How convenient that Steven Tai‘s latest collection managed to segue into my week of what I like to call “post holiday comedown couchdown”. Meaning you wistfully look outside your window thinking about palm trees and blue skies whilst unable to peel yourself off the couch to venture outside into a world that doesn’t contain said things. My comedown couchdown time has included a rewatch of both seasons of Silicon Valley, the less amusing but plentiful Big Bang Theory and a revisit of the film x & y – a well observed depiction of British mathletes. Tai has always had an affinity with geeks, nerds and painfully shy folk – perhaps bordering on the realm of Asperger’s or autism (as those aforementioned series and films do). You’re unlikely to see any flesh-baring or bravada-showing from him, which is why autumn winter suits him so. For A/W 15-6 he has articulated his girl, who has graduated from being awkward in the school library to being awkward in a new office environment. Maybe a temp job of some sorts whilst she figures out what she wants to do with life.

In four short scenarios directed by Saty + Pratha, accompanied by a photoshoot, Tai’s layered and stiffened skirts and deliberately tricksy volumes envelope “Sarah” (slash Veronica or Sasha), who works in digital resources. It was an age ago, but there’s definitely a ‘Been there, done that’ flashback to my time at various office temp stints. Then again, who needs to say “Hi! I’m Susie!” in a chipper voice when you can announce yourself in layers of pastel bonded fabrics, grid like patterns and the ultimate emblem of 21st century online expression – a cute kitty cat. Tai was inspired by artists’ messy work spaces and paint splattered haphazardness, hence why his silhouettes are layered up with folds and crumples. Lined with gold satin and overlocked in gold thread, there’s also a touch of secretive luxury to this new collection. Tai, despite having never shown properly at London Fashion Week is making headway with his otaku/geek aesthetic and come September, he’ll be creating his first themed presentation that should bring his technically innovative fabrics to life.

Now don’t say I don’t treat you guys good, imbuing you with that happy Friday/weekend feeling with these mad awks vids courtesy of Tai and his forever nerd stance.vids courtesy of Tai and his forever nerd stance. Long live comedown couchdown.

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“There’s something about being in LA where you stay naive to a lot of things and that works for us.”  And thus, Kimberly Wu, one half of sister duo behind accessories label Building Block, sums up the beauty of being based in Los Angeles.  It isn’t a city steeped and saturated in fashion and yet that’s precisely why it emanates its own style.  And so when you climb up the stairs into Building Block’s studio and showroom just east of Chinatown, you feel this space, its contents and of course the designers, couldn’t really exist anywhere else.  Nancy and Kimberly Wu started their brand on the side of their day jobs back in 2011 when they were still designing apparel for Nike and cars for Honda respectively.  What started as a Skype-fuelled hobby then segued into a handful of stockists and perhaps one of the few accessories labels that chooses to base themselves in LA.

In this light-filled, aerated, white-out space that was once owned by Pacific Railroad Company as well as being the centre of the LA feminist movement in the 60s-70s, Building Block’s bags are placed and hung in an idealistic setting.  One that Nancy and Kimberly share with kindred creatives furniture designer Shin Okuda and Kristin Dickson-Okuda, who operate the concept store Iko Iko.  Building Block’s bags sit well with Okuda’s curvaceous geometric furniture line Waka Waka and Kristin’s similarly considered clothing line Rowena Sartin.  It’s hard not to throw out the usual descriptives – minimal, simple, pared back – as well as lumping Building Block with the supposed anti-IT bag movement.  But what strikes you about Building Block’s bags, as they intersect with their surroundings, is their unconventional take on form.  They don’t want to be boxed into the usual tote/hobo/clutch categorisations.  “We wanted to challenge ourselves by making something very simple but still interesting,” said Nancy.  “We’re into pursuing different shapes and treating bags like objects.”  When you encounter a half-cylindrical shape atop of a canvas rucksack or an unusually oversized wooden toggle on a drawstring bucket bag, their play on proportions makes their bags more intriguing on the eye than the jingle jangle of hardware, fancy skins or wild colour palette.  Their signature giant tassels are another emblem of Building Block’s strikingly singular design concept – something that looks bold without being in yer’ face.    

Being ensconced in this space where they can host pop-up exhibitions and temporary book stores allows Nancy and Kimberly a level of freedom that means they don’t have to combat the relentless fashion cycle or the hub hub of being in the thick of the industry.  And yet they do operate within the loose parameters of seasons whilst constantly refining their language.  “We’re finding a balance between the fast pace of fashion and that methodology of creating something that has longevity,” said Nancy.  As their name denotes, there’s a sense of play integrated into what they do, as they explore different forms as well as functionality but also different lines too as they recently delved into footwear (“It’s just something we were playing around with.”) and might do the same with millinery.  The blocks keep multiplying but at a pace that suits Nancy and Kimberly.  There’s the breathing space to do so here.

0E5A9387Building Block and Iko Iko’s shared space

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0E5A9216Kristin Dickson-Okuda’s clothing line Rowena Sartin

0E5A9266The feminists in the 60s-70s who scrawled their names on the concrete inside the safe of the warehouse

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This post Cali-funk ends today.  As haute couture in Paris quickly segued into my holiday, I’ve lagged behind a bit on thoughts on the remainder of the week.  I wanted to revisit John Galliano’s second show Artisanal show for Maison Margiela in particular for its all-angles, all-encompassing eclecticism.  Experimental, expressive and even non-sensical in some places, it was certainly a contrasting side to the couture coin, where a designer quite literally dons a white lab coat and the atelier becomes a laboratory.  Even the haphazard painted masks and metallic flecks around the eyes of the models suggested a delicious sort of exploration.  In essence, Galliano is approaching the Artisanal collections with the enthusiastic appetite of a fashion student.  Not one that is learning his/her craft.  Galliano has that down pat.  What I mean is that there’s a youthful exuberance in the way that Galliano is dissecting and reconstructing Margiela tropes.  The collection doesn’t run “on theme”.  Nor does it claim to appear obvious and revealing.  In this way, Galliano taps into a facet of haute couture that we, the spectator might nod immediately “get” – there are meant to be secrets embedded into haute couture that’s intended for the wearer, and the wearer only.  And so here silhouettes and shapes are still hidden by drapes, folds and secondary garments like coat jackets hanging off the back of slip dresses or asymmetric kimonos exploding with sashes of fabric.  Sleeves, cuffs and pockets are misplaced deceptively.  A blush pink neoprene opera coat arches into wing like sleeves and picked out by a cobalt blue boxy obi at the back. 

Territories and eras are misplaced too.  French needlepoint embroidery sits next to painted brown hessian sacks.  There’s equality to be found in green lurex cocooning a figure and lavish kimono silks and white polythene and construction mesh used to make the finale bridal gowns.  The decorative becomes distressed.  The austere is secretly adorned.  The masculine is bashed over with a vanity mirror.  The polite is invaded by a rampant leaf motif.  Chunky knits are twisted with gold.  Just as Galliano is flipping the coin on couture, so it is that he’s exposing contradicting facets to what is supposedly luxurious.  What’s the product of rambunctious energy?  Something a bit random and a bit bricolaged as opposed to being masterminded and strategised but above all, also something that feels like a genuine creative expression.

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i know next to nothing about vintage denim.  I also know next to nothing about vintage t-shirts.  I do however love rabid obsessions and Americana vintage as seen at Lot Stock and Barrel garners the sort of feverish geekery that is somehow quite pleasing, in a world where detail and minutiae are being glossed over.  Originally in the Downtown area, LS&B have now moved to a bigger space in the Arts District around from my favourite shop Poketo, making it a welcome addition to this pocket of LA.

The first impression when you step into Florence Tang and Ben Phillips’ store is one of familiarity.  We’ve been hoodwinked with dime-a-dozen identikit Americana vintage stores, which have also been adopted by high street brands in their visual merchandising (American Eagle, Pull & Bear, Jack Wills etc etc).  But have a few words with Ben, the co-founder of LS&B and you know you’re speaking to someone, who is seriously passionate about what they’re selling.  Scouring all over America, they’ve been able to curate (yes, I’ll rightfully use that dreaded word in this instance) garment stories, inspired by certain epochs or movements that inspire them be it creatives living in Topanga Canyon in the 1960s or Edward Abbey’s treatise on preserving our natural surroundings.  Their website certainly shows a level of depth and detail that shows that they’re willing to go far beyond the mere surface of Americana.

Authenticity is a huge part of that too.  And central to the store is a an old Singer machine – one that operates with a hand crank and foot pedal, running up single needle chain stitch embroidery that you would have seen in Western wear of the past like Nudie.  Since embroidery computerisation in the 1960s, these manually operated machines have largely fallen out of fashion but as Ben very kindly showed me, punching the outline through a paper template and filling it in with a circular motion gives this type of embroidery a type of texture that like LS&B’s store concept, has real depth.  Ben learnt his trade with a group of veterans that are carrying on this tradition.  Tommy D, Tul Jutargate and Ed Hernandez are known as the The Chain Gang, and from their East LA base, they’ve been servicing the car and bike club circles with their custom embroidery and chenille patches for years.  It’s not a public service but rather an insider’s gang, who operate much like tattoo artists, embroidering their dynamic designs on club jackets only for those in the car/bike circles.  Being a biker himself, Ben has been apprenticing with The Chain Gang and invited them to set up a residence at the store, running up custom designs or pre-chosen patches such as Lot Stock & Barrel’s logo and in-house mascot “Elsby”.  I love the idea of a trio of tough bikers hammering out embroidery on an old Singer.  it’s a dichotomous image that shows a level of respect for a craft that has been handed down through wartime souvenir jackets to letterman and varsity jackets to greaser sub cultures.  It’s about showing the true mark of belonging to a gang or club and so LS&B offers that same mark of authenticity to your chosen shirt, jacket or denim garment.    

Denim and tee’s aren’t necessarily my thing and we stumbled in by accident, jaded by generic vintage commodification but instead we were met by truly geeky passion.  I left a week later with *oh no she didn’t* a pair of denim cut-off shorts embroidered with Mexican-inspired flowers.  It was the Singer stitching that did it…

Lot Stock & Barrel at  801 1/2 Traction Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90013, Open Tuesday – Sunday; 12-7 pm

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A brilliant little documentary LS&B produced dedicated to The Chain Gang:

Their 2015 lookbook:

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