I'm getting a little bit bored with myself, everytime somebody asks me about a Mother of Pearl piece I'm wearing and I have to go through the whole "You know Damien Hirst?  Well his partner (apparently they've split up?) has a fashion label and this is it!" spiel.  It does Mother of Pearl zero justice to even associate it with that tag of bored and rich wives with fashion ventures, which there are definitey many out there.  Mother of Pearl is a different breed though through Norman's art world associations as of course each season, they collaborate with Norman's chosen artist.  However, the foundations of the brand's design are laid by designer Amy Powney, who is responsible for tugging the design strings on this dynamic brand, turning out a sportswear infused pieces that are also luxurious.  I spoke to Powney below to find out more about the lady who isn't quite the face of the brand but is definitely calling the shots when it comes to laying down Mother of Pearl's design DNA.  

Powney graduated from Kingston University and spent some time interning with the likes of Giles Deacon and Marios Schwab and from there she went on to work at Mother of Pearl, before taking over as head of design alongside creative director Norman.  That was five seasons ago and it is clear that since then, Powney has strategically established that sportswear meets luxury aesthetic at Mother of Pearl, creating pieces that feel modern and in step with how many women I know live and work, hence why I have to repeatedly do the whole explanatory chat.   

In addition to getting those silhouettes right, Powney, together with Norman have figured out how to work with artists, respecting their work and their limits, whilst creating interesting collaborations.  The latest Mother of Pearl collection sees American artist Fred Tomaselli and his paintings transferred from resin-covered wooden panels to embroidered jumpers, easy going silk shirts and stiffened jacquard jackets and wide-legged trousers.  Tomaselli's work is rich with detailing but none of the essence of his depiction of birds killing each other, pills hanging on trees, stained-glass fireworks and exploding butterflies, has been lost when translated on to garments.  The trick is getting the shapes right to showcase the art and in fact the non-printed, non-embroidered pieces stand out in their own right what with Powney and Norman once again using an abundance of nappa pieces in shades of peach and blue.  Accessories-wise, Mother of Pearl dabbled in embellished gloves (which are my knuckle duster weapon of choice) as well as sticking to their tried-and-tested slouchy rucksack and Pierre Hardy trainers formula.  

With crockery, shoes and bags already under the belt of Mother of Pearl, it will be interesting to see where Powny and Norman take their methods of collaboration. As a label that bases its collections purely on working with other creatives, the opportunities seem endless.   

How has Mother of Pearl developed aesthetically through the seasons?
I have been designing the collection since SS11 (the collection in collaboration with Jim Lambie). I think it still has fundamental similarities since then, but yes inevitably it has moved on. Refining the brands direction and concept, the collection has moved on with each artist and the clarification of the brands aesthetic. Working with a different artist each season means there is a signature forming before the collection has even been developed but with each artwork used I always ensure it is moulded and moved into signature Mother of Pearl. Aesthetically, I feel it has found it's combination of sporty/ easy silhouettes infused with luxury fabrics and has developed it's use of print and embellishment, most notably used in the latest collection in collaboration with Fred Tomaselli.

The casual leather pieces and the "slouchy" silhouette has become a signature for the label – how were these developed?
These began, when I realised that beautiful lamb nappa looked almost like waterproof fabric yet incredibly luxury. I first added these into the Lambie collection in the form of a short sport style jacked ( which I think you have on in navy) and then they naturally found their way into every collection so far. I love the skins used this way not to mention in great colour ways.

Is it the artist, which informs the overarching theme every season?  
The artists work is always up on the board as first hand research and always add a strong signature style, however each season I have themes like any other designer, for example a sporting reference possibly an era reference, usually a film thrown in there and often a cultural reference. I suppose subconsciously the artists work will be the original spark for a lot of these further research ideas.

How do you use the artist's work in terms of placing them into context on to the garments?
Maia brings in different suggestions of artists and we sit down and look at them both from the aesthetic and concept.  We look at all angles of how they would translate into knit/ screen prints and digital prints, from different scales to different colour ways.  Once we feel the artist is perfect for the collection, then all that is left it to ask them!

Once we have the sign off, I work through many ideas of how they will be used, sketch them up and then work with a great graphic team on the artwork.  The most important thing when dealing with the artists work is to ensure you don't go so far away from it that it will offend the them, but that it is not simply replicated onto a garment as this would not make for an exciting collaboration.  I always try to ensure the print is a unique collaboration and vision with both the artist's original work with the new angle of the aesthetic of the  brand.

What sort of people do you envision wearing Mother of Pearl?
Women that can dress day to night, Women that want comfort with luxury, Women that both love the pieces for the collaboration with the artist but equally those who just love the print, Women who don't take themselves too seriously and love to be out and about and finally men who love the unisex pieces!

How do you see Mother of Pearl progressing as a soon-to-be established label?
I am concentrating on ensuring the coming seasons are strong and in line with the brands current direction and success, which takes up a lot of time!  Otherwise, I love the creative projects we work on such as the paper, MoP shop's and one- off collaborations and would love to see this side of the brand grow simultaneously.  With our successful concept of seasonally collaborating with artists, I think it is a natural progression to work and collaborate on many projects relevant to the brand.  I would like each season to reinvent itself, keeping in line with the brand simultaneously and to go on working with great talent and creating great projects, but like I say, for now, it is to ensure this soon-to-be established label becomes established!

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"Dead Eye Bird Blast" (1997), Fred Tomaselli

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"Order Passeriformes" (2004), Fred Tomaselli

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"Field Guides" (2003), Fred Tomaselli

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"Millennium Phosphene Bloom" (2005), Fred Tomaselli

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"Night Music for Raptors" (2010), Fred Tomaselli

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Detail of "Dead Eye Bird Blast" (1997), Fred Tomaselli

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When J.W. Anderson showed his A/W 12-3 collection at London Fashion Week back in February, I came out feeling a little perturbed, slightly confused as to whether I liked it or not.  It's a similar feeling to how I've felt about certain Prada shows.  It's not an instant broad smile reaction but a furrowed brows and quizzical tilted head gesture.  It is only when I saw the recent resort 2013 collection that something finally clicked for me. 

Let me go back a bit though.  When J.W. Anderson first started doing womenswear (it's funny that people now primarily know him as a womenswear designer when way back when, I remember his Rasputin-inspired obtuse menswear presentation at Two See) a few seasons ago, many had him pegged as a youth-focused brand – a brand that could turn out interesting clothes that are desirable to the dreamer teens of today, rooted in sub-culture and heavily influenced by the notion of rebellion, rid of all cliches.  I think the tag "an English Rag & Bone" even came up at one point. 

From pre-fall 2012 onwards though, J.W. Anderson's remit has shifted somewhat.  It certainly isn't "English Rag & Bone".  In fact, the collections tread a far more ambitious and dangerous line.  Anderson's recent pre-occupation with the deranged house wife locked inside her own home, running riot with all the surfaces that cover this domestic prison, immediately tells us that the brand's fan base isn't going to be just the little lost girls of gen Y.  Actually, they're the eternally lost women/girls of gen XYZ, hence why I've fallen pretty hard for most of his designs ever since he began womenswear.  The wardrobe count doesn't lie – twelve pieces and counting and there's definitely an intention to add more considering the fresh pre-fall product drop on LN-CC.  

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The resort collection in contrast to the autumn winter collection is expectedly lighter, edging closer to summer and gave Anderson an opportunity to eke out that domesticity theme.  He explores notions of Sunday Best and tries to play with feminine codes – the pleated skirt, the flounce and a frill reminiscent of 70s YSL and even mid-century couture inspired by the likes of Patou and Worth.   Still, it's uneasy Sunday Best.  Especially when it comes to a pinstripe bustier.  Despite the amount of flesh on show, there's nothing sexual about it and that's precisely what's so appealing about it.  The fabrics are unexpected and make an instant impression upon touch – the vinyl layered upon the taffeta, the boiled nylon, the smooth neoprene in Pepto Bismol pink and the puckered ostrich-esque silk.  A paint dabbed print pops up unexpectedly even though Anderson was reluctant to do a print.  Anderson is strengthening his argument for the return of pinstripe with his loose Comme-like tailoring.  In particular, a structured dress where two box pleats are created as outward-pointing, jutting geometric entities makes an impression when rendered in City-boy stripes.  The progressive extra baggage on the hips may seem like a hard sell, but seems to me a refinement and finessing on Comme's infamous bump collection that will emerge as being surprisingly wearable.  Open-sided shirts and polonecks as well as the simple kilts form the accessible base of the collection, which is a J.W. Anderson knack that reassures us he's a designer that definitely wants women wearing his clothes.  Anderson's resort accessories equally push and pull between being feminine and awkward – with decorative enamel chains and floral brooches battling it out with flat white 90s space boots.    

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Going back to the A/W 12-3 collection, I'm not sure why it is that the show initially stumped me so much because right now, all of it is suddenly making complete and utter sense.  Maybe it was the dramatic shift from the S/S 12 collection.  Maybe it was the initial shock of these bleak figures clad in puffa, thick PVC and shrouded in button-up fisherman hats.  If protection is going to be a prevailing theme for A/W 12-3 then I'd rather take it on face value and wrap myself up in these heavy layers.  The more difficult and head-scratching the better really.  The easier sells would be Anderson's oversized waffle knits and A-line skirts rendered in beaded houndstooth but the stuff that really gets the fashion adrenaline going is wondering how feasible is the full-on squeaky PVC pyjama set, the padded layers of tie-up vests and wrap-around skirts.  Tinsel knit fabric in a red and black check is one of the fabric innovations that marks out Anderson as not only a designer who attempts to make the awkward seem desirable but also someone who makes careful consideration for fabrication as well as provenance and make.  The British-made aspect of J.W. Anderson's clothes hasn't been well emphasised but for instance, he uses shirt making factories in Ireland and age-old silk printing factories.  When it's the design and aesthetics that catches your eye rather than the provenance or origin of the cloth, then that's a sign of a job well done.  

 

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J.W. Anderson could have rested on his laurels and continued turning out twisted preppy pieces and school uniforms gone wrong that would have made him a pretty penny.  However, with these resort and autumn winter collections, he is almost challenging his customers to get behind him fully – even if that does involve squeaking about in a PVC pyjama set.  It certainly makes the journey of being a J.W. Anderson devotee a lot more interesting.  Still, I can argue and argue the case and it may still fall upon deaf ears.  If puffa tie-up dresses and jutting out pinstripe shapes aren't your thing then, hear me now.  His collaboration for Topshop will be expansive, instantly covetable and get your hearts racing.  You've been warned.  I'll say no more.  

Did I mention it was blistering in Florence?  I could have laid out a pizza on the pavement and I would have gotten a crispy and crunchy crust.  Wandering around the vast and cavernous Pitti Uomo looking at men struggling to keep stay sweat-free in their buttoned up three-piece suits wasn't exactly conducive to staying cool.  Pitti Uomo had devised a clever set-up, whereby certain designers were given a timeslot to give us fair wanderers a glimpse into a brand through an installation or a performance, an alternative to the standard tradeshow stand format.  Illustrator, print and accessories designer Pierre-Louis Maschia just so happened to be one of those designers doing his "alternative set" and so we got to enjoy the best of Florence's weather, under the shade of the most colourful awning and umbrellas out there, lounging around on vividly printed cushions and towels, sipping prosecco and munching on artisinal bread sticks – in other words, this wasn't really "work".

Pierre-Louis Mascia is a designer who I discovered in my early days of coming to Pitti Uomo and remains one of those under-the-radar printists whose work impresses upon first touch and feel.  His prints have a knack for mixing the classic with the unexpected, taking careful consideration with colour combinations and even more care with the fabric choices.  Every season, his stand at the Pitti Uomo is where you can feel the softest jerseys, silks and now nylons.  Yes, even nylon can be soft and for S/S 13, his apparel and accessories offerings has utilised a very fine Japanese nylon that feels like silk to touch but is unbelievably light and airy.  Mascia has created a windbreaker, kagoul type jacket using this nylon, with about six print stories running through the collection that is defiantly unisex and quite possibly the most useful item of clothing to scrunch up in your bag for British weather.  I find it hard to believe that there isn't a PLM print for everyone as his print combos range from the subtle and understated to the loud and attention-grabbing.  I'm veering towards the latter of course with this season's mixes of yellow, purple and turquoise and rose print getting my vote.  As per the last few seasons, cushions, quilts and towels form quite a formidable home range, which I'm surprised Liberty hasn't picked up yet.  They're not afterthought products as once again Mascia has come up with the most luxurious materials to befit the prints.  I can attest to that as I did my fair share of lounging about on the grass, feeling up the cushions and towels.   

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This is the man himself, illustrated with his scarf that probably consists of about ten different patterns and colours yet you wouldn't think he had gone over the top, no?  It's a skillful knack that Mascia has mastered and one that makes you want any bit of PLM action you can get be it a simple scarf around your neck or a giant tower of cushions in your home.    

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"Steady on Susie, it's a Monday morning!" says the imaginary appropriate blog post title barometer.  Just to reassure you, it's not my legs I'm referring to in the title but the long and lithe gams featured in new hoisery designer Erica M's lookbook.  I've not really investigated interesting hoisery for a while, preferring to leave my legs bare to the elements or to wear an assortment of dorky looking Ayame or Tabio socks ruched up around my ankles.  I've even lost the knack of the scrunch n' roll action that you're supposed to do with tights in order to prevent snagging.  Thanks to Samia of High Snobette though, she tipped me off to Erica M., who has just launched her collection of legwear for A/W 12-3 with a succinct four styles.  It may be a compact collection but every style packs a punch as they feature intricate knitted-in patterns and trompe l'oeil details, often playing off of the tricky garter belt and all those other fiddly accoutrements that I think, barely feature in day-to-day lingerie routines.  Erica M's concept was simple – the incorporate the look of the garter belt, stockings, suspenders and garter and and all of that faff into one style.  The brand may be based in New York but all the legwear is all made in Italy and without intending to go all Mills & Boons (or indeed… Fifty Shades) on you, they do go on like a dream and feel great on skin.  

Of course, me being me, I can't quite leave sexy as the gods intended.  I have to unsexify it whilst attempting to showcase the best parts of the hoisery, namely the beautiful detailing at the tops of the thighs.  That's where items like wrapover skirts and knitted shorts come in handy.  I haven't quite figured out a way to wear the full-on garter belt suspender belt style featuring two bows that sit at either sides of your lady bits without revealing a little bit too much but perhaps Erica M. intended these design features to be little secrets that you keep to yourself.     

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(Worn with Chloe shirt, vintage sheer top, Tao knitted shorts, Christopher Kane sandals)

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(Worn with Man Candy jacket, Uniqlo poloneck, J.W. Anderson skirt, Underground creepers)

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