I’ve emerged from the newborn hell and fash-un is calling.  In between the thankfully reduced night feeds, I’ve been dreaming that I was having imaginary conversation about Edward Enninful’s new era at British Vogue or how insane/funny the queues are going to be for Supreme’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton.  Not a lie.  I did indeed wake up one morning thinking I had had a chummy frow-worthy chortle, and was then brought back down to earth by the rhythmic beat of Ewan the sheep and the milky scent of leaking boobs.

And so I’ve decided to throw myself into the deep end of the cruise show diving pool.  I’m doing all of ‘em.  As in all the biggie houses that take you around the world, serving up experiences as well as clothes so that whatever far flung location seeps into your brain.  The freezer is full of blocks of my boob juice.  The other half has been schooled on the art of Milton cold water sterilisation.  Timer alerts have been set for FaceTime sessions with Nico and five minute bouts of breast pumping.

To start the cruise journey off, there was an easy one-day jaunt to Paris on Wednesday for Chanel’s cruise 2018 show.  Chanel may have been one of the first houses to pioneer the extravagant travelling cruise show but such is their might, that the move to bring it all back to home turf in Paris, following their Metiers D’arts show at the Ritz, was a compelling  one.  Especially as we entered the Grand Palais under the angsty pre-election vibes of a drizzly Paris and found ourselves bathed in the warming hues of terracotta stuccoed walls and the ombre light of a sun setting over the Aegean.  The scent of real olive trees planted in amongst the meticulously crafted Doric column ruins was authentic enough, as was the wafts of burning charcoal roasting sticks of gyros at the after show cocktail (was I the only one who found it really great that we ate meat on a stick at a Chanel party?).  We didn’t physically go to Greece but in ambiance and mood it came to us.

And it doesn’t take a plane journey to make sense of the clothes in a collection Karl Lagerfeld called “The Antiquity of Modernity.”   This was perhaps one of Chanel’s most straightforward, easy-to-decipher collections of late.  You couldn’t possibly apply the phrase ‘It’s all Greek to me’ in this instance.  Because the collection was the opposite of unintelligible, which isn’t to say that the clothes are simple.  “Reality is of no interest to me. I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”  That was the bold assertion from Lagerfeld in the press notes and indeed it’s not quite the reality of the country today, marred by economic woes.  Instead, it’s the mythical Greece of not just Lagerfeld’s imagining but a collective one.  This Grecian jaunt ran the gamut from Madame Grés-esque pleated and draped gowns, to amped up Halston vibes in caped printed chiffon dresses and then to modern day chiton mini robes for those Insta-friendly holidays in Santorini and Mykonos.  Gabrielle Chanel provided the starting point with her costumes for Jean Cocteau’s 1922 staging of Antigone and her marble Venus statue that still sits in her Rue Cambon apartment.  From there, it was every tried-and-tested Grecian-inspired dress trope for Lagerfeld’s taking.  Chanel’s tweeds were roughed up and frayed for rugged coastal climates.  Knife-cut pleats were moulded into amphora-shaped dresses, tightened in with embellished corsets.  The King Midas touch of gold was scattered all over a recurring laurel leaf print motif, an owl of Athena on a double CC purse and the gentle jingle of hammered coin embroidery.  For the lover of a memorable kitsch Chanel shoe, gladiator sandals come with ionic column heels.

The familiarity of it all works in the context of a cruise collection.  Type in beachwear into MatchesFashion.com and ye shall find the holiday friendly fashion category, burgeoning and bursting as a sector in its own right.  The monied and jetsetting community of the world who can afford to look to Chanel for their poolside and yacht-sunning needs will find that these toga-lite silhouettes and sun-friendly shades of terracotta, midnight blue and white fit that functional bill.  And for something more fanciful that mirrored Michel Gaubert’s 21st century Greek soundtrack consisting of Aphrodite’s Child and Iannis Xenakis?  How about those black ankle Daria-esque boots with criss-cross straps?  Or a transparent swiss dot-decorated kimono in thin plastic.  Or a crackled marble waist cinching corset rendered in sequins.  In the end it was proof again that Kaiser Karl could apply just about place Chanel codes amidst any era, civilisation or universe.

I’ve written about many a collaboration over the years with the all-important “x” becoming indicative of a cross-field, cross-price-bracket, cross-genre way of working that noughties fashion has thrown up.  We’ve come to expect (dare we say tire?) collabs of the high street-high end nature as well as ones where fashion intersects with art, film or music.  Peer to peer designer collaborations though are fewer and far between.  A tie-up between a behemoth brand and a young-ish independent designer is even more unexpected.  And so the collaboration between Coach and Rodarte is a pleasantly curious one.  From a conversation surrounding the logistics of both parties showing on the same day during New York Fashion Week, a friendship was struck up between Stuart Vevers and Kate and Laura Mulleavy.  Which by itself wouldn’t lead you to believe that a collaboration was on the cards but after a few fluid meetings at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, a Coach & Rodarte capsule collection came to fruition.  Vevers has been sending the Coach gang on a never ending American road trip since he came to the American leather goods house and naturally the Mulleavys’ West Coast location would make a prominent pit stop.

At first glance, the collaboration might seem like an unlikely one but upon further inspection, it’s really the coming together of two designers obsessed with a hazily lensed and imagined vision of America, often filtered through cinematic references.  The Mulleavy sisters took Vevers under their nuanced Californian wing and in turn, Vevers unlocked Coach’s leather goods expertise for them to produce a collection of bags (a first for the sisters), leather garments and more accessible tees and sweatshirts.   Rodarte’s dreamer aesthetic plays out across a heavy dose of dusky pink, pearly daisies and metallic leather pailette applique, that has been applied to Coach’s down to earth glove tanned universe.  There’s also a cheeky nod to their previous dabblings in “Radarte” slogan tees, with the resurrection of 1970s Coach slogan ‘This is A Coach bag’, paired with intarsia renderings of the advertising imagery.

All in all, it’s an equal footed exchange of both like-minded inspiration as well as rare show of a helping hand from a corporate giant to an independent entity.  Moreover, it’s a capsule collection that doesn’t dumb down Rodarte’s aesthetic, nor does it compromise the language of Coach – and thus makes for a successful mash-up between the two American houses, despite the gulf in size.

Coach & Rodarte collection available online, in Coach stores and at Selfridges until the 14th May

Coach x Rodarte courier bag and crewneck with archive intarsia

Coach x Rodarte courier crossbody bag and crewneck with archive intarsia 

Coach x Rodarte tote with archive print and t-shirt with archive print

Coach x Rodarte turnlock wristlet

I’ve generally always prescribed to the adage “All dressed up with nowhere to go”.  Post Nico though, that phrase has become a “fun” game of sorts.  I say fun of course, taken with a huge pinch of Epsom salt, given the limitations of what one can do with a two month old baby in tow.  But when you snatch one or two hours from the day, whilst tethered to the house for fear of carting a screaming baby around town, putting together elaborate outfits at home is sadly about as good as it gets.

All of this fanciful dress-up that’s been confined to the home happens to fall in line with both current season Prada’s marabou frou frou fancies and Miu Miu’s well-tred territory of retro geometrics.  Miuccia Prada has long held fascinations with bygone notions of femininity, reflecting, reproducing and subverting them in a myriad of ways.  For S/S 17, Prada was quite literally dusted down with the help of a 1950s Stepford homemaker’s feather duster.  For Miu Miu, Miuccia imagined frolicking around on a beach in simpler and more innocent times.  So it stands to reason that my homebound state should be accompanied by the most ornate of idealised haus frau attire.  From these collections, specifically a Prada peach feathered geometric wrap skirt and a Miu Miu jacket rendered in a print fit for a mid-century chaise lounge become integral puzzle pieces to this love-in with retro-tinted domesticity.  Abigail’s Party esque entertaining, ridiculously over trimmed peignoirs and negligees (those very words invite cynical chortles) and Western-lensed chinoiserie best expressed in Vladimir Tretchikoff’s kitschy The Green Lady painting all come to mind.  These are the sort of clothes that are made for lounging artfully at home amidst pieces of Danish furniture and strategically placed plants. 

Alas, I’m only make-believing such antics in my N15 hovel.  You can’t see the brushed aside piles of Pampers 2, Water Wipes and milk-drenched muslin cloths.  Brow-raising feminists out there will be glad to know that this temporary fascination with  airbrushed visions of housewives of that mid-century era is fortunately only an aesthetic one.  I am slowly easing myself back into the land of the working, having snuck in a business Skype call and a casual writing deadline here and there.  Still, if I can’t get to ze fashions, ze fashions will come to me.  Even if they’re destined for breast milk stains and poop smears.

(Top: Vogue Mar 1969 photographed by David Bailey, Bottom: Vogue Jan 1968 photographed by Gianni Penati)

(Top: Vogue 1953 photographed by John Rawlings, Bottom L: Vogue Dec 1966 photographed by Henry Clarke, Bottom R: Twiggy in YSL tunic pyjamas)

Prada SS 17 skirt worn with vintage peach bed jacket from Fat Faced Cat, vintage quilted housecoat, Ayame tights and Prada SS17 flower sandals

Vogue Patterns 1967

Oriental Fashions 1960 photographed by Stan Wayman

Miu Miu SS17 geometric jacket worn with Jenny Fax smocked top and matching flares, Miu Miu slippers

Miu Miu SS17 geometric jacket worn with Miu Miu knit floral top, Jenny Fax smocked flares, Malone Souliers slippers and Prada plex ribbon bag

Raquel Welch in Geoffrey Beene’s ostrich-trimmed pyjamas Vogue Mar 1967

The first bit of physical fashion I’ve seen since emerging from my postpartum haze wasn’t even on a human being.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d even categorise it as fashion.  Jonathan Anderson has taken me to some unexpected non-obvious venues.  Places where art and design live and breathe and when his clothes are presented in those contexts, they feel believable.  One time, it was the The Millinery Works, a wonderful arts and craft furniture dealer in London, for a Loewe dinner celebrating a collaboration with the textile artist John Allen.  Another time, it was up to Cambridge for a J.W. Anderson resort presentation at Kettle’s Yard, where former Tate curator Jim Ede’s 20th century collection was a backdrop for the zany mix of metallic knee-high boots and polka dotty frills.  With a very very kind offer to take Nico in tow with us, Steve and I journeyed up to Wakefield last weekend to the opening of Disobedient Bodies, an exhibition curated by Anderson at the Hepworth Gallery, the first of its kind as the gallery invites creatives from outside of the art world to come and present their perspective on the gallery’s modern British art collection.

Anderson’s starting point was that problematic quandary of “Is fashion art?”, a question that he admits was something that irked him.  Then two years ago, invited by the Hepworth to come and curate its collection, and embarking on a collaborative process of selecting pieces to converse with one another, Anderson became a convert to the idea of fashion sitting alongside art, sculpture and design on an equal and almost indistinguishable footing.  The result is Disobedient Bodies, gathering together over a hundred pieces by artists, sculptors, choreographers, furniture designers, fashion creators and even ceramicists, who have all looked at the body in a rebellious manner.  In most instances, the body is absent, altered or abstracted in some way and together it’s an extraordinary assembly of aesthetics.

Henry Moore’s wooden sculpture, the “Reclining Figure” from 1936 marks the beginning of this fluid and unconventional exhibition, where a Madame Grès pleated dress is draped haphazardly on an Eileen Gray Transat chair.  Or where a Christian Dior haute couture dress from A/W 1952 with architectured jutting out and undulating hips stands like a totem next to Jean Arp’s S’élevant (Rising Up) sculpture or indeed, Barbara Hepworth’s white marble Totem, both conceived in 1962.  One of the central anchor pieces of the exhibition sees a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress pulled tautly over a specially made mannequin body where the conical breasts are exaggerated to mimic Moore’s curvaceous figure.

“Can Helmut Lang be seen as powerful as Louise Bourgeois or a Giacometti?” was another hypothetical question that Anderson posed and so Lang’s iconic harnesses and holsters hang behind the spindly Standing Woman by Alberto Giacometti.  Aesthetic similarities are drawn in a deliberate bold fashion as the flat steel planes of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 are paired with the felt brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s “2D” A/W 12 Comme des Garćons collection.  The padded out fabric tubes of Kawakubo’s “Monster” collection is seen on parity with Sarah Lucas’ “Bunny” works made out of stuffed flesh-coloured tights.

Anderson doesn’t shy away from calling out his heroes and references in his own work.  Kawakubo is one of course as is Issey Miyake, whose pleated garments hang next to the lamps of Isamu Noguchi.  Other fashion design purists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens also feature in the exhibition.  Anderson’s own work isn’t necessarily the main focal point, but is present where it feels necessary and significant.  For instance, a grouping of clear plastic Loewe garments stand next to the only bit of natural light in the exhibition, with Wakefield’s old factory buildings looming in the background.

Housing all of these conversations are curtain-esque partitions made out of surplus fabric from Anderson’s studio, devised by 6a architects in London.  It’s an intentional nod at domesticity as are the tables for displaying some of the pieces.  You almost trip over the gingham ‘lumps and bumps’ of the infamous Comme des Garcons S/S 97 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection as they lay on the floor like casually placed boulders.  The tangibility is something that Anderson wanted to convey even if it isn’t quite possible to maul our hands over the art works on display.  Hence why the central room of the exhibition has been filled with an installation of twenty eight floor-to-ceiling elongated jumpers, drawing from Anderson’s love of knitwear.  Here you can twist and interact with yarn, forming your own tactile ties.  Much like the local kids of three schools in Wakefield, who were photographed wearing the exhibition’s fashion pieces by Anderson’s longtime collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth.

That acknowledgement of the Hepworth’s out-of-London location was one of the primary reasons why Anderson was drawn to the project.  “London is an island,” said Anderson at the dinner feting the exhibition on Friday night, “We don’t end up sharing or seeing outside of our bubbles.”  That’s of course a valid sentiment cited as one of the primary driving forces behind people voting for Brexit.  By placing Disobedient Bodies at the Hepworth, Anderson is keen on empathising with this sentiment, by wanting to share creativity across the whole country, and not just within the M25.  It’s an attitude that makes sense coming from the Northern Irish Anderson, who once told me he never really identified himself as a “London” designer.

It seems appropriate that for my first work outing, after my own personal life-change, that the fashion that I did see was placed in a context that makes you really think about its true value.  Can fashion matter or make a difference?  Is it worthy of a similar stature of say, the work of Louise Bourgeois or of course, Barbara Hepworth?  Can it comment on our times and the significant world beyond the hyper-glam and privileged surfaces that whirs past us during fashion month?  Why yes is the answer which is why when the time comes I’ll gingerly attempt to enthuse Nico about it all.  Even if she doth protests.