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Having been mired in the fashion month bubble, a few notable London happenings have passed me by.  London Design Week has been and gone.  And as we speak, I’m about to get on a flight to Seoul, whilst Frieze is in full swing and London Film Festival is about to commence.  I’m basically missing this that’s city constantly in flux.  I did manage to go check out Multiplex, conceived by interiors luminary Tom Dixon and dubbed the “multi-sensory department store of tomorrow”, which has been living in the back of Selfridges in what is normally a derelict space, for the past few weeks.

It was meant to coincide with London Design Week, but Dixon was keen not to just speak to design people.  “It’s like how fashion weeks works – you’re preaching to the converted,” he said, as he most graciously took the time out to show me around Multiplex, on the day before it came to an end.  Inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory, the space shimmers with silver foil-covered walls, all the better to reflect Dixon’s clusters of copper home objects and metal lampshades.  Dixon’s various homeware collections are arranged throughout Multiplex but dotted amongst them are a carefully selected array of brands that make this an intriguing “alternative department store.”

You might be wondering why I’m talking about Multiplex at all, seeing as it actually closed yesterday.  The actual happening might have already happened but at the heart of Multiplex is an idea that has legs for the future.  Multi-displinary.  Multi-sensory.  Collaborative.  Sharing economy.  These are the buzz phrases that when used at will can sound like marketing spiel.  In the case of Multiplex though, what Dixon and his team created was a fantastic amalgamation of all of these things.  “There’s a danger that London becomes a bit anodyne, a bit impersonal.  London is multilayered and over-lapping,” said Dixon.  “And the way we live isn’t mapped out like a department store – where the beauty department is on the ground floor and interiors is on the top floor.  The modern world is about increasing your network.  The more you’re able to go beyond your hermetically sealed environment, the more it benefits you as a designer and as a label.  I’ve always battled being against being too much of an expert in what I do. ”

And so at the back of one of the world’s biggest department stores is a space that Dixon has called a “parasite”.  The good sort that is.  And inside are a host of young start-ups and fledgling labels that are all about fluidity or “elasticity” as Dixon puts it.  They sit well together because they are going about their specific fields in unexpected ways.  Take Haeckels –  one of the few of the brands within Multiplex that I had heard of.  Their Made in Margate moniker and their foraged cliff-side ingredients have made this skincare and fragrance brand a quiet success.  They’ve come together with spatial design firm Loop.ph to create a bubble-like spa, where you inhale a specially formulated medicinal fog.  This horticultural pod has been living inside of Multiplex.

It’s not necessarily about choosing UK centric brands either.  You have furniture from New Zealand label Resident and playful synthesisers from Swedish start-up Teenage Engineering.  The Danish brand brings Japanese binchotan traditions into their range of charcoal-based products.  On the fashion side of things, Multiplex turned me on to two new names.  Obataimu, a slow fashion label based in Mumbai but inspired by Tokyo, has an intriguing concept, which allows people to meet the artisans behind their work to understand the process and thus fully customise fit, fabric and colour of these wabi sabi-esque clothes.  Filipino-Australian designer Karen Topacio has just recently started her label based in Paris and for her latest S/S 16 collection, she developed a body-sensory draping software whereby you move your body in front of the screen and it creates these CAD-like volumes that Topacio then used to create the shapes for her collection.

The thing that excited me the most was the way this collective of labels were chosen on merit, rather than in a department store, where space comes at a premium to brands.  The ephemeral nature of the space means there’s an element of discovery which is becoming something of a rarity when so much of London’s West End retail is spoon-fed to you.  I spent a good amount of time with Cubitts, learning about their made-to-measure eyewear and looking at their vintage oddities.  I don’t remember when was the last time I spent more than ten minutes in a department store because I so often just zoom in for the thing that I’m after and get out as soon as I can.

Having grown up in London, Dixon was also inspired by the likes of Kensington Market and Hyper Hyper.  Funnily enough, Kensington Market was the original starting point of Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe’s Dover Street Market, which will be making a dramatic move to Haymarket next year.  That’s the level that Multiplex could well be aiming for, albeit with more disciplines and verticals added into the mix.

“I would really like it to last for three or six months – like a fun fair or circus that comes into town for a bit,” said Dixon.  “Then the year after, you might surprise people with a new location or new products.  People need to be surprised.  It’s a harder and harder battle to get people out and about.  I like the idea of a travelling circus.  It keeps people on their toes.”

Taking the time to discover, learn and ultimately purchase is my ideal shopping experience.  And it’s one that has definitely intrigued a swathe of people that managed to visit Multiplex.  What Dixon has created here feels like a blueprint for multi-brand, cross-displinary and collaborative retail.  Where independence can thrive and where brands and start-ups can be discovered as a collective.

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0E5A7775Tom Dixon‘s homewares

0E5A7825A paint splattered installation by print-on-demand company Moo

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0E5A7690Furniture and interiors by the New Zealand company Resident

0E5A7698Table arrangement by Clerkenwell London

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0E5A7705A rail of Zoe Jordan clothes from Clerkenwell London

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0E5A7863Unusual foods chosen by Arabeschi di Latte

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0E5A7747Portable synths and pocket OS systems by Teenage Engineering

0E5A7741Connected grown-up lego to illustration the powering of networks by Sam Labs

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0E5A7673Products from Made in Margate skin care brand Haeckels 

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0E5A7785Shoes from Filipino-Australian designer Karen Topacio‘s graduate collection

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0E5A7794Karen Topacio‘s digital draping software and the resulting garments

0E5A7763Utilitarian babys by Yvonne Kone

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0E5A7814Tokyo-inspired, Mumbai-based slow fashion label Obataimu that exposes the manufacturing process and preaches a ‘wabi-sabi’ philosophy

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0E5A7831Rive Roshan‘s UV light filtered printed scarves

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0E5A7867Cubitts‘ biometric measuring software to ensure glasses are a perfect fit

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0E5A7898Tom from Cubitts trying on a pair of vintage glasses that enable you to read whilst lying down

I’m not personally a fan of nostalgic regressions into the past.  Themed 1950s rockabilly bars with mandatory poodle skirts and busty cardigans?  No thanks.  Insisting that eating wartime rationed diets and rag rolling your hair into victory rolls is far superior to what the 21st century has to offer?  Not for me.  

And yet Port Eliot Festival with its bucolic ideals, lack of 3G (there’s a three metre square patch near the campsite where you might just be able to check an email or two) and its elevation of activities such as camp fire building, wild water swimming and stargazing doesn’t grate me in the same way as those aforementioned nostalgic retro-fests do.  Sarah Mower, who presides over Port Eliot’s ever-growing Wardrobe Department, housing all the fashion happenings at the festival, decided to christen this year’s proceedings with a theme, that could well sum up the appeal of the festival in general.  Medievalism, or specifically a Game of Thrones-inspired bout of Medievalism, was in full swing this year. 

Never mind the fact that the house itself dates back to the 12th century or that you can walk into an 11th century chapel on a Sunday, but everywhere you go, you’re reminded of a pre-industrial and pre-internet way of life.  Whether it’s a survival workshop manned by, Skye Gyngell of Spring advocating you to eat according to what comes out of good English soil or the numerous crafting sessions, which have grown thanks to the magazine Hole & Corner bringing indigo dying, clog making and pottery to the festival’s fray.  This particular strand of neo-Medievalism never veers into costume or role-playing territory.  It’s about glimpsing into the aesthetics and the practises for a few days of escapism.  With the benefit of distinctly un-Medieval comforts like ace food (Angus & Mitchell’s porky offerings and The Oyster Shack‘s seafood were this year’s standouts).  And when balanced with Port Eliot’s idiosyncratic line-up of progressive speakers, creatives and musicians (Ron Arad talking about his design process, electronic outfit Stealing Sheep and street poetry in the Ways of the Weird tent were my personal highlights), even with some nostalgic elements, it’s clear that free thinking reigns supreme here.  

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The madcap and yes, perhaps retro-tinged elements are all still there at Port Eliot.  The Vintage Tea Ladies, who call you “Luv” and faux smoke their fags.  The village fete-inspired Flower and Fodder show with people competing in jams, cakes and Alice in Wonderland themed flower and veg displays.

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IMG_2212Wearing Somewhere Nowhere top, LES by Lesia Paramonova dress, Nike shorts, Minna Parikka shoes and Prada bag

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Renowned film costume designer Sandy Powell – a longtime friend and frequenter of the festival – brought her thousand layered dress and Swarovski glass slippers, created for this year’s live action film version of Cinderella, to the Port Eliot House.  The dress in particular looked magnificent in the similarly blue-hued central drawing room.  When she spoke to Tim Blanks, she asserted that absolutely no CGI magic was involved in the dress’ magical wafting properties, as it was just down to “good old fashioned dress making.”

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A much welcome new addition to the festival was the beautiful craft magazine Hole & Corner‘s collaborative stand with Plymouth University, where daily workshops took place, led by people like bag designer Bill Amberg and paper artist Zoe Bradley.  The craft portion of the festival as a result was substantially beefed up, pleasing a crowd that were eager to get their hands dirty with pottery classes and woodworking.

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The Anthropologie tent is no more and in its place, Port Eliot kept it local with Cornish lifestyle brand Seasalt coming in and enticing the crowd with deckchairs, a free-to-play piano and marinière shirt customising workshops.

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In the bigger and better Wardrobe Department thanks to the voluntary support of members of the British Fashion Council, Port Eliot regulars like Stephen Jones (donning his Fashion Police cap), Barbara Hulanicki and Jenny Dyson running her Pencil Atelier were all back.  Other notable illustrators like New York Times contributor Damien Florebert Cuypers came in to conduct lessons.  Piers Atkinson was also back to help festival goers create their own permanent headbands and hats with synthetic flowers.  The emphasis this year was on teaching the process of a milliner as opposed to just handing over a ready-made headdress to someone.

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IMG_1525Rosanna Falconer looking lovely in Matthew Williamson and her Piers Atkinson wreath

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IMG_1536Wearing Risto shirt, vintage dress, Issey Miyake Pleats Please trousers, Nike trainers

The Wardrobe Department got a real space boost this year with the adjoining garden, dubbed the Theatre of Fashion.  This meant more talks, more workshops and more activities that stick to Mower’s aim of simultaneously adding substance to the subject of fashion as well as making it look fun.  “At heart, I think of everything we do here is to return fashion to a state where everyone can rediscover – or actually discover for the first time- the absolute delight in being creative, making things, talking, thinking and working together,” said Mower.  “That sounds soppy, but I will fiercely defend it as more and more important as the fashion system has morphed into such a rigid, corporate, harsh and relentless machine which is not generally kind and inclusive – and rarely ever laughs and lets its imagination off the leash.”

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Central Saint Martins MA graduates Luke Brooks and Beth Postle, who are still enjoying the process of their own unbounded creativity took to the Theatre of Fashion with their screen painted t-shirts with festival motifs and their own take on new ageism.  And the bigger they were the better as sizes went up to 8 XL.

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The Theatre of Fashion meant I could also get involved too this year as I was joined by knitwear designer Katie Jones to talk about sustainability in fashion.  The original plan was the crochet and chat.  Turns out, it’s really much too hard to crochet and chat about a weighty subject like sustainability, at the same time.  According to Katie, you can watch Eastenders, whilst working the crochet hooks.  She also conducted crochet workshops on fruity leather patches, where people surprisingly excelled in.   It might not have been seasonally correct to talk about Katie’s AW15 Let Them Eat Cake colourful knits but they certainly came in handy, when Katie and her crew could keep warm in the chilly Cornish night time temperatures.

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To mark Mower’s theme, tv and film set designer Derek Brown together with Port Eliot’s creative director Michael Howells created this impressive central Medieval banquet tableaux as well as a recreation of the boat in John Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott painting.

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The tie in with the Wardrobe Department’s theme carried through to the talks.  Fashion historian NJ Stephenson and Mark Butterfield of C20 Vintage Fashion were back to talk about 140 years of Liberty Prints in lieu of the upcoming exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum.  It was less about the inception of those original prints and their associations with the Arts & Crafts Movement but more about the way they wove in with the visual identity of 1960s radicalism in Swinging London and the Medieval Revivalism, popular in the 70s.

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Bumble & Bumble also took a hair cue from the Medieval period with braids and plaits a plenty thanks to both the Braid Bar and Bleach hair whizz Alex Brownsell teaching people how to recreate the styles of 14th and 15th century hair muses.

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I too got my complex braid on thanks to Bumble & Bumble stylist Sven Bayerbach.

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M.A.C. Cosmetics were also back with daily moodboards creating Pre-Raphaelite or tribal tattoo inspired looks on demand, which is where my black dotty and gold face came from.  I do miss Louise Gray’s more freehand face painting antics though.

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Mower’s Medieval theme definitely culminated on Saturday when the biggest draw of the festival had Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, former costume designer for GoT Michele Clapton (she just resigned after five seasons) and former production designer Gemma Jackson who worked on GoT for the first three seasons, in conversation with Mower.  Christie provided the comic relief as well as impressing us with her armour and sword welding skills in clips from the show, and Jackson and Clapton shed much insight into the level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into the costumes and sets of the show.  For example, I had no idea Sansa’s wedding outfits were imbued with so much meaning with their embroidered lions and corseted discomfort.  For GoT fans, this was a mega treat.  For those that weren’t, hearing about Jackson and Clapton’s work process is nonetheless inspiring.

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The GoT panel was followed up by a demonstration of how the show has refracted its way into fashion and into another bout of subconscious Medieval revival.  Mower and Alexander Fury came together to discuss the influences of both the show and a Medieval mood on fashion designers, both contemporary and from the past.  “I thought the resonances of Thrones are really profound – the idea of medieval fantasy, with all that horror, brutality and  bloodshed involved, seems like a mirror held up to today, in my mind,” explained Mower.  Accompanying them was a staggeringly ambitious fashion show – casted from the crowd as well as featuring the photogenic Warren family – Port Eliot’s unofficial models.  Mower was initially afraid of reaching out to designers but it turns out they were unbelievably accommodating.  Sarah Burton lent her Anglican church-inspired pre-fall 2013 Alexander McQueen collection.  Dolce & Gabbana’s Norman invasion of Sicily A/W 14-5 collection featured heavily too.  Mary Katrantzou, Giles, Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh also popped up with their whiffs of Medieval.  To show that this bout of Medievalism isn’t just a fuelled by Game of Thrones, pieces by Zandra Rhodes, Laura Ashley and Thea Porter from the 70s and 80s also featured.  Styled by Ed Marler and Matthew Josephs, the outfits had a weirdly contemporary resonance especially with surprise additions like recent RCA graduate Hannah Williams’ latex pieces and J.W. Anderson’s debut collection for Loewe.  The context explained and discussed by Mower and Fury brought these Kings, Queens, knights, ladies and serfs to life.  “One of the girls who we randomly cast for the Medieval show came up to me and said ‘I love wearing these clothes but listening to the talk was even better.  I had no idea fashion could be so deep!'”

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IMG_20150801_154503Georgie in Thea Porter was able to reenact William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott painting in his brilliant set 

IMG_2199Myself, Sean Baker from Paul Smith and Anders Christian Madsen of i-D couldn’t help but jump on that boat too

Away from fashion historicism and contextual analysis, Port Eliot is still faithful to giving children the opportunity to make and create.  “The children’s fashion show is a highlight of the festival and not just because it’s cute,” said Mower.  “Underlying all this is a mission to plant the idea that you CAN make things with your own hands, and it’s fun!  Now that art in schools is practically being stamped out it is really moving to me to see how many really young people just are naturally dying to be creative – and this is something I would like to take beyond Port Eliot as part of the BFC Education campaign.”  Whether Mower and the BFC accomplishes this missive, it is still lovely to see kids expressing themselves with their fashion show outfits and similarly seeing people get silly with their Port Eliot prom outfits.

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IMG_2283Winners of this year’s Port Eliot Prom

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IMG_2301I thought Phoebe Colling-James’ pineapple was an ace prom ensemble

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IMG_2363Modern Man t-shirt, Molly Goddard dress, J-Brand jeans, vintage Courréges jacket, Vans x & Other Stories slip ons

Despite the Medieval slant, Mower has added yet more New Gen designers to the festival to showcase what is actually happening in the here and now of fashion.  Marta Marques and Paola Almeida came down to talk about the attitude and the mood of the Marques Almeida “girl”, embodied once again by the Warren Sisters and make-up looks by MAC.  It’s a celebration of imperfection – night bus hair, chalk dust eye shadow and smeared on eyeliner.  It’s the kind of fashion and attitude that might seem blindingly obvious to those in the industry but to the average festival goer at Port Eliot, it’s a message that is worth repeating.  With the support of the British Fashion Council (who tirelessly worked on the festival from dawn till dusk), Mower has fostered a spirit of inclusivity, intelligence and spontaneity in the Wardrobe Department and the Theatre of Fashion.  It’s one of the few places where the fashion activities and programming, doesn’t replicate the shallow and cut-throat cliches that are perpetuated about the industry in the media.  Long may this continue.

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IMG_2422Wearing vintage stripy top, Dries van Noten vest, Comme des Garcons trousers, Vans x & Other Stories slip ons

With thanks to Yurtel for providing accommodation at Port Eliot.

>> I’ve been on a vintage Courrèges fixation for a while now, which means I should be jumping for joy over the recent news that present day Courrèges, under ownership of former ad execs Jacques Bungert and Frédéric Torloting, will be revived under the creative direction of Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, who had their own label Coperni Femme.  All the better to go with that Mod spangly bulbous make-up collaboration with Estée Lauder right?  And yet despite my love of Courrèges and what that name stands for, the news does vaguely puzzle and perturb me.

Once again, we have another set of names thrown in to the ring of ‘Maison Madness‘.  And yet another promising young label is put on the pyre and sacrificed.  Rather than slogging it out to build something great on their own, they’d rather attempt to revive a once-great name with ready made investment.  I don’t blame Meyer and Valiant in the least.  The assurance of investment into the duo as talented designers is too much of lure to resist and of course, the name name Andre Courrèges is a great one.  What the duo did for the short lived Coperni aesthetically lined up with the clean lines and space age hinting fabrications of yesteryear’s Courrèges.  And I don’t doubt Meyer and Valiant will come up with the goods.  But will their employers have enough foresight to realise that rebuilding a moribund ready to wear house can’t be done in season or two?  Wouldn’t it have been better to attempt to build 21st century’s answer to Courrèges rather than flog a name that won’t actually mean much to most of today’s audience?    

Yeah, yeah, broken record Susie.  Play that one again.  I don’t say any of this lightly.  I have a deep deep love for Courrèges.  And the vintage pieces that I’ve got my eye on (thanks 1st Dibs…) are going to burn a deep deep hole in my pocket.  Wouldn’t it be much better if these once-great couturiers were left in the past, with their legacies still intact and admired, through preservation of memory and garment?  And then we can be free to go forth and forge a future with new designers that have their own names above the door?

IMG_2672Courrèges’ collaboration with Estée Lauder – not sure whether to display or use these cosmetics…

courregesChoice selection of vintage Courrèges pieces on 1st Dibs

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>> I hit many firsts last week and over the weekend as I’ve been reporting on menswear shows for Dazed Digital.  Some of the firsts were good, some not so good. Despite my typing abilities being thoroughly spent, it’s hard not give props to some of those firsts that really gave me the chills.   Givenchy menswear for A/W 15-6 with the bonus of some specially created womenswear looks was a good first.  And it did give me some serious chills.  From Riccardo Tisci’s obsessions as a collector of Mexican carpets, skulls and mystical jewellery came a welcome walk on the darkside that steered clear of the heavy sportswear and streetwear influences that have come to define the menswear in most people’s minds.  It’s hard not to be swung by a strong narrative and this show had it in spades.  Tisci noted after the show that he was at a point where he was currently incredibly happy with what he’s doing and that he felt free enough to just put everything he loved into the collection.  So the references were numerous and sprawling, as objects from all over the world fed auras their into the collection.  That feeling was echoed in The American Horror Story-esque assembly of objects of old TV’s, furniture and spooky dolls in the set.  I’m a sucker for thrift/junk shop vibes and being inspired by objects of significance, especially when in Tisci’s case, inspiration literally came from his own home.  As for the clothes – they were the carriers of all the traits that Tiscis has blessed Givenchy with, making it the house with resonance and relevance that it is today – dark and brooding tailoring, eerie romance, eye-baiting prints and yes, a smidge of that sporty streety stuff (although I’m loving the fact that Tisci has shifted ever so slightly away from the use of a mere printed sweatshirt).   Pat McGrath’s painstakingly painted and collages masks on a few of the models completed this joyously macabre tale.  It’s Givnechy as a haunted house (or should that be maison?) ride – one that you wouldn’t mind going round and round in forever, should you be able to afford its wares.

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