I'm backdating again as I rewind to my trip to Tokyo (even though I'm currently in Shanghai, and then Beijing, my last leg of my trip) where I had another encounter with shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana.  I thought nothing could top his kindness of allowing me to try on a few pairs of his shoes in the Comme des Garcons Trading Museum store, whilst both he and the staff there sniggered at my inefficiency of walking on air and also at the little Mexican man embroidered on my dress.  Noritaka went one better and allowed me into his inner sanctum home slash studio slash workshop to see him apply sole to upper and thus finish off a pair of shoes that is intended for Daphne Guinness (his other ardent fan alongside Lady Gaga).  

I knew Noritaka ran a small scale production but it was even more intimate than I thought.  Noritaka's rabbit Choco wscurrying about in his wee cage in one corner and his sole assistant was at a desk working on tracing out a sole for the shoe in another.  The rest of his workshop is occupied by one Singer leather sewing machine, one Nippy leather skiving (I still can't get over that technical term) and a square desk where he set about applying sole to shoe.  First he skived the edges of the leather sole so that the edges were thinner than the centre and trimmed it, in preparation for the shoe.  Then he made it more pliable with water and then he sets about painting it with a sort of quick-dry dye to give it that black polished finish.  After the imprint of his logo and the bending of the sole with expertly cut-out freehand slits means it's ready to be joined with the grey suede and Swarovski encrusted upper (as instructed by Daphne Guinness).  Both sole and bottom of the shoe has to be brushed with glue and left for five minutes so that the surfaces will stick together properly.  I loved that Noritaka uses a Japanese calligraphy brush to apply the glue.  He won't have it any other way.  Once both shoe and sole are properly sticky, then he puts the two together, hammering away at the sole so that it sticks there.  I thought there might have been a clamping process but it turns out Noritaka uses all parts of the hammer to really press the sole onto the shoe.  You can visibly see the bumps being ironed out with the curve of the claw, the handle of the hammer and a super smooth edge forming that comes from the leather having been brushed with water, making it flexible under pressure.  It wasn't the full process from start to finish but the sole binding final process is a crucial stage where the shell of a shoe becomes well… a proper pair of shoes.  

If the description of the process above sounds a bit dry and stale, then I can assure you that in person, it was quite mesmerising to watch.  This was a very different kettle of fish from observing the factory set-ups seen at Dr. Martens or in Portugal.  This is one lone Noritaka, living and breathing that inky dye and that pungent glue and really getting to grips with his own personal hammer to craft his namesake shoes, on this teensy tiny scale of production.  From the way he works, you get the feeling that he wouldn't want to relinquish that control of forming his shoes with his own hands.  I questioned whether Noritaka could expand beyond custom orders but after seeing this, you'd rather than not happen if it means he doesn't get to personally put hand to shoe himself.  The shoes may make you feel like you're walking on air but there are some solid and concrete foundations, within this feat of footwear engineering, that people may not realise or see after being blinded by their initial "WOW, that's FREAKY!" reaction.   

Oh and there's a little secret about the construction of the super high platform, which really surprised me.  But that would be giving it all away… 

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The world just keeps getting smaller as I'm turning ye olde blog posts into real life in-the-flesh encounters.  Elaine, the owner of The Olive Shoppe, the former vintage eBay store once based in California, has been bouncing around the world, from Beijing to Bangkok and now to Shanghai for an indefinite period of time.  Their website Olive Shoppe is still going, filled with Elaine's quirky eye for vintage but it is her taste in new designers picked up on her travels that has created her pop-up shop that is currently going on in Shanghai (812 Julu Road) until the 31st May.  The Olive Shoppe also has a guest pop-up rail in Dong Liang Studio, just around the corner (184 Fumin Lu) just around the corner, extending her physical shop reach.  Elaine's nomad ways means that her labels are geographically sprawling – Two Weeks and Proef Tights from the UK, Daniel Palillo from Finland, Fleamadonna from Korea, Chromat from USA and Reality Studio from Germany.  They're all names that are hard to find in their very own source countries but have found a home in a furniture store near the somewhat hip-n-burgeoning Fumin Road area in Shanghai as well as on their Taobao shop (more about the wonders of Taobao later…).  

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My biggest discovery from Olive Shoppe was the London-based Kerhao Yin, a name who I vaguely knew but hadn't seen his collections up close.  It's all too little too late alas as this half Taiwanese, half Burmese CSM graduate has now stopped his own label and has taken a job at Marni.  Still, we can reminisce a bit over his S/S 12 collection which is a mash-up of unexpected textures and basketball attire and is one of the most interesting examples of warping sportswear that I've seen in a long time.  The deliberate light/heavy contradiction is seen in the use of tulle contrasted with heavy quilted wadding or green cut-out felt sports initials.  Here's hoping Kerhao brings his aesthetic sensibilities over to Marni.    

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Seeing as Kerhao is no more and this is the one opportunity I'd be buying a piece of his work, I faltered and ridiculously bought a London-based designer's work all the way in Shanghai.  Doh.  To rub salt in to wounds, these new pistachio slingback shoes by Alex & Rose are also by a British label based in London.  Double Doh.  I'm going to maintain that I'd never see either of these items in London so I haven't really broken my "If I can get it in London, it's not worth buying.." rule of travel shopping.  The Kerhao mesh jacket reads Sports Day, a day which I loved slacking off from for almost all of my primary and secondary school life.  Can you tell I'm really excited for the Olympics *voice dripping with heavy sarcasm* ?  

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(Kerhao jacket worn with Antipodium shirt, COS dip-dyed sweater, COS neon skirt, Alex & Rose pistachio shoes)

>> This is one to offload to girls who endlessly Tumblr pictures of blooming roses or watch Lana del Rey videos wondering where she got her cut and paste footage from.  That's not to deride those girls.  I myself, may well fall into that category at times.  My point is, it's difficult to look at this debut collection by Lesya Paramonova, an illustrator and designer based in Moscow and not think about how they will end up on endless moodboards and Tumblrs and how Instagram-able it all is (by the by, thanks to Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, I'm now hooked up on it with the new Android app on @susiebubble).  I feel like Lesya and I come from a generation of women, who want to look upon a flower and find meaning beyond its surface prettiness.  This is probably why I'm eternally attracted to Linder Sterling collages or why I STILL cannot stop watching Solve Sundsbo's The Ever Changing Face of Beauty film for W Magazine.  Blooms that grow over body parts clearly get me going.  The video above by Karina Eibatova is a video flower anthem soundtracked by Washed Out and it's the perfect summation of why Paramonova's work is emotive for us annoying dreamers who litter the world with images of people's faces being obscured by giant lillies.  

Paramonova, like Zimmermann has also been rejecting the onslaught of digital florals and instead goes for printed botanical drawings, that are uplifted by cutting out sections into fabric decoupage or adding layers of sheer silk tulle to dull the patterns.  The presentation of the collection at the latest edition of Cycles and Seasons in Moscow back in March had the models wearing their hair as a mask, an extreme version of girls who hide behind their long hair and daisy chains.  Her lookbook images, inspirations, presentation and behind the scenes images are all, like I said, terribly easy to fall in love with.  Without seeing the clothes up close, it's difficult to say where Paramonova's technical strength lies but I'd buy into this floral haven in a heartbeat.  And then Instagram/Tumblr it all up of course.

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I did tactfully hint that this year's MBFWA in Sydney was more eventful off-site than it was on-site, with the real action taking place in showrooms and at off-site shows.  Ok, that wasn't so tactful.  But dems the rules of any centralised and systematic fashion week venue, where ambiance and atmosphere are often sacrified in favour of sponsor messages and heavy branding.  I'm therefore glad I made it out to Emma Mulholland's off-schedule event at The Grand Social where she presented her "As Bad As I Guana Be" S/S 12-3 collection, where flaming tequila drinks were the order of the night, alongside a screening of the film that accompanies this collection, directed by Alex Goddard.  That's the sort of wordplay that would endear me to any collection, let alone one that makes Mulholland stand out in the Sydney fashion scene as someone, who has a knack for synthesising streetwear, heightened consideration for fabric and textures and an unlikely cocktail of references together into something she can call her own. 

Mulholland first caught my eye with her take on all things hot n' tropical and rainbow sea-dregged long before before S/S 12's onslaught of sea creature and mermaid themed collections, a theme she had explored in her graduation collection too.  I know people like to talk about colours "popping" at you (what does that actually mean) but in all honesty, Mulholland's colour combos and her eye for detailing really do come alive before your very eyes.  In one way, like so many Australian designers, she is fully attuned with with that extraordinary light that Sydney gets, making the sea look bluer and lush plants look greener.  Mulholland takes that bit of sensitivity though and ramps it up by tenfold and for this collection, she goes looking in the desert for cacti and iguanas and drops them into a basketball court, complete with cropped tees, caps and varsity satin jackets.  Mulholland has tweaked her collection so that it covers all wardrobe bases – leathers, knitwear, a ton of separates and accessories – a natural progression from her last shark-infested "Tropical Rebel" collection that is currently on The Grand Social.  It's this wearability coupled with solid development of brain-searingly memorable motifs that means Mulholland is more than equipped to battle any homogenisation going on in her hometown, to ride her own wave.  Judging by the rapturous Facebook love, I'm definitely not the only one who would want some iguanas on their back come summertime. 

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