There are few instances at fashion shows, where you get to clasp your hand at your breast, audibly sigh and murmur noises of satisfaction without looking like a complete lunatic.  Thankfully at Valentino’s latest S/S 18 haute couture show, I wasn’t the only one.  To my right were a group of American clients, ready to splash their cash.  “I’ll take one of everything please,” said one.  I couldn’t tell whether she was being serious or not.  In any case, I was of course seething with jealousy.  Because of all the couture shows I’ve seen in recent memory, this was the one I could actually see myself wearing in the stark reality of day-to-day humdrum.  I’m off to pick up Nico’s formula… just need to shrug on my purple maxi ruffled wrap dress.  I’m going to go to the post office to collect my often-returned mail… in my parma violet taffeta ruffled skirt.  And I might just do trim the out-of-control wall creeper plant in a Philip Treacy ostrich plumed hat, feathers trailing in the N15 wind.  How did Pierpaolo Piccioli convince so many of us that these silhouettes suggesting a faded grandeur of mid-20th-century couture has its place in 2018?

In movement, the clothes floated past us.  Nothing felt heavy or overdecorated.  It was partially down to the fabric choices but mainly it was the brilliantly off-kilter colour palette, something Piccioli has been latched onto in his vision at Valentino.  Anytime a colour would appear to be too saccharine or saturated – deepest of violet, bright fuschia, mint green – a shot of gritty brown or olive green would appear.  Or you often had pastels colliding with bright.  You picked up on memories of seminal couture moments – Charles James’ gown photographed by Cecil Beaton, the fantastical palette of Roberto Capucci or vintage Valentino itself (all of which were pinned on Piccioli’s moodboard backstage.

There were the aerated volumes, so beautifully crafted.  Go big or go home, as often you’d look up and see the model’s face obscured by a high-necked gathering of fabric.  Whether it’s a ruffled collar, a leg o mutton sleeve, a bow on the back of gowns or up on the shoulder, the proportion was blown up to avoid looking prim or miserly.  Then there was the appearance of counterfoil pieces like a pair of brown slacks.  I’ve opted for that Americanised word because of the casual vibe slacks impart.  They brought the opening look of the amber silk faille opera cape firmly down to earth.  So too did the oversized double faced cashmere jumpers used to temper the ruffles and frou-frou.

But the thing that really sealed the deal and sky-rocketed the swoon factor, was when you learnt that each silhouette had been named after a seamstress working in the Rome-based ateliers of Valentino .  Backstage there was a wall of notes in envelope, each one written by a seamstress talking about what couture means to them.  How I wish I understood what they said.  Their names were also written on a board to form a Valentino “V” shape.  The relationship between Piccioli and his atelier staff is palpably heartfelt.  Mr Valentino was seen backstage embracing some of the women.  They’re not craftspeople merely tasked to cut and sew on brief.  They take immense pride in their work.  Piccioli reportedly dislikes the term “petites mains”.  I’m a guilty party in the fetishisation of these skilled hands.  This show perhaps taught me that when you can feel a beating heart in a collection, it’s because invariably there’s an impassioned group effort of people pouring soul into the seams.

Fashion month has been and gone and I have plenty to say on the collections (skip to end if you want an explanation on the scant blogging) but first up, a time-sensitive call to go and discover, admire and enthuse in a gathering of fashion talent that is collectively standing for SOMETHING other than just more “stuff”.

Sarah Mower needs no introduction as an inimitable fashion writer as well but her work as a tireless champion of young fashion designers, and particularly for British talent is something that perhaps goes unnoticed in the public sphere.  Her nurturing of talent through one-to-one mentoring, studio visits and business and media introductions in addition to her work as a journalist has seen countless designers rise through the ranks to LFW’s headlining fashion fore.

Through Instagram though, Mower has found a new outlet for her passion for talent-spotting. Her hashtag #SarahsList was born out of a positive fightback against the post-Trump, post-Brexit political climate.  At a time when you might think creativity could be stifled or impeded, Mower’s discoveries demonstrate a young fashion designer landscape that has all the motivation to find alternative ways of doing things.  “I got really down about the political situation and so I thought, what could I do.  Perhaps the one thing I can personally do is to shine a light on fashion talent that are being threatened by Brexit and by Trump and to hopefully get them hired and commissioned by bigger companies.”  To captivate her audience, the accompanying captions for her #SarahsList discoveries on Instagram are lengthy, opinionated and tell a compelling story.

So much so that they caught the attention of Liberty, who then offered to make #SarahsList a shoppable reality, bringing the wares of these fashion fledglings to the 1st floor of the department store.  They’re names that I incidentally have a lot of love for too and ones that I’ve either written about myself or look forward to discovering more of.  And so in a challenging retail environment, where stores aren’t necessarily going all out to take risks and where budgets for young designers have seen shrinkages, Liberty continues its founder’s tradition of seeking out the idiosyncratic and the beautiful to present a new generation of arts and craftivists in fashion.

Looking beyond the immediate razz-ma-tazz the pieces for sale and cannily, Mower has chosen a group of designers that represent not just a an exuberant and celebratory aesthetic but something conscious (without the weight of labelling oneself as “sustainable”), something that contributes in their own little ways a ray of positivity in and industry dogged by cynical ambitions.  Richard Quinn made his LFW debut in the central atrium of Liberty with a continuation of his magnified floral prints blown up to smother the body and so appropriately a collation of special pieces are available as part of the #SarahsList pop-up.  In addition to running his label, Quinn has also just opened his RQ open-access print studio in Peckham that has already become a valuable resource for students and young designers looking to get garments printed.  It’s an ambitious venture to run on top of his own label and I’ll hopefully be checking it out soon to see the print studio at work first hand.  Craft is also apparent in the work of the Georgian jewellery designer Sopho Gongliashvili – the one non-London exception to this group who uses traditional Georgian artisans to create beautiful enamelled accessories.

Kitty Garrett at #SarahsList

Sopho Gongliashvili at #SarahsList

Marta Jakubowski at #SarahsList

Designers such as the young American Conner Ives, who is still studying for his BA at Central Saint Martins makes his retail debut with a collection of special edition shirts made up of vintage scarves and donated Liberty fabrics.. Similarly newly graduated Kitty Garratt, also from Central Saint Martins, took second hand shoes (peer into the painted shoes and you’ll find high street relics like Faith!) and painted them with Charleston-esque freehand brushstrokes.. Upcyling is nothing new of course but in the hands of Ives and Garratt, the proposition is less about a pragmatic approach towards tackling waste but more of a celebratory repurposing of the old.

#SarahsList also hosts designers that have consciousness of sourcing.  Look at Richard Malone’s beautiful AW17-8 collection that features naturally dyed fabrics woven by a community-supporting organization of women weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India, with the proceeds earned enabling their children to go to school.  Malone’s work doesn’t need that explanatory tag to entice the eye though.  Likewise, there’s an honesty in Sam McCoach’s Le Kilt, which I’ve long been a fan of, with her collection of kilts and knitwear made by small family-run enterprises in the UK.  Fellow N15 resident, Marta Jakubowski also gets the Mower seal of approval with her leftfield approach towards deconstructed tailoring and clubwear-inspired formalwear.

Richard Malone at #SarahsList

All this bigging up of young designers though made me think of a conversation strand brought up at a panel I was a part of recently, chaired by Jefferson Hack as part of Dazed and Huawei’s Secret Lectures.  Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Granary 1 talked about the responsibility we had as media professionals, who actively promote young talent.  In an increasingly difficult fashion system that can be unforgiving for young fashion designers, how do we balance promoting and writing about their work, whilst being mindful of the precariousness of operating as a start-up business.  To that, Mower has the final say that few could argue with and also gives indication on how #SarahsList could possibly spur the fashion system in new directions.

“Does everything have to be large-scale, and everywhere to be valid? I think the opposite values – small-scale, hand-made, consciously produced and NOT everywhere are exactly the ones which people are instinctively drawn to now.  The system at large is dysfunctional, as is widely admitted. I agree it is irresponsible to stand by and wave on more and more people to face exactly the same problems – and the education system is a fault too, in not arming their students with the facts.  The people I mentally put on #SarahsList are the ones I see who have the seeds of new ways of doing things. I think they have a hell of a lot to teach the corporate world – not the other way around. That’s why I have this vision that#SarahsList could become a vehicle for discussing and magnifying the strengths which are already there – and for spreading information and exchanges which are both idealistic and concrete.”

Word.  Preach.  Hurrah.

#SarahsList on the 1st floor of Liberty in London for the forthcoming month

Obviously I couldn’t help but get in on the #SarahsList action…

Richard Quinn “toe” velvet socks from #SarahsList worn with old Jil Sander shirt and H&M’s Design Award Richard Quinn dress (the collection launched last week and pleasingly sold out immediately!)

Conner Ives shirt from #SarahsList worn with Ambush jeans and Nike trainers

On a side note, I too have to spur myself on in an announcement about the blog…

I realise blogging frequency has slowed to a trickle here because I’m in the process of a relaunch (she says with a booming voice).  Actually that word sounds too offish.  It’s more of a rejig – one which means I’ll hopefully still be rambling on about fash-un in that long super-forever-scrollin’ way I favour.  I’m loathe hauling Nico out as an excuse but if truth be told, juggling baby, with jobs that pay the bills and writing for the luff luff luff of it here has been nigh on impossible.  There’s light in sight though.  Nico will be starting nursery soon.  That’s precisely thirty hours extra in the week not spent Dettol wiping after Nico.  Here’s hoping they will be spent productively.

It’s always oddly fascinating watching NYFW through the filter of E! Channel and taxi cab updates.  “What’s been exciting you?” asks the presenter on Daily Pop.  “Well… Jared Leto!” replies the chirpy correspondent, ensconced inside a glass box at NYFW’s main Washington Street show space.   Designers move over.  Jared Leto is THE happening.  That sounds like jest but as pointed out by Vanessa Friedman, New York Fashion Week was in danger of becoming overtaken by celebrity and razz-ma-tazz – namely Rihanna with her Fenty  domination of fashion week, in lieu of the departure of key designers to show in Paris.  “From fashion to fashertainment,” is how Friedman summed it up.

But hasn’t it always been thus?  The aforementioned taxi cab ads that drop the words “fashion week” like it’s Super Bowl Sunday (in contrast, if you wandered around Central London during LFW, you’d be hard pressed to know it’s going on).  The celebrity appearances that top the tabloids.  The after parties that invariably seem to overshadow what’s going on at the shows themselves.  The absence of NYFW’s noughties gen bright young things (Rodarte, Proenza, Altuzarra etc)  what did transpire this season was a Battle of the Nights.  Night shows have always been extra buzzy in New York.  The paps are out en force, the hordes of people itching to sneak their way in or grab a celebrity snap and the security guards bark near-expletive-filled orders at you should you anger them.

And so my week began in midtown, moments away from Times Square, which I haven’t physically been to in years.  The lights seemed brighter – probably because I had just stepped off of a flight from London.  And just outside Calvin Klein’s headquarters, where their show took place, an American marching band was pounding away.   They weren’t planted there by Raf Simons and CK, even though it would have been fitting as a tribute to Simons’ debut collection for the American house.  With the din of snare drums outside, Sterling Ruby’s installation Sophomore, hanging from the ceiling – a forest of massacred pom poms dripping in murky collegiate colours with axes hanging off them – seemed all the more compelling.

The press notes got me excited and the reality more than lived up to the words.  The interplay between the American dream and its horrors – both real and imagined by cinema’s auteurs – is such a rich contrast to mine.   Lesser designers would fall too deep into the clichés.  Give Simons and his partner in crime Pieter Mulier cheerleaders and cowboys, proms and the prairie and they deftly avoid the pitfalls.  I didn’t get to see their debut at Calvin Klein last season but I’ve been thinking about the way an outsider like Simons – as in an non-American – is able to explore and articulate their feelings around the country’s identity.  And particularly at this point in time, a divided America is for better or for worse, fertile ground for Simons to base his first epoch of shows for Calvin Klein upon.

 

His vision riffed off of likely culprits – Stephen King, David Lynch, the Coen brothers as well as utilising more direct tie-ups with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.  Hence the screen prints of Warhol photographs of Sandra Brant and Dennis Hopper as well as knives stabbing their way onto plaid suiting.  The deliberately slicked textures of tar-streaked leather, rain mac nylon and fetishistic rubber (stamped with made in Ohio) romped their way into Hitchock heroine sihouettes.  Carrie’s blood red dominated, as did murky shades of orange, green and tan.  And those pom poms – so representative of quintessential American perkiness and perfection – are rendered limp in their deconstruction into hip charms and sculptural dresses.  As though they’ve been trampled on by a less-than-perfect protagonist.  “Fashion tries to hide the horror and embrace only beauty,” says Simons in the press notes.  “But they’re both a part of life.  This collection is a celebration of American life.”  Simons’ exploration of American life will apparently carry on under Calvin Klein 205W39NYC – the runway component of the much larger empire, and as an opener to NYFW, becomes its crucial lynchpin, getting under the skin of mere surface.  Even the hilarity of Melania Trump trussed up in Simons’ debut collection (presumably bought) can’t diminish the pertinent probing that he and Mulier are doing at this very American brand.


From a superpower’s soul-searching to something far more personal, Opening Ceremony’s dance play Changers, directed by Spike Jonze and choreographed by Ryan Heffington (of Sia’s Chandelier fame) was also memorable.  Mia Wasakowski’s and Lakeith Stanfield danced their way through a young love that was always going to end up with one party outgrowing the other.  You don’t often think get to think about the clothes that you sob and slob in when you’ve had heartbreak, or when you’re wearing something smarter to put on a brave front.  Changers was genuinely touching in that respect and something that oddly stayed with me through the week.  Probably because of a build up of sentiment over leaving Nico behind for a whole week.


From Vogue.com

As a result of Opening Ceremony’s dance-off, I didn’t make it to Fenty.  Which brings me onto a curious competition between the high-octane shows that set out to create bombast and hype.  On the previous night, Philipp Plein was clashing it out with Alexander Wang.  You had to choose one or the other.  I chose the latter.  Plein’s extravaganza boasted performances from Nicki Minaj and Dita von Teese at the Hammerstein Ballroom.  But instead I chose to stand behind a barrier in Bushwick and pump myself up for Alexander Wang’s #WangFest.  I felt distinctly old waiting for the show to roll in, thinking back to the days when many a Erin Wasson-clones would stalk his shows and how “rad” everything he did was.  When the clothes finally did appear, falling from the #WangFest bus, it felt like Wang was also trying to hark back to those heady times.

The problem is that the “downtown cool” choices have multiplied since he made his mark and was crowned New York’s fashion darling. The dilemma then is, do the clothes grow up along with that girl or does he pander to the gen Z girls of today.  It’s a conundrum that you wondered about especially when the following evening, Rihanna revved up Fenty.  Literally.  Like I said, I didn’t actually get to physically see it.  After Opening Ceremony’s young love dream, the trek uptown proved difficult.  If Tinashe was being turned away, I sure as hell wasn’t getting in.  But judging by social media reactions and reviews, Rihanna had won the buzz crown.  Double whammying it with the launch of Fenty Beauty helped.  Wang’s Harley gang versus motocross bikers jumping in the air over big pink sand dunes?  Party gal neutrals versus surf and biker spliced into neon?  Ironically, surf and motocross are territories that Wang has waded into before.  But Rihanna rolling in on a motorcycle, spawning many a regram/GIF, is hard to beat.


On Monday night, outside the former Pearl River Mart store, a queue stretched along Broadway around the block.  A whiff of weed permeated the show space.  This was a “fashun” throng as opposed to a “celeb” throng.  They were here to witness the return of Helmut Lang in a special Seen by Shayne Oliver show.  There have of course been Helmut Lang shows under previous creative directors since the label came under Andrew Rosen’s ownership but this one actually felt like something of a true revival, coming from a knowing place.  Archives reissued under re-edition.  Campaign imagery once again created by contemporary artists.  And a deft acknowledgement that since everyone references/rips off Helmut Lang, why not invite different designers every season or so, to pay homage to the man that created the cornerstones of urban uniforms.  That’s down to Isabella Burley, editor-in-chief of Dazed and now editor-in-residence at Helmut Lang.  It’s an interesting title and thus a fascinating way to reinvigorate a brand.  She’s not designing but orchestrating every aspect of Helmut Lang’s turnaround.  Oliver’s visceral take on Lang’s kinky bent will only be one part of a much bigger picture.  But what a potent beginning!  Deconstructed bras barely covering the chest tempered with sashaying tailoring and then a dose of slink in sheeny shiny eveningwear playing out to Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing.  Some grumbled about the lack of subtlety in comparison to what Lang did.  We live in unsubtle times, which calls for a forthright vision and that’s what we got at this revival.  It filled an energy vacuum that has been hanging over NYFW this week .


And to end the week?  Silence.  No soundtrack at all until an opera-backed finale walk accompanying a 56-strong flock, decked out in the most luridly patterned and coloured of turbaned, layered, glam-sports ensembles.  No set either.  And even Jacobs.  Some people will read that as lazy.  But those archives are exceedingly rich.  And they don’t bend to current ubiquitous vogue for those Insta-girl trends – off-the-shoulder shirting, strategically placed ruffles and masked minimalism.  And that’s a glorious thing to behold.. How can garish florals, pseudo-Pucci prints on parkas and bum bags appeal to the masses?  It can’t.  And that’s a good thing.  At the very least, Jacobs’ owns his own taste.  Personally speaking, the vibe of Verushka in late sixties Diana Vreeland-edited Vogues mixed with Millets’ camping gear is absolutely fine by me.  It also goes without saying that I’m first to sign up for Stephen Jones’s part Little Edie Beale, part Carmen Miranda and part North African head wraps.

There were different battles played out across NYFW but as predicted before I even landed in New York, those that bookended the week owned the week, not with strategically articulated theatrics or excessively loud volume (like I said, that American marching band was purely incidental) but with what they had to say in the clothes.  Not surprising then that Simons was present at Marc Jacobs’ show as a mark of mutual appreciation.  They hugged each other and then Jacobs left without saying anything.  Nuff’ said.

>> We’ve been taking a lot of little “mini” trips.  I say “mini” but they become gargantuan when a six month old (when I say half a year, that somehow makes it sound a lot longer) is in tow.  We’ve done more travelling than the average mit-newborn family, in a bid to gently nudge at the realms of what is possible when you’re trying to lug the contents of John Lewis and Amazon Prime’s baby sections around with you.  In particular, we’ve been gallivanting around the UK this year alone, more than I have done in the last five years put together.  I’m ashamed slash not ashamed to say that one of the loveliest trips of all our little jaunts with the little one, was an overnight stay up at Soho Farmhouse.  You have to revel in the fact that it’s all a bit Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet in Versailles.  You have to get over the faux rusticity and give into the manicured bucolic aesthetics.  That’s how you can convince yourself that by standing next to a log cabin, nestled against a man made stream, with perfectly spaced out smatterings of daisies and pampas grasses, you’re somehow “getting away” from the city.

This Disneyfied Cotswolds haven happened to be the perfect backdrop for Coach’s new pre-fall collection, which was shown last year in New York in a joint men’s and women’s show to celebrate the house’s 75th anniversary, as well as mark three years for Stuart Vevers at its helm.  He wanted to celebrate a New York spirit of “togetherness and a feeling of possibility”.  That’s an interesting choice of words in lieu of Coach House flagship store 5th Avenue position, mere metres away from Donald Trump’s golden totem pole of divisiveness.  Vevers goes on pointedly to talk about the celebration of “contradictions, imperfections and individuality” and a New York spirit that welcomes outsiders.

In the pieces seen here – a reworking of a sailor’s nautical collar on a leopard print sheer dress, a shearling jacket embroidered with flowers and a pair of velvet diamante buckled pilgrim clogs, it’s precisely Vevers’ “outsider” observations of Americana that means everything is pop-ified, exaggerated and almost made delightfully kitsch.  Vevers takes those honest codes and peps and perks them up, imagining his own vision of this American dreamer girl/boy, hitchhiking her/his way on the highways in the land of the free with a roomy Bandit bag holding everything they own.  Just as well then that non-American, not-free-spirited me should shrug on these amplified Americana Coach pre-fall pieces and play at make-believe cabin living in this similarly dreamt-up vision of being “in the country”.  And Nico’s verdict?  She enjoyed rolling around in her vintage shabby-chic Ercol cot and hand-knitted blanket, ta very much.

Coach Pre-Fall 2017 Wild Beast Nautical Dress, shearling coat with embroidery, Bandit bag with link detailing and velvet clogs

Coach shearling coat with embroidery, knitted check top and Bandit bag in burgandy worn with Marques Almeida jeans and Chloe sunglasses

This post is part of an on-going partnership with Coach