>> I’m showing my newly augmented age (it was my birthday yesterday) with this reference but here goes.  It might seem a tad tenuous to link up Miu Miu’s current cruise collection that is in stores with bygone British children’s TV game show Fun House but…  exaggerated stripes?  Lashings of red and yellow?  Those oversized earrings that the cheerleading twins wore, that look like they might catch on to the various obstacles?  AND the fact that the collection is a WHOLE lotta of fun?

I’m not going to pretend that it was solely a defunct children’s game show made me walk into Miu Miu on Saturday to birthday gift myself.  The show’s remixed mish mash ricocheting from 80s Blitz Kids to largin’ it up at the Ben Kelly-designed Haçienda, had me hooked, as soon as the first pair of Miu Miu-branded kitten heeled cowboy boots stomped out onto the scaffolding raised runway.  How do you twist those innocent looking birds that originally featured in  a supremely girly S/S 10 collection?  Paste them onto the back of a chevron striped jacket with an ambiguous image of a girl’s pins on a bar stool and have them flying across a boxy white shift, edged with rivets and fabric scraps like Boy George’s hair in the eighties.

And the Miu Miu hits fortunately/unfortunately keep on coming.  S/S 16’s disaffected Harajuku teens segued with camp-attack glam rock are just around the corner.  Can one treat oneself on account of it being a New Year… ?

0E5A0339

0E5A0342

0E5A0328

0E5A0361

0E5A0373

0E5A0377

0E5A0390

0E5A0404

0E5A0396

0E5A0395

0E5A0412aMiu Miu dress, jacket and earring from the cruise 2016 collection, Coach Swagger bag and shoes

Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2

>> Let’s say Ryu from Street Fighter was having a chill day at home – no training, no trying to defeat his mortal enemy Akuma and no wearing of the karate gi.  Then Korean label R. Shemiste’s S/S 16 collection, presented a few months ago as part of Seoul Fashion Week, would provide a suitable off-duty uniform.  Ditto goes for any female cohorts training with said fighter, given that the collection itself, a few skirts and slip dresses aside, is largely unisex.

Katsushika Hokusai’s famous Under the Wave Off Kanagawa is a central motif in the collection, but more than just using the surface of the wave as mere decoration, it’s the East-West dialogue of Hokusai’s work that struck me as interesting.  Hokusai, was inspired by late 18th century Dutch and French engravings in his work and was considered an artist going against the grain of tradition, breaking the ukiyo-e (Japanese woodcut) mould of depicting actors and courtesans, with his expansive landscapes.  Hokusai’s work would later reverberate in the West, planting seeds of Impressionism, and more directly Art Nouveau, with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec making graphic design and print making his primary forte.

That same to-and-fro relationship is reflected in the collection where Hokusai’s wave is a picture postcard pinned on the back of Western-derived tailoring or on American-originated denim jackets.  The featured souvenir jackets are also another result of East-West relations, as in post-war Japan, US servicemen took their tanker and flight shirts to the local tailor to be embroidered with maps, animals and emblems of Japan.  R. Shemiste’s versions are emblazoned with koi carp and pearls.  Dragons that resemble irezumi body art designs are embroidered onto sleeves , leaving the threads to fray freely and when combined with metal rings cuffed on to jacket lapels, gives you a different twist on tats and piercings – both bodily signs of teenage rebellion.

It’s perhaps yet another strand of fashion-led Japonaiserie but under this youth-fuelled Korean label, the nuances are well observed.

rshemiste-(23)

0E5A9000

rshemiste-(12)

0E5A9007

rshemiste-(5)

0E5A9011

rshemiste-(6)

0E5A9016

rshemiste-(14)

0E5A9046

rshemiste-(16)

0E5A9055

rshemiste-(15)

0E5A9068

rshemiste-(9)

0E5A9078

rshemiste-(8)

0E5A9084

rshemiste-(29)

0E5A9096

rshemiste-(28)

0E5A9102

rshemiste-(17)

0E5A9118

rshemiste-(21)

0E5A9125

rshemiste-(18)

0E5A9132

rshemiste-(19)

0E5A9149

rshemiste-(3)

0E5A9166

rshemiste-(1)

0E5A9182

rshemiste-(20)

0E5A9186

rshemiste-(25)

>> Next year, I’ll be embarking on a project that will take me properly beyond the M25, outside of London to go and find fashion scenes, local designers and creators that choose not to base themselves in the big smoke.  The rot has set in apparently.  Over the summer, a slew ofarticles proclaimed that a mass creative exodus from the capital was underway.  “London, it’s over, and it’s not me, it’s you,” some say.  It would take a lot for a born-and-bred Londoner to starting having that break-up conversation with the city but I am keen to broaden my horizons.  Even a Londoner like myself finds all the London-centricity a little bit tiresome.

On my research trail, I found this photograph taken by pop cultural writer and street style expert Ted Pohelmus.  It’s of Patti Bell (left) and Jane Kahn (right).  Together they were Kahn & Bell and they sold their designs from what Boy George called “a freaky clothes shop” on Hurst Street in Birmingham.  Opened in 1976, the pair of friends combined their pattern making skills and collective imagination to mix up the futuristic and the fantastical, creating the sort of eclectica that had punk bleed into New Romantic style.  Here is what Blueprint magazine had to say in 1988:

“Kahn and Bell had particular impact. Holding court at the Zanzibar (a now defunct nightclub in Birmingham), resplendent in leopardskin and padded shoulders, dripping diamonte with leather devils’ tails hanging down between their legs, they looked on good nights like Egyptian Queens, like Ancient Babylonians. On not so good nights, they resembled Brassaï’s Moma Bijou -‘fugitives from Baudelaire’s bad dreams’, and even then they looked magnificent.  For Kahn and Bell and those who followed their lead, identity wasn’t something you nailed yourself into in late adolescence. It was a trick of the light, and if you were to avoid burning yourself out (a real risk this, when you sold clothes all day and promoted them all night), then you simply let the flames lick over you and turned the ashes into kohl.”

Not sure anyone could paraphrase that sort of eulogic description.  Combing through clippings and archive photos on the always-useful The Blitz Kids, it’s easy to purely associate the don’t-give-a-fuck out there aesthetic with the best of the underground London club scene (Billy’s, Le Kilt, Taboo etc)  and indeed, eventually, Kahn left Birmingham to try and make it in London alone with her own line Kahnivorous.

However short lived the venture was, Kahn & Bell’s presence in Birmingham did manage to stir up commentary that still stands today in the media’s lopsided coverage of the capital city as seen in this New Sounds New Styles piece published in 1981:

“Lack of money is not the only irritant they’ve had to endure in their time together.  Apart from a loyal local following and the occasional refugees from London ( Hot Gossips for example), until 12 months ago Kahn & Bell were often one step ahead of the capital without recognition for it.  On the contrary when similarities to London designers were spotted in their collections it was assumed that Birmingham had copied London

In recent months however, following the establishment of a Kahn & Bell outlet in the Kings Road’s Great Gear Market, fashion editors in the national press have begun to sit up and take notice.  That’s London for you.  It is part of its rich cultural tradition to ignore life north of Watford unless it jumps up and bites it in the face.

Birmingham need the Kahns and Bells of this world to help beat the image of drab uniformity it persists in showing to the rest of thee country.  Jane and Patti are well aware of this, but they have to be realists too.  They need money.  Money to establish proper facilities in both London and Birmingham so they can meet big orders and don’t have to stand by and watch wholesalers simply copy their designs.  And money to put some of their more extravagant idea into practice. “

It’s a sentiment that is still ringing true for all risk-taking young creatives across all fields.  In 1981 in a West Midlands indie magazine called Splash, Bell was quoted to say: “What I like is the warmth of of West Midlands people.  I get on fine in London, but it must be very difficult for shy people to break into London circles.  It’s also less of a ‘rat-race’ here. “

As many today contemplate exiting the city’s ‘rat-race’ for a more affordable and sustainable way of life, it remains to be seen whether the nucleus of the British fashion industry can also spread out beyond the M25.  I look forward to my 2016 journey of discovering other Kahn’s and Bell’s around the UK.

bellkahn_tedpolhelmus

hurst-stPatti Bell at Kahn & Bell shop on Hurst Street, Birmingham

Wearing

pebellkahn0

Virginia

tumblr_mupo5e371P1qbq84mo1_500

Others-wearingPhotographs and scans from The Blitz Kids

“Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” is a tongue twister to say if you’re not French, but it does neatly sum up the premise of Louis Vuitton’s latest exhibition that has just opened up at the Grand Palais in Paris.  Borrowed from a 1965 advertising poster, the three V’s meaning “Sail, Fly, Travel” – also of course chime in with that all-important V.  And it’s that famed surname, which this exhibition, curated by Olivier Saillard, is centred upon.  Unlike the very progressive and conceptual open-to-interpretation Series 3 exhibition held in London a few months ago, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” is very much more of a concrete exhibition to grasp, interact with and take in.  It’s in a space that has hosted many an exhibition before – in fact the decision to use the Grand Palais was based on its construction in 1900 and its holding of the Universal Exhibitions in Paris, where George Vuitton was in charge of the entire section dedicated to “Travel & Leather Goods.”  It has logical sections relating to the various product categories that Louis Vuitton has prided itself on since 1854, like automobile, train and air travel, its relationship with women’s and men’s clothes and literature and art.  It has an audio guide.  The average tourist wandering around off from the Champs Elysee will queue up for this free exhibition and be fascinated regardless of their knowledge of Louis Vuitton.

And yet, because of the curating prowess of Saillard, what could have been an endless parade of trunks, is still a fascinating exhibition for the initiated.  I’ve personally seen/read about quite a few of the exhibiting artefacts, either at Louis Vuitton’s Asnieres-sur-Seine atelier or the Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition staged at the Les Arts Decoratifs in 2012.  Somehow, Saillard manages to place many of these familiar objects into a renewed context – one where you’re seeing not just the relevance of them as historical artefacts, but also their modernity that manifests itself in newer designs by the house’s current creative directors – Nicolas Ghesquière and Kim Jones.

When seen in tandem with the very fantastic accompanying book published by Rizzoli, the full picture reveals itself even more.  Alongside factual essays about each section of the exhibition, there are excerpts of fiction purporting to travel as well as beautiful in-detail x-ray photographs of key objects by Katerina Jebb.  In addition to historical context, here lies the more elusive emotive aspect of travel that Saillard is trying to depict.  The excitement of gaining speed aboard new modes of transportation as seen in the sections about aviation, trains and automobiles, especially as women increasingly began to take charge of the steering wheel.  The feeling of discovery of a new destination as seen in journeys like the 1922-1931 Croisière Jauna and the Croisière Noir, orchestrated by Citroën, crossing the Sahara from Algeria to Madagasca and from Beirut to Beijing.  The decadence of carrying dedicated suitcases made just for say, hairbrushes or shoes or volumes of books and a typewriter, that seems wholly unnecessary in today’s age of compact all-in-one devices and kindles, and yet strangely alluring.  The proportions and materials of how we travel today may have changed, but the emotional journey hasn’t.  And for the privileged, some things haven’t shifted at all.

What remains relevant are the rich resources of drawings, receipts, printed paraphernalia as well as the trunks themselves that Saillard has combed through to present a comprehensive dossier where time and time again, you stop and inspect, say a logo, a piece of typography or a certain finishing on a case and see it popping up somewhere in a design element today.  And they do.  Series 3 may have been about Ghesquière’s vision hurtling towards the future but ‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez’ is about emphasising the maison’s past that still massively underlines what the house stands for today.

‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez’ is on at the Grand Palais, Avenue du Général Eisenhower until 21st February.  Free admission.

IMG_9616

1065_LV_15-12-02_Expo-VVVA portrait of a young Louis Vuitton by artist Yan Pei Ming alongside the 1906 trunk, where all of Louis Vuitton’s recognisable components first came together in one box – perfect proportions, beech wood reinforcements, brass corners and rivets, patent lock and that Monogram canvas exterior

IMG_9615As a thank you to loyal customers, Georges and Gaston-Louis Vuitton would send out small trunks with built in zinc containers to hold a bouquet of flowers

IMG_9624The wooden tools that Gaston-Louis Vuitton would have used to craft his trunks at Asnières

IMG_9628

IMG_9633A 17th century engraving of a “packager’s outfit”

IMG_9635Rounded trunk in grey Trianon canvas crafted in 1860

IMG_9636The new flat top man’s trunk in striped canvas

1404_LV_15-12-02_Expo-VVV

1368_LV_15-12-02_Expo-VVVLouis Vuitton trunks over the decades, evolving to accommodate new requirements and needs

IMG_9646

1410_LV_15-12-02_Expo-VVVThe rise of yachting and cruises in the early part of the 20th century and the new wardrobe and packing solutions that came about as a result

IMG_9661

IMG_9662An array of steamer bags

1509_LV_15-12-02_Expo-VVVVoyages further afield into previously unchartered lands with more resilient steamer trunks for explorers, inspiring pieces like the animal printed leather luggage for Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited

IMG_9669

IMG_9667Trunk bed in Damier canvas with late 19th century aluminium steamer trunks with newer Boîte Promenade from Nicolas Ghesquière’s A/W 15-6 and cruise 16 collections as well as Speedy bags in mirrored vinyl

IMG_9676Louis Vuitton adapting to the age of the motor car as seen in a series of photos by Jacques Henri Lartigue

IMG_9681Driver’s cap

IMG_9682A driver’s fur coat from the 1910s

IMG_9688

IMG_9684Marc Jacobs S/S 13 collection for Louis Vuitton

IMG_9687French flying club from the 1930s

IMG_9693Marc Jacobs’ A/W 2012-3 collection for Louis Vuitton

IMG_9692Labels from various hotels all over the world

IMG_9691

IMG_9695Early 20th century fashions for a night train journey

IMG_9708Monogram library trunk in the Heures D’Absence room, where print, paper and writing is shown to be central to how Louis Vuitton operates

IMG_9699

IMG_9698Stephen Sprouse x Louis Vuitton collaboration from 2001

IMG_9702

IMG_9709

IMG_9718Inside the “Ladies” room with luggage once owned by Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor

IMG_9723A silk dress by Walter Plunkett as worn by Katharine Hepburn

IMG_9721A shoe trunk attributed to Greta Garbo containing Ferragamo shoes

IMG_97221925 Milano fitted vanity suitcase 

IMG_9728The various perfume bottles that Gaston-Louis Vuitton commissioned with art deco designs, as a historic pre-ambler to Louis Vuitton’s forthcoming perfume that they will be releasing next year

IMG_9738

IMG_9744Recreation of Jean Patou’s custom made trunk, once used to transport gowns on a rail on wheels.  

Ready to take off in a cropped bomber jacket and sturdy tropical printed boots from the splendid cruise collection and a City Steamer bag, loosely based on the canvas steamer bags used to stow away dirty laundry onboard a ship…

Susie-Lau