Late Cheer

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>> I may have ended the last post on Arise Magazine Fashion Week on a bit of a bum note.  No, I'm not saying being inspired by your own culture is in any way a bad thing but sometimes, it can feel like a designers of minority ethnicity are shackled to that and see it as a way of standing out against Caucasian peers.  Relating your own work to personal experience and heritage though obviously yields great things. When a collection reflects a reality that is genuine and exuberant and feels like it's shaking things up a bit, then I duly approve.  I'm a bit late to Kezia Frederick's Central Saint Martins BA collection but these images are the perfect Friday pick-me-up, that segues into a vaguely clunky mode of dressing that I've personally been enjoying – trainers, socks, multiple shirts/jumpers tied around the waist and of course the formidable print/colour clashing that you're so very used to whenever you zoom over to Style Bubble.  Anybody familiar with the 55 bus route in London or if you live in any multi-cultural city, will get where Frederick is coming from.  She explored the idea of "dual citizenship" with her energetic collection that combines photographs of style observed in London as well as of Nigerian women coming out of church (something that I've personally been fascinated as I grew up seeing people come out of Methodist/Baptist churches in Willesden and Hackney on a Sunday, wondering why their outfits were so fancy).  There's something about Frederick's combination of traditional Nigerian dress with more familiar street-derived elements that come together quite beautifully here.  Frederick took her collection out to Arise Fashion Week and the folks at Patternity singled her out as one of their personal faves from the week.  Hopefully she'll be finding her own design niche soon enough.  

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(Photographs by Shiba Huizer)

Arise

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I'm kicking myself for not taking up the opportunity to head out to Lagos, Nigeria for Arise Magazine Fashion Week, even though technically it overlapped with Paris Fashion Week and I would have been operating at the pace of a sloth even if I did make it out there.  Therefore it's down to the lovely Anna Murray of Patternity, to venture out to Lagos and kindly report back with a vast photo story here that documents both on and off the catwalks and all the patterns that they saw in everything from crazy pavement tiling to Nigerian textiles.  I don't normally allow guest posts on Style Bubble but this was an exceptional exception, where I would have given my two left thumbs to do a body switch with Anna for the week to get out of a fashion comfort zone and into what I perceive to be the great unknown.   

Here, Patternity give us a little account of their experience of the week: 

"It's always exciting to visit a new country, to get a new perspective and to return home inspired.  Patternity's trip to the sprawling metropolis that is the Nigerian Capital Lagos, and host of Nigerian fashion week 2012, was no exception.

Invited to the Arise Magazine Fashion Week, Patternity documented the textures and patterns that made up the week, as well as consulting for British designer David David with his Lagos debut winning him an award for 'Most Innovative Show 2012' .

Capturing on camera both the schedule of seventy-seven African or African-influenced designers on and off stage, and in true Patternity style, getting out and about in Lagos seeing the abundance of pattern everywhere from the mundane to the magnificent, forming a tapestry of where much of the original inspiration comes and where it has ended up. 

Best summed up, it was in essence a week spent observing extreme contrasts, both in and out of the fashion arena. The Lagos landscape sees towering shiny buildings which sit alongside shanty towns. The glitz and glamour of the red carpet frequently descends into darkness owing to intermittent generator power cuts. This is the week where international models walk behind local Nigerian girls and boys who were discovered just 2 weeks ago, some of them winning life changing awards to go to New York. In the pattern and colour rich markets we chatted and laughed with the locals, but always with the slight discomfort that we had to be accompanied by an armed guard. 

Only in it's second year of running, (with thanks to publisher Nduka Obaigbena who funded the whole week) and judging by the high standard of this years design talent, its clear events like this make way for a furthered cultural understanding as the world look towards Lagos for inspiration, well and truly putting Africa on the map for Fashion Weeks to come." 

What's interesting is the schedule of designes that Obaigbena put together from all over the world for the week – some native from countries in Africa, some that have roots in Africa or in some cases, the Caribbean and reside in different countries and then a few that have no connections with Africa at all, other than they are influenced by the aesthetics of African textiles.  I apologise in advance if I'm using Africa as a loose umbrella term but Arise's fashion week event seems to mix it all up into a hot pot, where countries of origin don't seem to be the main focus.  Rather it is about celebrating African derived fashion talent as a whole.  Not surprisingly, the key designers that Patternity singled out as standouts reside outside of Africa but take elements of their own culture to inject into their designs.  

Laurence Chauvin Buthaud of Laurence Airline is someone, who I'd love to investigate more with a possible trip to her native country Ivory Coast, where she has set up a workshop that teaches couture sewing techniques to locals.  Profits from sales of the collection are invested back into the project.  What's better than this bit of do-gooding is that the clothes are really quite lovely.  It's menswear that either sex could get stuck into.  Buthaud has a focused way of mixing textiles with polka dots, Scottish plaids and peacock plumes all occupying the body with geometric lines.  Laurence Airline also has an office in Paris which evidently will help the brand make the connection with sales.

Oheme Ohene and Buki Akib are two other labels which make use of their respective Ghanaian and Nigerian roots in their work but are both based in London.  Then there are the New York-based designers such as Telfar, William Okpo and LaQuan Smith, who pointedly don't incorporate African aesthetics into their work.  Finally you have British designer David David who hosted a retrospective of his work, where the sporty geometrics bear some resemblance to its often tessellated surroundings in Lagos, as photographed by Patternity.  This mighty mix of designers that come from a plethora of backgrounds must have been exciting to witness as a gathering.  

As an outsider, without having seen it all for myself, I still end up asking the same questions though.  Is it absolutely essential to inject recognisable "Africana" codes into the work of designers of African-origin in order for it to be valid and accepted?  Why do these "Africana" aesthetics continue to be perpetuated by European/American designers and does this in turn dillute the work of genuinely Africa-originated designs?  Funnily enough, I've also picked up on an article by Anja Aronowsky Cronberg in the latest issue of Bon Magazine that investigates the fallacy behind so-called African "Real Dutch Wax" prints, as they in originate from textile companies in the Netherlands.  This is a colonial mishap that has led to the assimilation of those eye-catching clashing prints and colours to become part of our vision of "Africanness".  Therefore, I find it more interesting when designers of African origin, don't bind themselves to these perpetually regurgitated aesthetics or feel pressurised to resort to designs that would at the end of the day cater to a Westernised view of all things "ethnic" and "exotic".  

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Getting Shirty

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What is better than being bowled over by beautiful lookbook images of a designer and then seeing their pieces shot in lovely editorials?  Why, it's spotting the product being worn by real people, impressing you for a second time round.  Immaculate tastemaker Madelaine Levy of Bon Magazine snapped up a shirt from Palmer // Harding S/S 12's collection and ever since I saw her wearing it at Stockholm Fashion Week, I can't quite get the idea out of my head that one of their white shirts will be THE white shirt that will somehow change my life.  Alright, that's a touch too far but honestly, seeing it on real live flesh and in good working condition, it struck me that it's an investment worth making.  Good thing that new ecommerce start-up Avenue32 have bought a number of styles in.

On to Palmer // Harding's sophomore follow up A/W 12-3 collection.  I think Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer are ok for now being known as the "guys who make good white shirts".  It's not exactly a niche, which many designers occupy.  However, they have expanded somewhat this season so that they'r also the "guys who make shirts in cream, mustard and black and do a few good jackets and shirt skirts too"  Ok, that's not very snappy and sounds a little Derek Zoolander.  Suffice to say, the duo haven't veered too far from their niche but have steadily added a few key pieces that enrichen the Palmer // Harding offering.  Their emphasis is still very much injecting sculptural elements into the white shirt but I think they do so with far more subtlety this time round.  They don't like to use lofty references but they mention Bruno Walpoth's wooden sculptures as one starting point, which can be seen in the use of white smudged with an earthy shade of ecru.  Walpoth's sensual figurines can also be seen in the ease of movement created by more of that clever tucking, pleating and foldering that are unexpected and devastatingly subtle.  I say the word devastatingly because I'm always floored by how mathematically complex Palmer and Harding's pattern cutting is.  

For this season, those little nip n' tuck details are even more hidden and are there for wearers to keep to themselves as a secret.  They've also focused on elongated shirt tails as well as one or two pieces of outerwear that undulate in waves at the back, which mixes up the proportions so that it's not all entirely concentrated on the upper half of the body.  Little details like grograin folded into the collars, rope thread into cuffs and muslin panels provide a textural contrast.  Still, it's the core foundations of the white shirt that still prevail in every piece.  That's why Palmer // Harding are still very much the guys to go to for a good white shirt and I doubt you'd want them to do any 180 degree design turns.  After all, why tinker with something that is getting off to such a good start?  

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Spice up your Life

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There's definitely a new Sims format that can come out of navigating the teens tiny, winding streets of the Marais during fashion week, where you can stumble upon showroom after showroom that is a world away from big budget shows at the Tuileries.  Five hundred Simoleons gained if you hap upon a good showroom with a few great labels.  Two hundred Simoleons deducted if you get distracted by the Rose Bakery on Rue Debelleyme.  

In a truly grim Parisian downpour, I trudged through a good lot of showroom visit last Sunday, which I think deserves a thousand Simoleons, just because it was like taking a shower at one point.  The great thing about some of the showrooms in the Marais is that they can feel like open house galleries, there for your viewing pleasure if you stump up a business card.  That's how I barged into Katrien van Hecke and Ingrid Verhoeven's joint showroom.   

Katrien Van Hecke lives and works in Antwerp but studied fashion design at the KASK, in Ghent and then cut her internship teeth at Bernhard Willhelm, Hussein Chalayan and later Christian Wijnants.  This A/W 12-3 collection entitled "Herbal" is her second one as she continues to explore hand dying her own fabrics.  Her interest in painting has led her to apply a painter's approach towards fabrics and so she experimented with herbs and spices such as turmeric, woad, sandalwood, nettle and cochineal to obtain some pretty unbelievable effects.  These are age old dying techniques but worked with her woven jacquards and fabric made out of banana leafs, Van Hecke is attempting to incorporate history into her experimental work.  Her large studio in Antwerp affords her the space to try out all kinds of ancient techniques and in this crazy fabric laboratory of her's, she mixed the spices with a type of metal in the fabric to prevent the colour from fading after washing.  The effects that I saw in the showroom certainly don't look like they have come from beetles and curry spices.  Without knowing how the fabric was dyed, the pieces looked to me like they had an organic and painterly nature to them.  As though someone had taken to fabric with a paintbrush and a steady hand.  It's interesting to see that Van Hecke's ambition is to create artisinal garments, ones that have bit of life and soul with them but it's even more fascinating to see how she achieves this effect without my looking at it and going "Oh, that's clearly a one-off piece."   

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On the other side of the room was jewellery designer Ingrid Verhoeven, who also works and lives in Antwerp (I feel I'm due another trip there, no?).  She has a simultaneously playful and precise approach that can be seen in these pieces in her new collection of "Cloud" jewellery.  The painted strips that make up the earrings and necklaces are actually cardboard that are varnished and laminated so that they take on the appearance of something far more precious.  It's a simple idea that is extremely well-executed and works well with a different kind of painterly approach from Verhoeven.  There we go.  Two painterly designers that I accidentally stumbled upon.  That should surely get me five thousand Simoleons.  

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