>> It's printed paraphernalia day! A lightened load after the heffer of a post before this. Mulberry's 40th anniversary lush coffee table book arrived with such printed fanfare that it made it impossible for me NOT to post about it, knowing how much of a sucker I am for pretty packaging. Wrapped up in three layers of tissue paper, quintessetial and quaint words fell out from each layer until with a big bang of FORTY!, the book featuring documentary photography by Venetia Dearden reveals itself. Mulberry's dedication to making a pretty fuss out of their book is more than welcome especially when you click onto their homepage to find an opening animation created by none of than Rob Francis, the creative partner of Jessica Dance, whose work I thoroughly enjoy. There's even a behind the scenes film about the creation of the animation – that's err…a film about the film about the book and tracking that process is something that Francis and Dance both cleverly do to further leave their creative mark. Turns out Dance has also made some awesome cake cushions for Mulberry's new head office (which is stupendously amazing btw…) so I'm thoroughly beaming that Mulberry have collaborated with this innovative duo.
The behind the scenes moments of Mulberry's many events, shows and parties over the last few years are documented here… allowing us mere mortals privy to the Soho House dinners, the Claridges shindigs and the New York/London frenzies that their presentions stir up with collaborators such as Edward Enninful and Sam McKnight present along with creative director Emma Hill…
However the more interesting part for me are the images documenting the process of how a Mulberry bag is made at their Somerset factory, the last brand-owned luxury accessories factory in the UK which is both sad and incredible (*hint hint* a press trip to Somerset would be fine and dandy…).
I also loved the selection of archive pieces that Mulberry shot for the back of the book with pieces such as an old wardrobe trunk as well as err… leather goggles and a drawstring bucket bag that I used to love searching eBay for (in some cases, I actually prefer the older Mulberry scotchgrain styles…).
On to the present day though and I've been saving their new A/W 11 pre-collection and main collection lookbooks and printed bits and bobs for tearing and scanning. I can't deny that after losing my (new) Mulberry bag virginity on my last birthday, along with the rest of the world, I'm somewhat slayed. Their new styles for next season battling to do an 'Alexa', are looking ever enticing. The Polly Push Lock style here for instance is sort of like the updated version of the lovely Neely bag which I actually sorely wanted but missed out on due to its limited quantities…
Other styles such as the Fox Lock oversized bag, the Tillie in corduroy and the Alexa Camera bag are also weighing in as contenders too…
It might tickle us when Karl Lagerfeld declares that he likes computers as objects and prefers fax to email, or when Alber Elbaz says he doesn't 'do' the internet. We might find that cute, endearing and perhaps for some, comforting. These designers and their ivory ateliers! Why should they open an email or look at the internet when they're mad busy sketching, draping and creative directing. For some reason, certain designers love upkeeing the image of themselves being immune to technology, finding email blase or the internet a great bore. There's almost a weirdly 'cool' and defiantly lo-fi bravada attached to designers/creatives that think that the internet is one giant "bore-off-dot-com", that bloggers are irrelevant/serve no purpose and that Facebook is pointless, which of course is at odds with with what their marketing/PR teams and social media specialists have to say on the matter – a contradiction I find mildly amusing.
I kind of accept that's the status quo of the big fashion houses, but what about a younger generation of designers that not only utilise the internet but embrace what it has to offer. The Proenza Schouler boys speaking at the IFB Conference in February is just one of many examples of designers who have used the internet to their advantage and actively engage with their audience online either by scouring blogs, reading reviews on The Fashion Spot or having a reactive Twitter account. During the course of this blog, I feel like I've grown up with a new generation of designers, similar in age to me, that have also been getting a hands on experience in the process of self-promotion through social media, engaging, interacting with bloggers and even becoming bloggers themselves. I, in turn have increasingly giving talks to designers about communicating their work with bloggers and how to establish an online press strategy (there is actually no big secret… email, snail mail, pigeon carrier, saying "Hi" to you in person… all of these things hey PRESTO WORK!). In this way, there has been a breakdown process between customer, press and designer, cutting out traditional channels to have a more open and fluid dialogue that I think is incredibly exciting.
So I thought I'd introduce three London-based designers, who are in very infant stages of their career – one, two or three collections old – with two of them being bloggers themselves, to talk about their experiences and thoughts on engaging with bloggers and using that as a form of press and feedback, that's valuable in the early stages. I've specifically focused on blogging, which is of course only one aspect of the internet as a designer's aid, but as you can see, this is already a bit of a long-ass read that perhaps I'll explore again in the future. Incidentally have had all their A/W 11-112 lookbooks shot by photographer Christina Smith resulting in these square-shaped evocative images that I've had to slideshow up to compactify this blog post.
Danielle Jade Windsor
Danielle Jade Windsor has had the breadth of work experience spectrum having interned at Michiko Koshino and Topshop and worked for Viktor & Rolf and Zara. She's currently a semi-finalist as part of Fashion Fringe 2011, entering with her debut collection "Assemble", combining architectural and structural elements in muted tones that make for a cooly contemporary bit of wardrobing. From her blog, you can see how trend-forecasting in her previous roles have infiltrated her way of presenting collaged moodboards which for me are useful articulations of trends that she has spotted as well as clues into her own aesthetic leanings.
When did you start to read fashion blogs and when did you realise they could be an alternative way of communicating your collections in addition to printed press? I would say three years ago, in my previous role it was mandatory to check blogs on a daily basis to follow street styles and trends. When I began creating my AW/11 collection I don't think I was aware of the expense as much as I should have been so it has been a lot more accessible to communicate using the internet intially to get press.
Do you have a specific policy when it comes to contacting and working with bloggers and internet press? I have been working in the industry for the past 5 years and I am extremely selective of who I contact especially as this is just the beginning. I have been following New Gen designers, Creative Directors, Design Heads for the past few years and have been closely monitoring their paths. My main policy is to be open to a wide audience, blogs that attract not only the younger generation but design professionals, buyers, potential recruiters etc.
When did you start your own blog and do you see it as a marketing tool for your own work or more as a tool of inspiration for yourself? I started my blog in January of this year as an expanding project for myself. I enjoy creating concepts/themes and colour ways and always want to push myself. I feel terrible now if I don't update on a daily basis as I don't want to disappoint my fans! I often find that blogs share the same images and info and when you are working in an office environment desperately trying to source inspiration this just isn't helpful! I hope with my blog I can inspire others as well as myself. I also like to blog about up and coming artists and designers who I feel have something new to bring to the table.
Does the internet hinder or help a young designer starting today? Again I would say it depends, the internet is as you have said press, bad press is never good in which ever form. What I love about the internet though is the accessibility to the world!
I've featured Manuela Dack previously having experienced her chiffon/leather jackets on a shoot. Having worked with Hussein Chalayan and Alexander Wang, she started off with a capsule collection of these jackets that has led to fully formed collections. For A/W 11-12 she has concentrated on the construction of her garments as well as a shift away from those jackets towards pieces that can be layered. Dack was inspired by a vintage dress belonging to her mother and the fusion of old and new in a collection that feels like it's era-less with a hint of Iran where her mother lived. Dack has also been working on a private-client basis which gives her the freedome to explore high levels of craftsmanship that she wants as a cornerstone of her work. She'll be working on her signature of layering of contrasting fabrics as well and introducing prints and accessories for what should be an exciting next season.
When did you start to read fashion blogs and when did you realise they could be an alternative way of communicating your collections in addition to printed press? I started reading blogs very early on at university. The fact that people generally only feature things that they really love appealed to me. I like to understand how people think and blogs are very open in that way. It's the same thing that fascinates me about the fashion industry, you really have to think about who your market is and what they want, and find a way to create something they didn't even realise they wanted.
Do you have a specific policy when it comes to contacting and working with bloggers and internet press? I didn't really think about using blogs as a marketing tool until it started happening of it's own accord. I decided to start posting images from my graduate collection on my blog because people asked about it and soon the were getting re-posted. I wouldn't say I have a specific policy, but I definitely have favourites! I generally only contact blogs that I really love and follow myself. I recently got in contact with Jen from Gnarlitude who wrote a post about my label for the Urban Outfitters blog. I've been following her blog for a really long time so it meant a lot to have her fall in love with our aesthetic.
There are obviously some blogs and online platforms that are well known and influential and generally the reason for that is that they are good, slick and with real opinions. Having said that, it's really great when a blog you haven't heard of gets in contact and wants to write about you. I still find it really amazing how excited people, who I don't know, get about my label.
It's always interesting to read the comments on posts too. Like the feature you wrote on our LFW Capsule collection. The pleating on the jackets sparked some interesting conversation and it was totally surreal to have other readers defending my work. It's important to be aware of the fact that we are part of a new generation where online press is just as valid as printed journalism. I'm not saying that all blogs and sites are good, there are some really poor ones out there too, but theres a reason why a select handful have reached the audience they have.
When did you start your own blog and do you see it as a marketing tool for your own work or more as a tool of inspiration for yourself? I started my own blog Silver Cleaver in August 2007 as a way of filing images and links that I found online. Initially I really like the anonymity it. It was not until the end of my degree that I started posting images of my work and encouraging readership. It gives readers an insight into the brand in a format they are familiar with. Blogs can communicate with people on a much more personal level and I think people really like the fact that they can see the designers thought process and inspiration as well as find out more about the label.
Does the internet hinder or help a young designer starting today? I think the internet is definitely a great tool for new designers. There is no way that I could have reach the audience I have without it. Like everything it is not a guarantee of success. The great thing about blogs is that they are generally very honest. Bloggers wont write about something that they are not interested in so the product is still the most important element. I remember Tom Ford in an interview said that he hates the word 'marketing' because he feels it implies a way of creating hype around a bad product. So in that sense blogs are not about 'marketing' but about consumer awareness. Its another way of allowing people to get to know your label.
Yasmin Kianfar is probably the most 'advanced' of this trio with stockists such as Browns (YAY for their website revamp!) and Opening Ceremony. From the linear cut-outs that she has incorporated into her own signature she has evolved her A/W 11-12 collection into a more elegant vision. She cites the circus and show-girls as references but the result what with the elongated silhouettes in black and with the pearls seems to be a reconfiguration of that iconic outfit Holly Golightly wears in the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany's. These are slinky looks done in a way that is palatable to our modern ways. I especially love the tiny star cut-outs which I think are the subtlest way I've seen star shapes used in clothing. Yasmin is one of those unfortunate souls who has actually endured one of my random talks where I say things like "I'm a blogger and my email address on my blog makes me UBER contactable!"
When did you start to read fashion blogs and when did you realise they could be an alternative way of communicating your collections in addition to printed press? In all honesty- reading and appreciating blogs is a relatively 'new' phenomenon to me. I don't think I started reading fashion blogs before I read Style Bubble for the first time. I must also confess, that I only started reading it when people told me that my label had been featured, this was July last year. I have since been an avid reader of Style Bubble, and also been introduced to other blogs such as Jak and Jil, they have usually been recommended by a friend. I am now addicted to at least 10, which I consult on a regular basis and I know that an increasing number of people are the same.
It was when my S/S 11 collection was featured on StyleBubble, and people begun to contact me in response to that, that I realised the impact of fashion blogs on my work and as a medium to reach my desired audience. I do believe, however, that like magazines not all blogs are created equal and it is important to be as discerning with features as with printed press.
Do you have a specific policy when it comes to contacting and working with bloggers and internet press? I contact my favourite blogs, after that I respond to those that seek me out. This is namely as a result of my lack of time, to scout out all the many interesting and wonderful blogs that I know exist. I have a look at the blog and decide if it will attract the right interest, looking at everything from the layout, the writing and importantly- the other designers featured. I generally give a blog a further look if it is well laid out and they are professional in their communication with me.
Does the internet hinder or help a young designer starting today? There are certainly pros and cons of the internet in terms of helping a new designer. The negative is arguably the transient nature of the net. If you are lucky enough to get good press it disappears as quickly as it arrived. However, the positives of this outweigh that as it has the capacity to reach a far larger and more varied audience than printed press.
Aside from press, the internet allows a new designer to develop a dialogue with their customer via their own site. In the past, we would have all had to wait for a store to decide to take a chance on us- no mean feat. As well as allowing us to showcase our new collections, we can also use the net to retail, which has clear benefits. Blogs and Twitter then allow us to communicate directly with our customer, which is the ultimate goal.
What did I know about Sportsgirl before saying "Yay!" to guestblogging for them during RAFW? Well, actually more than people thought I did, as they harboured suspicions that I knew not a single thing about their Antipodean, hidden-away Australia-only chain store. Thanks to at least twenty Aussie blogs on my RSS reader and the lovely Kat George of Style Lines who used to work with me at Dazed (and really needs to start blogging again…), Sportsgirl in my mind was something like an Aussie equivalent to Topshop. Or at the very least, they both appeal to the same demographic. I'd hear through the blogging grapevine about their collaborations with Australian designers which have been extensive and prolific including the likes of Alpha60, Arnsdorf, TV and Romance was Born. Whilst talking to people during RAFW, they spoke of Sportsgirl as something of an institution – something that they grew up with since the 70s, which is how I personally relate to Topshop (yes, Topshop before it got infinitely cool and international it served me and my generation well in the 90s with their 2 for ¬£10 fruitti tutti coloured tank tops). With all that in mind, I found no reason to say nay to guestblogging and in the course of it, I also got to find out more about the Aussie high street and its make-up.
The big shakeup to the status quo of Aussie's lower priced brands is of course that Zara has just opened up in Sydney, to queues and queues of people waiting to venture into the sheeny shiny new store on Pitt Street. Personally, Zara rarely figures into my shopping routine just because a) I can never find anything and b) once everyone has ransacked the rails for anything mildly exciting, you feel like you're just going through a lot of very plain and uninteresting clothes. That's just a personal tick but obviously it's doing phenomenally well with a queue still forming at Zara when I first showed up in Sydney.
So does Zara have Sportsgirl quaking in their boots? As it turns out, entering Sportsgirl for the very first time leaves you feeling you're in a boutique rather than a chain store. Even their Pitt Street flagship is a fraction of say, Topshop Oxford Circus, and you're confronted with a whole lot of personalised visual merchandising that for me doesn't feel like indentikit product pushing. In other words, a very different beast to Zara and in some ways, Sportsgirl have done a fine job of carving out a niche for their 'Sportsgirls' customers that they know so well.
When I went in, they were pushing a 'Make Do & Mend' mantra that goes hand in hand with the Social 'Knitworking' groups that they've organised throughout Australia (gotta love a good bit of wordplay). I was quite impressed with the level of detailing that went into the typography, props, graphics and illustration work used to present these concepts even if the average shopper going in is mainly concerned about getting a $60 cardigan because it's getting a bit 'chilly' (err… like 15 degrees sort of chilly…)
Their store is divided up into sections that currently has a vintage section themed around Rose Bowl Flea Market where their buying team has actually gone to Rose Bowl in California to pick out items to bring back to sell. Alright, the prices are slightly inflated, but I like the idea of this international pick n' mix where a chain is bringing pieces from places people may not necessarily have the means to get to…
This idea is extended to their Global Market Place which is themed around Peru at the moment where the buyers have bought back a ton of accessories to sell. It is a little like a highly edited selection of tourist garb but again it makes a change from chains being "inspired" by Peruvian motifs and producing their own versions whereas here, Sportsgirl are selling the originating artefacts directly…
Like the gullible tourist that I am, I immediately bought into the whole schtick, getting myself a bag and a belt… LAUGH away, any Peruvians that are out there…
Inside Sportsgirl's Style Me Studio, a chamber where you can use the in-store styling service, it was decorated to a Central/South American theme, again, eschewing the blank canvas formula of many chain stores and making the space more intimate…
… The experience was made all the more welcoming with the presence of Sportsgirl's personal stylist Monica here who showed me the Sportsgirl ropes…
I was even slayed by their packaging, particularly this zip-lock paper envelope used for packing away the jewellery. Gime a nice bit of printed brown paper and I'm a retailer's soft touch…
Obviously I had to get in on the Richard Nicoll x Sportsgirl collaboration. This is the first time Sportsgirl have collaborated with an 'international' designer even though Nicoll is originally from Australia. I thought it was great to see strands of what he's done for Fred Perry (that mod-ish aspect) and Topshop (cleancut preppyness) in this collection with results that are still refreshing…
You might not be able to make it out, but it's important to know the checks here are rendered in navy which I think makes a difference to the straightforward Prince of Wales check and gingham patterns.
The item that is likely to be the most industrious out of this Sportsgirl lot is actually this very simple denim jacket with grey jersey sleeves. A hard-working denim jacket has eluded me for quite some time and judging by how many times I've gotten use out of this already means it's made a good return on investment. You see that little bit of infiltration of banking language there. That's me being all serious and stuff.
The question "What does Australian style mean to you?" kept on cropping up in interviews whilst I was down in Sydney for RAFW and I'd try to shirk it as to me, there was no good answer to it without being broad and generic. I began my trip with a wee encounter with a lady who I thought was a Japanese eccentric fan of Romance was Born as she hopped about in a flurry of red WARATAH-printed scarfs (I now also know the difference between a protea and a waratah). It turned out that lady was Jenny Kee, someone who I can say I honestly knew nothing about at that point, and that was unfortunately a grave misdemeanour, because when Phil from Streetpeeper took her photo and asked for her name, her assistant looked aghast and yelped "You don't know who Jenny Kee is?!"
Ooops. Fashion history fail. Or err‚Ä¶ Antipodean fashion history fail. Therefore I ended my trip by consuming her autobiography "A Big Life", very very kindly given to me by Georgie Cleary of Alpha60, on my plane ride back home. Five hours of solid reading later and I was consumed by all things Jenny Kee. As it turns out, Kee is the sort that happily declared herself to be thoroughly Australian and proud to be so – her line/mantra is apparently "I come from the land of Oz and Bondi's in my body." In a partial answer to the first question therefore, Jenny Kee to me seems like something of an essential reference in Australia's very young fashion history.
After researching a bit more, I perhaps need to take her 'Big Life' account with a pinch of salt as self-promotion is apparently big in Kee's schtick (most prominently for her sexual encounter with John Lennon pre-Yoko). Yet I couldn't help but be drawn into the world of this half-Italian, half-Cantonese rebel. Her early struggles with her race, her involvement with Sydney's underground scene and most pertinently, her move to London that saw her mingle with all of those Swinging London landmarks and figures that are like magical fashion folklore to me.
In two chapters, she recalls all the things that makes me get all riled up, sticking up for London as a richly imbued style city… her working (and stealing) at Biba's Kensington Church Street store, being entranced by the store Hung On You at World's End in Chelsea and probably her most influential epoch in London, working with Vern Lambert at his stall at the Chelsea Antique Market. Lambert is probably most well known for being a close friend of Anna Piaggi and was a pivotal figure for Piaggi because of his expansive knowledge of fashion history. Kee recalls playing with the clothes on Lambert's stall – Vionnets, Schiaparellis, Chanels, Mainbochers – as well as Lambert as her style mentor, encouraging out-of-context styling which at the time meant combining various ethnic and period dress together in flamboyant ensembles as well as dressing the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Penelope Tree, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, Mick Jagger (who adored Schiaparelli jackets).
I was particularly intrigued by this line of Kee's "The girls might have dabbled in studies at art college but they didn't actually have a lot to do. They sat around backstage and in recording studios, they rolled joints and made tea, and like me, they threw every ounce of their creativity into an evolving artwork called personal style." I definitely don't have rose-tinted shades for a time when girls were merely objectified style props but I do wonder whether the daily grind of work for some women, gets in the way of a truly personal style cultivation. Can't we just have both?
After London began to come down from its swinging high, she moved back to Sydney and opened Flamingo Park, which planted the seed for her career as a fashion designer. The 'frock salon' was meant to be 'romantic, exotic and kitsch' and it was through stocking her store that she met Linda Jackson, her fashion partner in crime for the next decade. Jackson bought the seamstress skills as well as an intuition for prints and colours, something that rubbed off to Kee who then began her own original print designs which subsequently landed on her knits and scarves. Their Flamingo Parade shows became legendary design showcases, conjured up for no commercial purpose other than to celebrate their inantely Australian clothes, that were unashamed about their optimism.
As their partnership grew, they ended up exploring Aboriginal art as inspiration for their work, which led to Jackson designing the labels Bush Couture and Bush Kids on her own. This is another indicator I suppose of Kee and Jackson's solo work as inherently 'Australian' but more than that, I suspect there might even be a hint of retrospective 'naffness' attached to their work because for some, these brash Australiana motifs are somewhat cliched, in the same way that the artist Ken Done's work might be viewed in that vein. Cue Princess Diana stepping out in a Jenny Kee koala jumper when she was pregnant with Prince William and the ensuing love/hate relationship that comes with that level of exposure and notoriety.
But then there were real credible highs too. Kee's opal design fabric prints were used in Karl Lagerfeld's first ever pret-a-porter collection for Chanel in 1982. The print was used on shirt dresses, as a lining for the classic suits, on shoes and bags and pretty much caused an Australian fashion stir.
The subsequent chapter of Kee's life is a little depressing to recall with her second husband committing suicide as well as financial loss in her business, but I can of course say that Kee is alive and well, shining bright as she flitted outside the Romance was Born show a couple of weeks ago. Having dug up some imagery (there aren't that many examples of her work floating about on the internet), it's the exhuberance of her work and her pride in her homeland of Oz that makes me realise where the inspirational roots of contemporary designers such as Romance was Born lie and ultimately it's been fascinating to learn of a supposed 'young' fashion country that still manages to conjure up 'rich' fashion figures to draw from.
(Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales of Romance was Born with Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson at their Sydney store opening)
This image from a recent catwalk show held for Woolmark's Campaign for Wool, which featured Jenny Kee's work, also looks mighty contemporary in the context of British young knittists like Hannah Buswell and Sibling, which makes me wonder how prolific Kee currently is as well as pointing out the relevance of her work that may be 'ocker' (hardcore Australian) to some but then again, is that such a bad thing?