There are few instances at fashion shows, where you get to clasp your hand at your breast, audibly sigh and murmur noises of satisfaction without looking like a complete lunatic.  Thankfully at Valentino’s latest S/S 18 haute couture show, I wasn’t the only one.  To my right were a group of American clients, ready to splash their cash.  “I’ll take one of everything please,” said one.  I couldn’t tell whether she was being serious or not.  In any case, I was of course seething with jealousy.  Because of all the couture shows I’ve seen in recent memory, this was the one I could actually see myself wearing in the stark reality of day-to-day humdrum.  I’m off to pick up Nico’s formula… just need to shrug on my purple maxi ruffled wrap dress.  I’m going to go to the post office to collect my often-returned mail… in my parma violet taffeta ruffled skirt.  And I might just do trim the out-of-control wall creeper plant in a Philip Treacy ostrich plumed hat, feathers trailing in the N15 wind.  How did Pierpaolo Piccioli convince so many of us that these silhouettes suggesting a faded grandeur of mid-20th-century couture has its place in 2018?

In movement, the clothes floated past us.  Nothing felt heavy or overdecorated.  It was partially down to the fabric choices but mainly it was the brilliantly off-kilter colour palette, something Piccioli has been latched onto in his vision at Valentino.  Anytime a colour would appear to be too saccharine or saturated – deepest of violet, bright fuschia, mint green – a shot of gritty brown or olive green would appear.  Or you often had pastels colliding with bright.  You picked up on memories of seminal couture moments – Charles James’ gown photographed by Cecil Beaton, the fantastical palette of Roberto Capucci or vintage Valentino itself (all of which were pinned on Piccioli’s moodboard backstage.

There were the aerated volumes, so beautifully crafted.  Go big or go home, as often you’d look up and see the model’s face obscured by a high-necked gathering of fabric.  Whether it’s a ruffled collar, a leg o mutton sleeve, a bow on the back of gowns or up on the shoulder, the proportion was blown up to avoid looking prim or miserly.  Then there was the appearance of counterfoil pieces like a pair of brown slacks.  I’ve opted for that Americanised word because of the casual vibe slacks impart.  They brought the opening look of the amber silk faille opera cape firmly down to earth.  So too did the oversized double faced cashmere jumpers used to temper the ruffles and frou-frou.

But the thing that really sealed the deal and sky-rocketed the swoon factor, was when you learnt that each silhouette had been named after a seamstress working in the Rome-based ateliers of Valentino .  Backstage there was a wall of notes in envelope, each one written by a seamstress talking about what couture means to them.  How I wish I understood what they said.  Their names were also written on a board to form a Valentino “V” shape.  The relationship between Piccioli and his atelier staff is palpably heartfelt.  Mr Valentino was seen backstage embracing some of the women.  They’re not craftspeople merely tasked to cut and sew on brief.  They take immense pride in their work.  Piccioli reportedly dislikes the term “petites mains”.  I’m a guilty party in the fetishisation of these skilled hands.  This show perhaps taught me that when you can feel a beating heart in a collection, it’s because invariably there’s an impassioned group effort of people pouring soul into the seams.

It has been bubbling up to a boil in industry circles for a while now.  When will a Weinstein-gate equivalent for the fashion industry burst forward, implicating photography greats Bruce Weber and Mario Testino in allegations of sexual abuse on shoots towards male models.   It was in the pipeline for so long that at one point, Steve, (my partner who works at i-D) and I would ask each other casually at dinnertime, when this NY Times story was going to break, along with when the council tax bill was going to arrive.  It’s finally out there and the darker underbelly of this in-depth exposé is, I’m afraid to say, a discernible lack of surprise within the industry over what they’re reading.  More robes, more hotel rooms, more awkward and harrowing exchanges.  And what?

The story broke earlier today and Condé Nast responded with a pre-prepped release of their editorial Code of Conduct to defend the tidal waves of a would-be backlash.  Except maybe not.  A quick search on Twitter and the response is thus far, no where near as incensed or inflamed as when the Weinstein story broke.  The consensus on my WhatsApp group convos with friends in the industry is a “Meh” or an apologetic defence of the accused (the allegations against Weber and Testino have been fiercely denied).

But let’s not kid ourselves.  We – and I use a collective “we” here – may not have known the particulars and specifics of how Weber or Testino supposedly treated their photographic subjects but the rumours and gossip of this sort of behaviour does the rounds regularly, and often gets treated with a lack of gravity.  And despite the persistent (and consistent) accusations against Terry Richardson and the combative voices of industry greats like Caryn Franklin and the outpourings of abused models, spurred by Cameron Russell, the attitude towards sexual abuse in fashion hasn’t engulfed the industry in the same way that Weinstein and his merry band of bathrobed men has in Hollywood.  Yet like Hollywood’s casting couch culture, there are too many that are involved in the complicity of guilty parties, tied to a career ladder power struggle, where people lower down on the fashion food chain are pressurised into keeping it all hush-hush, lest they lose a gig in a highly competitive environment.

Mario Testino’s ad campaign for Gucci S/S 2003 under the direction of Tom Ford

There is a machination of keeping the status quo that goes deeper than what’s in the story.  The “sex sells” operating benchmark is so ingrained within fashion that it ties itself into all kinds of knots with the general modus operandi of the industry.  For want of a better word, it pays to be “on” in this business.  By “on”, I mean out there, on the scene, having a jolly.  Can you down a bottle of champagne at a party and still have the ability to make it to a 6am shoot call-time the next day or a 9am show at fashion week, looking nonchalantly fabulous?  As I have spent the year making a half-assed return to life B.B. (before baby), I’ve felt that pressure to switch back “on”.  Going out, getting shit faced, filing copy early next morning and taking a Nurofen/Berocca cocktail at an early show as proof.  Of course, I’m a consenting adult in these decisions.  As ridiculous as it sounds, being “on” subtly gives people the impression that you’re free spirited and most importantly, FUN!  And fun along with sex, are important cogs in fashion.   They’re the aspects that the fashion world has sold through imagery and branding in the last century to fuel this multi-billion dollar industry.

To be clear, I’m obviously not conflating going hard on the champers and partying hard at Le Bain with the sort of abuse that is being alleged in this report, but I do think it can be difficult to compartmentalise and separate the blurred lines that occur on a “fun” shoot littered with drinks and recreational drugs, producing images that reflect far-fetched fantasies, that then leads on to the specific point where someone is having their penis touched against their will.  There’s a vague link somewhere along that very VERY broad spectrum of what’s considered to be “a bit of fun”, all in the name of “fashion”.  Somewhere along that creative process of image creation, subjects will find it difficult to differentiate between what’s above board bordering on the unorthodox and what is clearly past the acceptable line.  When David Hemmings’ fashion photographer character (inspired by David Bailey and the like) commands the model Verushka to “Give it up!” and “Make it come!” in a shoot in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, we chortle at the supposed stereotype.  But if you were realistically in Verushka’s position, feeling scared and a pressure to be “on” and go along with the wishes of a powerful person who can make or break your career, is it really a laughing matter?

We laud and consume provocative subject matter that have become standard fashion fodder – bared breasts under a submerged wet gown, performing fellatio on a handbag or a shoe, accessories artfully placed on genitalia –  but mostly ignore what may or may not have gone on behind the scenes in the making of these images.    There’s almost a so-what shoulder shrug tone in Tom Ford’s comments in the NY Times article: “We sell sex” he says, and in defence of Testino, purportedly locking a male model inside a hotel room on a shoot and climbing on top of him, he says there are only a few ways you can get the right shot of a model’s face on a bed.  Well DUH!  That’s FASH-UN!

So, should we just shrug, accept this “sex sells” standard, and carry on as before?  There will be murmurings for sure, coursing through the industry that mirror Catherine Deneuve’s open letter defence of flirtation and sexual advances in Le Monde – those that decry a “puritanism” washing over our woke-on-the-surface industry.  This NY Times story may not be a watershed moment.  We may not even raise our eyebrows enough to try and out other offenders (suffice to say, Weber and Testino AREN’T exceptions).  And of course, it’s not a case of erasing a culture that has given us so many potent moments of creative artistry in fashion and provocateurs, whose images aren’t tainted with wrongdoing.  Guy Bourdin.  Helmut Newton.  Corrine Day.  You could go on…

Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein

Just as the film industry needs a significant amount of time to enact real concerted change, so too does the fashion world.   Change also depends on legions of editors, photographers, stylists, designers and those in charge of brand image and marketing collectively changing attitudes that don’t treat these sorts of allegations and rumours as light fodder.  The question is, is it the sort of change that might be asking too much of an industry predicated on provocation and boundary pushing?  Isn’t it all too seductive, deliciously decadent and yes, just a bit of fun?  Furthermore, it’s still difficult to untie all those knots of a hierarchical industry, where getting ahead is ranked ahead of acknowledgement of any possibility of foul play.  And even if the industry adopts Condé Nast’s Code of Conduct as standard working practise, how will it realistically be enforced in a transparent manner?  Are all parties involved willing enough to play by the rules and whistle blow where necessary?  It’s been less than a day and these are just some thoughts that have been percolating in a mind reacting to a story that was sadly so inevitable, it became part of day-to-day chitter chatter in our house.

N.B. I know the blog has been so dormant, it’s hard to remember the last time I even posted.  I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to take my mind off mopping up baby vom/phlegm/food to sit down and properly write.  But…in other news, I’m relaunching/redesigning the blog so that I don’t just pop up once in a blue blue moon to bang out 1,000 words.  New year, new me, new yadda yadda… I’m just sorry I had to begin 2018 with thoughts as muddied and murky as these.

You’re either are the type of person who is into customising or someone who just wants everything handed to them readily designed.  If you fall into the first category, then the options can sometimes feel limited, particularly for leather goods.  An initial here.  A monogram there.   Stamped on a hand tag or one pre-designated area of a bag or wallet.

Coach’s customisation service began with that standard monogramming service, albeit with an ultra extensive range of emoji motifs (my current very useful card case holder bears a silver unicorn courtesy of Coach).  Then when their New York and London flagship stores opened, a far more complex Made to Order service was introduced for the Rogue bag with over one million possible combinations – a serious customisation affair, aimed at fanatical bag connoisseurs who like to feel up leather swatches and obsess over bag linings.

Now the Coach House craftsmanship bar has begun to offer a more free-handed type of customisation in the form of Coach Create.  With an arsenal of Tea Rose leather appliques, metal souvenir pins and rivets that have featured in Stuart Vevers’ recent collections for Coach, you can basically create your own ornamentation design, using Coach’s Dinky, Saddle or Clutch bag in a myriad of colours as your canvas.

Even the usually swiftly decisive me (shop assistants love to raise their eyebrows at my ten minute shopping strategy of marching straight to rail, choosing something and then hotfooting it to the till without trying it on) was slightly flummoxed by all of these elements at my creative disposal.  Or it could well be that I’m just not very visually creative at all.  My Coach craftsman for the day Alex, who heads up the London flagship’s Customisation Bar, was telling me that people had been coming in creating constellation designs out of rivets and the like.

Oh!  I know!  How’s about a Clown Face on a cornflower blue Saddle bag?  Yes!  That’s my creative genius unleashed.  Not.  I basically honed in on the charming metal pins and thought, SMILEY FACE!  Clever, right?  In all seriousness, my juvenile example of Coach Create’s customisation options isn’t at all representative of the cool possibilities that the service offers, combined with the experience of seeing it all expertly hammered, sealed and delivered with a monogrammed smile.  And on strategic level, spending an hour or two in Coach’s store of course prolongs the shopping “experience” – the all-important word that has come to define a generation that isn’t satisfied with something purely material.  Anyway, I digress.  You go Create.  Make wise choices.

Coach Create now available at Coach House, 206 Regent St, Soho, London W1B 5BN

This post is part of an ongoing partnership with Coach

Fashion month has been and gone and I have plenty to say on the collections (skip to end if you want an explanation on the scant blogging) but first up, a time-sensitive call to go and discover, admire and enthuse in a gathering of fashion talent that is collectively standing for SOMETHING other than just more “stuff”.

Sarah Mower needs no introduction as an inimitable fashion writer as well but her work as a tireless champion of young fashion designers, and particularly for British talent is something that perhaps goes unnoticed in the public sphere.  Her nurturing of talent through one-to-one mentoring, studio visits and business and media introductions in addition to her work as a journalist has seen countless designers rise through the ranks to LFW’s headlining fashion fore.

Through Instagram though, Mower has found a new outlet for her passion for talent-spotting. Her hashtag #SarahsList was born out of a positive fightback against the post-Trump, post-Brexit political climate.  At a time when you might think creativity could be stifled or impeded, Mower’s discoveries demonstrate a young fashion designer landscape that has all the motivation to find alternative ways of doing things.  “I got really down about the political situation and so I thought, what could I do.  Perhaps the one thing I can personally do is to shine a light on fashion talent that are being threatened by Brexit and by Trump and to hopefully get them hired and commissioned by bigger companies.”  To captivate her audience, the accompanying captions for her #SarahsList discoveries on Instagram are lengthy, opinionated and tell a compelling story.

So much so that they caught the attention of Liberty, who then offered to make #SarahsList a shoppable reality, bringing the wares of these fashion fledglings to the 1st floor of the department store.  They’re names that I incidentally have a lot of love for too and ones that I’ve either written about myself or look forward to discovering more of.  And so in a challenging retail environment, where stores aren’t necessarily going all out to take risks and where budgets for young designers have seen shrinkages, Liberty continues its founder’s tradition of seeking out the idiosyncratic and the beautiful to present a new generation of arts and craftivists in fashion.

Looking beyond the immediate razz-ma-tazz the pieces for sale and cannily, Mower has chosen a group of designers that represent not just a an exuberant and celebratory aesthetic but something conscious (without the weight of labelling oneself as “sustainable”), something that contributes in their own little ways a ray of positivity in and industry dogged by cynical ambitions.  Richard Quinn made his LFW debut in the central atrium of Liberty with a continuation of his magnified floral prints blown up to smother the body and so appropriately a collation of special pieces are available as part of the #SarahsList pop-up.  In addition to running his label, Quinn has also just opened his RQ open-access print studio in Peckham that has already become a valuable resource for students and young designers looking to get garments printed.  It’s an ambitious venture to run on top of his own label and I’ll hopefully be checking it out soon to see the print studio at work first hand.  Craft is also apparent in the work of the Georgian jewellery designer Sopho Gongliashvili – the one non-London exception to this group who uses traditional Georgian artisans to create beautiful enamelled accessories.

Kitty Garrett at #SarahsList

Sopho Gongliashvili at #SarahsList

Marta Jakubowski at #SarahsList

Designers such as the young American Conner Ives, who is still studying for his BA at Central Saint Martins makes his retail debut with a collection of special edition shirts made up of vintage scarves and donated Liberty fabrics.. Similarly newly graduated Kitty Garratt, also from Central Saint Martins, took second hand shoes (peer into the painted shoes and you’ll find high street relics like Faith!) and painted them with Charleston-esque freehand brushstrokes.. Upcyling is nothing new of course but in the hands of Ives and Garratt, the proposition is less about a pragmatic approach towards tackling waste but more of a celebratory repurposing of the old.

#SarahsList also hosts designers that have consciousness of sourcing.  Look at Richard Malone’s beautiful AW17-8 collection that features naturally dyed fabrics woven by a community-supporting organization of women weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India, with the proceeds earned enabling their children to go to school.  Malone’s work doesn’t need that explanatory tag to entice the eye though.  Likewise, there’s an honesty in Sam McCoach’s Le Kilt, which I’ve long been a fan of, with her collection of kilts and knitwear made by small family-run enterprises in the UK.  Fellow N15 resident, Marta Jakubowski also gets the Mower seal of approval with her leftfield approach towards deconstructed tailoring and clubwear-inspired formalwear.

Richard Malone at #SarahsList

All this bigging up of young designers though made me think of a conversation strand brought up at a panel I was a part of recently, chaired by Jefferson Hack as part of Dazed and Huawei’s Secret Lectures.  Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Granary 1 talked about the responsibility we had as media professionals, who actively promote young talent.  In an increasingly difficult fashion system that can be unforgiving for young fashion designers, how do we balance promoting and writing about their work, whilst being mindful of the precariousness of operating as a start-up business.  To that, Mower has the final say that few could argue with and also gives indication on how #SarahsList could possibly spur the fashion system in new directions.

“Does everything have to be large-scale, and everywhere to be valid? I think the opposite values – small-scale, hand-made, consciously produced and NOT everywhere are exactly the ones which people are instinctively drawn to now.  The system at large is dysfunctional, as is widely admitted. I agree it is irresponsible to stand by and wave on more and more people to face exactly the same problems – and the education system is a fault too, in not arming their students with the facts.  The people I mentally put on #SarahsList are the ones I see who have the seeds of new ways of doing things. I think they have a hell of a lot to teach the corporate world – not the other way around. That’s why I have this vision that#SarahsList could become a vehicle for discussing and magnifying the strengths which are already there – and for spreading information and exchanges which are both idealistic and concrete.”

Word.  Preach.  Hurrah.

#SarahsList on the 1st floor of Liberty in London for the forthcoming month

Obviously I couldn’t help but get in on the #SarahsList action…

Richard Quinn “toe” velvet socks from #SarahsList worn with old Jil Sander shirt and H&M’s Design Award Richard Quinn dress (the collection launched last week and pleasingly sold out immediately!)

Conner Ives shirt from #SarahsList worn with Ambush jeans and Nike trainers

On a side note, I too have to spur myself on in an announcement about the blog…

I realise blogging frequency has slowed to a trickle here because I’m in the process of a relaunch (she says with a booming voice).  Actually that word sounds too offish.  It’s more of a rejig – one which means I’ll hopefully still be rambling on about fash-un in that long super-forever-scrollin’ way I favour.  I’m loathe hauling Nico out as an excuse but if truth be told, juggling baby, with jobs that pay the bills and writing for the luff luff luff of it here has been nigh on impossible.  There’s light in sight though.  Nico will be starting nursery soon.  That’s precisely thirty hours extra in the week not spent Dettol wiping after Nico.  Here’s hoping they will be spent productively.