>>I never “got” the allure of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles until I had been given the time last weekend to properly roam its rooms, its vaguely haunted corridors and the outside cottages and bungalows. And thanks to Mulberry, I styled up their S/S 15 pieces with my own clothes and also got to poke my nose around the premises to find little nooks to do this impromptu shoot (yes that is wet brickwork you see there – evidence that it does rain in LA from time to time…). It’s hard not to be seduced by all the restored details of this Hollywood haunt. The chipped away tile work and the old-fashioned 1920s ventilation in the bathrooms, the personalised stationery with that endearingly faux-Medieval font of a logo, the restored O’Keefe and Merritt hob in the kitchenette, the mirrored dressing table and the curiously high number of closets (Hollywood starlets and their unusually large trousseaus?). And then beyond its walls, the seclusion provided by the folliage even though you’re technically located on Sunset Boulevard, the lemon tree (I took one – sorry – they are very juicy) and the the old logo-ed lifebuoy by the pool and all the Spanish tile details to go with the accompanying bungalows. Consider me charmed by the Chateau.
Florence, it’s been too long. Two seasons away from Pitti Uomo and I’ve relished roaming the maze-like tradeshow finding significant bits and bobs that don’t necessarily fall into the fast and furious pace of FASH-ON during say ready to wear womenswear weeks. I know I know. I’m sounding like a broken record harping on about longevity and craft and heritage. Those are loaded words that along with “timeless” and “luxury” can be used and abused in fashion vernacular. And on the grounds of Pitti Uomo, every stand is shouting out about their heritage/timeless/luxury credentials. It can feel tiresome. Therefore I’ve sought to find little nuggets at Pitti that balance out a joyful and witty aesthetic with admirable values of craftsmanship and increasingly social responsibility. It was satisfying to go around Pitti and find out about a handful of stories and endeavours to either keep a craft alive or try and do a bit of a good. And the ultimate end game? To create great product.
Geometric patterns! Lush colours! Kele Clothing’s rail was always going to catch the eye. Designed by Ildikó Kele, this Budapest-based knitwear label has been bringing Hungarian fashion to the forefront. Their A/W 15-6 collection on show at Pitti attempts to capture winter sun, storing it up in the form of cheerful knits. You could say the same for their S/S 15 collection too as they steer clear of trends as they get back to nature with traditional Hungarian csango patterns subtly worked into the knits. I know I misuse the word but “organic” is the feeling you get from Kele. They’ve also admirably launched a charity campaign #SharingIsMultiplying, working with autistic artists to create a collection of sweatshirts, where all proceeds will go to the Autistic Arts foundation. And the designs hold up. They’re things you’d want to wear, whether they’re associated with autism or not.
Any new hat discoveries are welcome by me and although Parisian hat brand Larose isn’t exactly new-new, it’s nice to see how they’re starting to come into their own with an increasing number of collaborations. Founders Isaac Larose-Farmer & Marc Beaugé work with a specialist factory in the south of France to make their hats and caps. They try and keep things minimal and clean with their design as to not detract from their sole offering. But choice fabrics such as collegiate stripes and nubbly wool as seen in their new A/W 15-6 collection makes all the difference with their well made caps. With their fashion collaborations such as with Japanese label Pine (past ones include Ami and Jacquemus), they get to play around a bit more with experimental materials. When people often need a bit of a push towards even donning a hat, Larose definitely fills a niche.
Westage & Co
My eyes zoomed in on the unique colourways at Korean menswear brand Westage & Co‘s stand. Waxed country jackets and jersey blazers are all very well and nice but Wastage & Co’s designer Don Kim has been experimenting with ombre dip dyed effects that make these menswear staples stand out. In smaller sizes, women would be seduced too. Kim ensures his Korean mark is made with red paper cut tigers in the linings and Wastage & Co in Korean embroidered on to the collars and establishing the Made in Korea label to denote quality is also a high priority for the designer. With these unique colour treatments though, Wastage & Co is certainly shaking up those tried-and-tested menswear traits.
If I had a penny for every printed silk scarf label that I get emailed about… well, I’d be mega rich. I thought the silk scarf label bank on this blog had well and truly been filled but then Istanbul-based brand Rumisu came and gave me a big hug. Literally. Their character Mr Hugs-a-Lot dominated their stand as well as their beautiful scarves. Sisters Pinar and Deniz Yegin are illustrators with a distinct style. ‘Whimsical’ is too facile a description for their silk and cotton scarves. Every design tells a real tale. It might depict something random like a dinner party with monsters doing a selfie. Or it might be an environmental issue that Pinar and Deniz feel strongly about like tiger hunting or killing snakes for their skins, depicted in humourous fashion. The addition of unique crocheted creatures to the corners of the scarves add a social responsibility dimension as they’re hand-made in South Eastern Turkey in co-operation with UNDP, a project to give employment to women in that region. Touches like the tales told on their tags and sweet embroidered canvas packaging all add to the charm of Rumisu.
Their e-shop has a fine selection of their current collections:
Here’s a label with a true Florentine flavour. Jimi Roos is originally from Denmark but learnt his craft from the small traditional shops of Florence’s back alleys. Anywhere you stumble in Florence, you’re likely to find craft in abundance. Roos’s hands might be rooted in tradition but his particular type of machine embroidery was developed accidentally as the machine trips up to create a sort of error-strewn stitching. With these mistakes, he has been putting smiley faces, toothy grins and drawing out union jacks and collars on t-shirts, shirts and sweatshirts. For A/W 15-6, Roos has also applied his embroidery to some awesome bomber jackets as well as collaborating with tailoring brand Harris Wharf for a more formal look.
This was one of the loveliest discoveries of my Pitti trip. In all my numerous trips to Sweden, not once have I been made aware of Böle, the last standing spruce bark tannery on Earth (to their knowledge…) right up in the north of Sweden near the Arctic Circle! This is a family business in its 4th generation, currently headed up by Anders Sandlund. Since 1899, Böle has been tanning Swedish cattle hides with spruce bark. The tanning process is 100% natural – simply bark and unheated water from the nearby Pite river – without any chemicals. It can take up to twelve months to tan a single hide and as a result you have a beautiful tanned leather that needs no further treatment or dyeing and is highly durable. Once made into bags and leather goods, the leather continues to take on a life of its own with a rich deepening of the colour. Böle would describe themselves as a tannery first and a saddlery second but their foray into commercial leather bags and briefcases in the 1960s means they’ve navigated their brand into the 21st century, picking up retailers like Harrods as well as becoming Royal Purveyor to members of the Swedish royal family. Their giant rucksacks, tote bags and doctor’s bags uniform in a deep shade of caramel make me think of Böle as a sort of Swedish Delvaux or Hermès – only far more minimal and stripped down (so very Scandi…). I was very impressed with their extensive website, which goes into great detail about the cows their sustainability and green credentials as well as being entirely transparent about their manufacturing processes. I’m so glad that I got to discover Böle’s debut at Pitti, as part of their recent restructuring to bring the brand into greater prominence worldwide.
For a bit of “fun”, in Pitti W, a few Ukranian designers were showing their collections. I’ve written about Anna K‘s fash-oh t-shirts that read with slogans such as “I’m not a fashion blogger” and “Fashion Circus”. That collection has expanded greatly but it’s her mainline collection that I’m more interested in. She was swishing around Pitti looking pretty fantastic in a trapeze navy number adorned with colourful patches from her brand new pre-fall A/W 15 collection. Her graphic S/S 15 and resort collections filled with stripes and funny fashion-themed stop signs are also a welcome break from Pitti’s sartorial finery.
Anna K wearing coat from her pre-fall 2015 collection at Pitti photographed by Tommy Ton for Style.com
And finally… my favourite moment captured at Pitti were these stacked-up bracelets originating from the Ndebele people in South Africa. They are worn by Jerri Mokgufe a fashion blogger and consultant from South Africa. Again, something of a break from the shades of navy and khaki that flood the people of Pitti.
“I did not know that when I first met you, we would go on to tell such a story,” said Olivier Saillard, as he raised a glass to his star collaborator Tilda Swinton at a beautiful Tuscan dinner last night held in a 12th century former convent where Gallileo’s daughter once lived. The story Saillard was referring to is trio of performances, which he and Swinton have now worked on – The Impossible Wardrobe, Eternity Dress and now Cloakroom – all based on sartorial thought or . You’ve read me go on and on about the brilliant and ingenious ways in which Saillard compels us to think about our clothes – what do they mean and how do they connect between mind, body and thread. One of the primary reasons for attending Pitti this season was to experience this affinity between Saillard and Swinton as they reprised their Cloakroom performance especially for this edition of Pitti Uomo (a video teaser can be seen here).
The significant thing about Saillard’s performances is their length. Cloakroom was timed at about an hour long, and our performance in particular staged at the Teatro della Pergola yesterday was an hour and a half. As fashion happenings go, there are few opportunities to take such a long length of time to really think. To draw importance to the aspects of the fashion industry that we should be celebrating in order to elevate our field. When Saillard performed Models Never Talk in New York, it raised questions about the modelling industry today. When Saillard and Swinton first teamed up in Paris for The Impossible Wardrobe in 2012, they brought rare garments from the Palais Galliera to life, dusting dust off history for a new audience. I didn’t see it but when they performed again in 2013, they brought attention to craftsmanship and process that goes into a garment.
My own expectations were especially high to witness and then process yet another Swinton/Saillard coup Cloakroom was performed in Paris back in November as part of the Festival D’Automne but because of the audience participation aspect of the performance, it meant every one would be quite different. The idea came about when Saillard thought about the cloakroom or coat checks of the theatre or a fancy restaurant. They’re archives in themselves, full of stories and memories. Tilda Swinton therefore was our cloakroom attendant. And as we the audience volunteered ourselves and our chosen cloakroom item to Swinton, she would react, interpret and ultimately elevate that piece of clothing, augmenting it with a memory or adding a layer of emotion to what ostensibly looks like a very ordinary garment.
Only Swinton could enthral an audience whilst holding one of many (many!) black coats. Her presence is thrilling to see in person as she gives herself so wholly to the performance, improvising without it looking disingenuous. She’d humorously turn her back on a man, keeping him waiting whilst he waited for his stub. A neoprene bulky jacket is gingerly stroked with curiosity. She’d whisper to two ends of a scarf as though she were sharing secrets with friends. She’d express fear of a corporate grey suit by ducking under the table. One lady – head to toe in Prada and Miu Miu – hammed it up for the performance, flinging her blue mink coat on the table Devil Wears Prada style. Swinton reacted demurely.
The climax moment was when Swinton assumed a blue jacket and together with Saillard would breathe in and out, puffing out the jacket as though they were lungs. Quite literally a life jacket. Finally Swinton began to leave little mementos – little witty phrases such as “Make a wish when you first wear a new garment”, a wheat stalk, a spritz of perfume or a piece of paper sealed with a kiss. Those with physical mementos will undoubtedly never look at their coats and scarves in the same way again.
In Paris, luminaries like Charlotte Rampling, Stella Tennant, Haider Ackermann and Michel Gaubert handed over their expensive coats and jackets. Here in Florence, the coats handed over were far more subtle and dare I say mundane. Which only makes Swinton’s performance even more remarkable. She held our attention for an hour and a half as she assumed and possessed every piece of clothing in a different way. And she made me think about so many things in the process. How you are perceived by what you wear. How people react to you. How I wear certain things for certain occasions because of what i’ve associated with that specific garment. How a piece of clothing makes you feel once it’s on. How memories are built with clothing. How you can almost rely on something as though it were a trusty companion. How the simple pleasures of pushing hands into pocket can feel comforting.
Too much thought on mere clothes, some would say. Apparently we’ve got bigger and more important things to be thinking about. But if we reduce our industry to pure surface, that’s a depressing thought. I can only clutch on to a fantasy that there’s got to be meaning to what we wear and Swinton and Saillard emphatically demonstrated that.
I’ve had a few of the conversations with other journalists – that they don’t “get” Hood by Air and then I go on to defend HBA – staunchly in fact. It might surprise a few of you that me in my pastel candy la-la-land corner will want to be going gun ho for a brand that communicates in black and white – literally – branding the letters HBA all over their once-cult, now-mass fanbase. Ever since Shayne Oliver founded Hood by Air as a t-shirt label, it has seen a rapid rise with a social media and celebrity following, borne entirely away from the fashion microcosm to a now a somewhat established mega brand (knock off merchandise in China is surely a telling indication?) with support from LVMH. And yet I’ve not really had the chance to say in writing why Hood by Air matters. It builds up after every show I’ve seen (while I’ve not been in it for the long haul since the early HBA days in 2006, I’ve seen pretty much every one of their NY shows) and then I can never quite figure out a way of articulating things without it sounding jumbled or worse, pretentious. As the excitement around HBA quickly built up, I feared any thoughts might appear disingenuous. Poor Susie, buying into the feverish hype.
Having witnessed Hood by Air’s special collection presented as part of Pitti Uomo, I thought it a good time to speak up. I’ve seen more than enough. Up until this Florentine show and possibly parts of the S/S 15 collection, what has really drawn me into the world of HBA, more than the clothes themselves, is the culture and energy surrounding it. Its very existence makes me happy because of what it represents – commentary on the signs of our times – the good, bad and the ugly even. With every artistic decision be it in the choice of casting, its social media output, choreography of performances and yes, the clothes as well, Oliver puts up a good fight. Against conventionality, against gender discrimination, against lack of racial diversity, against uniform standards of beauty, against oppression. They’re shows not for you to simper and clap politely at. You holler, you move, you whoop, you might even be antagonised. I simply don’t buy that thousands of people branding themselves with HBA are purely buying into it for cool factor alone. Sheeple have easier brands to buy into. The congregation of fans and friends outside the shows in New York see something within Hood by Air that they identify with, and when they’re branded with HBA on their chests, their knees and their arms, they’re eye rolling at the world in unison. And me? I’m sitting at the back pew somewhere nodding my head.
So the sentiment is all well and good. Then what of the clothes? It seems to me that once the Classics range blew up, hashtags and all, and Hood by Air was solidified in a world outside of fashion, Oliver has been attempting to up the fashion ante ever since. The results have not been entirely free of references (Helmut Lang, Margiela, Comme, Westwood… the “core” handful) but when coupled with that omnipresent energy, somehow something different and yes, fresh does appear. The progression though from freakish outsider to establishment is clear. Hood by Air’s S/S 15 collection split up into three parts, presented in New York, then Paris and then back in New York with a culminating celebratory party, explored the idea of male ego and machismo. But more significant was the more pragmatic approach towards the clothes. Wearable is too banal a word. Believable perhaps? Deconstructed suiting with a ton of flipped proportions put two fingers up at corporate values, especially seen in the Paris show, set in a menacing environment of a tower block of Montparnasse. Denim, already a burgeoning category at Hood by Air came in different treatments, as alternative takes on Oliver’s vision of Americana.
First part of Hood by Air S/S 15 collection, shown in New York:
Second part of Hood by Air S/S 15 collection, shown in Paris:
In Florence last night, that push towards establishment took another leap. Oliver has moved the Hood by Air studio to Milan with production done fully in Italy. That is bound to have made the HBA machine a whole lot smoother. Oliver talked about the discovery of Milan’s insane secret nightlife, one that doesn’t necessarily exist in New York anymore. And so it is that he turned up the contrast dial last night with a show housed in a plastic box, with a gorgeous Tuscan villa looming over. Models emerged from the steps flanked by stone lions. Gregorian chants in the villa’s foyer preceded the dystopian glitches up soundtrack by Arca. The clothes took on juxtapositions too. Jackets in camel and navy might sound like Milanese menswear thoroughfare but in the hands of HBA, are spliced and diced. Fur-trimmed zipper hoods seemed to nod to the skiwear that Italian brands also excel at were it not for their oversized proportions. A pink puffa jacket is streamlined so that it almost looks like a businessman’s overcoat. If S/S 15 was about questioning and poking at the suited and booted puffed up male peacock (the sort that are roaming Pitti tradeshow as we speak), then this special collection made with Florence in mind, is a positive conclusion. These are pieces that those aforementioned peacocks would splay their feathers for. Hood by Air will still be showing a A/W 15-6 collection in New York. You wonder where the sartorial story will go because the clothes are starting to matter just as much as the vibes. There’s an ambition in Oliver to ensure that his clothes say as much as they possibly can and that there’s so much more to come.