Shibori Master

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> And thud.  I’m back down to earth.  After the celebrity hum-drum of Los Angeles, I’m on surer footing now that I’m back in Florence for Pitti Uomo.  I haven’t attended for two seasons and it’s reassuring that here in this behemothic menswear tradeshow, you’ll always be able to find stands that sell Princes of Wales checked suits with fabrics sourced from the finest of Italian mills, shoes crafted in the Pietmont mountains and handknits from Scotland.  In other words, craft and tradition will always matter in this world and the shifts in terms of seasonality are subtler than the roller coaster world of high fashion.  I quite enjoy the hunt for the special something in amongst the stacks of suit, denim and extreme sportswear brands that show at Pitti, which I’m ill-equipped to write about.

Day one yielded Suzusan.  It was their video (shown above) playing on an iPad, which caught my eye.  Japanese grannies sitting around twisting and knotting fabric, ready to by dyed, otherwise known as the ancient technique of shibori.  Great!  Right up my street…

Hiroyuki Murase is the fifth generation of the Murase family, based in Arimatsu, Nagoya in Japan.  There were once thousands of shibori artisans in Arimatsu, where shibori has been practised for over 400 years and became world-renowned for its high quality shibori textiles.  Every family will have their own specific techniques and the Murase family founded the Suzusan business over a century ago, and are one of the dwindling shibori houses left in Arimatsu.  Their shibori prowess hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fashion world.  The likes of Dior, Junya Watanabe and Calvin Klein have commissioned Suzusan for fabrics.  As seen in the Dior couture A/W 13-4 collection, the Murase family specialises in a shibori technique where the structural shape of the pointy “knots” are retained so that the surface is three-dimensional, puckered and almost “alive” in its appearance.

Hiroyuki, learning from his father Hiroshi Murase – a bona fide shibori master – and the other artisans in his hometown,  has now spread his wings to take the family business to a more accessible and contemporary level.  Having studied fine art in Surrey, he went on to set up a Suzusan arm in Germany in 2008, designing a ready to wear collection of scarves and sweaters, as well as a shibori lampshade collection called Luminaires, that utilise the techniques of his family in a way that can be worn and carried over into the 21st century.  Hiroyuki balances preservation with innovation deftly to prevent his family tradition from drifting into oblivion.

“My entire childhood, I was surrounded by shibori artisans.  Whenever I would visit their workshops, they let me play with their tools while watching them work.  They drew patterns, stitched, dyed and unraveled.  Skillfully they led their tools and fingers across the fabric, their hands were dancing with the textiles.  Time always seemed to pass slower around them.  Untouched by any hustle, they would work with greatest diligence, taking one step at a time.  Nowadays, twenty years later, I work with the same tools, some of them given to me by the artisans I spent my childhood around. Countless fingerprints mark the old tools, reminding me of them and the values they stand for.

I used to think there were four elements to creating something. The first being skill, then knowledge, experience and finally a sense of beauty. Not until later in life did I realise there was a fifth element: “love”.  We cannot produce large quantities.  We try out new things, sometimes we succeed, other times we fail.  Everything we produce is diligently made by hand, in our fast paced society.  So if you wonder why I do what I do, I say: Because I love to create.  Too many of the products nowadays are made without those 5 elements.  But I believe in this day and age there has to be someone who passionately creates by hand.  I hope you will be able to feel our values in our products.  Every piece is unique, every surface feels different. Out of time, skill, knowledge, experience, our sense of beauty and love we create forms, colours and patterns.” 

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dior4Suzusan’s work for Dior haute couture A/W 2013-4 collection

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Yohji2A scarf commissioned by Yohji Yamamoto where the letters are created by knotted sections that resist the dye

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Here are a few sneak peeks at Suzusan’s A/W 15-6 collection, designed in Germany by Hiroyuki.  The range includes beautifully dyed wool scarfs in varying yarns, taking shibori out of its traditional cotton and silk context.  Suzusan’s dyeing techniques are also applied to cashmere jumpers in subtle patterns that go against the grain of the familiar circular patterns.  So much of Pitti can seem like they’re piddling you craft for the pure sake of craft.   There’s no disputing that Hiroyuki and his family’s traditions deserve the attention of an audience beyond textile nerds and nostalgia-buffs.

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Out of Towners

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I experienced rain in Los Angeles for the first time.  Like actual heavy-ish rain.  Looking out at the drizzly skies felt weirdly appropriate though as we were standing in the ballroom of the Four Seasons, quaffing tea, chomping on cucumber sandwiches at the annual BAFTA tea party on Saturday.  It was an odd place to find myself but I came on invitation by Mulberry who are a primary sponsor of the event for the second year running (along with Jaguar).  I’ve missed out on all the LC:M action back in London this past weekend but curiosity got the better of me as to what exactly the deal was with the hype that surrounds awards season in Hollywood.  In fact, just Hollywood in general – as in the industry of the film world, the celeb culture – was something that I’ve never really experienced before in LA.  Plus selfishly, I thought it would be nice to get a few days of sun lounging around at legendary residence Chateau Marmont.  Bar the sun, the weekend was definitely a fine taster of Hollywood at its busiest and buzziest.

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Back to the tea party.  We might have been made to feel at “home” with all the accoutrements of afternoon tea and British accents everywhere but the surroundings couldn’t have felt more alien to me.  The room was thronging with BAFTA nominees and at every turn you’d be brushing past people that I’ve only ever seen on celluloid or in Getty photographs.  Starstruck isn’t quite the right word.  Starshocked?  As in paralysed with fear because you’re feeling very little and insignificant in this razzle dazzle scheme of things?  Oh look, Keira Knightley looking radiant (of course she’s radiant – she’s pregnant) in yellow.  Marion Cotillard – eeeeeeek – literally awed by her beauty!  Wes Anderson – would it be entirely improper to go up to him and tell him how deeply I’ve analysed his cinematography?  Acclaimed set designer and Mulberry collaborator Michael Howells, kind gentleman that he is, was present to help guide me through this surreal setting.  This sort of thing obviously doesn’t faze him.  He tells me it’s all about nominees meeting ’n’ greeting the board of BAFTA voters – saying five second hello’s and how are you’s to hopefully garner their vote.  No time to chit chat to randoms then.  However Howells was gallant enough to manoeuvre our way to Eddie Redmayne, so that I could say how much he made me cry in The Theory of Everything.  A ten second chat ensued before his agent swiftly ushered him off to the next important person.  One line of dialogue with one nominee was more than I could handle.  Note on images, the room was declared a “No Selfie” zone and my DSLR was duly barred.

Thankfully Mulberry were present to provide some light relief in the foyer.   Cue a surreal sight of the likes of Ethan Hawke hammering away at their initials on leather bracelets at the Mulberry crafting stations.  Cara Delevigne and Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith from Downton) also had a go.  It’s definitely a lot easier hammering letters into leather than hanging out with Hollywood folk.

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The night before at the Chateau Marmont, Mulberry had also hosted an informal dinner and cocktail party as well as a sneak screening of an upcoming short film.  “Out of Towners” their now signature golden balloons spelled out over the pool, which pretty much summed up my state of being.  Again, I floated around like a lost-ling as guests like Rosamund Pike and Dominic West milled about, until I was rescued by Emma Wyman, fashion editor of Dazed, who happens to be a native LA person.  She went to school with Camille Belle, who was also at the party.  Naturally.  I’m going to go all teenage on you and *sigh* –  will I ever get a clue and not be ridden with social awks?  Didn’t help of course that I was also doing a social media takeover for Mulberry on their accounts for the weekend.  I can but only ever be perpetually perplexed by this Hollywood hub-hub.  At the end of the day, it’s not my world but I thank Mulberry wholeheartedly for the otherworldly experience.

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From the perspective of Mulberry, their presence in Los Angeles and their ties with Hollywood is strategic of course to assert themselves in what is an important market to them.  In Britain, Mulberry has been clouded with negative headlines regarding their profit fall and their inability to claw back the mid-range customer that appreciated their reasonably priced, British-made leather goods, That was recently quelled by the announcement that former Céline accessories maestro Johnny Coca will be taking over the creative director reins.  Coca brings with him a track record of creating bona fide bag hits, which puts Mulberry in good stead when he begins in July this year.  

In the meantime though, looking at their S/S 15 collection, it’s clear their in-house design team are doing a solid job of holding the fort.  The clothes whilst always a sideline at an accessorised-focused brand like Mulberry, has highlights like a beautiful geometric floral jacquard, pretty broderie anglaise dresses in white and periwinkle blue and a lovely grey suit with flecks of embroidered parsley flowers.  It’s all pretty English garden fare that is appropriate for this “holding” period as Mulberry prepares for Coca’s arrival.

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On the bag front, the Cara 2-in-1 rucksack and tote combo marches on.  The Lily turns mini.  But the big Mulberry bag story of the season is definitely the Delphie.  It’s cleverly constructed so that the front envelope flips around to the back to snap into place to create a different colourway/texture for the bag.  The shoulder strap can also be shortened.  It’s hard to describe in words or convey in pics but hopefully you get the idea with this Instagram vid and pics shot around the lovingly restored features of my Chateau Marmont room.

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Spring Like

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I’m sitting in my hotel room in Los Angeles (more about that later… or you can see wagwan on my social media accounts, whichever you prefer) watching rolling news.  Paris is burning.  And it’s all terrifying.  It feels slightly wrong typing out la-di-da-di-da things.  Hence why the Bright Old Things post was at least a good attempt at being an antidotal counterfoil to what is happening in the world.

I’m taking cue from the subject of this post.  Spring.  New beginning.  Ever since I had dinner at Skye Gyngell‘s new-ish restaurant in Somerset House late last year, I’d been meaning to return, to prod around the lush pastel dream-like interior and take a closer look at the unusual uniforms worn by the staff.  The managerial staff wear forest green ensembles designed by London newcomer duo Trager Delaney.  The male wait staff wear natty waistcoats,breton striped tops and cropped linen trousers created by the pastoral minimalist cult shop Egg,  The female wait staff wear trapeze linen dresses in grey, lime green and white also designed by Egg.  These are the dresses that have incited an array of inventive descriptions ranging from “beautiful Dalek” to “trapezoid hospital gowns so ugly they surely constitute a case for constructive dismissal.”

There’s something very intriguing about the amount of words written about the uniforms in most of the newspaper reviews.  The vitriol expressed in Camilla Long’s review for The Sunday Times is particularly joyless.  It’s almost as if it’s an offensive affront to the diner in question if wait staff don’t adhere to conventional uniform dress codes.   The uniforms are “weird”.  The guys look like “sailors who’ve been sectioned.”  Even the most normal of items – the linen trousers are seen as “silly”.  Apparently waiters with a remote suggestion of a maverick aren’t allowed to be serving you roasted squab.

Unsurprisingly, I love everything about what the staff wear.  Hence a post that veers dangerously into restaurant review slash “Look at my beautiful lifestyle” type blogs (full disclosure: I paid for my lunch at Spring).  Fear not, you won’t be subjected to my attempt at describing the harmony of juicy scallops mingling with agretti or why the simplest of combo of fennel, blood orange and hazelnuts is almost painfully delicious.  I’ll leave the food talk to the likes of Fay Maschler and Marina O’Louglin.  Instead, just bask in all the pretty details that makes Spring a lovely place to eat and sit.  The carefully outfitted staff waft around like otherworldly beings in this heightened pale blue dining room, accented by a mic of marble, copper and powder pink, orchestrated by interior designer Briony Fitzgerald.  Artworks in the form of porcelain blooms by Valeria Nascimento and metallic leaf layered with glass peonies by Emma Peascod draw your eyes in.  The glass-ceilinged atrium garden filled with olive trees prevents the whole space from going stiff.  Even the parquet pink tiles in the toilets exude charm.  It feels somewhat restorative to sit in this a rose-tinted bubble and enjoy Gyngell’s food, watching them ovoid smocks, casual stripes and forest green hues go by.

Spring-restaurant-london-staff-uniforms-remodelistaPhotograph by Spring

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0E5A2165Scallops with polenta, agretti and salsa rossa

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0E5A2181Trio of ice cream – creme fraiche, bitter chocolate sorbet, honey and walnut

 

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0E5A2231Artwork by Valeria Nascimento

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0E5A2387Kenzo pink gommato Kalifornia bag blending in with the bathroom

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Bright Old Things

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I found it difficult yesterday to clomp about my day, bashing out words about new collections and so on and so forth.  That sounds trite and disingenuous but it’s true.  I went down to Trafalgar Square at 6pm to join the vigil and held my keyboard (didn’t have a pen…) aloft in the air for an hour or so.  It was weirdly satisfying to see the camaraderie of it all and to hear shouts for liberty in French.

Then I went up to Selfridges to go behind the scenes of the unveiling of what is an uplifting story to kick off the year, shedding some shred of positivity to follow what happened yesterday.  Bright Young Things has turned into Bright Old Things.  In a mainstream culture that associates the new with the young, Selfridges turns to talent who have found new creative outlets in later life – and not necessarily as a career path – but because they feel the urge to purely create and express themselves freely.  A group of fourteen (including Sally Peplow, a Birmingham based textiles artist, who isn’t part of the London line-up) “old” things – some well-known, some not so much – have each been given a window at Selfridges to take us into their world, flanked by curation and support by Todd Selby.  In previous editions of Bright Young Things, the set-up would normally run the format of fashion mannequins surrounded by set design.  With a group that includes a full-time punk, a sci-fi vlogger and a topiarist, the windows were always going to be diverse.  As such none of them run towards “trends” or any preconceived notions of “good taste” and they’re all riddled with idiosyncrasy.  It’s evident that later life gives you the ability to go off on freeing tangents.  Freedom, freeing, freely – these words are likely to resonate.

Selfridges are on the money of course.  On the day that the BOT’s (sorry if the acronym reads funny…) were milling around the department store putting the finishing touches to their windows, Céline released their S/S 15 campaign, featuring not just an older women, but older woman of real substance.  Joan Didion looking nonchalant in black has already resonated as one of the season’s campaign highlights.

It’s not age we’re celebrating here but talent and gravitas – earned and achieved over time.  When Selfridges references the “old”, it’s not physical age they’re talking about.  The age group of these Bright “old” Things ranges from the late forties to the mid-eighties.  What they have in common is their experience in former careers – be it accountancy, architecture or being in the navy – and so when it comes to their later burst of creativity, they bring with them an attitude where going with convention, pleasing expectations and making all the money in the world no longer matters.  Not to say that self-satisfaction can’t be found at an earlier age but with physical time, the more you come to know yourself, it seems that the more you’re likely to find out what you want to do.

“I adore being ancient,” says Molly Parkin, one of the more famous (and infamous…) luminaries of the BOT’s.  “When people ask me what’s my happiest time, it’s definitely now.”  An artist that has come full circle through successful stints as a fashion editor, a milliner and an author, Parkin concluded the in-house Bright Old Things newspaper with the following.

Older now, and nicer, wiser

Scrabbling to the top no more

Aware that I can be a bore

Repeating stuff I’ve told before

Replacing scowls with sunlit smiles

Scattering kissing, no longer missing

Love affairs, hot nights of passion

Dressing oddly out of fashion

Showing off what I’ve got on

Clashing colours feels so spot-on

Turning heads on Chelsea’s Kings Road

Each dashing swain, now withered toad

Yet feeling as I feel myself

Safe and satisfied on the shelf

Youth has its place

The unlined face

The body, strong and stripped for action

But old age boasts self-satisfaction

Fast jobs well done

Old age is fun

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Sue Kreitzman (artist formerly known as a food writer and broadcaster) – Fans of Advanced Style will instantly recognise Krietzman.  It’s impossible not to find joy in her “walking collage” sense of style.  Her window reflects her love for the folksy and the tribal as she concocts a wildly vivid menagerie of dolls and figurines surrounding a mystical telephone, a direct dial to what she refers to as goddesses.  For the Bright Old Things concept store, she’s co-created a “Sue” necklace with Tatty Devine as well as prints of a pertinent quote.  It reads “Don’t wear beige, it might kill you!”

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William-Forbes Hamilton (painter formerly known as an actor) – This jobbing actor and entertainer (funnily enough he worked at Selfridges in the 50s demonstrating toys) has turned to painting and his window features his idea of The Last Supper – the humble fish and chips.  And so it is that the rest of his charming work takes inspiration from his day to day life, as he finds beauty in the everyday.

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Tim Bushe (architect moonlighting as a topiarist on the weekends) – I’m going to plot out a North/East London route of Tim Bushe (yes that’s his real last name) examples of topiary.  An architect by day, Bushe took up topiary as a way of giving back to inner city London, bringing joy to people in a way that his buildings don’t.  Elephants do exist in Finsbury Park thanks to Bushe’s deft skills.

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Sand Laurenson (artist with a varied career past including being a police woman) – At the age of 42, Sand Lawrenson was the oldest student ever to get  place on the post graduate course at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools.  Her mind blowing installation consists of hundreds of painted hollow egg shells.  They’re painted not as chintzy ornaments but as other worldly sea anemone-esque creatures illuminated by UV light.

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Den Woods (furniture designer formerly known as an actress) – I didn’t get to see the finished window of Den Woods (many people with interconnected names and natures here) but it reflects her love of natural materials used in her chairs, that are inspired by traditional 16th century Spanish and Portuguese designs.

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Roger Miles (artist and consult formerly known as a chartered accountant) – After working in accountancy for 32 years, Roger Miles decided to study fine art at Chelsea College of Arts.  Again, I didn’t get to see the final vision of his window but it’s basically a surreal recreation of a 70s record store backgrounded by Mills’ artwork, connected with nostalgia and memories.  The windows also features a Neil Young lyric: “I won’t retire but I might retread” which lingers in your head.

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Tony Gibson (vlogger formerly known as a product designer) – Fun fact.  Tony Gibson invented and developed the Heinz squeeze ketchup bottle as well as the opening to a Pot Noodle.  Currently a gift retailer, Gibson now presents a video blog called Earth News for Space, explaining all about what we earthlings do to life out there.  Gibson’s window features his recreated vlogging, which reminds me of The Sound of Sleep.

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Robert Roope (eyewear designer formerly known as an optician) – After 50 years of working as an optician and witnessing the collapse of many a frame maker, Robert Roope decided to go into eyewear design himself, taking inspiration from yesteryear eyewear worn by jazz musicians of the ‘40s-‘60s.  Now with the ability to design eyewear on his own terms, Roope sells his frames from his shop Black Eyewear on Goodge Street.

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Andrew Ekins (painter formerly known as a decorator) – I like that Ekins specifies himself as a painter as his work concentrates on the medium itself as installations are made out of layers and layers of paint.  Ekin’s window is a gilded ode to his one and only medium as hundreds and hundreds of genuinely used paint and spray cans tower in an impressive blinded out heap.

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Michael Lisle Taylor (sculptor formerly known as a Royal Navy aircraft engineer- The youngest out of the all the BOT’s, Michael Liste Taylor came to sculpting having spent 13 years in the navy.  That experience has given him an appreciation for military apparatus and new sort of craft sprung from the ritual and iconography of military life.  His magnificent sail boat stitched, welded and bolted together floats loftily in the window with illustrated sails but when in situ on the shore as Taylor showed me in photographs, it makes a whole lot of sense.

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Nick Wooster (menswear designer formerly known as a fashion retailer/buyer) – Nick Wooster is probably the most well know  in style circles of all the BOT’s.   called the “Aretha male of American street style” by GO this former menswear buyer and retailer has waded into design with his first collection made with Lardini launching this season.  He credits photographers like Tommy Ton with his later life street style fame with his window features mannequin heads, replaced with camera clusters, as well as a floor strewn with street style images of Wooster.

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Bruno Wizard (full time spiritual punk living it up all day everyday) –  “I want to paint this window with ‘We are Charlie’ but I don’t think Selfridges would go for it.”  That’s the first thing Bruno Wizard said he came out to check up on the progress of his window.  What happened in Paris yesterday would hit someone like Wizard hard.  Wholly anarchic, free-spirited and completely lucid about the harsh realities of the world, hearing Wizard speak is like throwing yourself head first into a giant vat of out-of-body wisdom.  Wizard hung out with all the legends of London counter-culture – he performed with his band The Rejects and The Homosexuals – and squatted with the Blitz Kids in Warren Street.  He talked about flogging John Galliano designs to the Patricia Field store in New York.  These extreme highs are coupled with lows as Wizard battled with all manner of drug addictions all manner of substance addictions as well as having lived rough on the streets.  A volunteer at a homeless shelter in 2011 rediscovered Wizard’s story and so the film The Heart of Bruno Wizard tells his tale.  Wizard’s word wizardry is evident in his window as he reinterprets the flapping Union Jack flag in the wind, not as a symbol of oppression in his opinion, but as a positive octopus, spreading its “tenta-cultures” – ideals of love, creativity and poetry to the world.  Wizard as a cult figure warrants this resurgent interest.  Wizard isn’t someone who has found a new calling later in life but someone who has had a roller coaster ride with his calling.  He lives by his motto: “My life is my art is my business is my life.”

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Molly Parkin (artist formerly known as a fashion editor/author) – I’m ashamed to say I knew Molly Parkin as a fashion editor first, with successful stints at Nova and the Sunday Times in the ‘70s.  Parkin was quick to dismiss that part of her life.  “That decade was wasted,” she said.  “My heart was never in it.”  Art is Parkin’s true passion as she is currently in a jubilant period of creation, inspired by the joyous colours of India, where she owns a house and visits frequently.  Parkin is brilliantly candid, outspoken and probably in her words, doesn’t give a fuck.  Whilst loathing fashion, her body is a canvas as she makes her own clothes and dons extravagant hats and she makes a clear distinction between fashion and style.  “You don’t take yourself too seriously with style – in fashion you don’t have that same sense of self-derision and certainty of who you are.”  There are some people that seem to gain vitality and energy as the years pass – like a mental Benjamin Button reverse ageing process – Parkin definitely falls into that category.   

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And to end… seeing the world with a child’s eye – Todd Selby’s illustrated train set complete with a polar bear and a rainbow.

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