What’s That Smell on the Street?

**WARNING** If you are going to the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue, New York to see the pending Ralph Lauren spectacle, this video is a SPOILER (never thought I had to type a spoiler note about a fashion film but there you go, time differences and all that…)

They called it new, never-been-done before, 4-D and a heap of hype has been written up about the Ralph Lauren digital spectacle to celebrate the launch of its UK ecommerce store, that was projected on the facade of the 1 New Bond Street Ralph Lauren store as well as the Madison Avenue store later on at 8pm EST.  Did it live up to all the chat?  I'll leave you my shady video with shuddery sound to judge as well as a urgent plea to check out the official video when it goes live on the website tomorrow.  I for one felt like I had experienced a novel way of presenting fashion, encompassing product, brand, iconography and vision.   I don't have the right vocabulary to give what I've just seen a name or a label and Suzy Menkes describe it greater and better detail (there are also more tech details in this vid here)but all I know is that Ralph Lauren has just made me feel like genuine innovation in the fashion/technology stakes happened tonight, which is the exact opposite of feeling like fashion is latching onto technology for the sake of saying 'We're moving with the times – no, really.  We are!'

The multi sensory part of the spectacle though does have its roots in something that failed to take off originally, but may get its revival not in film but in advertising – Smell-O-Vision!  At approximagely 6 minutes into the projection, a waft of Ralph Lauren's new perfume pervaded the cold crisp air and there was a collective 'Woooooo…' which suggested that the audience were well and truly seduced.  Maybe I don't need to be smelling sweaty armpits in a fight scene in a Guy Ritchie film but a perfume scent wafting down a street to match visuals on a storefront seems pleasant enough – hah – I speak as one of the willing sheep-like shopper that I am.  I imagined a Perfume-like scenario where the crowd would suddenly rush into the store scrabbling to buy the scent (or start making mad mad love with each other…).  Perhaps this could well happen in the future (the buying part, not the err…making love) as tonight I got the distinct feeling that the way brands (fashion or otherwise) may be stepping up their game to visually, audibly and now nasally assault consumers.

To the Edge of the Earth

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Sprinkle the title with a pinch of salt as it wasn't technically as extreme as that but in my head, I felt like I was indeed going that far up north when I spent Sunday travelling up to the Outer Hebrides, to the Isle of Lewis specifically.  Had I landed on the shores of the Isle on a ferry, it would have been ultra dramatic and warranted a sweeping strings-heavy soundtrack given that our arrival coincided with a severe storm stirring up 70mph winds.  We wussed and took the FlyBe dinky plane instead and holed up in our lovely B&B Braighe House watching the waves crash over us and screaming at the TV over the FIX that is X Factor. 

Normally, on a weekend if I'm on the edge of the British Isles, it's because I'm daaaan in Westgate on Sea with the other half's nan and shopping in Marks and Spencers.  This time round, Steve and I landing in a place that could be perceived as being on the edge of the earth was all because of this… 

The launch of the Nike Air Royalty Harris Tweed, marking the second collaboration between Nike and Harris Tweed, a story that generated much press interest in 2004, and of course goes hand in hand with the revivalist narrative of an industry that was dwindling and struggling. 

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In comparison to the last shoe though, the focus of this shoe is definitely about making Harris Tweed more prominent, with that iconic orb-marked label shifting to full attention to the tongue of the shoe and the tweed encasing the Nike tick in a 'vach pack' moulding so that the tick's presence is subtle and the tweed's texture and colour are dominant.  This is also a shoe along with the purple heather version (curiously, Nike produced purple for mens and loden green for women – I personally like the flip on genderised palette making) that is intrinsically linked to the landscape of where the tweed was woven, and to drum that connection in, I was lucky LUCKY enough to go up to the Isle of Lewis and neighbouring Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides to experience all things Harris Tweed-related – process, dramatic landscape, people and above all, passion.

You may be very well versed in all things Harris Tweed if you've watched this recent BBC mini-series 'Tweed' which is fortunately available for ALL to see on Vimeo (none of that BBC iPlayer restriction stuff…).  I don't really want to focus on the hardships, the former plight and the sob story that the series presented as from what I saw over the weekend, it doesn't apply anymore and there's a positivity that has resulted in an upward turn for orders.  However, the job isn't done and by absorbing the process of Harris Tweed for the day, seeing how HAPPY it made people up there to see their hand-woven tweed living and breathing on our shoes, my mind at the moment is brimming with possibilities for the fabric and its applications in fashion and beyond.  

Lorna Macualey of the Harris Tweed Authority, the organisation that oversees the marketing of Harris Tweed, the approvals/stamping process of the tweed (to verify it is indeed Harris Tweed) as well as taking on any collaborations (such as Nike) that could come about, was very very kind to give up her day to ferry Steve and I around, driving from Stornoway's Harris Tweed Authority office to a mill to a weaver with cuppa breaks too.  Thanks need to be said as well as being driver and guide, she also educated me a lot in all things Harris Tweed – the history, the pitfalls, the process and what can be done now.

First up and most importantly.  Let's breathe in the landscape.  Or at least try to through JPGs which don't do reality justice.  The Harris Tweed Authority are going to be releasing a beautiful photograph book by Ian Lawson which really highlights the connection between the Outer Hebridean landscape and the colours, yarns and resulting textures of Harris Tweed.  The beauty of the tweed is of course there is an infinite amount of possibilities in the pattern make-up because of the combination of colours and depth that is created.  It's not hard to link up landscape with tweed as throughout the day we'd be seeing swatches and rolls and then driving through sublime scenery.  I've come over all "Oooh…I'm at ONE with NATURE!" in my older years.  Must be 26 years of living in London that is suddenly making me yearn for fresh air.  And when it's blowing in gusty 30mph speeds at you, it's as fresh as you can get.  I'm not going to get all poetic and wax on about the crystalline-esque rush fronds blowing against the pearly white sand… will try and let the pictures do the talking…

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I'm sadly one of those urbanites that goes "Ooooh!  Look!  It's a SHEEP!" and locals will be like "Meh… we have thousands…" and yup, everywhere you go, there are tons of black-faced sheep wandering all over…

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The Callanish Stones which are actually older than Stone Henge… loved that there isn't a circle of tourists surrounding it unlike its Southern counterpart…

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IMG_0997 So let's get down to process, an exacting one that makes Harris Tweed unique amongst all fabrics because BY LAW (there is in fact a Harris Tweed Act), it has to go through these processes to indeed be called Harris Tweed and get its official stamp of approval.  It starts at a mill and we visited Harris Tweed Hebrides which accounts for 95% of all Harris Tweed output where my eyes were gawking at yarns, wheels and some pretty eye-wateringly labour-intensive processes…

This is the colour make-up of the yarn which ended up making up the tweed on the army/loden green Nike shoe that were on my feet throughout the day…  

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It's sort of part maths, part colour chemistry and exacting because a slight shift of weights in colour could alter the end shade dramatically…

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This is the raw, undyed virgin wool which comes mostly from mainland Scotland with some Outer Hebridean wool in the mix too…

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It then gets dyed, broken up and mixed up into this mass of wooliness that makes you want to jump in like you would in a ball pond…

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It then gets spun into a weak-ish, first-stage yarn looking like insane acid-trip candy floss is flying over your head…

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Once spun, twisted onto bobbins, it's then arranged into warp threads that can then be handed over to weavers to weave with the weft.  The Harris Tweed Act decrees that it is the weavers that must hand-weave the cloth, otherwise it can't really be called Harris Tweed. 

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The arranged warp, ready to be woven…

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This particular mill does all of their own designs which of course get taken to places like Premiere Vision where they present their wares but in addition, clients might bring them swatches for them to find the tweed recipe to replicate it.  Spotted Sara Berman's tweed that she used in previous collections… her collaboration with Harris Tweed has been an enduring one..

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Once the cloth comes back from the weavers, it's a little oily and wrinkled and sometimes there may be slight defects.  So the cloth needs to be painstakingly checked metre by metre by ladies standing next to a light strip, with needle and thread to mend any gaps.  My eyes were hurting just looking at them doing this…

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Then more meticulous tweezing and brushing is done to remove any bits of straw and hay that didn't take on the dying process.  Once washed, steamed and rolled, a guy from the Harris Tweed Authority comes round to check that all Harris Tweed has been produced properly and gives them his final physical stamp! 

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Then it was onto the most scenic drives I've had in a long time, wind through the Harris Hills to get to the Isle of Harris which is a rockier terrain and even more remote-looking that Lewis.  We were off to meet a very special weaver whose face you may have seen as he's sort of become something of a lovable ambassador for Harris Tweed.  Donald John Mackay and his wife Maureen are one of the weavers who actually buys the yarns off a mill to fulfill their own tweed orders as opposed to just being contracted by a mill to weave the cloth for them.  In this way, he can work independently and create a business for himself as opposed to the other independent weavers who rely on the mills to get them business (there are about 80 of them dotted all over the isles and a lot have secondary jobs to support their weaving…).  I didn't take a picture but quite literally, Don John (as everyone calls him…) does all his weaving in a shed.  The fabric on my Nike shoe, a brand that is associated with mass MASS production, passed through Don John's hands and his loom which is sort of a mind blowing dichotomy…

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Don John's loom is a single width loom, one that is very traditional as most use double width looms now and the noise it makes is distinctly 'Victorian' sounding.  Don't ask me what 'Victorian' sounding ACTUALLY sounds like but it's the chug chug chug of the wheels rotating around and the pedals of the loom going up and down and the clack of wood moving up and down the cloth that comprises a sound that may die out.  Don John and Maureen do express concerns over the lack of new blood in the craft of weaving and it's clear that for them, they cannot imagine hand weaving slowly dying out. 

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I got to inspect some of the tweeds with a magnifying glass and it's hard to convey through pics again, but the colours I saw seemed to be dancing or moving around and it's hard to believe that up close so many shades are at work with each other in order to get the final shade.  It really does come alive when you see it up close hence why each tweed almost has its own personality. 

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I had a go on the loom but after a few round of pedalling, my legs were already exhausted.  That was my excercise for the week DONE.  Yup, these calves don't work out much…

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This is the Centenary label that has been made to celebrate 100 years of the Orb mark.  Most Harris Tweed labels often have a number which means it can be traced back via HTA's records to the original weaver and Lorna was also hoping that in the future there will be an online database where you type in that number to then find out information about who wove your tweed which of course further adds to the charm of the tweed. 

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Steve's shoe which is made up with the purple heather tweed is particularly striking when magnified.  Sadly we didn't see any heather as summer is gone but we're hoping to come back in warmer climes to see some purple hills…

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I can't stress how mind boggling this whole trip was in that it showed me how rooted Harris Tweed is to process and people in a way that doesn't really exist in fabric production anymore.  There are certainly ways of cutting out certain processes and reducing labour but then it wouldn't be Harris Tweed and as I touch the fabric in any instance be it on a mass produced trainer or a vintage jacket, I'm not going to be able to shake off the knowledge that a lot of love and care has gone into this fabric and that there aren't that many fabrics in the world that are produced in this way.  Going back to the tumbling possibilities for Harris Tweed, I feel like Nike has scratched the surface on the collaborative opportunities that can happen for the fabric.  Topman has also just launched their Harris Tweed range and it seems to me that the fabric with its upteenth colour/shading combos can really be worked into more contemporary silhouettes than the traditional gent's jacket.  The provenance itself is a selling point that now makes me want to try and see if I can buy the fabric myself to create pieces for myself or perhaps even commission a designer to do so, though it would be great if say an ASOS or a Topshop could work on a collaboration.  I was well and truly slayed and seduced by this craft that everyone has committed themselves to and the pride that the islanders also hold for Harris Tweed all of which NEEDS to be shouted about on a wider scale…

As you can see, we were battling with the elements here and the shoes were the perfect bit of armour to walk around in as the winds actually made me a little unstable.  My vintage Loewe leather trousers were the next bit of armour as well as cashmere, chunky knits, sock help from Tabio, a bit of Scottish cliched tartan blanketing as well as a designer with Scottish roots.  Interestingly enough, Christopher Kane actually used a kilt-maker on the Isle of Lewis to make his kilts for his A/W 10-11 collection.  Must try and seek her out and maybe make a Harris Tweed connection there next time I go to the edge of the earth again…  

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(With Preen Line jumper via Beso, vintagecut-up sleeveless trench, Monki sheer stripy dress, vintage Loewe trousers, Tabio socks)
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This is me at one with NATURE…

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(With J.W. Anderson tartan blanket jacket, vintage cashmere jumper, Christopher Kane dress, vintage Loewe trousers, Tabio socks, See by Chloe bag via Beso)

More official notes about the shoes – they're now available at Niketown on Oxford Circus, in Selfridges' shoe department and in Nike Sportswear 1948 in Shoreditch.  Remember, GREEN for womens' sizes and PURPLE for men – it's a topsy turvy world maaaan….

**EDIT** Belated credit but ALL photos were of course taken by Style Salvage Steve who has his own more manly take on the Harris Tweed trip

IHT Heritage Luxury 2010

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I've been away in the Outer Hebrides on a jaunt that will explode all over this page tomorrow morning because I went a bit mad with the camera.  Highlands, winds, sea, grass and rocks – is that a hip-hip-hooray cheer I hear out there?  Today though, it was back down to earth and quite literally down to business as I was invited to see the International Herald Tribune Heritage Luxury Conference where important people with CEO, director titles mingle in a room listening to an impossibly important group of people speak, chaired and hosted by Suzy Menkes.  Then all of these important job titled people go pick at asparagus, cous cous and invariably overcooked meats from metal trays whilst the press lot form orderly queues for computers.

Alright, alright, I jest.  We in fact FOUGHT for computers.  My signal on my phone was quite shady and it can't connect to WiFi so I was itching to Tweet throughout the day…

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Order, order!  I'm resolved to keep this post on track in the dutiful and professional manner that Suzy Menkes kept the day going swimmingly despite speakers being late (*ahem* Karl Lagerfeld) and mic and sound problems.  The subject is of course how heritage exists within luxury brands and what is the relationship between the two – be it brands using heritage to revive themselves, using it to innovate the future and basically maximising the most out of whatever heritage each brand has got to get results and in most cases, this translates to expansion and profit.  I'm leaving Imran of BoF (who did Tweet successfully) to the monetary consequences of each brand case study… but aside from number crunching, most of the talks conveyed passion for their respective brand and their role that can't be quantified.  My tidbits may not tell you anything about heritage or luxury but they did stick in the brain.  I had to skip out on quite a few of them but these are the ones I saw…

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Alber Elbaz, Artistic Director, Lanvin – Dancing with History
Elbaz doesn't really need fluidity or direction in his speech because he seems to have a charming way with words that means he could be reading out an ingredients list and it could sound vaguely interesting.  I know this from standing after his shows and literally being there for an hour as he does interview after interview and it's all absorbing…

"I'm married with Jeanne Lanvin – my mother will be happy to know that I married a lady!"

On the H&M collaboration…
"The project was more about being generous and to push H&M to become luxury – H&M being luxury, now that's a news story."

Candid honesty on a process that goes on A LOT in fashion houses…
"Or maybe we don't need luxury.  If you can go to Portobello market and buy a vintage piece to copy in an atelier."

When asked whether all fashion houses are revivable…
"Houses with tradition and heritage are harder to revive in a way as it can block you."

On the delights of guffing down a complex carbohydrate…
"I'm best inspired when I'm sitting on the couch eating potatoes."

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Angela Ahrendts, Chief Executive Officer and Christopher Bailer, Chief Creative Officer of Burberry – Reinterpreting Heritage for a Digital Age
I didn't catch many quotes from Baily and Ahrendt's chat but they basically recounted the history and legacy of founder Thomas Burberry and the way the business and collections revolve around the trenchcoat which I guess brings us neatly to…

… one of the big news stories of the day, that Burberry will be launching Burberry Bespoke in early 2011, a website that will allow you to customise a Burberry trenchcoat to your exacting specification.  We all got a sneak peek of the behemoth site that promises to offer over 12 MILLION trenchcoat possibilities.  Of course, this is only possible because every facet of the trench is customisable. You know how you often see 'Customise' systems which are too often limited and well…a bit lame… Burberry Bespoke I think is going to be a different beast altogether with options for buttons, colours, linings, trims, embellishments, cut, fabric, fit on a site that at a quick glance looks like a riot to play around with.  When asked about pricepoints however, Ahrendt didn't really divulge.  It may not even be set out yet but I expect for example a trench with neon trim, a studded collar, leather buckles to cost a pretty penny.  Oh well… I'll just go on the website to create VIRTUAL DREAM trenches.  And err… I'll convince myself that it's the same as owning the physical thing.

Some other facts I picked up were…
The Burberry check was in fact invented by a customer, not Burberry themselves.  A French customer in the 1920s wanted something to distinguish her trench from others and chose a check lining as her mark.

The Art of Trench project was actually inspired by a book by Thomas Burberry called 'Open Spaces' which contained testimonials of people who wore the trenchcoat.

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Jennifer Woo, President of Lane Crawford and Alannah Weston, Creative Director of Selfridges & Co. – The Heritage Birthday Panel
Lane Crawford is a store that I'm only beginning to discover in the midst of its innovative period (despite my roots lying in Hong Kong), which started in 2003 when Woo became president and realised the department store needed a shake-up.  I'm personally loving the projects it's engaging in, and completely understood that during a time when retailers in Hong Kong and China were just throwing meaningless bargains and shouting at you to buy Cheap!Cheap!Cheap!, it must have been a risk to push things forward to the position they're in now and present what I think is an impressive edit.  Loved Woo's injection of her own archive photos of her ancestors to show that six generations of Hong Kong-ers have been shopping at Lane Crawford…

I'm not going to recap the birthday shenanigans that Selfridges did for their centenary as I did quite a bit on it last year when it was happening.  Needless to say Weston did a good job of recapping the events for those that aren't so familiar.  She may have said Pantone Shade 109 seven times in her presentation and put a yellow Kid Robot rabbit on the podium just to emphasise that EXACT shade of yellow.

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Mary-Adair Macaire, CEO of Pringle of Scotland – Become Who You Are
I loved the honesty of Macaire's speech and her's probably gave me the most food for thought.  Heritage is all well and good but the question she raised was, can she make it sell product?  How attached do you need to be with heritage and ultimately, can it sometimes hold you back?  I'm a huge fan of all aspects of Pringle's recent revival – projects, imagery and the creative direction of the collection and I love that it is still a work in progress, one that will hopefully yield plenty for a brand that doesn't yet have the kind of retail penetration that the other biggie speakers have. 

"Just because you had it in the past doesn't mean you have got it today. No business can exist on its heritage alone."

On how the name Pringle of Scotland didn't really have the best conontations or even resonate at all…
"When I got the job, I was congratulated with 'Wow, that's so great you're taking on Nick Faldo's golf brand!' and 'You're really going to a different environment aren't you by switching to the fast food industry!'"

"It's an incomplete journey.  We're not there yet and we have to ask whether we can still be relevant today."

Also had no idea that Pringle coined the term 'knitwear', a word that peppers our fashion vocabulary as though it had ALWAYS existed.  I'm also looking forward to their upcoming collaboration with Central Saint Martins' BA Fashion and History Theory students on an archive organisation and revival project that I think will be unveilled next year.

Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, Non-Executive Director of Liberty – Liberty: A Soul Reprinted
I didn't take down many figures but this one did stick above anything else that Bourdoynnaye said, as he recounted the profit and image turnaround of Liberty, my most beloved 'emporium boutique' as he put it.  Turnover is up by 40% in 2010 and now FINALLY it's in profit and I no longer have to walk in fearing that it might be in trouble.  That left me happy, hopeful and all I really need is this Oscar Wilde quote about Liberty, that it was "the chosen resort of the artistic shopper" and me thinks that will stick for a while yet. 

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Rosita, Angela and Margherita Missoni – Dealing With a Family Heritage
I never did state the obvious here and say how much I rated the S/S 10 campaign featuring the entire Missoni clan – comfortable, relaxed and being the best ambassadors for the Missoni brand as captured by Juergen Teller.  This spirit was on display on stage as three generations of Missoni women were gabbing with Menkes.  Ottavio Missoni coming on stage for a brief moment at the end saying "I'm husband, father and grandfather – that's my story!" sums up the current matriarchal setup of the brand with the reins slowly being passed over to Margherita, whose passion for the family business is captured here…

"If Missoni wasn't doing well, it was as if I got sick, like there was a cut on my arm…"

Rosita Missoni on knowing when to stop…
"For me fashion had become a task and duty.  I would bring home all these magazines and not recognise the world I lived in.  I was trapped in a zig zag cage."

Margherita on the backlash against her recent show and I think she gave a pretty good response that will bode for interesting things for Missoni's future collections…
"I'm glad it got a lot of dramatic reviews.  The thing is, Missoni didn't start off as a classic and pleasant brand.  Missoni was kicked out of Florence Fashion Week in the beginnning as Italians didn't like colour and it was rule-breaking.  I want to bring Missoni back to that.  Hopefully people will get used to the shows which may not be pleasant at first sight."

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Victoria Beckham – Building the Victoria Beckham Brand
The surprise guest of the day was of course anticipated with frenzy and paps but in the end it was pretty calm as Menkes q and a'd Vicky B who announced "this (conference) was the most grown up thing I've ever done!"  She was also well excited about her Chanel shoes that she had just bought for the conference not knowing that Karl Lagerfeld would be appearing.  I respect the fact that Menkes rates Beckham's credentials as a designer and a brand-builder and gave her this suitably serious forum…

On David Beckham's role as fashion collaborator…
"Well he just looks good doesn't he?  David looks good and I'm the funny one…"

On red carpet dressing…
"I just want women to feel and look good from all angles.  It's not just the front and back."

On the possibility of designing menswear…
She recalled a convo she was having with Menkes and declared that "Men look better with their clothes off…"

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Karl Lagerfeld – In his Own Words
I suppose there's not much that Lagerfeld HASN'T said.  Lagerfeld-isms are so rife, I'm not sure what else this adds but of course the audience were regaling with laughter at his particular turn of phrasing.  The key thing to take away though which he has emphasised before is his detachment to the past and archives, and that in order to be free to create you just have to concentrate on the present which I suppose wasn't the general consensus of the day as each brand valued the past in different ways but for Lagerfeld, capturing 'the moment' is still his main priority…

On reviving with a LACK of respect…
"If you want to revive something, don't do it with respect.  You just get a funeral parlour if you do it with respect.  Nobody wants to go to a funeral parlour."

On Coco Chanel losing touch in the sixties…
"Nobody wanted to be told that blue jeans and mini skirts were not chic!"

On… well, his lack of modesty…
"The best idea they (Chanel) had was to ask ME!  It has become a blueprint for lots of other house revivals."

On computers…
"I don't really use computers and all that.  My brain is supposed to do the same job, no?  But computers are beautiful objects.  I just like looking at them."

(All images from Getty)

P.S. Sadly I may not be able to go along tomorrow but I recommend BoF's Twitter to keep everyone updated

Tear It Up

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>> The Central Saint Martins MA class of 2010 have been quietly racking up accolades and achievements here and there, dotting around designers quietly and strategically in our sight path – Thomas Tait as Dorchester Prize winner, Simone Rocha as part of the Fashion East line up, J JS Lee part of New Gen, Felipe Rojas Llanos in MAN and people like Lily Heine and Matthew Harding reproducing pieces from their graduate collection for Topshop.  What seemed like a less obviously-impactful CSM MA show has turned around to produce designers that had ultra laser-sharp focus honed into their work (whipped into shape by Louise Wilson no doubt…).  Adam Andrascik, who actually hails from Pittsburgh (take the term 'British' designers with a pinch of salt…) was inspired by the Salvador Dali and Elsa Schiaparelli 'Tear Dress' for his graduate collection which as per many CSM graduates makes for a seamless continuation onto his S/S 11, his first collection out of uni.  So purposeful and graphic line-creating rips and tears grace dresses, shifts and separates with the negative spaces of the tears almost as important as the rips themselves.  Seeing Andrascik's work in person, beyond the obvious visual factor of the tears that add unexpected structure to the pieces, it's his fabric work that really elevates everything.  It's hard not to be reminded of a certain dress from the Jil Sander S/S 10 collection but dare I say, the deft placement of the rips and the 'peeling-away' effect of fabrics somehow takes the idea further and for Andrascik seems to be a good starting point to stand amongst his fellow classmates of other minimal/maximal aestheticians…

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