I'll be the first to admit that Style Bubble is woefully inadequate when it comes to writing about fashion going on in areas outside of London in the UK. I'm painfully not well-travelled in my own country and the joke still goes that the only time I leave the confines of the M25 is when I'm leaving the country. Therefore I took out two days to take a painless 90 minute train ride to Bath, to experience the still on-going Bath in Fashion proceedings. When I got to the Paddington train station to get my tickets, the lady at the desk said "You're going for the fashion week?" to which I replied "Errr… I guess so." It's not a fashion week as such but rather it's a curated week of talks, events and some shows that brings an opportunity to experience fashion in one of England's prettiest cities. For those with a penchant for fashion and living in the local area, events such as Roland Mouret interviewed by Susannah Frankel, catwalk illustrator David Downton doing workshops, textiles legend Kaffe Fassett doing book signings and London figures Princess Julia and Julie Verhoeven descending down to Bath are definitely treats to see. For those from outside of town, Bath as a World Heritage Site is of course a pleasure all by itself, with the added bonus of fashion-related exhibitions and a chance to take in a talk or two.
I was eager to revisit Bath because of my own vividly rose-tinted memories of the place, from a school trip I went on when I was 14. Roman Baths. Georgian architecture. The home of Jane Austen. Historical fantasies about fashionable ladies in the Regency period walking around in empire line dresses, taking the famous waters at Bath and promenading around the Crescent or the Royal Circle. What's not to like if you were like me, a dorky teenager and liked to run around Hampstead Heath dreaming about court mantuas, Bronte and liked sniffing old books?! Turns out Bath is every bit as quaint, gentile and charming as I had remembered. When walking around the compact city centre, the burst of independent shops, each with their own specific niche, was quite lovely to see. In London, independent bricks and mortar shops come in pockets that are often spread out. In Bath, the lovely cheese shop, butchers, baker's, vintage guitar store, indie book store and a clutch of vintage clothing shops are within spitting distance of each other. It's all beautiful presentation, old-fashioned signs and bordering-on-twee aesthetics. The tweeness isn't irritating though. It's a respite from the self concious hipster notions of twee that are prevalent in London, because it feels genuine. So of course there's a shop selling antique buttons or teddy bears. It seems only natural in Bath.
There's a deluge of quaint indies in Bath but here are some of the things that caught my eye… Mr B's Emporium of Reading delights purely because the name is so awesome, the exacting coffee beans at Colonna & Small's, which unsurprisingly is owned by an Aussie, the fact that you can find buttons shaped like little cars at Jessie's Button Box in Bath Antique Centre, the facade of Jolly's department store and the fact that it's called Jolly's, the awesome refurbed light selection at Felix, the yummy food of Sam's Kitchen complete with a plinky plonk piano inside, the exacting stationery delights of Meticulous Ink…
On the vintage shopping front, I didn't investigate every vintage shop (and it's a burgeoning sector in Bath) but found a solid trio in Susannah, Scarlet Vintage and Vintage to Vogue. Susannah reminds me a little bit like Annie's in Camden Passage in that it's all Victorian to Edwardian underclothes, linens and ribbondry with patchworked quilts made up by Susannah using remnants. I optimistically bought a skimpy Edwardian cotton slip thinking of summer days. Scarlet Vintage is small but well-selected with its mix of designer and top quality pieces. A 1960s checked coat and matching dress caught my eye there. Vintage to Vogue is great for both womenswear and menswear and veers towards classic pieces so that all ages of women and men shop there. It makes a change from the youth-orientated retro rags that occupies so much of the vintage sector.
As part of Bath in Fashion and as a pertinent reminder that Made in Britain is now a covetable and solid option as opposed to an unrealistic ideal, inside Milsom Place is a pop-up shop set up by British Bag Makers, who also design a much loved local bag brand called Liz Cox. With a few machines and pattern-cutting desk set up inside the shop as well as a selection of leathers, the idea is to allow customers to see a glimpse of the process that goes on in their local factory just 10 miles from Bath and to encourage the idea of custom bag designs, selecting leathers, tweaking straps and getting a made-with-love and made-locally bag. If cheeses, charcuterie and breads fulfill those duties, why shouldn't leather goods do the same, especially in an area which has historically had factories such as Clarks Shoes. The serious upshot to all of this is that British Bag Makers aren't just creating smallscale artisanal goods for the area. They also take on the manufacture of bags for companies like Mulberry and Dunhill, outputting around 600 bags a week and employing around 60 people. That's something for British designers and brands to take note of if the possibility of bringing bag production back to Britain should arise. I'll hopefully be visiting the factory soon to get a better idea of what this company does.
Also in the Milsom Place drag of shops is a young weaver called Katherine Fraser, who hand weaves the most beautiful silk scarves and home furnishing textiles, mainly revolving around her signature uneven check designs. Fraser said she loved the idea of making up orders as they come in and selling one-off designs and really revelling in her own 21st century take on the cottage industry. In fashion, it's normal to throw around language of upscaling production, wholesale and stockists but Fraser seems content with working away at her loom by herself and keep things on a small scale, which was refreshing to hear. I'll be hitting her up with a cray-cray order of neon and grey blankets and cushion covers for the new casa (still progressing painfully slow I might add).
Bucking the trend of all things twee, quaint and quintessentially English is concept store Found, overlooking the Avon Canal. Owners Olivia Brewer and Nik Blake had never owned a store before but found a distinct gap, not just in Bath but perhaps in the UK as a whole, of designers mingling with stationery and homeware and it's their selection that really makes them stand out. Having lived in Auckland, New Zealand for a while, they bought back some of their label finds, which are suffice to say, impossible to get hold even in London, such as bag label Deadly Ponies, Twentyseven Names and Australia's Kinoak. Solid brands like Karen Walker eyewear and ready to wear, YMC, Dr Martens and Cambridge Satchel Company rounds out the selection as well as the lovely stationery and homewares sections. Mucho heart.
What's a trip to Bath without taking the waters of UK's only natural thermal spa, a pastime that dates back to the Roman times? The Thermae Bath Spa, opened in 2006 after extensive work to restore and update the historic bath houses, is a great intersection of Bath's spa history and modern spa facilities. It's a unique spa experience precisely because the rich mineral waters bubble up naturally from the Hetling, King's and Cross Springs and that you can experience that from what seems like a standard roof top pool, albeit with the rolling hills and Bath's skyline around you. I emerged after two hours of pool-hopping and steam room sampling (they have five different scented steam rooms) with super soft skin and feeling like I could doze the rest of the day away.
In between meandering around shops, taking the waters and quaffing perfect flat whites, I also slipped into the beautiful Octagon Chapel to take in the Norman Parkinson exhibition entitled "Mouvements de Femme", curated by Roland Mouret, marking the centenary of Parkinson's birth. ‚ÄúI find the thing that excites me most about women is the way they move‚Äù said Norman Parkinson in 1984 and as one of the most prolific fashion photographers, working from the 1930s up until his death, he saw many women move in front of his lens. The exhibition traverses through Parkinson's vast bodies of work, with each decade bringing new exciting backdrops and clothes to create enigmatic and lasting imagery. Mouret chronologically and thematically groups up the photographs as you make your way around the octagonal-shaped room with one wall at the end devoted to the images Parkinson shot in Bath for British Vogue.
I'll be posting about the other current exhibition delighs of Bath from my beloved Fashion Museum and the Holburne Museum in the next post just to ease up on the image load here.