Live streaming shows is nothing new.  We almost expect it now.  I get angry commenters on Instagram demanding why there isn’t a stream of a show.   How do you go one step better and move things forward so that the consumer gets even closer to the show action?  You’d be wondering whether there are enough of these rabid fashion fans out there that even want to immerse themselves into fahsion week.  But the Topshop Unique show consistently ranks in the top five most-talked-about (in terms of social media coverage according to Editd) shows of London Fashion Week, and that conversation is largely to do with the high level of brand recognition that Topshop universally has.   It is a show that warrants new fandangled technology and every season it seems Topshop has been trialling different platforms and partners to create a new buzz.  One season, it was Google and their HD cameras strapped on to Cara Delevigne for viewers to customise outfits as they were going down the runway.  Last season it was Chirp sending out backstage images and tidbits to consumers – perhaps not as successful namely because the platform was too new.  This time round, Topshop Unique partnered up with the London-based 3D agency Inition to experience the show through their own virtual front-row seat and people could experience this at the Oxford Circus store.  Far out!  Jamiroquai was on to something back in the day.  Eager to get a gist of what this virtual reality thing was all about, I put a call out via Twitter for four blog readers to go and suss it out whilst I sat down and saw the real reality of the show.

First though, let’s give a round of applause to Topshop, British Fashion Council and Tate for finding what I think is Topshop’s most successful fashion week venue yet.  You can’t get bigger than the cavernous and iconic Turbine Hall, but its size didn’t dwarf the designers that showed in that space.  In fact, it elevated many of them as the sound boomed around the room and the lights and the rectangular long windows of the building combined to create an almost otherworldly glow on the models.  What was special about the Turbine Hall, wasn’t just the scale but the fact that anybody walking along the walkway that overlooks the Turbine Hall could watch the shows going on down below.  I love the idea of people just stumbling upon a fashion show (anybody who made it on that walkway care to comment on the experience?).  I wonder if it hampered or enhanced the experience of normal gallery visitors.  As an extra thoughtful bit of partnership between the Tate and Topshop, we got tickets to the Richard Hamilton exhibition thrown into the goody bag – way better than random lippies and nail varnishes in my book.

And secondly, before we come to the virtual reality/insanity part, let’s talk collection.  Tough school uniform vibes have been running riot at many shows this season.  It felt even more appropriate though for Topshop Unique to send out a gang of Craft slash St Trinian’s girls.  They wore oversized blazers and jackets belted up over layers of sweaters and skirts that contrast masculine and heavy duty wools, shearling and faux fraggle furs with delicate and filmy lace and sheer tulle.  As the show gradiated from petrol blue to slate grey to tan to pale yellow, the school uniform references gave way to bad ass mufty outfits with tattoo embroidered tulle tops, patchwork fur coats and python trenches kicked some oomph into what was a largely muted collection.  As with most Topshop Unique shows though, once they break down and filter down on to the shop floor, the collection takes on a “There’s something for everyone” approach.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for the butter yellow leather shirt and the layered lace and sheer skirts.

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A few miles away, whilst I was at the show, Topshop was recreating the show atmosphere so that selected participants could experience a 360 degree virtual world through specially designed headsets.  The footage they watched was a mixture of the live feed from the runway, what was going on backstage, the VIP arrivals and other animated features.  It was supposed to be “rich and hyper-real” as Topshop carries on its remit to give the customer an entertaining experience.  Thanks to Elizabeth Pascka, Rebecca Martin, Holly Chapman and Amanda Bailey, who either had a go at the headsets or watched the footage on screens in-store at Topshop Oxford Circus, they gave their honest reviews of the whole affair.  The general consensus is a positive one as  Topshop are praised for opening up their shows for those who don’t get invited to the show but also risk losing the tactile touch of the clothes themselves as Holly and Amanda pointed out.  It begged the question of whether Topshop were trying too hard to contain itself within an untouchable virtual realm for the sake of a buzzy tech-based headline, and thus lose sight of what the customer is really after – the clothes.  There’s one solution to that of course – a few selected pieces from the show are currently available to be bought immediately.   If only, more of the looks were available.  That experience of instant gratification should be a physical one as opposed to a transient digital one.    

Elizabeth Pascka of Lizzie’s World:
“My arrival at Topshop’s Flagship store on London’s Oxford Street was greeted by a buzz of fashionistas, press and bewildered on-lookers amazed by the Topshop Unique show.  I was excited like a kid in a candy shop to activate the show; being constrained to only seeing the fashion show and hearing the actual hubbub surrounding me made my brain unconsciously feel like I was at the show.

The show was similar to the film Inception with the vivid surroundings of the show, even having my virtual “neighbour” sitting next to me, who had been taking pictures on her iPhone.  I felt slightly envious on occasions, as I too wanted to take pictures but realistically could not.  There were often animated pink rose petals which fell from the ceiling as a reminder that even though it seemed like l was at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, it was in fact virtual.

The experience afforded by Topshop gave me an insight into the ever evolving world of fashion; I loved the virtual show, being part of something exclusive and innovative. It was a positive encounter with technology and fashion; I look forward to observing future pioneering works in fashion.”

Rebecca Martin, writer at British Mode Magazine:
“As Sir Philip Green took his seat between Anna Wintour and eternally loyal Topshop ambassador Kate Moss, the electric atmosphere within the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall was also being felt several miles away at Topshop’s flagship Oxford Circus store. In a determined stride towards the future of fashion,Topshop enlisted London based 3D design agency Inition to create a 360 degree virtual reality; a bold move which brought the crowds of Oxford Street to a standstill at 3pm on Sunday 16th February.

State of the art headsets transported observers directly to the front row, their anticipations for the impending show shared by the likes of Kendall Jenner, Poppy Delevingne and Lottie Moss. As the show began, it became impossible to avoid becoming completely immersed.  Live streaming to the store created a unique opportunity to share in the first impressions of a collection to covet, and virtual eyes followed as shades of blue combined with dove grey, in a master class of layering.  As the shows attendees applauded a finale set to Beyoncé’s ‘Run the World’, so too did those who had shared in the show in the virtual sense.

The Topshop Unique show is one of the most eagerly anticipated on the London Fashion Week schedule, bringing with it expectations of an incomparable atmosphere.  Through the use of virtual reality streaming, the atmosphere permeated far beyond the walls of the Tate Modern, resonating with all of those who watched outside the store.  With the added bonus of backstage access, and a multi-faceted media approach, Topshop Unique may well have instigated a huge progression in the future of live shows, and the way they are shared by those perhaps not quite fortunate enough to have received an invite.”

Holly Chapman:
“Both aspiring F-row goers and the simply curious were drawn into the crowd at the window of the Topshop oxford street store to experience their virtual reality catwalk.  Once you put the futuristic headset on you could not get any closer the Unique show; sat in the front row you can even see your neighbours snap up each look on their phones as the models come past you one by one.  I found myself raising my phone to join in, and then remembered I was actually sat in the Flagship’s window.  For the atmosphere of really being in the Tate it was great, but you do miss out on the detail in the clothing you would see in a normal live stream, however with the headsets you lose the restriction of only seeing where the camera
is pointing.  Topshop model Georgia Taylor said ‘I think it’s really exciting to be part of something that I hope will steer the future of fashion for everyone.  Technology like fashion is developing and changing and I’m excited to see what could happen in just the next few years’.  They should be praised for taking this step in allowing young people to experience the fashion industry in this way, making it no longer just for fashion’s most superior.”

Amanda Bailey of Pins and Needles:
“Who needs a ticket to LFW these days when the technology means that you can experience it all from the comfort of your own home… Or Oxford Street!  I arrived early so I could get a feel for the event and I was impressed and intrigued by the scene before me as I was expecting a relatively simple set up, but the reality was very conceptual and took the word “virtual” to a whole other level.  Just after 3pm four girls filed into the window, took their places on the “fake FROW” and placed the headset/goggles on and the screens powered into action displaying what was being streamed into the goggles.  It was a mixture of backstage photos and live feed from the catwalk show, but sadly you couldn’t really see the show and the clothing very well.  I loved the concept, and the very forward thinking idea of it all, but something simpler or a clearer stream would have made the experience more enjoyable for me, and made me feel more like I was at the show.”

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ts_amandabailey2 Photos by Amanda Bailey

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ts_hollychapman2 Photos by Holly Chapman

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ts_rebeccamartin2 Photos by Rebecca Martin

I felt like I had to tape my mouth up every time Mary Katrantzou came to mind in the prior days and moments before her A/W 14-5 show on Sunday.  The big story that emerged of course was that Katrantzou and thrown a massive curveball this season and there wasn’t a single digital print this season (save for a pattern printed onto metal chainmail of a butcher’s apron).  But I already knew this as just before New York Fashion Week, I had visited Katrantzou in her studio, with the help of Swarovski to see what she was up to, with regards to all things crystals.  Turns out embellishment, greatly aided by Swarovski, was highly integral to the collection this season.  The critics have been calling for change and had been urging Katrantzou to step away from the computer.

So Katrantzou took that advice, and it went hand in hand with her own desire to expand her repertoire and play with fabrics like custom-made technical laces developed in Switzerland, lush patterned jacquards and elongated silhouettes that gave away just a hint of her Greek origins (although she didn’t intend for it to look Greek).  Photoshop be damned.  Well, for one season anyway.

Katrantzou painted pictures, not with the click of a mouse but by collaging different elements together, which were often encrusted with crystals, beads and goldwork embroidery, to depict what were her “sign of the times”.  The matter-of-factly workman and toilet signs are mixed together with vaguely recognisable badges of honour, coats of arms and other forms of heraldry symbolism.  She explored different workwear uniforms that you wouldn’t think could necessarily be moulded into directional evening wear but then again, this is the woman who placed yellow pencils on a cocktail dress.  A chainmail butcher’s apron printed with a faded leopard print is printed and draped into a toga-esque mini dress.  The cookie cutters of a baker (also playing on the phrase “cookie cutter style”) hang off metal mesh, speckled with Swarovski pearls and crystals, created by jeweller Scott Wilson.  Most impressive of all though were the technical laces, chock full of symbols and signs, rendered in a uniform-inspired colour palette – navy, bottle green and burgandy.  Those colours were key in calming down the totem creatures – or as Mary called them, her “robots” – that were embroidered on top in different stages.  These robots don’t have names yet but they’ll take a life of its own when Katrantzou produces another digital-based campaign.  Erstwhile, jacquard trouser suits, dresses with worked in pleats and a simple oversized peacoat offset all the embroidery work and sparkle jangle going on in these badge/symbol/sign formations.

Perhaps it was the 3-D and tactile components (see furry sweatshirts and nubbly laces) which unleashed a new lease of life into Katrantzou’s work.  As good as her digital prints were, they were an image – perhaps an intangible one when digitally printed onto a smooth satin surface.  Her past silhouettes also skewed sculptural and often, stiff.  This time they moved, flowed and breathed, thanks to the use of pleats.  I have the photos to prove it, as I snapped the models rushing to change into their second looks backstage.

Despite the no-print shocker, we could all see the giant step forward.  Like her previous digital print collections, the message and imagery were shouted loud and clear.  There wasn’t any ambiguity and that’s what Katrantzou excels at – telling a story with a literal and direct medium – be that print, embellishment or otherwise.  No doubt, the prints will still exist within Katrantzou’s sales showroom.  Negative reviews have never stopped Katrantzou’s runaway success train and the shops still cry for her unique print agenda.  Katrantzou now has a wider set of skillsets to draw from and she now feels confident enough to do so.    We, the spectators and customers are in for a treat, as we enter a different Katrantzou era.

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>> The fashions have properly started at London.  Does everyone who follows this blog or my Instagram care?  My hunch is that beyond the microcosm world of fashion, not everyone is manically clicking on Style.com and memorising every collection that is emerging from hour to hour.  At LFW, so far out of countless Instagrams and videos, what caught most people’s eyes weren’t the high octane collections at the on-schedule shows, but a wee sneak preview of Opening Ceremony’s upcoming collaboration with the René Magritte Foundation as part of their ongoing fascination with all things Belgian.  It was announced at Carol Lim and Humberto Leon’s insightful talk with Imran Amed  as part of their BOFLIVE series and on Saturday at the Opening Ceremony store in London Covent Garden, we got to see the collab.  I didn’t really know what to expect – maybe a cheeky play on Magritte’s super famous works like The Treachery of Images or The Son of Man on some accessories and some tees.  Not this all-encompassing and complete integration of Magritte’s iconic (and not so well known) paintings with neoprene dresses, bomber jackets and sweaters.  There were also prints created out of Magritte motifs like the umbrella or faces to place on jeans.

I love that they’ve opted for a mix of the super well known works such as Scheherazade and The Lovers and then less overly-exposed paintings like King’s Museum and The Blow to the Heart.  They haven’t just been plonked on to separates willy nilly either.  They wrap around garments in a seamless way.  They’re placed in a way that actually works with the silhouettes.  The shoes got the Insta peeps going, particularly the Vans.  The Birkenstocks could also sway a few naysayers.  Manolo Blahnik have also partnered up with OC (I believe for the first time?) to do a pair of shoes that will feature The Blow to the Heart painting – they weren’t available to preview.  I wondered whether it was the art, the artist or the sheer recognisability factor that upped the Like factor.   That’s Lim and Leon in a nutshell though.  They do clothes that taps into popular culture in a way that transcends the realms of high fashion.  And it’s not by going for whatever is mainstream of populist either.  At the Business of Fashion, I just kept on thinking, “Whatever it is, they get it.”

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“Oh my god, is that Shrimps!?” shrieked about a dozen editors and buyers when they saw me coming towards them in a blur of orange and pink furriness.  I wasn’t the only one taking to Sesame Street type coloured furs to combat the brutal weather in New York but this jacket from Shrimps’ first collection, had a life of its own.  Shrimps is officially blowing up.  And it all sounds like a happy accident as, 23-year old Hannah Weiland, was interning at Bella Freud and happed upon a faux fur collar on a coat that her friend, a childrens wear designer had done.  That evolved into a teensy tiny collection of faux fur jackets and clutches, housed under a catchy label called Shrimps (Weiland’s nickname as a child).  One of the coats was subsequently snapped on her friend Laura Bailey, and so the buyers came a-calling (Opening Ceremony and Avenue 32 are stockists and Net-a-Porter are getting some exclusive styles for spring – as we know, loopy weather can happen all year round so faux fur dropping in May isn’t as ludicrous as it sounds).  Hence why people were shrieking, touching and swooning in New York.  I was just the willing vehicle for the coat.

Back to London, bleary-eyed and slightly sick from a bumpy flight (no complaints – I wasn’t part of the crew who got marooned in Newcastle or Dublin), Shrimps was the first port of call to get me back to my happy place.  I finally met Weiland and gave her a well-deserved hug for creating this tactile creature that is really based on a simple concept – great faux fur coats that don’t break the bank (in comparison to the real shebang).   Her AW 14 collection was on the rails, expanding her repertoire to include wool bikers with fur collars and a collarless coat style.  They’ve been given pet-derived names such as Dulcie, Mabel and Pluto, just in case you find yourself being petted and stroked, like I did (yes, that sounds wrong).  They also come with a daisy-strewn lining, illustrated by Weiland, which is a lovely touch.   Weiland’s British childhood memories and the pop art collages of Eduardo Paolozzi inspire the collection’s colours.  Popeye’s sailor collar and memories of school scarves inspire the accessories and Shrimps gets a furry mascot called Lenny the Lion.  An animal-friendly alternative to the Fendi Bag Bug?  You betcha.

Whilst Shrimps’ clothing and accessories offering is compact, the Shrimps world is all-encompassing and Weiland takes us into that kitsch-filled universe with a brilliant short film, directed by her brother Max and Oliver Hadlee Pearch.  It features model Adwoa Aboah, the film maker’s mother Janet Pearch and Laura Bailey in a surreal set-built caravan – boiling langoustines, watching cartoons, stabbing away at gherkins – a hilarious and charming expression of all things Shrimps.  Watch and learn, ye bore-off fashion films with wafting models and dull meandering.

Susie-Lau.nocrop.w1800.h1330 (2)Photograph by Koo for The Cut

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From Soho to Shoreditch, I entered a different realm of my happy place.  As you might know, I heart Phiney Pet.   I have hearted her since I saw her graduate collection from Ravensbourne last year at Graduate Fashion Week.  We went on the awesome all-girl YouTube talk show Fox Problem together as guests and undoubtedly, Phiney stole the show with her style and everyone marvelling at her hand painted jackets and eye-popping illustrations.  She was working for Topshop designing prints but has decided to go it alone after being pleasantly surprised at the reaction to her graduate collection.  Her A/W 14 collection is no less imaginative.  Overhearing conversations in South East London, she creates a complete wardrobe for her Deptford Wives.  “Boring” declares a green suede jacket.  “Housework Sucks!” cries a printed shirt.  A tiara-adorned prom queen picture is blown up on a t-shirt and obedient secretarial telephone answering is referenced with a photo print.  Yeah sure, some people might read some Meadham Kirchhoff-tones.  To me, it’s more scribbly and skews towards street wear, making it ever so slightly aimed at the young (well, except I’m now 30 and loves it).  It is an overtly feminine expression, not because it’s super super girly but because it expresses a “Grrrrrl” reaction to the idea of a stay-at-home housewife.  I’ve been bigging up a lot of femmes in fashion recently, with their idiosyncratic aesthetics.  That’s got to be a good thing.

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