Just under a year ago, I was watching Mo Farah cross the finishing line at the Olympics Stadium in Stratford.  Remember those tripped-out happy months when we were ALL dissecting the ins and outs of anything from coxless four in rowing to slalom to dressage to double trap shooting, regardless of whether we had watched these sports beforehand?  A year later, and I was lucky enough to go out to Portland and shamelessly "pose" on the track at Nike's Beaverton campus in Portland Oregon, where Farah trains on a regular basis.   

That I was so giddy and excited to be stepping on to that tranquil track, surrounded by Portland's natural lush woodland, is testament to my own change of attitude towards the physical act of pushing your body.  I'm still hoping the half marathon I did in San Francisco last year is the beginning, not the exception to continue that feeling of epiphany I felt when I crossed the line.  I've spoken previously about being "active" and how that has permeated my personal style.  In short, I don't want to be a useless potato of a being anymore.     

Therefore, when Nike invited me and Steve to come to their "campus" as it is known (the word headquarters is not quite the right terminology), the beating heart of this billion dollar company, the obvious answer was to say yay.  Plus, we were already on the West Coast and to go from the palm-dotted expanse of L.A. to the far more walkable/cyclable city of Portland (and to experience all of "Keep Portland Weird" isms) felt like a brilliant way to cap off our holiday.  

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It had been five years since Nike had gathered journalists from all over the world together at their campus and the reason being this time was to unveil two footwear and two apparel innovations guided by the Nature Amplified design ethos.  Nike 101 lesson #1 Always Listen to the Athlete.  This was a quote expounded by Phil Knight, co-founder and chairman of Nike and was underlined again by present CEO Mark Parker.

"Innovation is everything at Nike.  It's the core of our character.  We use innovation to serve human potential.  It's the answer to limits," declared Parker in the opening to this media summit.

As we whizzed through the landmark innovations which Nike have pioneered – Nike Air, Free, the Speed Suit, Nike +, Fuel Band, Flyknit – the thing that we were made to understand was that you had to innovate to move forward.  When Bill Bowerman, the acclaimed track and field coach at the University of Oregon, poured rubber into his wife's waffle iron and created the successful 1974 Waffle Trainer, that waffle iron duly went into the bin.  He had moved on.  And so it is that Nike continues to push it and I, the person who works in the ever-schizophrenic, style-over-substance world of fashion, looks on in awe.  You can ignore what I said about not being one to fangirl because I fan-girled pretty hard on Parker during our interview.  Not my finest hour but I did get some good wordage from Parker.    

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"We're not afraid to go some place new," said Parker when asked about why it is that Nike has retained such a monopoly in its field and also physically on the streets.  "I'm always conscious about getting too comfortable with success.  Thinking that 'This is working, and let's just keep doing it.'  We have to keep pushing forward – not new for new's sake, but new because it's better.  Many companies have problems with that.  I don't want to feel like a big company.  I want to feel small and entrepreneurial."  That's a stretch of a thought for a company that has over 40,000 employees and just posted profits of over $2 billion but the proof is in the way Parker still involves himself in the design process, observing and connecting with all the relevant teams to have open dialogue about ideas. 

"We have a very open culture where we try to minimise hierarchical structure," said Parker.  "I see good ideas coming from interns.  It's fresh and insightful thinking and we celebrate that and encourage them.  We'll have charrettes where we get a group of designers together – graphic, product, architectural design -  we put out a problem and see what they come up with.  So often the best ideas don't necessarily come from product design."

The best example of this would be Tinker Hatfield, another Nike don entrenched in its hall of fame.  On the second day we were lucky enough to listen to Hatfield speak about designing the Air Max shoe, an iconic gamechanger in footwear design in general, let alone the trainer field.  Hatfield came from a corporate architect background but he was also a cartoonist and a cross-discipline athlete.  When he joined Nike's design team, he said the atmosphere was "utilitarian" and the company was also in dire straits as its profitability was down.  Hatfield's mighty inspiration brainwave for the visible window in the Air Max shoe was looking at the Centre of Pompidou in Paris, and marrying up its inside-out aesthetic with a technically advanced shoe.  The Air Max 1 debut was initially met with derision and controversy.  Hatfield obviously had the last laugh though as the Air Max, in all its subsequent incarnations has been something of a benchmark shoe for Nike.  Therefore Hatfield's design legacy was that by serving the athlete and striving for high levels of innovation that might appear renegade at first, you could also capture the wider populace's imagination.  Hence why Nikes do dominate the feet of the street at large.  Why sneaker heads foam at the mouth at every new release.  Why Nike' authenticity has seduced the fickle beings of the style world and why have had the ability to crossover seamlessly from the performance world.  

On that note, I probed Parker about the balance between functionality and aesthetics.  How does he see that balance at Nike?  An interesting story concerning the late Alexander McQueen came up.  "We don't start with aesthetics," asserted Parker.  "We start with the functional.  We're able to solve problems in very unique ways ways – new manufacturing methods, new materials, new constructions, new ways of prototyping – you will create a new aesthetic in that process."

"I've spent time with designers from the fashion world.  For example, we had a great meeting with Lee McQueen at his height.  He wanted to come and partner with Nike and create a collection as he was a big sneaker head.  I was curious as to why.  He said 'With Nike, you are pursuing performance in a pure way.  The aesthetic comes from the process of solving problems.  As a designer, I'm somewhat jealous.'"

A similar sentiment is felt by many designers that I've spoken to as they often have admiration for Nike's ability to a) give time and b) resources to devoting themselves to pure unadulterated functionality.  The incredible thing is that the bi-product of that devotion is a completely new aesthetic – something that we've not seen before.  Innovation is a word that we're often seeking in fashion but time and time again, come up short because the current timeframe of the fashion world doesn't allow for real innovation to develop and come to fruition.   As an example, Parker compares the cut-and-sew techniques of trainer making to a collage and the technology of Flyknit to airbrushing, allowing for precision and that has become a powerful tool.  

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That tool forms the basis of the two shoes we saw but with wildly different results from when we first saw the debut of Flyknit last year.   We padded around different surfaces – grass, gravel, woodchip, foam – in just our socks to connect feet to ground.  That's the basis of the Nike Free Hyperfeel.  It's the first time where the Lunarlon cushioned insole touches the foot and has been worked with a Flyknit upper for that seamless and light quality, that makes Flyknit so mind bogglingly wicked.  It was indeed a bit of a strange "feet" sensation (feetsation? footsense?)when we tried it on, bouncing about on the grounds of Nike campus, both grass and tarmac.  It felt like the shoe wasn't there and that when you did run or walk, the shoe would absorb all outside pressure.  The shoe makes its presence known though with the neon waffle outsole and the Flyknit lines dancing across the foot.

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Another Flyknit hybrid is the Free Flyknit where you could visibly see the technology of Flyknit working its way all over the foot in bands of colour that accentuate pressure points on a foot.  It's supposed to be like a second skin, fitting your feet like a sock and when combined with the Free sole that moves with the body.  The designers spoke of different "rides" when talking about the shoes and the sort of running experience you had with them.  Techno mumbo-jumbo means nothing unless it functions well and that's down to the run.  The Free Hyperfeel would give you a "nice and smooth" ride and the Free Flyknit was a more "natural" ride.  Unfortunately it would always be in my nature to ignore any potential "ride" experiences and hone straight into the glorious colourways, which the Free Flyknit will be available in from 1st August.  Tri-colour neon green, orange and blue were obviously my combo of choice.   

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On the apparel side, we saw natural meets manmade as the slubby feel of a cotton tee, the warmth of wool and the breathability of a knit worked with Nike's Dri-Fit technology so that you basically don't sweat when you're running.  Climate control is the main agenda for Nike in their running gear as they also develop Aeroloft – a perforated down material, which gives you warmth but also for heat to escape when you're running up a sweat, tested in the most rugged of conditions in New Zealand and Japan.  Having run in all manner of garments – a mix of high street, sports brands and miscellaneous – I've found that function is one of those things that takes precedence.  The shoes are where you can go all out in aesthetics, but when you're working up a sweat and materials start to rub causing heat rashes that's when the technology of material  really comes into its own.  

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The second part to our Nike campus experience took place in the Nike Sport Research Lab, where all the "science" comes.  The real secret lair to Nike is their innovation "kitchen" where all of the juicy stuff gets cooked up but seeing NSRL was the next best thing.  I'm not one to throw science around for effect but basically they look at the way a human body moves, gathering as much data about how muscles are exerted during a run, how a foot takes off when a basketball player goes for the kill, how feet swell up in size during physical activity, how a body's temperature changes in different environments etc etc.  It's a seemingly infinite laboratory where physiologists and scientists extract as much data as possible to then inject into design.  How that is done?  That would be telling apparently.  The point is that all of NSRL's gadgetry and gizmos exist for a very real and accountable purpose at Nike – to always listen to the athlete.  

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Nike's need for secrecy is justified were some elements we weren't allowed to divulge but could only glimpse at.  Nike Sportswear for S/S 14 and all the new Air Maxes for instance are looking quite insane.  There were audible gasps in the room when we were shown this product.  Grown journalists, writers and photographers literally sallivating when secretive white boxes were removed to reveal the shoes.  

After speaking to Parker, Nike's various designers and seeing the campus itself, you can see why onwards and upwards is ingrained into all its endeavours.  A tour of the campus was like going on a life-enhancing motivational walk.  The rough cobblestoned steps through a fountain was meant to symbolise the fact that you had to watch your step as you grow.  A case of numerous Air Jordans showcase Nike's most successful partnership with Michael Jordan, which almost didn't happen because he originally wanted to wear adidas.  The $35 swoosh logo designed by Carolyn Davidson in 1971, which didn't impress Knight at first but became a "grower" – something asymmetrical and odd can dominate if given the right context.  "There is no finish line" and the all powerful "Just do it!" slogans resonate not because they're relevant to just Nike's products and ethos but because they can be applied in so many other instances.  I come back to the that beautiful track where the surrounding trees and seclusion made the path look like it would go on and on forever without a definite finishing point.  It was exactly the right sentiment to take back home from Portland.          

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>> I've got a few biggie posts to toil on and sweaty and stormy London isn't helping sleep patterns settle back down to normal.  Thankfully whilst I'm trying to get my shit back together post LA getaway, people are kind enough to email me and say "Hi, I exist!"  One such person is Frida Wannerberger, whose work I remember seeing on the most excellent, always useful 1 Granary blog.  Born in Sweden and based in London, Wannerberger has just graduated from Central Saint Martins in graphic design BA.  Immediately the cutesy macabre (or is that macabrely cute?) aesthetic of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara and his love of strange proportioned bodies, comes to mind.  Wannerberger though obviously has a sensibility for fashion which seeps into her work.  Fabrics, textures and silhouettes only serve to enhance Wannerberger's drawings as she applies a distorted childlike signature to the way she draws facial expressions and body stances.  I especially love this editorial spread she illustrated for 1 Granary magazine featuring dresses by Mary Katrantzou, Giles and Christopher Kane.  True, the clothes aren't immediately recognisable but it's the overall composition and spirit of her drawings which (errr…excuse the pun) draw you in.  Her animation work is also a bit magic too, captioned with direct no-nonsense statements "Frida wants to go to the opera and see lovely ladies' fur and glitter."  Right you are, Frida.  I know the exact feeling…

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On the night before I left for Los Angeles, I stopped by the Club to Catwalk exhibition opening at the V&A, who are currently on an exhibition roll.  In fact the whole year has been partitioned by exhibitions that neatly segue into each other from David Bowie Is to Met Museum's Punk: Chaos to Couture to an ode to Blitz magazine at the ICA in celebration of former Blitz Magazine fashion editor Iain R. Webb's brilliantly penned tome and back to the V&A for an overview of the fashion scene in 1980s London.  Jean Paul Gaultier's big retrospective next year at the Barbican also follows up nicely to these movements and oeuvres that are hard to shake off.  I say hard only that it's a specific time period of London that I can't help but romanticise and look at with rose-tinted glasses, precisely because I never experienced any of it.  As I said before when I wrote about the parallels between the characters as documented in Graham Smith's We Can Be Heroes book and today's new gen hardcore dress-up kids, as a Londoner you can't help but be swept away by the mythology – real and projected.  What came before in the 1980s may be a rollcall of designers, music ingenues, club svengalis and party kids – a cast of characters save for a few notables, who are largely forgotten by the wider public today but it's so important to see that what London enjoys today with its free-thinking creative microcosm and its designers finally reaping financial rewards, owes much to what came before when fashion simply wasn't that fashionable and when creative minds came together with shoestring budgets, DIY methods and a desire to have a bloody good time whilst doing whatever it may be – modelling/making/designing/DJ-ing/dancing/drinking.  

Curated by V&A Head of Fashion, Claire Wilcox and Wendy Dagworthy, founder of London Fashion Week, former designer and now Head of Fashion at Royal College of Art, the exhibition is split up into two.  "Club" on the mezzanine level leads down into "Catwalk" with mannequins throwing their hands up in the open air, like they just don't care upstairs, in stark contrast to the more regimented glass cases of the lower fall.  The "Club" section groups up aesthetic and genre themes such as 'Hard Times' 'High Camp', 'New Romantic', 'Goth' and 'Rave'.  The looks that transpire aren't as simplistic though as those categories suggest.  A Christopher Nemeth jacket made out of post office sacks, a hooped gown made by Georgina Godley to enable you to move and the exuberant form-fitting knits of Bodymap, designed by Stevie Stewart and David Holah smack of individuality and in the cases of designs by underground luminaries and club fixtures such as Kim Bowen, Rachel Auburn and Leigh Bowery, their pieces (which look to have survived many a good night out – one part of the problem of putting together this exhibition) are costumes for the night only – when the only thing that mattered was dressing up for your peers and yourself.  It's up on this mezzanine floor where the crossover between music, dance, film and fashion really come together as we hop from one club era to another.  Just reeling off the names of the chronology of London's club nights/venues makes you exhausted – The Blitz, Hell, Club for Heroes, Mud Club, Wag Club, Taboo and then later raving it up at Camden Palace as we near the nineties with all its smiley faces and happy drugs.  

There isn't necessarily an overt correlation between the club looks and the designer pieces downstairs in th "Catwalk" section, only that we can assume that the vibrant and creative club scene went hand in hand with the bold looks created by the fashion designers of London.  Whilst the decade was rich with creativity and talent, it was a time when London's fashion industry was hampered by lack of business know-how or maybe even desire to be commercial.  Vitrines dedicated to forerunners such as Jasper Conran, Betty Jackson, Paul Smith, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood represent the famous core of designers who obviously laid foundations for subsequent generations.  Others such as Wendy Dagworthy, English Eccentrics and Timney Fowler have moved on to other endeavours or you had names such as Willy Brown and Chrissie Walsh who perhaps were designers rooted to their time, feeding off 1980s culture.  The enduring visual messages are well illustrated by Katherine Hamnett's slogan t-shirts of course.  Like the clubwear section, the catwalk looks showcased range from eccentric knitwear to high octane eveningwear with everyone in between owning their niche.  Much like today then in London. 

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Katherine Hamnett


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John Galliano


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IMG_7250Margaret Howell // Joe Casely-Hayford


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Betty Jackson


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Antony Price

The burst of 80s fashion talent is best summed up in the Blitz Designer Denim Jacket project – a collaborative project to give designers such as John Galliano, Rifat Ozbek, Bernstock Speirs and Vivenne Westwood to the blank slate of a Levi's denim jacket.  The customisation project grew into a extravaganza public show held in 1986 at London's Albery Theatre to raise money for charity.  The concept sounds straightforward enough today in an age of customise this and collaborate that but it was a project that captured the fashion world's imagination back then as the exhibition of jackets went on tour to Louvre in Paris as well as to Barney's in New York.  

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"If you do not FEEL it in your heart, then it will NEVER hang correctly from your shoulder.

If you limit your life by the length of your skirt, then your sensibilities will reveal such.  

DO NOT ask my opinion Рinstead feel fabric against your skin, and DRESS ACCORDINGLY…"

To accompany the exhibition, you won't find better insight than in both the aforementioned We Can Be Heroes book and also in Webb's As Seen in Blitz: Fashioning '80s Style, which I was really excited about when I met Webb out at the Bath in Fashion event.  To summarise, Blitz (unrelated to the club night that was happening concurrently) along with i-D and The Face was part of the trio of exciting magazines that really changed the fashion publishing game.  Actually "fashion publishing" is too rudimentary a category to put Blitz in.  Way back when there was no "alternative" to mainstream titles, Blitz, set up by Carey Labovitch and Simon Tesler, with Webb helming the fashion tone, really did break boundaries that we now take for granted in fashion editorials.  Gender bending, nudity, commentary on religion and race, epoch and subculture referencing and the mere idea of masking the clothes that they were shooting – Blitz did all of that and in a way that would influence future generations of industry biggies such as Katie Grand (who provided the foreword to the book), Simon Foxton (whose CSM graduate collection was featured in the mag) and Hamish Bowles, whose personal collection of sample sale Chanel is featured in the magazine from when he was a junior editor at Harpers & Queen.  Traces of the publication on the internet are scant and physical copies are even more rare and so this has been the coffee table book that keeps on giving.  Webb could have easily put together a back catalogue of imagery from the magazine and that would have been enough, given the fact that many people seen them before.  Ever the consummate journalist, editor and writer, Webb has interviewed the models, creatives, designers, photographers, stylists, make-up artists and hair stylists involved on the shoots to give much needed context and background to the images.  The list of interviewees is long and illustrious; Nick Knight, Marc Ascoli, Judy Blame, Stephen Jones, Marc Jacobs and Katherine Hamnett are just a few that have given words.  There's also a brilliant back section of longer length interviews with the likes of Anna Piaggi, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Calvin Klein.  The first three lines set out here from the Blitz Fashion Manifesto as writtein by Webb in 1985 as well as a shoot featuring a t-shirt, which reads "We are not here to sell clothes" just about sums up the fearless attitude of Blitz – something that has definitely gone amiss in today's fashion landscape. 

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>> The Made in Los Angeles tag hangs off of a lot of premium denim brands.  After my immersive experience in Selfridges' all-singing, all-dancing Denim Studio department, it was interesting to then venture over to Los Angeles, land of all the denim biggies (Paige, Citizens of Humanity, J Brand to name a few makes their jeans in LA) and see a) the city's devotion to premium denim in the merchandising of their boutiques and vintage stores b) see the way denim is so pervasive on the streets, particularly when it comes to the cut-off shorts variety.  It's literally the fabric of the city.

Whilst I'm a partial denim convert thanks to seeing the advantages of dressing down a "lotta look" (as we would say in amongst friends) with some boyfriend jeans, like I said, I was never tempted to don denim L.A. style.  That is to say, reduce my day-to-day attire to a pair of shredded, patched and overdyed cut-off shorts complete with the essential poking-out pocket flaps and cotton singlet, to localise myself.  I'd rather scorch in vintage polyester and sweat in static-creating nylon.  Or better yet, do denim the only way I find comfortable – why, really go for it head-to-toe and throw in a dose of neon for good measure of course!  

House of Holland's denim is relatively bargainous at the moment with the sales and their long standing polka dot styles caught my eye.  No point in doing a touch of polka especially when I also had a pair of neon denim n' polka combo heels courtesy of cho kawaii shoester Sophia Webster, who created them as an exclusive for Selfridges' Denim Studio takeover.  Polka dots.  Neon.  Denim.  $5 flea market night gowns in acid colours (can't get enough of them…).  It was like the easiest matchy-matchy jigsaw puzzle ever.  House of Holland does do matchy-matchy rather well and their e-shop currently has some good bits and bobs in aubergine n' orange stripes, tie-dye and oversized diamond checks if you wish to have a gander.  

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House of Holland polka dot denim jacket and jeans worn with vintage neon pink nightgown, MSGM neon lace top, COS circular pink cut-out top, Christian Dior Demoiselle sunglasses, Sophia Webster for Selfridges denim heels