’t facts to be spewed for pointless flag waving.  In the context of UK’s postwar manufacturing wind-down and in the general movement of shifting luxury goods production away from Europe, these achievements are no mean feat.  Numerous publications like the Guardian and the Telegraph have both done in-depth stories on what goes behind the scenes at Mulberry’s Somerset HQ, but it’s impossible to overstate the fact the many on-shore employed hands and hours of work that go into Mulberry’s bags.  So I happily spent the day geeking out to what is fast becoming my favourite soundtrack – the hum drum of a leather goods production line as well as snapping away at the hands that have long intrigued me about what makes one garment or bag or shoe better than another.

Mulberry is just about emerging from a time of flux where the headlines have been focused on its profits, its CEO changes as well as its changing pricing structures.  However better times await with the coming of former Céline bag whiz Johnny Coca as well as recent announcements that profits are reported to be better than expected. 

At the Rookery, guided by Nick Speed, its group production manager, changes are also afoot.  I was the first journalist to see the newly implemented linear production lines, based on the idea of lean manufacturing.  “Many people think that when they come to Mulberry, they’ll see ten or twelve craftsmen hunched over a wooden table,” said Speed.  “But this is proper manufacturing.  Although this is a craft business and of course our main priority is quality, we’re also looking for efficiency.”  To “lean” things up, instead of say having one person stitching a bag from start to finish, you have a production line dedicated to one style at any given time with over 50 processes laid out from cutting to  to inking and edge finishing to stitching and quality checking.  Every person has a dedicated role whether it’s stitching pockets, banging in rivets or constructing handles and it makes for a highly productive unit.  It’s why Mulberry is currently producing over 50% of its bags in the UK.  They make no secrets about their their overseas production taking place in Portugal, Turkey and China because they’re transparent about the fact that it’s currently physically impossible to do it all in the UK.  What gets made in the UK are ultimately the styles and collaborations that Mulberry is currently more focused on in press and marketing whether it’s the Cara bag or the Lana del Rey bag.  The short of it is that a UK-made-from-start-to-finish bag ultimately demands a higher price.     

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Speed first took me up to the development office where patterns are devised for the bags in conjunction with the design team at Mulberry’s Kensington Church Street offices.  They’re already working on S/S 16 bags.  Paper models and grey felt prototypes are used by the development team to work out the construction of a bag before CAD-like drawings are produced on the computer, ready to be sent down to the programmed laser cutters.

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They also house some of the older archive pieces as a way of looking at different construction types.  Loves me the Snoopy and Peanuts battered Bayswater…

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We were then shown the area where all the leathers are kept.  Mulberry don’t own any tanneries and their leathers are bought in mostly from Italy (a tiny percentage of leathers are from the UK).  It was interesting to see the tiny marks on the skins that Speed pointed out were either from the cows’ movement or from insect bites on the skin.  Some are so faint you could hardly see them.  Some are more discernible and are generally not used on the main body of Mulberry’s bags.  Texture is appreciated on skins like the shrunken calf, where deep grain patterns are achieved by deliberate washing.  Natural vegetable tanned leather is Mulberry’s most in-demand of skins.  Unlike other styles, which are made to order as per the season’s requirements, Bayswater bags in NVT (to abbreviate Mulbz style…) are constantly kept in stock because of their popularity.  Save for ostrich, Mulberry tend to shy away from exotics not least because of their newly “less-expensive” price positioning and also because of the skins’ lack of traceability.  It’s why they now print snakeskin patterns into calfskin, cutting into the skin to achieve the appearance of scales.

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We then went onto the factory floor to follow the production line of a new oxblood Cara bag with the lion’s head and heart rivets that are about to go into stores for A/W 15-6.  It’s a style that has proved successful for Mulberry (although perhaps not to the heights that the Alexa reached), and after its debut season is now being expanded with different skins and finishes.  Oxblood natural leather is also a skin that is becoming part of Mulberry’s “core” grouping of colours.

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The first thing you notice about Rookery’s factory floor is the retail prices of bags laminated and in full  view of the crafts men and women.  “It’s really important for people to understand the prices of the bag – it’s important we treat these products with respect,” said Speed.  At £1,500 this particular style of the Cara is at the upper end of Mulberry’s price range and as we discover over 50 different processes go into making it which broken down is that you’re paying £30 per process – and that’s omitting the cost of the leather leather, overheads of the factory and the retail spaces of Mulberry.  And on the subject of cost, many people wonder why are bags more expensive today?  The cost of leather has gone on average 20% a year with growing demand from competing brands as well as the automobile industry.  Explaining away that £1,500 bag which ismade entirely in the UK with these background price hikes factored in seems somewhat easier.

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The other thing you see across the production line of the Cara is that the demographic of craftsmen and craftswomen is varied.  Firstly there’s an even split of men and women.  Secondly age-wise, where in other factories which I’ve visited, it normally skews towards the 50 yrs plus.  Here, you have everyone from aged 18 to 60.  That’s down to Mulberry’s oversubscribed and popular apprentice scheme as they bring in six every year at the Rookery (eight at the Willows).  “We had a problem with the ageing workforce but we had to make sure we have succession and longevity,” said Speed.  “With this linear production line, we can bring people in very quickly and get them manufacturing quite quickly.”

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Not unlike the Louis Vuitton facility I saw in Fiesso where technology is blended with hand-crafted know-how, at Mulberry, machine-led efficiency can only really be achieved with the physical presence of crafts men and women, who know how to operate these machines.  After the bag has gone through all the processes from cutting to stitching to finishing, with all the fiddly addition of the components (pockets, postman’s lock, linings, handles, buckles etc) in between, it reaches its final triple quality check before it gets bagged up and ready to be shipped.  There’s a target board on the wall and on this day, the goal was to make 15 Cara bags.  Once they had met their target, someone sounded the horn and cheers were emitted from the craftspeople.  Not one had been rejected for its inferior quality.  Speed says on average they have 1% returns out of a bag production of 1,100 per week plus 1,400-1,800 at the Willows.  They’re numbers that should be taken seriously again, in context of the manufacturing conditions in the UK.  What was once an area flourishing with leather goods production, namely with Clarks shoes who once produced their shoes nearby, now relies largely on Mulberry for industry and future regenerated employment.

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And the physical result?  A Cara bag that has passed through approximately thirty or so different pairs of hands – all fairly employed and working in superb factory conditions – with Made in England stamped in an extra thick font on the base of the bag and as the Mulberry heart on the pocket suggests; made with a lot of love.  Everyone was beaming and incredibly proud to show off whatever it was they were doing.  Whatever Coca is going to do in terms of creative direction, having the combi-force of the Rookery and Willows and all their craftsmen and craftswomen is already a super solid on-shored manufacturing base to work from.

My journey of learning how to be a “flâneur” or a “flâneuse” to use the correct French feminine noun, didn’t end on the rooftop garden of the Hermès building on rue de Fauborg Saint-Honoré but carried on into my own city.  I’ll readily admit that there are layers upon layers of London that I’ve never had the chance to discover or know about.  And it so it seems pertinent that Hermès decided to carry on their celebration of the flâneur in lieu of their Wanderland exhibition opening at the Saatchi Gallery, by gathering up a esteemed group of luminary Londoners, a ton of character actors and blue jacketed-guides as well as a global group of journalists to organise what has to be the most complex orchestration of flânerie walks in London.  

Yesterday over 250 journalists were split up into eleven groups and dropped off at various parts of London to be guided by the likes of chef Giorgio Locatelli, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes and blogger behind The Gentle Author.  They were the knowledgeable gatekeepers to take us through the hidden spots and stories embedded into the higgelty piggelty make-up of this great city, that are currently under threat from what is a damaging process of rising rents, unimaginative skyscraper developments and takeovers from faceless chains.  For non-Londoners they might have thought they were seeing a quintessential London.  For Londoners like myself there was something bittersweet about peering inside gems like the K.C. Continential store on Caledonia Road knowing that in a few years time, independent store owners like Leo Giordani will find it difficult to make things work in what is seen to be real estate gold.  It was a prescient opportunity to a) appreciate how gloriously idiosyncratic and storied this city can be and b) how important it is that these facets are retained, protected.  Madame Jojo’s could easily have been a part of Rhodes’ tour of Soho (the lucky group that went with him got to record an album in the infamous Dean Street studios) but sadly that’s no longer a reality.  

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But as my particular flanerie walk in Kings Cross revealed, when regeneration is done well in London, it can be exciting.  Our meeting place was the platform of St. Pancras station where Sir John Betjeman’s sculpture of The Lovers looms over us.  Led by the legendary photographer Liz Collins, who curated our day of flanerie, we pick up the essentials – map, brolly and water – and venture up into the clock tower of the beautifully restored St. Pancras Renaissance hotel – formerly the Midland Grand Hotel and St. Pancras Chambers.  I used to love the contrast between the grotty bit of Euston Road and looking up to see this imposing sweep of red-bricked revivalist Gothic architecture.  Now of course Kings Cross is the very opposite of grotty thanks to a decade’s worth of redevelopment that has now resulting in a slew of addresses and postcode – N1C – that didn’t even exist ten years ago.

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Mary Poppins greeted us at Jacques Rival’s IFO (Identified Flying Object) cage at Battle Bridge Place and told us to run along up King’s Boulevard – spit spot.  It’s a walk that I’m more than familiar with having frequented Central Saint Martins‘ not-so-new new campus on Granary Square.  Its move in 2011 from the Charing Cross site seems like an age ago as the number of dissenting voices have now been well and truly hushed in admiration for what is a monumental learning environment for students of CSM.  Nostalgia for Charing Cross might reign on in some quarters but it’s hard to deny the accessibility of the college now with its warehouse space, ground fountains and a buzzy street food scene spilling out in front.

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I was resigned to the fact that I knew this area like the back of my hand and that I wasn’t going to discover anything, until I got pointed in the direction of the House of Illustration, which only opened last summer.  Tucked at the side and slightly obscured by the ongoing building work of this area is a permanent homage to illustrators worldwide.  At the moment it’s exhibiting the work of New York ad illustrating king Mac Connor.

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A very convincing Eliza Doolittle assured us that horse and carriage would be on its way, whilst handing out bunches of lavender and camomile flowers.

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It wouldn’t be an Hermès journey without this mode of transport which the French house is indebted to.  Two carriages took us down the road to yet another hidden spot, which I hadn’t been to.  Overlooked by glass and steel office buildings and railway lines is Camley Street Natural Park.  Small but perfectly formed, it is a tranquil little spot by the canal where you’re still reminded that this area is full of industry and in-progress work as you see and hear builders and cranes everywhere.

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The rest of the notable spots on our flânerie tour were again both familiar and unfamiliar.  The Henry Moore’s sculpture ‘Large Spindle Piece’ in front of Kings Cross Station is a frequented spot but it was a treat to see architect John Pawson’s office by the Guardian/Observer building up on York Way.  I had also never peered into Keystone Crescent, supposedly the inspiration behind Cherry Tree Lane in the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.

0E5A0129‘Large Spindle Piece’ by Henry Moore 

0E5A0145Inside the office of architect John Pawson

0E5A0146The curve of Keystone Crescent

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0E5A0162Old signage on K.C. Continental Stores on Caledonia Road

Our last stop was Big Sky studios, where we met back up with Collins, who very magnanimously took our portraits.  May I run around in black and white with perfect lighting hitting the angles on my face – all the time please?  We also meet Phyllis Broadbent, the Pearly Queen of Islington who’s a true class act of a lady.  She’s been a pearly forever and is part of a charitable tradition of the working class that is slowly dying out.  Mary Poppins and Eliza Doolitle may be fictional but people like Phyllis are real and ought to be valued and celebrated.  She noted sadly that people often give her funny looks on the street when she’s walking around in her pearly queen ensembles.  Back in the day, people would doff their caps and say “Alright pearly?”

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After lunch we zoomed down to the Saatchi Gallery where I got to finally see the Hermès Wanderland exhibition as I was away for the opening last week.  As all the journalist flâneurs began to culminate here after their adventures around town, we were greeted by a cacophony of characters that whilst are bygone oldies are always welcome goldies.  Loutish punks having their shoes polished, a Georgian pickpocket and a Victorian bobby policing the flow of tea and cakes were just some of the Londoners that popped up.  It was reminiscent of the sort of whimsicality that Hermès displayed when together we hosted a silk ball last year in Camden.  Whilst they’re serious about their craftsmanship and what they make as a house, on the other hand they’re not scared to turn up the theatrics and irreverence, when required.

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Upstairs, the Wanderland exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery was alive and kicking and thousands of people have already flâneur-ed their way through what is an inimitable feat of set design, interactive display between Hermès objects as well as numerous treasures from the Émile Hermès collection, created by curator Bruno Gaudichon and set designer Hubert le Gall.  It was lovely to see certain pieces like the pheasant feathered umbrella pop up (or rather suspended) in a completely different context.  This is where you get to see a different side to the role of Menehould de Bazelaire, as director of the patrimony of culture at Hermès, as she picked out items to be used in the spectacularly themed exhibits such as the Cafe of Forgotten Objects, where little trinkets are illuminated and embedded into cafe tables or as part of a fantastical garde-robe wardrobe.  I especially loved the recreation of a Parisian passage with wittily executed shops that feature an elephant crashing through a china shop.  It was also as much an homage to the new as it was the old as technology was put to good use with a movement-sensitive installations where you’d hear the thoughts of passers-by on the street as you walked with their footsteps.  Topsy turvy, ambitiously magical and exceedingly well put together – no wonder visitors have been raving.  Oh, and errr…. it’s FREE!  Go, go go!

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The physical souvenirs of my day of flânerie in London are precious – like the print of my portrait by Liz Collins (would hanging it up be odd?) – what’s even better is the impetus to see more in London and beyond.  I’m currently badgering Hermès for the maps of the other areas in London that were explored.   If walking around Kings Cross, an area I purportedly know well revealed some hidden spots then who knows what the likes of Chelsea or Mayfair might throw up.  Thanks to Hermès I’m now resolved to allow myself to wander more.

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Hermès Wanderland exhibition open until the 2nd May at Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY.  Open 10am-6pm daily.  Free entrance.