I’ve yet to write extensively about Burberry on the blog before.  Why?  They’re the big razz ma tazz tent of a flagship British brand that rolls into town come London Fashion Week, into which I race in, huffing and panting because inevitably some traffic disaster has made late.  I plonk myself on a seat, the show starts immediately (on time), a very very loud soundtrack blares out (sometimes live, sometimes not) and out comes a troop of trenches and then there’s some confetti moment at the end.  It’s over in a blur and resides in my mind often as a blur.  What else could I add that Tim Blanks, Alex Fury and Sarah Mower can not?  So it’s been a brand watched from afar as they sped up, digitised, and pushed the industry into a social media initiative overdrive.

Burberry September, as they’re now calling it, would be a different beast.  Last Saturday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, I openly expressed my scepticism over see-now-buy-now, summing up in short what I also said in this Vogue.com interview I did, regarding the future of fashion a few months ago.  I’m skeptical because I have qualms about how the pressure of delivering straight after the show and in the right quantities will affect the aesthetic merit of the clothes.  Will collections be as creative and innovative as they can be, or will they simply be robotically designed and manufactured according to what the market demands, because sales will be monitored straight away?  Furthermore, is it a model that every brand can and should adopt?  What of young designers who don’t have the means to produce in advance and are taking a big financial risk by doing so?

Those questions still rage on but I did lay the hope of someone succeeding at see-now-buy-now at the hands of Burberry.  They’re big enough.  They’ve set agendas before.  If they didn’t pull off this coup, then who would, you wondered.  What I didn’t expect though was the all-encompassing experience that Burberry would serve up.  One that touched you emotionally, quelled the nay-saying and more importantly, physically (and digitally) engaged with the non-industry onlooker.  To the point where you would go have a gander at the store to check out the ruffled shirts or go online .  Incidentally, I have anecdotal evidence to back it up.  A day after the show, I was in Selfridges’ new Designer’s Studio to pick up a few new thangs (do check out their very brave, new-generation designer selection by the by) and a shop assistant who I wouldn’t have pegged as a Burberry fan, enthused about the show and talked about logging on the website to see what he could get his hands on.

I’ll leave the semantics of how Burberry’s take on see-now-buy-now is operating to this very useful Business of Fashion piece.  The graphic of Burberry’s timetable in particular makes sense of how production will work, demonstrating a level of extreme time re-management, that needs to take place to actually make this work.  What I was interested in was the process of seeing something and the inciting of desire to buy it immediately, coming from a place where I was previously content to wait for said desire to burnish and build up over a six month period.  If something is great, it will remain great

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Orlando was already an irresistible starting point but one that cleverly makes an inspiration catch-all for Christopher Bailey.  Its themes of gender fluidity and an ageless narrative unshackled by time and history, means that all of the influences laid out so evocatively on the mood board that you see in one portion of Maker’s House – English stately homes, foppish imagery of the Bloomsbury set, 16th-17th century aristocratic portraiture, Colefax & Fowler-esque fabric swatches and embedded in amongst all of what seemed oldy-woldy and deathly traditional, the insouciant airs of more contemporary figures.  All readied and mixed into a potent cauldron that would produce one of the most stirring Burberry shows that I’ve ever seen in person.   

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The notion of see-now-buy-now strikes fears of “easy” product in my mind.  A textbook sweatshirt.  A sellable coat.  These things must shift straightaway, on the basis that collections in quantity have already been produced, so the pressure to perform is heightened.  And yet in Burberry’s September collection, you found uncompromising aesthetic that when broken down still fell in line with their previous output.  The military braided coats and jackets of seasons past looked more quietly regal, in an intimate setting, where there were centimetres rather than metres separating your eyes and the clothes.   The English pyjama prints layered up with belted-cardis and Oxford shirts counteracted with the high-necked Elizabethan ruffs, embedded pearls and voluminous sleeves.  Where Bailey had previously looked to the Bloomsbury literary scene for inspiration, those same muted tones of Vanessa Bell’s Charleston home felt tangible and covetable.

In effect we had seen many of these thematic explorations before but somehow, as one historical period seamlessly segued into the next, and scruff and splendour worked in harmony with one another, there was something that clicked.  And it wasn’t just the sound of the Buy button (early analysis says Burberry are seeing the fruits of their see-now-buy-now labour).  I immediately looked up the price of the gold tasselled boots for pure personal curiosity.  It was an impulse aided by what looks to be an abundantly stocked e-commerce site.

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You could deduce that my personal appreciation of the collection had much to do with the vastly smaller and changed-up format of the physical show, soundtracked by a live orchestra playing an original composition.  That’s something that is often a shuttered off experience for the masses and one that is hard to communicate from still images and even high quality video alone.  Step in the open doors of Makers House, residing in the former old Foyle’s bookstore building off Charing Cross Road.  On the first floor, where the show played out, the clothes are there on mannequins for you to touch and feel.  On the ground floor though is where Burberry has borrowed smatterings of other brands’ experiential-based exhibitions (Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior are all of course dab hands at this).  Beyond a charming courtyard of sculptures and ivy and then into an abbreviated version of Thomas’ Cafe (I highly recommend the vicky sponge…), in partnership with The New Craftsmen, Burberry gathered up a lovely group of embroiders, passementeriers (the last remaining ones in London hand-making braided trims and tassels), patchworkers, sandcasters and more to demonstrate not necessarily the craft of the actual collection, but to celebrate these endeavours that echo Burberry’s own brand values.

We weren’t there to witness the making of the collection as we did at Chanel’s recent haute couture show but to marvel at niche crafts that incite emotions of nostalgia and curiosity.  How you link up sandcasted jewellery and hexagonal patchwork cushions with the collection is entirely up to you.  For me, it was a much more subtle and celebratory showcase of craft – one that wasn’t necessarily designed merely to schill product but instead to shout out about a fundamental aspect of craft today – that if you don’t raise awareness of say, Jessica Light’s handmade tassels or Rose de Borman’s silk screen prints (both available to buy in an on-site gift shop) then it’s likely their craft won’t likely survive. It was basically what entities like London Craft Week have been promoting, but of course it’s hard to parallel the backing of a brand like Burberry.

The programme of various craft demonstrations and events finishes up tomorrow and it will be even more interesting to see how many visitors the venue got and whether that visit, in turn led to a gander up to the flagship store on Regent’s Street.  Maybe those of you who managed to make it down to Makers House can report back. If enough people went from live stream to Maker’s House to store or to the website, then I would consider a success from Burberry’s perspective. And as someone who has often felt like someone peering inside Burberry’s shiny windows, this felt like a re-assessment of sorts, where qualitative experience triumphed over the need to merely sell you something immediately.

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Pre note: Realise it’s Fashion Month and I haven’t fashion month-ed posted yet.  You can read a bit of me here and here

She.  He.  Her.  Him.  Feminine.  Masculine.  Femme.  Homme.  These are the conventional ways of categorising fragrance that are also normally accompanied by pink hued curved glass bottles for women and impossibly deep voices on television adverts for men.   However, when Prada presented their olfactory interpretations of these gender constructs, it was striking that there was more of a to-and-fro dialogue between the two fragrances, simply entitled La Femme Prada and L’Homme Prada.  Just before the Prada SS17 menswear show in June in Milan, guests were invited to experience the two fragrances concurrently in a digital installation with projections of imagined conversations between a couple, where you can’t quite tell who’s the he and who’s the she.

The same can almost be said for the fragrances that line up together in half semi-circular bottles covered in black and white saffiano leather.  As a pairing, they almost invite you to dab a bit of both depending on how you want to mix things up.  I’m a bit rubbish at describing scent notes so in emotive Prada terms, the fragrances are “designed to take the wearer on a voyage through place, memory and time, somehow there appears a sensual meeting point for these distinct female and male fragrances to consummate an aesthetic relationship through experimentation and tradition.”  Solid, layered and complex is how I’d personally describe both fragrances with notes of frangipani and ylang-ylang in the La Femme Prada and iris and amber in the L’Homme Prada anchoring them.  Alternating between the two feels natural just as Prada’s menswear and womenswear can often go hand in hand in mood, spirit and aesthetics. 

So who is my male Prada counterpart?  Why it’s none other than Bryan Boy – a dear friend in real life and a fellow Prada aficionado.  We were excited to create these images to celebrate the launch of the Prada fragrances.  Shot at the Grafton Building of the University Luigi Bocconi in our matching AW16 sailor hats and Christophe Chemin print shirts, we attempted to bring that La Femme and L’Homme Prada spirit to life.  It’s certainly not the girl-finds-boy, boy-finds-girl sensual love tales of perfume marketing narratives.  Then again, Prada’s coupling in fragrance form doesn’t adhere to that stereotypical dynamic.  Hurrah for that.

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paintmix

I’ve been doing my fair share of watching paint dry with little odd jobs around the house to pad out what has been a restful August.  Just to balance out these lengthy passages of boredom, I’ve also been watching paint mix.  They’re perhaps 2016’s kitten videos as various accounts on Instagram dedicate themselves to one thing only – documenting the mixing action of one blob of paint with another blob of paint.  It’s a satisfying thirty seconds of childish delight paint alchemy is achieved

A video posted by @paintmixes on

This mindless watching of colours mixing with one another, reminded me of Oksana Anilionyte’s work  For a few reasons (namely puking my way through the first trimester) I wasn’t able to attend many of this year’s graduate shows in London but some names have stuck with me.  Her Royal College of Art graduate collection this year was arresting even from a quick glance on social media.  The context of the show was also an interesting one.  With Zowie Broach (formerly of my early 20s obsession – the British label Boudicca – HURRAH FOR BOUDICCA!) succeeding Wendy Dagworthy in helming this course, a different approach was deployed for the 2016 fashion graduate show.  Eschewing the traditional runway format,  and with the choreography of Joe Moran, each graduate presented a “world” concentrated into one look instead.  Some graduates used dance or spoken word to accompany their ensemble.  Others like Anilionyte simply relied on the strength of their innovation found in their core raw materials.

I have to belatedly applaud Broach and the graduates for coming up with this re-energised way of seeing these collections.  Graduate collections are for the most part, dedicated to singular ideas and aren’t meant to be seen in a straight-to-commerce context so why apply that conventional runway format to such collections.  This was an opportunity for graduates to express their collections with an act or a gesture, that would have more impact than simply parading clothes up and down a catwalk.

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Anilionyte’s collection could be grasped from seeing that swirl of lilac merge with orange on the body.  This is no facile paint palette mixing though.  Anilionyte’s fascination with the transformative power of textiles, began when she worked on the “bioLogic” project with MIT Media Lab, where fashion and science came together to create bio-organic sportswear.  Now I have a strong vision on the way material innovation can change fashion and our relationship towards it,” she explained over email.  “I feel a huge responsibility to make a difference and work towards the future of fashion”

Her collection entitled ‘Fluid’Sense’ stemmed from looking at the way the body reacts to certain materials.  To create textiles that appear to be in an in-flux liquid state is certainly a domain that has yet to be explored.  Using polymer-based materials to create these fluid creations, relies on the body temperature and natural perspiration to form these malleable second skins.  Thus they’re almost like reflections of our mood, seeing as a raised body temperature can signal a range of emotions.  This was a material developed in the laboratory rather than an atelier, and paves yet another stone in the collaborative path of fashion and science.  In some of Anilionyte’s imagery, there’s the allusion to the stimulus of a flower dripping onto the body.  Even with these plastic man-made forms, there’s a strangely organic and nature-derived aesthetic.  As with any graduate starting point, what excites of course is what potentially could come out of these liquid textiles.  Will we one day be able to pour a substance onto our bodies that instantly forms a garment?  Whilst far-fetched for the moment, the visual effect of Anilionyte’s collection is undeniable, as one pastel shade mixes into another, resting at that half way stage of a marbled beauty.  It’s the part of those Instagram videos that I like the most before the paints reach their final destination. 

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Credits – Photography: Nhu Xuan Hua, Model: Alena Nurgaleeva, Stylist: Francesca pinna, Set Design: William Farr, Make Up Marie Bruce, Hair: Roger chO

We’re finally experiencing some semblance of a scorching summer in London.  Which means in my current child-carrying state, I’m approximately ten degrees hotter than everyone else.  On the tube, whilst I’m desperate to spread my legs wide and fan my nether regions with a giant palm frond, I’m refraining because of this little thing called modesty loitering in the back of my mind. 

childmeFavouring all things buttoned-up right from the get-go

Incidentally the word modesty has been making headlines, primarily instigated by the furore that has erupted in France over the regional banning of “ostentatiously religious dress” to avoid “trouble to public order”.  The wording in the original bylaw is not in reference to a Catholic nun’s habit or an Orthodox Jewish woman’s four piece swimsuit (who else think this is kind of chic?).  There goes the French principle of supposed laïcité (secularism).  It’s pointedly targeted at the burqini, created in 2004 by Aheda Zanetti to enable her niece to play netball.  In an opinion piece for the Guardian, she has responded to the bans vehemently.  You’ve taken a product that symbolised happiness and joyfulness and fitness, and turned it into a product of hatred.”

IMG_8241In We are Handsome in Yosemite

It’s an ideological battleground that has piqued my interest because pregnancy-induced sweaty spells aside, I’m personally an advocate of keeping public flesh exposure to the minimum.  Not because of religion.  Not because of a stern patriarchal overlord policing my attire.  Simply because of choice.  Ever since I could remember, I’ve been TeamSwimsuit vs. TeamBikini.  What began as a teenage embarrassment over what I perceived to be a soft rice pillow, non-worked out belly, eventually developed into a present day acceptance that I generally feel more comfortable and jollier in a garment that isn’t precariously held together with spaghetti straps.  Burqini critics have pointed out the practicality of a garment that physically makes you hot in the sun, and adds drag in the sea.  Speaking as someone who regularly dons, leggings and long sleeved swim tops on the beach, mental comfort easily overrides this argument.  FEELing comfortable often has nothing to do with body temperatures or physical coverage of the skin. 

usopensurfIn amongst the beach bods back in 2011 on Huntington Beach

Early Style Bubble readers might remember this one hilarious shot of me descending into California for the first time, clothed in not one but three layers, looking decidedly out of place at the US Open of Surf on Huntington Beach.  A few stares came my way from the bronzed young things in their tie- dye bikinis, denim cut-offs and body painted booty calls.  Sure,  I was a few degrees hotter but also felt free to wander without the feeling that eyes are prying into my prickly-heat-rashed skin.   

bigsurMinus the hood, this Lesia Paramonova printed leggings and bodysuit plus Nike x Sacai skirt could be an elaborate burqini ensemble

What I’m trying to say is that modesty, isn’t a concept purely restricted to a single religion, or sex for that matter.  And it’s not necessarily invoked by the need to subjugate to a male cleric either.  It’s a sunburn prone man feeling like he doesn’t want to end up lobster red, with a long sleeved tee over his swim trunks.  It’s women like my mother, who after her mastectomy, didn’t have the confidence to wear a regular swimsuit and actually investigated the option of buying a burqini (in the end on our Californian trip, she wore a long-sleeved swim top and a DIY swim suit, padded out on one side of the chest).  It’s people like me who can’t shake the feeling that a bikini immediately puts your body centre stage in an appearance-conscious world in a way that I’m personally not comfortable with.  This summer, a banned campaign demanding women to be “beach-ready” is just one example of the flip side to this coin, where women routinely face societal pressures to look a certain way, and the volume of fabric worn somehow determines whether you’re “beach-ready” in the eyes of others.  And it goes without saying that I have much love for the bikini in all its forms worn by others.  To each their own, that’s the question at hand here.  

palmspringsTried and tested vintage Vivienne Westwood swimsuit

That’s perhaps an internalised demon that points to my own body-related insecurities, but to witness the asserted removal of something as innocent as a long sleeved top, is to needlessly eliminate an alternative approach towards beach attire that mentally enables more women to enjoy the beach at their leisure.  It’s the loss of autonomy over what we wear that irks me. 

The counter argument goes that it’s rich to talk of autonomy where Islam women are concerned, given that modesty is foisted and forced upon them.  To that I would say that it is simply impossible to assume that EVERY woman that dons a burqini is wearing one under duress.  If anything, a ban pushes women previously unable to enjoy pools and the beach, back under the shade of a male-dominated umbrella.  By the same logic, you could question the bikini as a symbol of female oppression.   Can we 100% guarantee that every single woman wearing a bikini isn’t under some sort of pressure to do so to gain the material approval of their peers or the opposite sex.  Both are implausible assumptions to immediately deduce on first appearances. 

vantagenewsFrom VantageNews.com

The language employed by French politicians is also disconcerting.  The burkini has the same logic as the burqa: hide women’s bodies in order to control them, “ said Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for women’s rights.  “The burkina is not compatible with the values of the French republic,” says prime minister Manuel Valls.  “We don’t imprison women behind fabric,” says president hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy.  There’s a narrative emerging that to uphold Western, or specifically French notions of freedom is to place the female body on show – forcibly, in the case of the woman who was photographed on the beach removing her top (not a burqini) to prove she was wearing a swimsuit underneath.  That’s a dodgy line pursue once you peer into the wormhole of the murky world of female sexploitation. 

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By the French politicians’ black-and-white assertions, both my mother and I should be freeing our flesh, shaking off those fabric-based shackles.  But of course, down in Nice, Cannes or any number of those towns, no police officer would bother us.  I could well have purchased a burqini for my mum and she’d be free to bathe away, in her lycra-covered limbs.  And I too can wear my Marc by Marc Jacobs long sleeved swim top with a pair of Nike skirted leggings with a floppy sunhat.  Our ethnicity frees us from suspicions.  And so the garment in question is merely a smokescreen for latent Islamaphobia.  It’s not the actual fabric that is the problem, but the visual signals that a headscarf + long-sleeved garments and covered legs on a visibly Muslim person sends out to the casual onlooker.  We can’t prevent extremists from ploughing through promenades with trucks, but we can keep any visible signifiers of Islam out of the public eye, lest they provoke their ire in what is a tension-filled atmosphere.  The Conseil D’Etat has overturned the ban on Friday but Sarkozy and the rightwing like continue to campaign for a nationwide ban and no doubt as France’s presidential campaign picks up pace, it’s an issue that won’t die down just yet.  Funny how it’s fallen upon an innocuous seamed wetsuit – a garment that in itself is fit for purpose across all religions and ethnicities –  to hash out the weight of this political tumult. 

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