The blog has been back burning for a bit.  With some good reason (some inexplicable ones) that will be revealed further down the line and in the interim there were a few comments that cried out “Where are your outfits?  What’s all this serious guff you’re writing about?”  Someone’s general wish is my command.  I have a ton of menswear musings to go up in lieu of Pitti and LC:M but for now, it’s time to celebrate a bit of cuteness.  Two American classics have joined forces for Disney x Coach 1941, a limited-edition collection featuring a very old school Mickey Mouse in his early drawn out form, japing about on Coach staple shapes like the Saddle bag and the Dinky as well as re-issued 1960s shapes that have been augmented with Mickey Mouse ears.  Coach are of course still in the midst of their 75 year anniversary celebrations, which is where Disney come in as a major Americana touchstone.  “Mickey Mouse is one of my earliest memories of American pop – his nostalgic charm, cheekiness, individuality and inherent cool make for the ultimate American icon,” said Stuart Vevers. “I’ve always seen Mickey as a playful rebel at heart and a timeless symbol of joy and creativity. That spirit reinforces the new youthful perspective we are bringing to luxury at Coach.”

Thinking about the way outsiders like Vevers, reflect upon something as vast and universal as Americana, this Disney x Coach collection made me go Eastwards, back to teenaged memories of Hong Kong and Japanese unisex fashion magazines that would dedicate their pages to “x” collabs, to iconic characters like Mickey Mouse, as it’s deemed perfectly acceptable to carry on your love of the childish well into adulthood.  The solid preppiness of the collection in particular, reminded me of that back-to-school feeling of acquiring new wares for September.  It’s no secret that every now and again, I like to resurrect hints of Sailor Moon costumes meets Battle Royale school uniforms.  How else do I have a rack of kilt or kilt-like skirts or shirts and pinafores that come with rectangular sailor collars (aided by the glory of a slew of Meadham Kirchhoff pieces).  They weren’t necessarily the school uniforms of my youth but I’m clutching on to the faint hope that a nod to the seifuku isn’t completely inappropriate at my advanced age.  Coach’s glove tanned leather backpacks, clutches and cross-boulder bags in a strict palette of tan, black, yellow and red lend themselves well to scholastic attire.  Mickey Mouse popping up as an embossed animated figure is of course “cho kawaii.”

Disney x Coach 1941 now on coach.com and Coach stores worldwide

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0E5A9660Wearing Disney x Coach Saddle bag Low Classic shirt and sailor collar scarf and Le Kilt kilt

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0E5A9724Wearing Disney x Coach crossbody clutch with Jenny Fax pinafore dress and Celine knitted t-shirt

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0E5A9752Wearing Disney x Coach Kisslock purse with Meadham Kirchhoff chiffon pinafore dress

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0E5A9797Wearing Disney x Coach Kisslock clutch with Meadham Kirchhoff embroidered top and Sacai deconstructed skirt

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0E5A9827Wearing Disney x Coach Rainger backpack with MO&CO Odyssey sweater, Meadham Kirchhoff sailor collar, Le Kilt x ASOS skirt

When Alessandro Michele presented that first menswear collection under what were tension-filled and uncertain circumstances back in January last year, reportedly it was the British press who were cheering the hardest when it came to the finale.  They were natural cheerleaders for the rejection of Gucci’s conventional gloss and the two fingers up at what was the Gucci status quo.  It’s somehow wired into (let’s say most…) British fashion industry folk to root for the subversive, the ironic and the unabashedly OTT.    Therefore, a year and a half later, after the complete and utter transformation of Gucci, to be able to witness a ninety-four looks stuffed show dedicated to Michele’s spiritual happy place of England, or more specifically London – in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey no less – didn’t feel like a strategically devised market-driven ‘destination’ cruise show.  It felt more like a genuine gesture of gratitude on Michele’s part, as backstage after the show, he paid tribute to British sub cultures or in his words “You can be a punk and drink tea.”

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When you travel around the world, almost a representative of your country’s style, you often get asked to trot out with defined nutshells describing a country’s style.  However eye-wincing it is to fall into generalising guff, there are a few things that you can’t run away from and Michele hit them on the head in this show, by honing in on stereotypes and maximising them until there is no more maximising to be done.  Punk, as gestated on King’s Road by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, and later repeatedly refracted and filtered down in wider culture.  Check.  Almost jingoistic signifiers of royalty – the pearls of Elizabeth I (who Michele cited as the “original rockstar” of her day) to headscarves and appliquéd corgis of the present day Queen.  Check.  Eclecticism as displayed in the clashes between Oxford boaters, glam rock metallics, Buffalo-esque rainbow platforms and debutante gowns.  Check.  LOLz irony in the form of real/fake Gucci hoodies and t-shirts that reclaims ownership of the much counterfeited logo.  Check.  The loudness.  The naffness.  The poshness.  The madness.  All there pulled together into an astonishingly long show that pushed every button of polite taste.

In the styling, there was something deliberately brasher about the collection.  The Siouxsie Soux lace leggings.  The turbans shiner.  The earrings larger and more gem-tastic.  The sunnies zanier with their flip-up double shades.  All the better to contrast with staunchly traditional garments like kilts, trench coats, collegiate-nodding cardigans and Victoriana blouses.

The setting may have been elevated with the tombstones and memorials of Chaucer, Shakespeare and countless English monarchs nearby but the point was to bring Michele’s natural vintage-scouring, magpie maving and history-revering sensibilities to the city, where they were nurtured.  Is there a danger in an intrinsically Italian house like Gucci waving the flag so enthusiastically for the UK (literally the flag was flown in the form of a Union Jack jumper and metallic brothel creeper shoes)?  Those aforementioned Brit-style attributes of course aren’t exclusive to this country alone.  They’ve had a century plus to spread their wings around the globe through various machinations.  Like English punk that has found itself a third life in Japan, thrashed out in an altogether different sub-cultural genre.  Or the Scottish kilt that is less a code of national dress but more a signifier of rebellion-laced preppiness.  The English eccentric has crossed the borders and exported itself as a genre for any would-be fashion mavens to adopt, which is precisely why Michele has unlocked a goldmine for Gucci.  Anything, something, one thing will take your fancy as everything you see below will be produced, made and hang on the racks.

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The afterparty at 106 Piccadilly similarly had 1950s rock ‘n’ roll playing on one floor and Italo disco on another with the modern day equivalent of club kids and posh girls in frocks mixing it up.  No wonder the British press contingent were such early fan girl/boy adoptors of Michele.  They could already see the good times that lay ahead.

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IMG_9629Wearing Gucci dress, Miu Miu shoes and J.W. Anderson bag

I’ve not yet written about the Dior collections by interim/stop-gap/supposedly temporary leaders of the in-house design team, Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux on the blog.  I have done for Dazed and my initial thoughts after their couture collection were that a house as big and prestigious as Dior felt hollow without the guidance of a visionary creative director.  I’m not retracting that opinion but it has to be said that Dior are certainly doing their best to make a ‘hollow’ house feel full and happening.  What to do when the narrative at a house doesn’t centre around the creative director and their output?  You redirect that narrative so that the focus is on brand DNA and history instead.

It doesn’t get more historically significant for Dior than Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the lavish pile of the dukes of Marlborough in Oxford.  Monsieur Christian Dior of course staged a spectacular haute couture show at Blenheim in 1954, in aid of the British Red Cross and in the presence of Princess Margaret and then in 1958, Dior’s successor Yves Saint Laurent returned to the palace with another haute couture collection.  Unlike the more far-flung locations of cruise resort shows that we have seen over the years, the ties between England and Dior are veritable and believable.

And so regardless of creative direction – and whether there’s a starry designer or not – Dior’s jaunt in London and Oxford was always going to be stuffed to the brim with pomp, Brit-kitsch and on-theme touches that captures the hearts (and also the wallets) of the all-important clients.  They’re the primary audience of these resort and pre collections seeing as they generate up to 60% of a brand’s retail business.  Not that us journalist/editor stragglers aren’t immune to Dior’s charm tactics.  How can you not smile when you see a pub made over as The Lady Dior, with themed bunting, beermats and lager glasses?  Or coo at the New Look sculpted topiary underneath the canopy of Scott’s?

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IMG_9527New Look topiary at Scott’s terrace in Mayfair

IMG_9524Outside The Lady Dior pub

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That was just the warm-up action before the day of full-on Dior-ama.  Or Dior’s version of Disneyland, as we began our journey in the newly revamped Dior Maison on 160 New Bond Street, peering at children’s haute couture (yes there is such a thing), Ron Arad sculptures and intricate porcelain.  Then came the big Insta-squeal generator.  We were to board a specially chartered Orient Express train from Victoria Statio , decked out so that it became the “Diorient Express” with branded table settings, menus and uniformed wait staff silver serving us custard and crumble.  All the while, sitting in Poirot-appropriate upholstered chairs, watching lashings of rain outside, as we chugged past the lush green of the Cotswolds.  It’s always interesting to see how international guests view these manifestations of ‘Englishness’.  On home turf, you wind up being needlessly apologetic about the weather, the lumpy custard and the nan chairs, only to be met by choruses of “Nooooo… this is all so cuuuute and so English!”  Little do they know…

newbondstreet_image_2Inside the newly revamped Dior flagship maison at 160 New Bond Street

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The pomp increased substantially when we finally got to Blenheim Palace (true to National Rail form, our train was forty minutes late) as a brass band struck up with fanfare to greet arriving guests.

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Inside the entrance hall were the roots of the Blenheim connection, as dresses from that first 1954 show, were on exhibition.  There would be little to link the nipped in, A-shaped cocktail dresses to what Ruffieux and Meier would show.  This resort collection was I think the least stiff of their output for Dior thus far.  It was less about ticking off house codes or doing Raf Simons by numbers and more of a homage to where it was shown.  In the Long Library, flanked by a statue of Queen Anne and under the contemporary word art by Lawrence Weiner, this was Ruffieux and Meier’s interpretation of ‘English Eccentricity’.  Just as Brits up and down the country are contemplating our identity, possibly outside of Europe, we had Englishness refracted through the lens of two Swiss designers at a French house.  That quintessential Englishness included a fox hunting scene jacquard, English country floral embroidered tea dresses, flailing scarves knotted up with D logo revival bags and a sense of layering and styling where you can draw parallels with Jonathan Anderson or Phoebe Philo at Celine.  They wore stompy gold boots and their bar jackets were less structured with draped hips and basques.  The eclectica was fleshed out with well-travelled prints and rich embroideries.  I thought Meier and Ruffieux injected a bit more energy into what could have been a by-the-book English-themed collection.  Though the general review consensus seems to be that innovation and directional design are still lacking.  That’s down to the media salivating for a new creative director to come in (it is rumoured that the announcement will be imminent).

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On the train, another journalist pondered the notion that houses like Dior might well carry on with a non-starry overarching creative director because the branding and history of a house is more powerful than any one talented individual.  Dior is certainly one of the few houses in the world hat has an array of recognisable tropes, symbols and signatures to draw from.  Even the typically English grey sky could be seen as Dior grey.

It’s still likely of course that Dior will bring in a named creative director but they have also proved that the boat doesn’t really get rocked in the absence of that central creative figure.  Judging by the satisfied clients at the after party who queued up to have their fortunes read (with Dior-themed tarot cards), it seems Dior CEO Sidney Toledano might have a point when he said himself that customers don’t care who designs Dior’s clothes.  If it’s a theme park experience of Dior complete with flower-trapped lollipops, novelty train rides and tea parties you’re after then Dior nailed it.  Those that were searching for design-led heft in the actual collection might have to wait that bit longer.  For now, the Dior train runs with full steam ahead.

Not long after the attacks in Brussels, I found myself there to complete a jigsaw puzzle that began when I used to moon at the MOMU museum in Antwerp. Actually, the mooning still happens. I’m just less likely to go on random Eurostar jaunts to Belgium. Back in 2009, the MOMU played host to an in-depth exhibition about the history of what is the oldest leather goods house in the world, Delvaux, and it was there that I became fascinated with this discreet and almost “insider”-esque brand.

I went to go see Delvaux’s headquarters and atelier housed in a former 19th century arsenal. In Belgian fashion terms, they stand apart in being based in Brussels, whilst their contemporaries are in the more fashion fuelled Antwerp. Then again, Delvaux isn’t necessarily a fashion brand. Christina Zeller, the artistic director of Delvaux, who has been responsible for galvanising recent momentum for the brand, may come from a fashion background having previously designed bags for Givenchy, is eager to distinguish Delvaux as “luxury” as opposed to “fashion”. “We have never been ‘in’, so we will never be ‘out’,” she said in an interview.

Being neither ‘in’ or ‘out’ means you can go about the business at a pace that is fitting for bags that are crafted with precision and care. Compared to other bag workshops/ateliers/factories (I’ve seen the gamut), Delvaux operates at a much smaller scale, producing a few hundred bags a week only. It’s why longtime employees such as Ludo, the expert in skins, can take his time feeling out the faults and flaws of a hide. Or why they can spend hours on a piece of ostrich skin, shaving it away at the back to prevent holes from forming where the recognisable bumps are.

It’s here that Delvaux’s most well-known and famous bag styles are made – from the big buckled Brillant (created in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair) to the structured Le Tempête, often rendered in rare exotics, making it one of the more expensive models in Delvaux’s range. I know, I’m always banging on about hands, craft and peeps making stuff. It borders on being a bit of a fetish but honestly, the more familiar you are with those processes of say, lacquering the edges of a bag, lining up pattern pieces on a skin so that the cutting is done in the right place or even the final process of hand-finishing and checking the bag so that’s ready to be packed and shipped – somehow, the price tag makes a lot more sense, when you count up the number of steps and man hours that have gone into the final bag on the shop shelf. Interestingly at Delvaux, the bags don’t go through a linear or ‘lean’ line of production, as each craftsman is responsible for the construction of a bag, pretty much from start to finish.

Delvaux is of course not as discreet and buried as it once was, which is down to Zeller’s input, as she continues to breath fresh life into the core range as well as augmenting it with new styles when necessary. When Dover Street Market Haymarket opened for its first weekend of trading, it was surprising to learn that Delvaux was one of its top performing brands. The Brillant and Le Tempête have become recognisable shapes without the trappings of ubiquity.  You want Delvaux to retain its mystery though.  It’s a blessing that Made in Belgium doesn’t come with the baggage (excuse the pun) that say France or Italy does.  It’s quiet idiosyncrasy is its strength and you can see it in spades in the way Delvaux operates in Brussels.  Finally, I got to complete the journey which began as a curious naive question nearly a decade ago – what exactly is luxury today?

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0E5A7255Le Brillant from Delvaux’s S/S 16 collection

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0E5A7312Delvaux’s expertise with leathers, particularly exotic skins is one of the most in-depth I’ve personally experienced

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0E5A7327The famous Ludo feeling his way around a hide

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0E5A7350Pattern placing to get efficiency out of a single hide

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0E5A7388Meticulously sections of croc together to form a strap for a bag

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0E5A7452An armful of Brillant flaps

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0E5A7460A trolley of old Delvaux bags that have been sent in by customers for repair

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IMG_8198Trying on a Madame for size in the last of the bluebells in Wanstead Park – worn with Ryan Lo dress, J Brand jeans Celine slip-ons.