>> Clothes with issues attached.  Discuss.  How else to approach Ingrid Verner’s latest collection under her solo Verner moniker, called “White Wash”, addressing and exploring the history of the “white Australia policy” whereby until 1950, European/Caucasian immigrations into Australia was intentionally favoured.  It’s loaded for sure, but not without purpose or poignance.  Ingrid initially researched the works of American fashion designer Patrick Kelly, the first person of colour to be admitted as a designer member of the Chambre Syndicale in Paris in 1988.  That sent me on a Google spiral to find out about Kelly’s work, which was on the surface a body-conscious, button-embroidered ball of fun, but its light tone was often counterbalanced by commentary on racial stereotypes, such as his use of the golliwog doll face on his logo.  This is something that Ingrid has picked up on when charting her own interpretation of the phrase “White Wash”.    Sadly, not much has changed since Kelly’s death in 1990.  We’re still lauding the fact that people like Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air or Olivier Rousteing are exceptions, rather than the norm, in our industry.  Whilst it probably wasn’t Ingrid’s intention to pass comment on the racial make-up of the fashion industry of today, it’s difficult to ignore the pertinence of the phrase “White Wash” when you look at models and to a lesser extent designers and people in the industry behind the scenes.

Ingrid also looked to Aboriginal artist Destiny Deacon, who uses humour and satire and again recognisably “black” memorabilia such as black dolls in her mixed media work to confront issues about Aboriginal civic issues.  Ingrid seems to carry on that mantle by using her clothes to look back on Australia’s past, as well as subtly pointing out current day discordances.  ““It is my job as an Australian designer to look inward into this country’s history including areas of political correctness,” she says.  All of this and the implications of wearing a collection, literally stamped with the words “White Wash” doesn’t get away from the fact that Ingrid has created a collection that’s desirable, beyond any socio-political commentary.  She continues to use street wear archetypes, with the added “softness” found in childrens wear.  Sweatshirts, skirts that tie around the waist, quilted jackets, trackie bottoms and dressing gowns all have a slouchy, spongey and deliberately sterile feel.  The “White Wash” which Ingrid physically refers to through the faux-bleach packaging print and the golly doll print are mirrored in the white-out surfaces which Ingrid creates through brush stroke digital prints, puffed-up dots and lime and chalk-derived textures.  Patent trash bags and metallic totes complete this intriguing and introspective look at something that so often gets brushed under the carpet.  Ingrid confronts without being facetious and it gives her work a shade of interest that makes me all the more glad that she’s back on the Australian fashion scene, having taken a break from her previous guise as one half of label T.V.

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>> I’ve had nearly a month off  the fashion week protocol of lugging around a gigantic bag to house the DSLR, two spare batteries, chargers and other bulky accoutrements.  Mercedes Benz Fashion Week down in Australia is coming a-calling so one shoulder is likely to bear the brunt of the that aforementioned load.  I yearn for a day or two of bijoux mini bag toting, especially if they’re by new London accessories label Janvier.

Co-founder and designer Elle Azhdari, originally born in Iran and then raised in Sweden, was an art director working for the likes of Nike and Coca Cola.  In 2011, at a strange menage a trios date, she met Michelle Nakash, who happens to be heiress to the Jordache Jeans empire.  Their mutual love of 1980s Los Angels moguls and Rodeo Drive, fictional mafia queens and the bold strokes of Antonio Lopez and Tony Viramontes gave way to the birth of Janvier last year.  “At the time I was working as a freelance art director/designer and although I really enjoyed my projects, I felt like I wasn’t building towards something that I could call my own,” said Elle.  “Every project I worked on had to end, naturally. It was time to create something that wouldn’t come to an end, and it was all about creating an aesthetic that is true to us.”

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With no formal accessories experience as such, the pair instead have channeled their heady references (evident from their brilliant label blog) into Janvier, and got off on the right foot with their debut bag shape called the ‘Parade’.  It’s a distinctive minaudière made up of a cylindrical metal cage, rendered in rose, gold or matte black and an inter pouch available in an array of fabrics and textures.  “I find it very difficult to pinpoint where my ideas come from, they just appear in my head,” said Elle.  “Direct references are obviously art deco, glamour and that point where uptown meets downtown.”  She also cites the combination of her rich Persian heritage clashing with an appreciation for minimal Swedish design and indeed, the Parade strikes the balance between audacious glamour and refined elegance, especially when you look at the black-on-black design.

That said what drew me to Janvier though was the infinite possibilities that they have now that they’ve nailed this initial hit of a shape.  They offer custom fabric choices so that you can get your own personalised Parade but their own combinations such as bubblegum pink and orange silk satin and my personal favourite, metallic mint and rose leather, means that they can definitely get a lot of mileage out of the Parade.  Especially if they find a customer base that can downsize the contents of their handbag.  Elle has her own bare minimum contents: “My Comme des Garcons wallet (which fits perfectly), pocket mirror, Nars lipstick, keys, iPhone, mini Sharpie and extra small Moleskine planner, Extra chewing gum and CDG 2 pocket size perfume.”

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For their second collection entitled ‘Magic Riviera’, Janvier expands their repertoire.  They have continued with the cage theme to come up with a square, pyramid and rectangular shapes as well as a sole metal cage bag for holding mini champagnes – for the ‘West End Girls’ who has it all.  Not surprisingly, the motto for this collection is ‘it’s best to wear your money if you got it!'”  For the small bag naysayers who are adamant that everything but the kitchen sink must go in a bag, they have designed an “Afterhours” (morning after) rucksack in different finishes.  Still, let’s not pretend that Janvier is about functional design.  Elle and Michelle revere all things loud, proud and luxe – their current inspiration Top of the Pops list includes the new Rick Ross album, Balmain under Olivier Rousteing and decorative aquariums.  Janvier isn’t pandering to trend currents, but rather they’re casting their own aesthetic, one gold coin and chain link at a time.

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Nicolas Ghesquière had me, sometime back in the early millennium when I had stumbled on an editorial in either the Face or i-D (can’t remember which), which featured his S/S 2002 collection where a melange of patchwork moulded the body in a discordant but amazing mish-mash.  It prompted an internet dig on all things Ghesquière at Balenciaga that lasted a day or two – A-Level coursework duly put on hold.  I’d venture to say most consummate fashion lovers will have had their A-HAAAAAAA-Ghesquière moments.  And as was the case for most people, my ardent one-way relationship with Ghesquière/Balenciaga was experienced at a distant dreamer’s arm’s length – through lapping up editorials, campaigns and features, through 3am eBay, Yoox and outlet sale buys and a few rare instances of Balenciaga showroom appointments as of course, I was never invited to the teensy tiny runway shows.  Before the days of instant show images and social media, immediately after the show, I’d ask colleagues and friends, who had attended, “HowWasItHowWasItHowWasIt?” because second hand reports were the next best thing.    I hardly need to explain how his work consistently etched a big strident mark upon season after season, and how his overall tenure at Balenciaga filtered down into the language of high-end, mid-level and high street fashion that we know today.  The most referenced.  The most revered.  He matters.  End of.

In this new era of Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, he had me again.  He had me at “Today is a new day.  A big day.” in his typewritten note, left in an envelope, in exacting fashion at every guest’s plush carpeted/cushioned seat.  I may have missed out (well physically speaking) on the first epoch of Ghesquière’s prodigious career but the second one at Louis Vuitton is one that I’ll (hopefully…) get to experience and a key operative verb – savour.    The debut was one of nuanced experience that wasn’t meant to hit you senseless with SHAPE!COLOUR!PRINT!  Everything about it was designed to get under your skin in a deliberately coy but evocative manner.  The echoed beat of the Copycat track by Skream feat. Kelis, which intoned its significant lyrics – Oh come here, copycat! You’re my puppet, you know I love it!  The mechanical shutters opening ever so slowly to let in an abundance of sunlight (lucky lucky as it had been grey and drizzly most of the week in Paris) as the show began.  The careful change of artificial light as the background screen faded from copper-hued pink to a pale powder blue.  The New Day had begun.

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And then we get to the clothes.  The heap of expectation on Ghesquière beforehand had built up to a palpable crescendo – this was the show that would wack us with a BIG idea.  For some, that expectation may have fallen slightly short (judging by the murmurs post show) because the collection was stuffed full of subtleties,which could only be discovered by touch, by feel and through a knowledge of savoir-faire – that oft used phrase ingrained into the house itself.  They might have missed the point, which was that here, the big idea was Ghesquière throwing out a challenge.  As if to say “Here – just you try and copy this.  Just you try and imitate the way I have asked premier accessories making artisans at Louis Vuitton to look at how to make clothes, and to really look at fabrications in a different way.”   We were deliberately thrust very close to the clothes in an extremely narrow carpeted runway but we still had question marks over so many of the textiles we saw.  That makes for difficult fodder to copy.  There was no discernible theme, obvious inspiration path or no loud-as-you-like motif or print for the Ghesquière-copyists to feast upon one or two seasons down the line.  That’s not to stop designers and the high street from picking up on the 1970s/80s skiwear vibes, the sharp and streamlined V/A shapes and the retro-tinged colour palette.  That’s almost an inevitability.  But Ghesquière, akin to Kelis’ purring “You could do it, you could do it!” is almost playfully toying with the industry – he’s putting his foot down, with a collection that sets to incite desirability, not with a loud logo or slogan, a Look-at-Me print or Made-in-China banality – but with quality that purrs at you, whispers rather than shouts and as was the case when I went over to Paris last week to touch up the clothes at the press day, leaves you with a singular thought – “I want to wear this stuff.”

Previous Louis Vuitton collections by Marc Jacobs, with their digestible literal themes and fancy sets, had an instant takeaway image that swayed the Louis Vuitton customer to buy bags, just by association.  Here, Ghesquière looks to be playing the long game to bring the ready-to-wear to greater prominence, perhaps even greater profit, as currently it constitutes only 5% of Louis Vuitton’s total sales.  The link-up between the clothes and the bags were emphasised over and over again as your eyes honed in on the wide collared leather coats, quilted suede A-line skirts with leather-trimmed pockets and bag-derived features like knotted belts (like straps) and metal hardware in the form of singular statement earrings, grommets and eye-catching zippers.

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That’s a simple interpretation of the collection though to just say Ghesquière took the anatomy of a Louis Vuitton handbag and applied it to clothing.  The persuasive oddities that you have come to expect from a Ghesquière collection were correct and present – they just didn’t ram it down you throat.  I loved the 1970s skiwear nods, seen in this zippered knitted onesie and on the patterned ski zip-up tops that were in fact printed with the pattern as opposed to knitted in.  I loved the weird surburbia nostalgia reminiscent of clothes in films like the Ice Storm such as  the bus seat-esque geometric wool dresses, the repetition of a perfectly constructed white ribbed poloneck contrasted with the sick edge of a black patent bodysuit.  Just the very presence of zippers on almost every ensemble had me conjuring up my own references like polyester-attired P.E. teachers in Grange Hill mashed up with Farah Fawcett in her outdoors/sporty looks.  Despite Ghesquière’s own insistence that there wasn’t necessarily a theme, you can still read into the layers, in whatever way you want.

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There’s no getting away from that signature Ghesquière tendency to fiddle around with textures either.  That’s a trope carried over from his days at Balenciaga and is much welcome when our eyes are still hunting for the new.  Rounded-edged squared sequins gradiated on a skirt?  Boucle tweed made out of curly wurly yarn and matted down so that’s almost like a smooth surface?  Metallic thread and teensy tiny sequins embroidered into a subtle chevron pattern?  Better yet, these experimentations are placed on garments that aren’t fiddly or difficult.  I know I normally doth protest against words like “ease” and “effortless”, – but combine those properties with Ghesquière’s ideas and you get an altogether more exciting interpretation of those cliched terms.

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Put it down to the fact that we were inches away from the models or that the set was ultra stripped down and luminously lit, but this was the Louis Vuitton show, where I really remembered each and every bag.  There were the monogram leather clutches rolled up like a newspaper (at the show I thought the models were holding scraps of leather as a symbolic gesture).  There were the mini hard case Petite Malle trunks in a multitude of colours, inspired by an original Louis Vuitton vintage trunk, inscribed with three white crosses (they told me it was the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet but someone on Instagram said that wasn’t the case).  I loved that they came with a partially zipped open leather coverall.  The red thread on the quilted lining of another old Vuitton trunk was also carried through to the new exterior finishes on the classic Alma bag.  The iconic Speedy was also given a new twist with one handle lopped off (we had a go at swinging it around in the showroom – rest assured, it’s completely functional).  This clever vintage Vuitton link-up is not dissimilar to what Kim Jones has done with his own treatment of the archives and will no doubt be music to Louis Vuitton’s ears, what with their key brand messaging of timeless and well-travelled design.

For Ghesquière, it was something more emotional than mere brand messaging.  His note said it all.  As did his beam of a smile as he took his bow at the end of the show.  For him, it’s the opportunity to put right what he wasn’t allowed to fully achieve at Balenciaga, to have the trust of an employer, who have full faith in him and with resources at his disposal that can fulfil his ambitions.  With this debut collection, as strong as it was, it was as many people have called it – a palate cleanser – the slate has been wiped clean and we’re now ready to embark on this new journey with Ghesquière.  All aboard?

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>> Last year at Graduate Fashion Week, in passing, I mentioned Termite Eyewear, a start-up venture by then-students Natalie Finch and Patricia Williams, who were in their final year of fashion design at Ravensbourne University at the time. Termite Eyewear were given the opportunity to have a pop-up store at Graduate Fashion Week and it was interesting to see tangible product at a graduate showcase, where people would wander past, trying on their signature wooden sunglasses, thinking they were available to buy straight away. That’s down to Termite’s USP – sustainable, made in Britain and out of recycled materials, namely wood. Natalie and Patricia set out to put a “challenging, exciting and desirable, not frumpy and boring” spin on sustainable design, which is something I’m particularly interested in at the moment, what with Fashion Revolution Day coming up.

The pair have accumulated experience at the likes of Celine and Jonathan Saunders but have still found time to bring Termite to life. Since graduating last year, their project is now in full fruition, with a fully functioning e-commerce website. The styles available at the moment online are part of the Base collection – the full shape and the half shape with round lens in different shades, and in a choice of raw, ebony, rose and oak wood. The frames are meticulously laser cut, then hand worked to get the smooth edges, using wood that has been sourced from independent reclaimed/recycled wood organisations.

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I believe these pastel shades will soon be available on the site too…

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They’ve just put together two near collections that go beyond the two “Base” styles.  The Barber collection is inspired by Old English heritage with vintage interior shades of burgundy and forest green used.  The cut-outs on the wooden frame has been adjusted to allude to more of a 1950s frame silhouette.

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Then there’s the eye catching Metro collection, using the London underground as a reference point.  Styles are named after different tube lines dependent on their colour (Piccaddilly blue, Central red etc).  High glossy primary-hued colour is contrasted with the raw layers of stacked reclaimed Birchwood.  The cut-out of the frames are also positioned so that the wood around the lens resembles the fluid lines on a tube map.

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There’s still a ton of experimentation going on at this fledging sunglasses brand as Natalie and Patricia juggle their full time day jobs and this new venture.  That Natalie and Patricia had the ambition to really go for it when they were still at uni says a lot about the future of Termite.  It’s an intriguing product that stands on its own even without the sustainable credentials.

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