Last year due to a conflict of travel schedules, I wasn’t able to make it down to Bath in Fashion, which is currently in its sixth year of incarnation. A solid (and vaguely gruelling) fashion week from menswear to couture to womenswear has meant though that some sort of a respite was long overdue. Like the London-dwelling gentlefolk of the 18th century, who would take to Bath to enjoy its health-beneficial waters and a vaguely gentler pace of life, I too decided to flee town for a few days in what is undeniably one of my favourite places outside of London in the UK. I was there to a) be in conversation with Lulu Kennedy and Ed Marler about being a young designer as well as do a career panel talk and b) revisit some of my favourite spots.
This time I was ensconced at the Royal Crescent, a beautiful feat of Georgian architecture built by John Wood the Younger in 1767-74, in the Royal Crescent Hotel. It’s a surreal address to stay in as you walk out to see the immaculate lawns of Royal Victoria Park and beyond.
Round the corner from the hotel, is No. 1 Royal Crescent, a historic house where viewers can immerse themselves in a Georgian lifestyle. The natural aesthete in me was of course loving all the lovingly reproduction interior features like the wallpaper of a gentleman’s bedroom, a nightshirt on the bed or botanical prints on the wall.
Being in the heart of Bath meant being within walking distance of my beloved Fashion Museum, which is currently in bloom with a new round of exhibitions like the Great Names of Fashion and Georgians – Dressing for Polite Society. I loved the way the exhibition pitted 18th century frock coats, mantuas and pannier skirts against more contemporary iterations of these fashions as seen in pieces by Meadham Kirchhoff, Vivienne Westwood and Anna Sui. Sadly I didn’t have Iain R. Webb, esteemed journalist, consultant on the Fashion Museum and Bath’s most fashionable residence to guide me around the exhibits. Still, that meant I could shamelessly do things like… try on a replica Victorian dress.
Not gonna lie… would totally wear this out and about in the here and now…
I also got to come and the new Dress of the Year of 2014 – a Gareth Pugh plastic kimono coat and calico trousers ensemble – as picked out by Katie Grand. That tops off what has been a pretty special homecoming year for Pugh. I was honoured to choose Dress of the Year for 2013 and this was the first time I saw the me-esque mannequin in the flesh dressed in Christopher Kane.
In town I was eager to go back to Bath favourites like vintage and antique textiles haven Susannah. I was on the hunt for vintage lace but obviously got side-tracked by the delectable selection of Victorian/Edwardian petticoats and nightdresses. What Holly Golightly said about nothing bad ever happening to you in Tiffany’s is precisely how I feel about Susannah.
Down by the Ponte Vecchio-esque Pulteney Bridge, I went back to the contrasting foil to Susannah, the decidedly contemporary and extremely-well curated Found. Olivia Brewer and Nick Blake’s store is approaching its five year anniversary and as yet, still has no equal in Bath and beyond as their continue to find interesting labels to sell in their store and on their successful e-commerce site. For instance, Found is still the only solid place in the UK where you can find Karen Walker ready to wear (odd, right?).
I indulged and got myself an A-line shift dress from Walker’s Garden People collection, stiffened from a unique bonded cotton fabric, as seen here in front of the grandiose gothic doorway to the Bath Abbey and also incidentally chiming in with the daffodils coming up all over the place.
The best thing about Bath is its walkability and the way all shop facades are presented in a state that is fitting to its World Heritage Site status. Even the most normal of corner shops and chain shops look a whole lot more inviting when housed in Bath stone-constructed Georgian architecture. The emphasis on independent retail here though is pretty irresistible. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where there there’s almost a 50:50 ratio of speciality stores in relation to chains, which is pretty rare in big towns in the Uk these days.
No wonder then that Danish interiors giant Hay decided to open their first ever UK standalone store, not in London, but in Bath. In typical London-centric fashion, I did squawk in surprise when I heard that Hay had opened up in Bath. Turns out the owner of Hay was obsessed with the Georgian architecture of the city and so chose a former bank on Milsom Street to open up this generously proportioned store with its original 18th century panelling and double height ceilings. Steve and I are Hay aficionados and we do often go a bit bezerk when we see a large amount of Hay goods in concentration. Yes, we can go to the source in Copenhagen or to the shop-in-stores in Liberty or Selfridges in London but it’s nice to know that there’s also a UK-specific Hay address, which can also order pieces directly from Denmark for customers. We lugged home some new bedsheets and a paper weave rug.
For other Scandi home delights, we also loved Shannon on Walcot Street where there’s the biggest selection of Marimekko soft furnishings and homewares and Moomin merchandise that I’ve ever seen in the UK. Mooooooooomin galore!
Oh yes, the fashion! David Simon Contemporary gallery is hosting a fashion illustration exhibition at the moment to coincide with Bath in Fashion. Erin Petson‘s drawing of Christian Lacroix in the window caught my eye and inside, I particularly loved the energetic work of Sarah Tanat-Jones and the abstracted depictions of familiar collections by Helen Bullock.
It was these Jude Jelfs ceramics though, which we really fell hard for. The black one came home with us.
Speaking of Helen Bullock, this established textiles designer and illustrator was also down in Bath, sketching out the proceedings of Bath in Fashion, which can be seen on her Instagram account. She had a busy schedule bouncing from talk to talk. The ones which I attended included Roksanda Ilincic speaking to Claudia Croft of The Sunday Times Style about stepping up and becoming a designer with a store on Mount Street and fans like Michelle Obama and an extremely candid and frank conversation between Susannah Frankel and Tim Blanks about Lee (as opposed to Alexander) McQueen. Their talk added a much more storied context to the Savage Beauty exhibition, as they described many of McQueen’s memorable early shows and their personal interactions with Lee, as do their essays in the accompanying book. Other highlights included Jessica Bumpus of Vogue.co.uk in conversation with Holly Fulton, Central Saint Martins’ Hywel Davies speaking to Anna Sui. I also chaired a conversation with Fashion East‘s Lulu Kennedy and Ed Marler. It feels odd to recap my own talk but hopefully those in attendance gleaned a little insight about the process of going through a scheme like Fashion East, what it’s like to be a young designer, and the changing face of London Fashion Week.
The one part of my Bath visit that had to be undertaken by a car was a trip to the American Museum in Claverton, which is the only American folk and decorative art museum outside of the USA. I was there primarily to see the Hatched, Matched and Dispatched exhibition (no photographs allowed alas) which explores the rituals of birth, marriage and death through textiles. But what I loved the most actually was their super impressive quilts collection. Hung in giant plastic folders, you could flip through quilts dating from the early 19th century through to the mid-20th century. It was striking how modern and contemporary the designs looked whether they were from 1865 or 1965. As with much of what you see in Bath, it’s all brilliant visual fodder to feed the brain.