Prada: A cosmos of its own composed of heavenly bodies set in a complex orbit.  A universe of contradictions and endless elaborations— noble causes and base temptations— where idealism meets vanity, intelligence meets passion, fashion meets fiction.  Welcome to the Pradasphere.

At 8.30am in the morning, still bleary-eyed and plied with croissaints and coffee courtesy of Pasticceria Marchesi, I’m inclined to believe that very opening sentence because well, it’s Prada.  And whatever Miuccia says, it’s golden.  I happily took a gulp of the Prada kool-aid and drank it with relish.  Yes, Prada has been given the playground that is Harrods, which other brands like Chanel and Dior have enjoyed and taken over previously.  But Prada were always going to do it their way.  Miuccia, together with the help of 2×4 agency’s Michael Rock, have taken over that 4th floor space (aka my secret buffet spot in London – The Georgian Restaurant does the best carvery in town if you’re up  for a pig out) and turned it into a “natural history museum” of sorts, breaking down  the components that make up the world of Prada – in other words, Pradasphere.  Behind beautiful and ornate glass vitrines, Prada’s world is grouped up into taxonomies – words that exist in the biology of Prada and no where else – words like “Continentalism”, “Femasculinity” and “Excessivity” and then easier to grasp concepts of “Modernity”, “Animalia” and “Figuration”.  Your eyes dart from cabinet to cabinet, as you get overexcited over seeing those fairy illustrations from SS08, the lovely guipure lace of A/W 08, that postcard print from S/S 10, the snakeskin and sequins of AW11 etc etc – with practically every piece on every mannequin, you’re able to pick out memorable pieces from key Prada collections because every season, what Miuccia does matters and everything is recognisable even when jumbled up, re-styled and reconfigured into these categories.  Full commendation to the team chez Prada and 2X4 who was responsible for the styling which sees dream combos such as SS07 turbans mixed up with SS14 tube socks and SS 11 stacked brogues in the Excessivity cabinet – I’m totes predictable because that was my favourite vitrine out of the lot.

At the back of the room is a video display, jumbling up seasons, to show collections by colour alongside a glass cabinet of the sort of impressive textures and surfaces that have beguiled me over the years.  SS07’s bottle caps shimmering and shaking on a dress.  SS04’s expert tie dye.  SS10’s crystal chain mail.  We journalists were floating from cabinet to cabinet, collectively sighing, murmuring things like “How DOES she do it?”, with “she” of course referring to Mrs Prada.  My boyfriend very unhelpfully reminded me that he once met her backstage at a show and gave her a continental peck on the cheek too.  Gratingly, that sort of encounter doesn’t really mean as much to him as it does to me.  I, on the other hand, have only fan-girled her from afar at the British Fashion Awards last year and have never really plucked up the courage to leg it backstage after her Prada/Miu Miu shows, and so she remains one of the few designers that I’ve never really had any physical/speaking contact with.

Flanking these six central displays of Prada’s prowess are further displays showcasing Prada’s origins – a rare opportunity to see the sort of leather goods and objects that Mario and Martino Prada sold i  the first half of the 20th century.  Then there’s a digital display of Prada’s timeline of evolution, with all its projects, campaigns and shows fully visualised.  Supporting the brilliance of the clothes are the the “ephemera” that Prada is particularly good at – invitations, books, press kits – the physical paraphernalia that I always want to keep.  On the other side is a whole wall of “Specimens”.  No excavated bones or rocks, but instead groupings of Prada’s shoes and handbags, which over the years have been mini-hits in their own right, selling out or causing wait lists.  It’s a showcase of variety and vanity that Miuccia actually panders to.  She sees no shame in lovely things and so here, there is loveliness abound, seen especially in the cabinet of flora and fauna-themed shoes.

Despite the shiny glass, the formally caligraphed caption labels and the evocation of a look-but-don’t-touch natural history museum, there’s no getting away from it.  The lure of everything behind all that glass is exactly why Pradasphere works as a retail/exhibition concept.  I came away with pangs of regret over those past collections and a fuming desire to want to seek the past out out (thanks to Bicester Village, eBay and Vestiare Collective!!!)  Prada’s past set out in this taxonomic retrospective is just a heady reminder of why you want to invest in Prada’s future, hence why the exhibition leads on to a cushy private lounge – all velvet and plush carpet – pre-selling the pre-fall collection.

If Pradasphere hasn’t fed you enough on a visual level, then you can pop in next door where the balcony room has been transformed into a version of Café Marchesi, the legendary and historic Milanese patisserie, which Prada has a stake in.  They’ll be serving Milanese restaurant classics as well as selling a selection of their boxed delicacies.  In short, it’s Prada Café and the likelihood is that it will be full to the brim everyday for the duration of its tenancy (until May 29th).  Pradasphere also continues with the usual window takeover and ground floor pop-up store to entice you with all that lovely stuff that keeps Prada ker-chin-ing.  After a gander around Pradasphere on 4th floor, you’ll gladly want to contribute to those Prada pursestrings.  Shallow me is looking for an excuse to buy anything just to nab a Prada x Harrods Pradasphere illustrated shopping bag.  That’s the power of Prada.

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>> I’m putting my blasted metal-allergy prone skin issues aside for the moment.  A rash can be cured but the I can’t ignore the itch for an adorned ear.  Especially when sweet Rei Shito took me to her favourite shopping bolt hole in Tokyo, aptly named Peaches and Cream – a veritable Aladdin’s mixed-up cave of sparkly things, both new and old, ensconced in an Aoyama building and open only by appointment .  Their in-house jewellery line specialises in reconfiguring bits of vintage gems and fixtures to create new pieces and their selection of clip-on earrings that would put Pat Butcher’s collection of ear spanglers to shame.  The peeps at Peaches and Cream look to the likes of Marisa Berenson in her sixties/seventies finery, Elizabeth Taylor at her most decadent and Guy Bourdin images for inspiration for their inner sanctum of treasure and trove.  Clipping different ones on and off was a joy in itself.  I finally settled on a pair that thus far haven’t given my skin any gip.  I suspect it’s the worn away nickel of the old metal fixtures and earring backs that hopefully means my ear won’t suddenly explode with pus mid-wear.  I might have to go back to Peaches and Cream for more ear-dazzlers as I’m just a little bit hooked on the whole A/W 14 one-dangly-earring thing (see Celine and Louis Vuitton for further reference), seeing as my heavy mane eclipses the sight of one ear anyway.  Thanks to Rei for the sheeny shiny tip-off!

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IMG_9768Worn with Marni jacket

Peaches and CreamImages from Peaches and Cream’s Tumblr and Instagram

Whenever anybody has asked me about the fashion scene in Hong Kong and to name check a few of my favourite designers, I’m afraid I’ve had to draw an embarrassing blank.  Patriotic failure.  Well, I might be able to name five lonesome names on a hand but not many where people in the industry beyond Hong Kong would have heard of.  It’s always been befuddling to visit this shopper’s paradise of a city on a regular basis, where fashion is so overtly everywhere, and then find that independent design isn’t nurtured on a similarly accelerated level.  The predicament of many Hong Kong fashion design graduates, who have either studied abroad or at the very excellent Institute Textiles and Clothing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, is that they’ll go and work for bigger companies in the numerous merchandising, design and buying positions that are available in Hong Kong, because of its proximity to the manufacturing hubs of Southern China, where high street fashion is churned out at an unbelievable pace.  They’re the stable money jobs with security.  And to put a cliche out there, in Hong Kong, money talks.

Add to that graduate job lure are Hong Kong’s astronomic rents and lack of domestic retail support for homegrown designers and you get that initial mind blank out I was talking about.  Hong Kong is about to get a shake-up though to its design scene.  Last week I quickly dropped by PMQ, a building that was once the former Police Married Quarters on Aberdeen Street and Hollywood Road in Central, that has now been converted into a hub for Hong Kong designers of all disciplines that spans ready to wear, leather goods, jewellery, product, furniture, architecture and branding.  I had already heard some talk about PMQ a while back and was intrigued to see how Hong Kong would approach such a leftfield project – well left field for Hong Kong anyway.  Smack bang in the middle of Soho and in Hong Kong’s prime real estate area, PMQ could so easily have been solely marketed to big brands to pay the sky high rents that the area demands.  Instead the set-up is that whilst the ground and 1st floor spaces have been let out more established brands like Bread and Butter and Vivienne Tam, the majority of the 100 studio/shop units have been rented at a discounted rate to young Hong Kong-based designers and creatives, with a very stringent vetting and interview process.

In fact PMQ seems to have unleashed and galvanised many a design business into kickstarting as it offers the much-needed studio and retail space combined, and ultimately a place where one can showcase their work.  Made in Hong Kong isn’t a nostalgic concept here but a tangible reality and something that hopefully designers are coming to terms with as something to be proud of.  Designers are required to be present for a certain amount of hours during the day so that it opports up an opportunity for would be customers can interact with them directly, something of a rarity in Hong Kong.

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When I went to visit, about thirty percent of units were up and running with something to see so this is merely just a snapshot of the very beginnings of PMQ with the official proper opening not until June.  Already, there’s quite an eclectic array that makes PMQ worth a gander, a change-up from the usual run of glossy malls where you never see a glimpse of sunlight.  There are industrial-based leather accessories tooled and casted in-store by POMCH.  There is a bespoke creative agency Delication creating “Jungles in a Bottle”.  Smith and Norbu craft glasses out of yak and buffalo horn.  Jewellery label AOGP designed by Mag Tse is looking to explore wearable jewellery.    YC Yeung Chin‘s experimental fashion line combines installation and costume together.  513 Paint Shop seeks to be the first designer paint shop in Hong Kong, something akin to Farrow and Ball.

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There were some familiar names to be found.  In the store called Hashtag, I encountered Hoiming’s asymmetric hand-crafted handbags as they have set up their studio in the shop.  They share the space with a really cute Hong Kong-based childrens line Hailey’s.

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I was really impressed with jewellery studio and shop The Little Finger, designed by Pinky Wong.  Through in-store collaborative workshops and exhibitions, The Little Finger seeks to showcase handcrafted contemporary jewellery to a new audience.

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Newcomer Hak seeks to promote the idea of Made in Hong Kong by ensuring all of her accessories, shoes and clothes are made by truly local craftsmen and seamstresses.  In fact Hak has worked with a socially conscious enterprise that gathers up retired seamstresses, who would have worked in Hong Kong’s garment manufacturing heyday – loosely translated as “sewing sisters” – to undertake production.

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Loom Loop is another fashion start-up that has sustainable and organic aspirations as they use leftover denim and knitwear from garment factories as well as looking to ancient fabrication techniques in Guangzhou to create interesting non creased treated silk and plant-based dyeing colour effects.  It’s tradition balanced out with contemporary design that leaves you curious.  And discovering the story will be half the fun and ultimately the point of a place like PMQ, where consumers will not just be getting a retail experience but an educational one as well.

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There was a vaguely biased reason for visiting PMQ though.  My cousin designer Elizabeth Lau, who some of you might be familiar with, has moved to Hong Kong and has begun her brand new retail venture called The Refinery on the 4th floor of PMQ.  It’s one of the very few multi-brand boutiques that have been allowed to reside in PMQ, a space dedicated to mostly mono-brands and individual designers.  Elizabeth has selected some of her favourite brands – mostly British – such as Bernstock Speirs, Alex Monroe jewellery, Kate Sheridan bags, Antoni & Alison, Lulu & Co, Marios – as well as her own line of knitwear pieces to be housed in a really distinctive wave-edged cardboard shop interior.  The selection is largely exclusive to The Refinery and is the anomaly in PMQ, where design not from Hong Kong, is promoted.  The Refinery adds to the mix at PMQ, where the draw isn’t just Hong Kong born-and-bred design, but as a lifestyle destination.  Food additions like Jason Atherton’s Aberdeen Street Social will amplify this mix as well as other yet to be announced “major” additions to PMQ.  This space is worth watching whether you’re vested in Hong Kong design or not.  It’s a model that could well be mimicked elsewhere.

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therefinery

I literally bumbled and tumbled my way into Designer Jumble on Thursday on Fashion Revolution Day because I had just landed in back from Hong Kong at 6am in the morning. Not that natty hair and droopy panda eyes were going to deter me from doing something to contribute to the success of what was a worldwide co-ordinated day of activities to remember the tragedy of Rana Plaza exactly a year ago. Let’s start with a hip-hip-hurrah for their mightily successful #InsideOut campaign, which was trending on Twitter throughout the day.

I chose to set my withered self up at Designer Jumble, a pop-up initiative set up by former editor-in-chief of Vogue.com Abigail Chisman. Devoted to selling secondhand designer fashion and accessories at affordable prices, Designer Jumble’s appeal isn’t just for the socially-conscious shopper. Whether you’re interested in issues of sustainability and fair trade or not, what fashion lover is going to snub their noses up at a Gaultier Junior jacket for under £100 or a Prada dress for £90.

Ensconced on The Street section of Westfield Stratford until June, Designer Jumble really is a 2nd hand designer treasure trove. And I say that having just returned from the 2nd hand designer treasure trove that is Tokyo. What gets my vote are the prices which are definitely not inflated but are priced accordingly. No wonder some vintage buyers/store owners were sniffing around Designer Jumble wanting to buy out their rails. Chisman wasn’t having any of it though. She ultimately wants to sell pieces at a fair price and particularly on Fashion Revolution Day, get the message across that there are high street alternatives out there. And you need not wrinkle your nose at “worn” or “used” when you’re getting the quality and craftsmanship so often displayed with the Made in Italy/Britain/France garments of the 70s and 80s when supply chains were a lot shorter and more transparent.

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On Fashion Revolution Day, Designer Jumble played host to knitwear upcyclist and all-round lover of colour and fun Katie Jones, who was busy darning up an old Jean Paul Gaultier jacket with blue polka dots.  The Good Wardrobe, a forum and site that promotes prolonging the life of clothes with a make-do-and-mend attitude were also on hand to offer tips to people on how to breathe new life into tired clothes.

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I was tasked in to style up the wares on offer on the mannequin.  And there was definitely FAR more choice than I had anticipated.  I found myself shopping and could have winded up with a rack of many possibilities.  The bulk of the 2nd hand designer wares on offer are donated by fashion insiders and collated by Chisman herself.  There’s also another incredible collection that Chisman will be selling on behalf of a woman called Hannelore Smart, who was the wife of circus impresario Billy Smart Jr and thus the collection is called “Fashion is a Circus”.  I’ll be delving deeper into the collection next week (if all the pieces haven’t been snapped up already!) but it is no understatement to say that this 1,500 piece collection spanning the 70s to the 90s is a proper goldmine – Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Alaia, Kenzo, Thierry Mugler, Antony Price, Hussein Chalayan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood – it’s ALL going on and some of it, going for a song.  A selection of elite pieces including a brilliant moulded Issey Miyake plastic corset and couture Versace jacket are up for auction right now, with all proceeds going to Alzeimers Society in London, but most are going on the rails so a visit to Westfield Stratford is definitely a must.  I used a lot of pieces from this collection to put together outfits.  In addition, there were also examples of ethical and sustainable fashion courtesy of new designer Vivienne Austin and of course Orsola de Castro’s From Somewhere.

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IMG_4874Opening Ceremony lurex shirt, Prada dress, House of Holland skirt, Sigerson Morrison boots

IMG_4876Gryphon aviator jacket, Vivienne Austin white shirt (new), Yves Saint Laurent jacket, Rodarte tutu skirt, vintage ballet slippers

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IMG_4890Gaultier Jeans trapper hat, Hardy Amies checked blazer, Jean Paul Gaultier striped jacket, Kenzo shirt, Gaultier Junior boxing shorts, Marni clogs

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IMG_4899Vivienne Westwood brocade corset, Comme des Garcons sheer skirt, customised 90s floral jeans, Prada silver wedges and vintage straw bowler hat

IMG_4901Antony Price parachute jacket/dress, Prada matching top and skirt

IMG_4907Jonathan Saunders felt jacket, Betty Jackson leather blazer, Antithesis shirt (new), From Somewhere top (new), Loewe navy leather skirt, Luella bag

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IMG_4884Thank you to Emeline Nsingi Nkosi for modelling one of my looks consisting of a beautiful recycled denim coat with foiled edging by new sustainable designer Vivienne Austin, a Prada Sports zip-up top, a Gaultier Junior pleated skirt, some Miu Miu pumps and an incredible vintage swimcap floral hat.

I also did my little #InsideOut bit by posting a few outfits – a mix of high street, indie and designer – all turned inside out with origins of factories in China, Italy, Morocco, USA and UK.  Disappointingly only Whistles came back with a personal answer thanks to their helpful PR to my question of where my camoflage top and skirt were made (a factory in Southern China which follows BSCI code of conduct).  Someone from H&M got back to me on Twitter with a link detailing all their factories and suppliers, graded by H&M themselves – to be fair, their dedication to CSR is pretty impressive when you go through their whole Sustainability site.  And sweet Calla assured me her jeans were made under sound working conditions in Morocco – and I’m inclined to believe her because it would do her harm as such a young designer to not be in full control of her production.

On a day where brands were most likely to be inundated with #InsideOut tweets, I’m surprised they weren’t prepared to give an answer – not even a courtesy tweet to say they’d endeavour to find out.  Current//Elliott who have their jeans all made in USA would surely have a traceable supply chain that they can inform their consumer about – all they tweeted me was a compliment saying they liked the look.  Not helpful.  The Topshop slipdress I wore says it’s Made in Britain, and as per many of their Boutique and Unique items, they are all proudly Made in Britain, which probably means the supply chain is close at home and not exactly hard to find out about – so why no reply?  Looking at their Twitter feed, I don’t think they replied to any of the #InsideOut tweets that were posted at them.  Most baffling and frankly disappointing.  The Club Monaco leather coat I wore inside out is priced at a premium – it’s Made in China but to charge that price, surely they have a rough idea of where the item came from – again, no answer.  I’ll forgive Marni, James Long and COS for not replying – their presence on social media isn’t exactly established.  The replies I saw from brands to other people, were mostly independent designers who could give answers instantly and with a clear conscience.  That’s not surprising because they are working on a much smaller scale, without a convoluted chain of third parties, merchandisers and buyers.  Even assurance from the high street retailers that everything is audited, vetted and analysed isn’t a 100% guarantee that what you’re buying hasn’t passed through inhumane working conditions.  Designer brands are also culprits but also seem beyond reproach.

And yet the answers of what is the call-to-action are still murky.  Do we avoid all the high street chains and deprive the livelihoods of women, who would otherwise be jobless and mired in poverty?  Do we restrict ourselves to buying traceable, independent designers or ethical/sustainable designers when not everyone’s budgets can manage that?  I’d conclude that instead of a mass boycott, that we should demand better and expect more from the high street brands we buy from.  #InsideOut shouldn’t be one-day trending phenomenon but an ongoing discussion between consumer and retailer.  The likes of Topshop might ignore these questions for the time being but piling on the pressure consistently will make them listen.  It would be bad business on their part not to.  That’s why contributing to Fashion Revolution’s latest crowdfunding campaign could also help.  They seek to fix the broken links in a supply chain, to put questions to retailers and pile on that pressure and to ultimately raise the standards of an industry that has blood on their hands (by the by reading about one of the Rana Plaza survivors being trapped in the building, drinking dead people’s blood to survive should chill anybody’s bones and spur you on to think about your purchases).

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