Grasse, the famous epicentre of the perfume industry, is a sort of mythical land to me. Somewhere I’ve read about extensively, most notably of course in Patrick Suskind’s novel about a scent-mad serial killer, but have never had the chance to visit because I’m not technically a beauty journalist.   Nor am I by any means an expert on the perfume industry.   Its relation to fashion though is more than obvious. In many cases, its revenue dwarfs that of ready to wear and accessories.  The launch of a perfume has catapulted a fashion house into stratospheric levels, giving a brand household stats.

In the case of Louis Vuitton though, the order is somewhat unusual.  First of course came the luggage – the outfitting of the privileged for their travel needs on the waters, by rail and road and eventually by plane.  Then its foray into fragrance and cosmetics with crystal perfume bottles called ‘Editions d’Art’ and then their first scent in 1927 entitled Heures d’Absence, followed by Je Tu II in 1928 and then Réminiscences and Eau de Voyage in 1946.  This buried fragrance history of Louis Vuitton was something which I only learnt about in last year’s Volez, Voguez Voyagez exhibition held at the Grand Palais. Sadly no traces of those original perfumes – its physical form or formulae – exist anymore because of an archival fire in the 1970s.  And so Louis Vuitton – the perfume – as a project was shelved for decades.  Until about four years ago, when Jacques Cavallier Belletrud was hired to become the official Louis Vuitton “nose” or more formally, their Master in-house perfumer.  As a third generation perfumer, Belletrud has architected many award winning perfumes such as Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio and Issey Miyake’s L’Eau D’Issey.

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He began to go on a journey, collating experience and artefacts from around the world to come up with what would form Louis Vuitton’s collection of Les Parfums.   Why seven?  There wasn’t a specific number in the brief and Belletrud had the tough task of whittling it down from an initial batch of ninety.  It was perhaps too difficult to compress Belletrud’s research into one singular scent.  Or on a more practical level, having seven very diverse (yet unified by their idiosyncrasy) fragrances mirrors our perfume shelves for both men and women.  In our household, Steve has about four or five in steady rotation and I normally grab from a selection of about seven or eight depending on mood, occasion and even what sort of clothes I’m wearing.   You’ll gravitate towards specific scents in the Louis Vuitton’s Les Parfums but equally, three or four of them might take your fancy, hence why they have produced miniature sets comprising of all seven as well as travel atomisers that allow you to switch around.

To begin this journey of LV’s Les Parfums, after Paris Fashion Week, I flew to Nice to experience Grasse and more specifically, a dream of a fragrance laboratory for Louis Vuitton and Parfums Christianne Dior, known as Les Fontaines Parfumées.  Housed in a former tannery that harks back to Grasse’s roots as a centre of leather goods dating back to the 12th century, Belletrud has a pretty idyllic setting to experiment, create and explore.  The perfume project for Louis Vuitton of course is an ongoing one, which is why we got not just a presentation of the now released parfums but an insight into the working life of Belletrud.

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But this initial seven is what we came to discover.  Nestled in a recreation of a flower-filled trunk known as the Malle Fleur, which Louis Vuitton once sent to clients as a token of goodwill, are the chosen seven fragrances that form Les Parfums encased in the French-made flacons designed by Marc Newson.  As we smelled each one, it was clear there was definitely a strategic thinking behind the diversity.  The journey begins in Grasse’s field of roses where Rose des Vents was born.  The distinctive smell of lily-of-the-valley continues that floral wave in Apogée.  For fans of sweeter fragrances, you have the heady Madagascan and Tahitian vanilla of Contre Moi.  The intensity of tuberose is worked into Turbulences along with a jasmine native to Grasse.  Naturally leather would somehow be involved.  The tanned leather used at Vuitton’s Asnieres workshop is incorporated with two kinds of jasmine and narcissus in Dans la Peau.  Upon seeing a raspberry leather at the workshop, Belletrud also managed to weave in the contrasting scents of leather and raspberry into Mille Feux.  My personal favourite is Matière Noire, perhaps the most masculine of scents with its notes of agarwood, contrasted with an intense mix of blackcurrant and jasmine.

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In Belletrud’s office, a custom made Louis Vuitton trunk houses the myriads of scents that form the tools to a craft that is difficult to illustrate in words and pictures and yet evocative to see. We went one step further and got to sit in Belletrud’s laboratory space where the delicate and scientific task of mixing up a fragrance is done. Working with milligram scale, pipettes and precise formula, we got an idea of mixing our very own perfumes. Going for a woody scent, it was up to us how much of the key components named ‘Coeur Floral’ and ‘Bois Moderne’ would go into our fragrances.   The result?  Something that probably smelt quite crude and common to Belletrud’s fine nose but for me wasn’t a bad fragrance to tote around when travelling.

The simplicity of the fragrances we created of course pale in comparison with what Belletrud has achieved with Louis Vuitton.  By the time you’ve had a whiff of all of Les Parfums, the combination lingers like a storied voyage around the world, where different places leave their olfactory traces on your skin.  Belletrud doesn’t have a prescriptive method of mixing Les Parfums.   “It’s not my property anymore,” he says with a shrug.  Meaning you do with the seven bottles as you will.   Just don’t spritz the perfume and rub furiously into your wrists, which kills the perfume.  That’s apparently the equivalent of trampling all over a bed of flowers with your feet.  Duly noted Jacques.  Duly noted.

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0e5a0217Wearing Molly Goddard dress, J Brand trousers, Missoni x Converse slip-ons and Off-White bag

Pre note: Realise it’s Fashion Month and I haven’t fashion month-ed posted yet.  You can read a bit of me here and here

She.  He.  Her.  Him.  Feminine.  Masculine.  Femme.  Homme.  These are the conventional ways of categorising fragrance that are also normally accompanied by pink hued curved glass bottles for women and impossibly deep voices on television adverts for men.   However, when Prada presented their olfactory interpretations of these gender constructs, it was striking that there was more of a to-and-fro dialogue between the two fragrances, simply entitled La Femme Prada and L’Homme Prada.  Just before the Prada SS17 menswear show in June in Milan, guests were invited to experience the two fragrances concurrently in a digital installation with projections of imagined conversations between a couple, where you can’t quite tell who’s the he and who’s the she.

The same can almost be said for the fragrances that line up together in half semi-circular bottles covered in black and white saffiano leather.  As a pairing, they almost invite you to dab a bit of both depending on how you want to mix things up.  I’m a bit rubbish at describing scent notes so in emotive Prada terms, the fragrances are “designed to take the wearer on a voyage through place, memory and time, somehow there appears a sensual meeting point for these distinct female and male fragrances to consummate an aesthetic relationship through experimentation and tradition.”  Solid, layered and complex is how I’d personally describe both fragrances with notes of frangipani and ylang-ylang in the La Femme Prada and iris and amber in the L’Homme Prada anchoring them.  Alternating between the two feels natural just as Prada’s menswear and womenswear can often go hand in hand in mood, spirit and aesthetics. 

So who is my male Prada counterpart?  Why it’s none other than Bryan Boy – a dear friend in real life and a fellow Prada aficionado.  We were excited to create these images to celebrate the launch of the Prada fragrances.  Shot at the Grafton Building of the University Luigi Bocconi in our matching AW16 sailor hats and Christophe Chemin print shirts, we attempted to bring that La Femme and L’Homme Prada spirit to life.  It’s certainly not the girl-finds-boy, boy-finds-girl sensual love tales of perfume marketing narratives.  Then again, Prada’s coupling in fragrance form doesn’t adhere to that stereotypical dynamic.  Hurrah for that.

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Resuscitating blog in action.  Pump.  Pump.  Pump.  The faintest of heartbeats can just about be detected.  It just might make it past this restful summer…

On the subject of life resuscitation, some of you might know that the reason why the blog has gone into a coma-like state for the past month or so.  I now have two heartbeats coursing through my body – my own plodding one, and a much faster pulse drumming away in my lower belly.  Steve, my partner and I were surprised and excited to find out that we’re going to be expecting a young arrival sometime in next January.  To say that it has made me rethink work, home and life in general is an understatement.  As a result, since the haute couture shows in July, I’ve given myself some time off to take my family to California in keeping with my annual love affair with the Golden State, gorge on a combination of Monster Munch, hash browns and Marmite on toast and most importantly give my brain a bit of space to process the fact that there’s a little being growing inside of me.

August has of course brought about its own inevitable slowdown but it’s also time to ease back into things.  And ease, is exactly what comes to mind when Port Eliot comes around.  This year marks my fourth time at the festival in Cornwall.  It felt like the “biggest” in terms of attendance and the “star” power of speakers.  Gloria Steinem!  Noel Fielding!  Kim Gordon!  Dawn French!  They were the buzz talks of the festival that had the tents all packed out.  It was a little surreal to see for instance Steinem, speak about how wonderful it felt to be a Port Eliot.  She too was probably seduced by the idealised bubble that the festival has come to be known as.

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And fortunately, you lost none of that free-spirited intimacy that has come to define this annual gathering of ideas.  Especially where the Wardrobe Department was concerned.  This has come to be the domain of Sarah Mower, contributing editor of American Vogue and all-round champion of British fashion, tucked away in the Walled Garden of the Port Eliot house.  The number of talks and ‘happenings’ here have slowly been on the increase since my first time at the fest, and although it’s still dedicate to the best of London’s grassroots fashion, this year French house Chloé ended up being this year’s official fashion sponsor at Port Eliot.

Port-Eliot-87Kim Gordon at Port Eliot 2016

Port-Eliot-35Feminist icon Gloria Steinem speaking with Cathy St Germans

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IMG_8066Inside Piers Atkinson’s flower headgear workshop

Hashtag Chloé Girls in their wafting white dresses and flowing tresses of course fit right into the festival’s lush surroundings of woods, riverbanks and rolling hills.  The house’s signature ease-led white dresses, spanning over four decades of the house’s history, sat pretty in the duck egg blue Drawing Room of the house, remodelled by Sir John Soane, next to vitrines of antique lace.

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My own attempt to channel the spirit of a Chloé Girl was aided by this floaty number from their S/S 16 collection complete with daintily dyed tassels, as well as my abode for the weekend, the tried-and-tested Yurtel yurt.  On the day that creative director of Chloé Claire Waight Keller came to do her talk in the Wardrobe Department, the house’s oversized Carlina sunglasses could be seen dotted everywhere.  All the better to go all hazy eyed as we lay around on hay bales, sipping gin (or a delicious frozen Rocktail in my case) and listen to Waight Keller talk creative freedom, the fluidity of a house like Chloé and festival antics with Mower.  Their talk was brought to life of course by the faces of Port Eliot – Bea, Imogen, Aggie, Lulu and Octavia Warren wearing the festival-inspired S/S 16 collection where 90s hoodies collide with ditzy florals and vibrantly dyed chiffon.  Musician Flo Morrissey was Chloé’s choice of artist, who gave both a poetry reading a musical performance.  A mega brand zooming in on a festival can often feel like an overly orchestrated endeavour.  Chloé’s involvement felt… natural… precisely because their clothes fit the meandering-in-the-meadow bill.  At least that’s what I thought as I tumbled about in a Chloé peasant tunic.

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IMG_8286Octavia, Lulu, Imogen, Aggie and Bea Warren

Port-Eliot-52Sarah Mower and Claire Waight Keller

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Port-Eliot-75Flo Morrissey

Their involvement was a contrasting foil to what was going in the rest of the Wardrobe Department, as thematically we were submerged into the eighties.  That’s the !!!Eighties Now!!! collaged in newspaper font and printed on neon poster paper.  The broader umbrella though was London’s youngest generation of riotous creativity.  First of all, roll up, roll up for recent CSM MA graduates Luke Brooks and James Theseus Buck’s new collective project, the Rottingdean Bazaar, launched during LC:M in June.  They were selling temporary tattoos and badges that celebrate the amazingly ordinary.  A Nokia 3210 tattoo?  A balloon badge that looks vaguely like a nipple?  It’s your local high street market coming alive on your body.  By the end of the weekend, I had a Colgate toothpaste, a counterfeit handbag, a broken doll and a pair of false teeth adorning my arms.  Their “bazaar” is definitely a sign of things to come from the duo as they continue to think up ways of elevating the mundane.

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IMG_8073Designer Claire Barrow getting dolphin happy

In the Special Special tent, Mower has gathered up trinkets and lovable clutter from young designers to sell to festival goers, with all sales going to the British Fashion Council Education Foundation (you know, for those ever-spiking uni fees).  Highlights included Ed Marler’s bungee cord handled carpet purses, Sadie Williams’ lurex patches, Claire Barrow’s ghoulish charm bracelets and the most awesome neon jewellery by Matty Bovan and his mum Plum.

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IMG_8030Jewellery made jointly by Matty Bovan and his mum Plum

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Returning to Port Eliot with M.A.C. were drag group DENIM – this time not only to entertain the Port Eliot crowd but also to talk about the act of transformation.  How for instance, Amrou becomes Glamrou or how Tom becomes into Shirley.  Their backstory incites interest primarily because the group formed when they were undergraduates at Cambridge, creating the first drag night at this unlikely institution.  Their act is more than just comic relief but rather a representation of a beacon of inclusivity and open-mindedness.  Seeing them speak about their experiences definitely gave DENIM a more shades of depth.

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The riot of colour carried on into the introduction of Michael Halpern’s Central Saint Martins MA collection at Port Eliot.  Halpern was one of my personal favourites from this year’s crop of MA graduates and it was interesting to discover the backstory behind the asymmetric assemblages of glitz.  I’d never heard of the spectacle of horse-diving, a now illegal spectacle that involved horses diving off of into piers, that was popular in America in the 1880’s.  Halpern’s collection was inspired by the elaborate costumes worn by the female riders that performed these dangerous stunts.   What appeared to be surface-driven disco dollies on the runway were in fact daredevil women in carefully contoured ensembles, involving hours of handworked sequins.  His collection has landed Halpern a gig at Versace, working on the couture Atelier line but he’s also in the process of launching his own line in London.  A new kid on the sequinned block is born.

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In stark contrast to Halpern, was John Alexander Skelton, another standout MA graduate from Central Saint Martins, who was in conversation with Alex Fury to talk about the “Mass Observation” survey of Bolton in the 1930s, which formed the roots of Skelton’s collection and the North/South class divide that is still very much at play today.  Upon discovering that only 3% of so-called British woven wool is actually made out of British fleece, Skelton’s collection also utilised yarns from British sheep.  Skelton is part of the newest wave of sustainable designers that are seeking new methods of working and creating and as he begins to start his own label, I’ll be looking forward to seeing how his trajectory continues.

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It ain’t Port Eliot without something elaborate going on, on top of people’s heads.  This year, we got not one but two milliners displaying their wares.  Piers Atkinson talked us through his iconic pieces, which have graced many a celebrity head.

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Then the inimitable Stephen Jones entertained a crowd with his hat-led rundown of the eighties, aided by hair support from Bumble & Bumble.  Jones of course knows a thing or two about the subcultural havens that remain for me, the most interesting facets of the eighties as a stylistic period.  New Romantics.  The Face.  The Blitz kids.  “Boy George” was undoubtedly the star of Jones’ show.  I was chuffed to be a part of this eighties cavalcade, by throwing my best Wuthering Heights moves and attempting to channel Kate Bush, with thanks to a voluminously crimped up mane, conjured up by Sven Bayerbach from Bumble & Bumble, a gothic visage by Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry at M.A.C and a crowning crescent of silver courtesy of Jones.  My Stars in Their Eyes was complete.

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IMG_8332Spot the icons

IMG_8319Siouxsie Sioux, is that you?

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IMG_8365The Lady Di demure smile

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IMG_8375Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

In the Wardrobe Department’s most ambitious show yet, Mower had gathered up a treasure chest of fashionz to bring the Eighties Now theme to life, in a show-and-talk, styled by Matthew Josephs and Ed Marler and explained by Alex Fury, Sandy Powell and Terry Barber.  The theme was prompted by J.W. Anderson’s AW15-6 collection and the sheer chutzpah of those giant leg of mutton sleeves and Sprouse-esque squiggles.  Calling in the latest Kenzo collection, a feathered frock from Gucci, some Sloane-appropriate archive Roksanda as well as a few pieces of vintage Zandra Rhodes and Bodymap, the best of the decade was refracted into the here and now.  Fury and Mower prompted some intriguing questions in the accompanying talk.  What does it mean when fashion is looking back at a decade that saw the rise of excess and wealth, and the political stranglehold of Thatcherism in the UK?  In our post-Brexit state, is it about escapism to a no-holds-barred era of sartorial expression or a darker reflection of the poor-rich wealth gap, with the positive outcome being that from crisis comes a creative upsurge, as evidenced by the participating young designers in this year’s Port Eliot line-up.

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One of them in particular is partying like it’s 1980 in Billy’s nightclub.  Charles Jeffrey‘s work and regular party nights Loverboy, represents the newest gen of London’s out-there club scenes.  On Saturday night, we got ready for weekend revelry by ransacking the M.A.C. tent in an unprecedented fashion.  Pots of glitter and smears of bright pigment went everywhere.  Evidently I went overboard by diving in with with turquoise and orange combo, partly inspired by extreme Japanese ganguro girl make-up.  Jeffrey went one step further by diving into the muddy banks of the on-site estuary to go full on Cornish native.  Sadly he didn’t factor in the freezing state that the mud would leave him in, so he washed it all off and emerged kabuki faced for his DJ set in the Ace of Clubs tent later.

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The next morning, the M.A.C. tent underwent another transformation with Matty Bovan‘s artwork adorning the exterior.  Bovan has just been announced as the newest addition to the Fashion East S/S 17 line-up for London Fashion Week, which comes off the back of Bovan spreading his rambunctious energy through his work on the mannequins at the Miu Miu resort presentation last month in Paris.  A fearless approach towards colour and bold strokes define both his aesthetic and his own personal styling.  We were given the opportunity to strike a Bovan pose with some cleverly drawn perspex sheets and mirrors.

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Before we departed Port Eliot land to head back into the real world, we caught the beginnings of Molly Goddard‘s second life drawing lesson, giving everyone the opportunity to observe and sketch out a selection of her frocks from past and present collections.  It was the final component to Mower’s well-curated snapshot of fashion now in London and for me, perhaps a due reminder that fashion month isn’t far.  From the dreamscape of Port Eliot, it’s back to reality for me, my bump and I.

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The Fashion in Motion series at the Victoria & Albert Museum has been picking up pace in the latter part of this year with not one but two shows in consecutive months.  It seems like designers in London are in the mood to look back on their accumulation of collections and accolades that they have collectively achieved, what with the glut of ten year anniversaries coming up (Ashish, Christopher Kane, Erdem to name but a few)  Peter Pilotto and his partner Christopher de Vos have notched in the eighth year of their joint label – not quite ten – but still a substantial number of collections to look back on, considering their progression from showing off-schedule at LFW to a brand with substantial investment behind it and presence in every major retailer in the world.

Backstage it was interesting to look at the leaps that the duo have taken from their early speckled galaxy printed silks that represented the beginning of a digital print wave that then hit fashion at large, to their current autumn winter collections, where board game patterns are created by panelling, texture and innovative knitwear.  Fashion in Motion represents an opportunity not just to show in the beautiful Raphael Gallery and to offer a wider audience a chance to see catwalk shows in movement, but also for the designers to reflect on their journey as designers.  You can’t get a nicer way to pat yourself on the back than a show in this esteemed venue where Alexander McQueen and Christian Lacroix have also participated in shows.

For de Vos and Pilotto, they were surprised by the continuity from collection to collection. The breadth of inspirations might span anything from the colours of nature – butterfly wings, mineral deposits and waves of the ocean to observations taken from globe trotting such as the lights of Tokyo and Chinese opera masks. How the pair abstract these references is what gives their patterns a point of difference that marks them out as distinctly Peter Pilotto. Their journey of pattern making has also managed to undergo changes in methodology that sees them wavering from digital print to complex embroidery, panelling of textures and innovative textiles such as their supremely intricate smacking in their latest spring summer 2016 collection.

This Fashion in Motion show demonstrated that even as the duo volte from theme to theme or technique to technique, they manage to retain their original voice. They also got to remix some of their key looks by inviting make up rebel, Isamaya Frrench to come and work her instinctively playful magic, inspired by prints like the tropical florals of S/S 12. Or she brought her own spin as in the case of the kabuki esque striped painted face that was also one of the stand out looks. The resulting show was one that highlighted one of the riotous success stories of pattern and colour at London Fashion Week.

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