Once my parents realised that I’m not in fact just cruising through a ‘fake career’ of swanning around fashion shows and ‘playing’ at being a journalist, they’ve both been hugely enthusiastic – nay, insistent that I should go back to Hong Kong more often and in their words, ‘ply my trade’.  As in, take whatever supposed expertise I have and flaunt it in my motherland.  I, of course am dubious about the idea.  As I’ve said before, Hong Kong – whilst spiritually/technically is where my roots are – it isn’t what I really know.  Its creative and fashion industry for instance is still, largely an unknown entity to me.  The lay of the land seems to change all the time, as the rents in the central areas are so extortionate that any interesting shop/creative endeavour that pops up might disappear the next time you’re there.

IMG_8135Wearing Celine top, Minki Cheng skirt, Nike x Liberty Air Rifts and Loewe bag in front of a deep-rooted tree near Hollywood Road, Central

This time round though, I would have a guiding hand to take me on a very different Hong Kong journey than the short and fleeting trips I have been on before.  Redress had invited me out to be on the judging panel for their EcoChic Design Award, a competition now in its fifth cycle that encourages emerging fashion designers to create collections with minimal textile waste.  EcoChic taps up either current students or recent graduates at the beginning of their careers and educates them on the fashion industry’s negative environmental impacts and encourages them to take up techniques in zero-waste, up-cycling and reconstruction (a helpful glossary here gives you definitive meanings of these terms).  Essentially, it’s about planting the seeds in a new generation of designers to be better equipped to ingrain sustainable practises into their design outlook from the get go.  For these designers, it’s not about ticking a green box because it’s the right thing to do, but because they’re genuinely excited about what they can create with the limitations of materials and techniques and will incorporate this way of working into their own labels or even as future employees at design houses.

In addition to judging the ten finalists, I also went along with them to their workshops in the run-up to the final show to also learn about textiles waste, created by both consumers and manufacturing, in a region of Asia, where fast fashion and fleeting trends are fed by an eager customer as well as a hugely profiteering industry.  For this five day trip, I had a fly-on-the-wall film crew documenting my every step, that will hopefully result in a video series of some sort but for now, here’s the picture-and-words rundown.


On the first day with the finalists, we all drove up to Sheung Shui in New Territories, near the border between Hong Kong and China to see a textiles recycling facility, where clothes collected from banks dotted all over the city are gathered up, sorted and then bundled up to be sent off to third world countries.  That of course in itself, creates its own economic problems, but as a solution, is far preferable to the clothes that go into general landfill, if they’re dumped into the rubbish bin as opposed to designated clothing bins.

In comparison to the LM Barry recycling centre in East London, which I visited a while ago, the scale was a lot smaller here and perhaps more ramshackle in its sorting methodology, as local ladies milled about, sorting the clothes into haphazard piles.  It’s a valiant effort to deal with what is an acute problem in population-heavy, space-lacking Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, approximately 106,945 tonnes of textiles were sent into landfills in 2014.  That’s approximately an average of 12,000 garments going into the bins, every HOUR.  To compare, the UK chucks away 350,000 tonnes of textiles – which is of course insane in itself but Hong Kong of course is geographically smaller and has about a ninth of the population of UK.  To throw an even more frightening figure out there, in China the total annual production of pre and post-consumer textile waste is estimated to be around 26 million tonnes.

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We were there to visualise consumer textiles waste but also for the EcoChic finalists, they were there to theoretically imagine what they could do to elevate and repurpose the clothes that have been disposed of so casually.  Christina Dean, founder of Redress was there to spur on the students as she herself spent a year in 2013, dressing exclusively in found clothes from recycling plants such as this one.  The students were paired off and given superbrands like Dior, Chanel and Gucci and asked to recreate the look of these brands with pieces they could find in the warehouse.

I myself jokingly participated by running around the vicinity with last year’s EcoChic Design Award winner Kévin Germanier to create a slapdash J.W. Anderson-inspired outfit, complete with oddball accessory (the plush taxi toy) and weird print (some mumsy top that you might find in Mong Kok’s Ladies Market).  I would have totally taken the outfit away to wear if I was allowed.

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It’s a simple enough exercise, with the point being that with just a few hours of cutting garments up and picking out interesting details, designers can show you that these clothes shouldn’t have gone into the recycling bins in the first place (even if they are destined to be bundled up for resale).  The scary thing of course is thinking of the amount of clothes in Hong Kong that don’t end up in a facility like the one we saw at Sheung Shui.

The competition finalists deftly picked out some choice pieces that didn’t even require much alteration to turn into outfit-ready ensembles, as in the case of Gucci.  Funnily enough, some fake Chanel pieces turned up that were ready to be cut up into an ‘ironic’ logomania outfit.  The Dior team proposed some clever zero-waste pattern cutting techniques that would have certainly impressed Raf Simons, if he were still helming the house.

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From consumer waste, we moved on to manufacturing waste, as the next day, we headed up to Dongguan, one of the epicentres of manufacturing in Guangdong.  As soon as you neared the edges of Dongguan, you’d pass by vast factory complexes everywhere, accompanied by uplifting slogans, as befits a city that is China’s third largest exporter of goods, behind Shanghai and Shenzhen.  We were there to visit TAL, a Hong Kong-based manufacturer that supplies the likes of Burberry, Brooks Brothers and J.Crew with polo shirts, outerwear, suiting and primarily what we saw, dress shirts.  In fact, TAL are responsible for manufacturing one SIXTH of USA’s dress shirts.  This was certainly a level of mass volume and efficient manufacturing, which I’d never seen before.

I have though had some childhood awareness of Dongguan’s reliance on clothing manufacture.  My ancestry can be traced back to a village in Dongguan and ten year old me remembers vaguely visiting a few smaller scale clothing factories in the region that at the time in the late 90s were already expanding rapidly.  You of course come to understand the contrasting fortunes of clothing manufacturing versus say, the more arduous and traditional agriculture industry that prevailed in the region.

Therefore I’ve long known that Made in China doesn’t necessarily equate to the sweatshops or inferior quality that perhaps people think of when faced with the label.  TAL is perhaps a stellar example of “innofacturing” – using data to drive their quest for quality and speed, as well as taking their own CSR seriously to aid productivity.  We weren’t there specifically to inspect worker’s conditions but just one look at the staff canteens, on-site dormitories, worker’s incentive charts on the walls and regular sirens for worker’s breaks, demonstrated a safe and healthy working environment.

With the finalists, we toured the factory to look at how TAL are tackling textiles waste at each stage of production.  For TAL, it of course makes business sense to save energy and resources wherever they can, to the point where fabric scraps are used to make worker’s aprons, bins and chair covers.  The factory is decked out in shirting checks and stripes.  The real savings are made at the pattern layout process where technicians are awarded monthly for their ability to fit all the pattern pieces of a garment into a length of fabric, and reducing fabric waste to just under 10%.  When I, along with the finalists tried to complete the task on the computer, we couldn’t even fit all the pieces in, let alone reduce waste.  Geometry fail.

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patterncuttingOur failed attempt versus the pattern perfect minimal-waste pattern cutting solution.  

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In addition, water used to wash and steam fabrics along the way is recycled back through to the water systems of the dormitories and textiles waste from the cutting process is sent off to be reprocessed into another fabric.  Quality checks are firmly implemented at several stages of the process, to ensure that there aren’t any product ‘rejects’ at the end of the manufacturing line.  If there are for instance, any defects found in the fabric, then they are mended or turned into seams/pockets to prevent any wastage.

At the end of the day though, the finalists were given the opportunity to present further proposals to minimise waste to the people at TAL.  Specifically in the packaging process*, which sees most of TAL’s shirts wrapped up in a mass of tissue paper, cardboard, ribbon and plastic.  Simple solutions such as rolling the shirts, as opposed to folding them, could reduce energy and waste in packaging.  On the part of TAL, there seemed to be a genuine intent to listen to suggestions, especially when it came to the dealing of waste in energy and materials.

*By the by, I now know why it is I’m so rubbish at ironing Steve’s shirts.  It’s because I’m not an obsessive crease-freak like the packers at TAL, who get every seam and box pleat super sharp.

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When it came to judging the finalists’ collections, it seemed that sustainable practise had really taken hold so much so that veteran judges of the EcoChic competition noted the impressive nature of the ideas that we were being presented with, and the way that these ideas could be implemented on a larger scale in the industry.  As a newcomer judge, I was just impressed full stop at the breadth of techniques and approaches, within the main areas of zero-waste, reconstruction and upcycling.  And on the emphasis on the power of the hand and what a personal touch can craft.

Cora Belotto, who hails from Italy but now resides in Spain, produced a sentiment-filled collection entitled ‘Love Endings’ that gave a second life to wedding gowns and bridal trousseaus filled with lovely linens and bedding fabrics.  Silks and chiffons are tightly handwoven into decorative panels and vintage linens are bleached and quilted to create jackets.  It’s a collection that asks the wearer to treasure these textiles and it made you wonder how many dusty wedding trousseaus out there could benefit from the same treatment.  Belotto was awarded the second prize of being mentored by Orsola de Castro, who has judged EcoChic right from the start.

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Wang Di from Beijing decided to deal with the waste produced at the beginning of a designer’s career by looking at the discarded calicos and foam fabric from her fellow students at the Beijing Fashion Institute.  Iron burns and sharp creases feature heavily in Di’s collection that deals with stains in a graphic way by either clever patchworking or making flaws more pronounced so that they become a design feature.  She also used zero-waste cutting to create the knitted foam pieces and indigo dyeing to contrast with the unsightly brown, which Di sees as beautiful.

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Esther Lui from Hong Kong already witnesses textiles waste, working for a local bridal label.  She confronts it head on by placing the excess of clothing care labels into the patterns of her collection, creating three-dimensional raised textures as well as panelling it on the bias on floor-sweeping gowns.  It’s an interesting way of approaching immediate waste from her previous collections and local factories and tailors.

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Tsang Fan Yu is a fan of Japanese wabi-sabi and zen culture.  It shows in his red-centric, free-flowing collection that is made up of organic hemp and pineapple fibres, that are themselves the product of end-of-roll textiles.  But it is Yu’s pattern cutting techniques that impresses with a vest dress with a webbed opening, cut out from fabric that means only 8% of fabric is discarded.  His thinking is that simple pattern cutting and free sizing can tackle textiles waste, which incidentally chimes in with his zen-like approach towards fashion.

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Amy Ward believes that sustainable fashion can be fun and need not lecture the end consumer.  Her vibrantly-hued knitwear and abundance of pom poms certainly spell out fun.  But it’s the making of them that impresses, as she sourced her yarns from unravelled knitwear and cut-up end-of-rolls of jersey.  They all then underwent a painstaking trail and error of natural dyeing techniques that resulted in shades of yellow, duck egg blue, terracotta and pinks by using age-old-tested things like tumeric, red cabbage and onion skin.  Ward thought about the ways in which perhaps she could work with the bi-products of the food industry to further her use of natural dyes.  The results are pretty breathtaking as a cacophony of colours come together in harmony, perhaps because the raw materials are all derived from nature.

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Belle Benyasarn looked at the immediate waste in her hometown Bangkok and came up with ingenious ways of dealing with say, excess textiles used in Playboy merchandise or Sanrio products.  With an awareness of the local craft of handweaving, Benyasarn creates artisanal handwoven textiles out of cut-up strips of factory waste from leather goods manufacturers, that aren’t unlike the work of Faustine Steinmetz in London.  It’s definitely an impressive level of transformation from lining fabrics that were once marked with the logos of big corporations.

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Pan Wen from China wanted to contrast animal skin against a human one by collating leather off-cut scraps and felting them with wool to recreate the textures of a 15th century tapestry that depicts a hunting scene.  There’s a deliberate rawness to Wan’s collection that emphasises perhaps the needless waste in the fashion industry and with scraps and off-cuts, she’s able to create a delicate painterly textile effect.

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Annie Mackinnon’s collection is right up my aesthetic street what with her Kandinsky-esque paintings and free-hand illustrations that grace cut-up second hand bed sheets, patched and ripped to avoid pattern cutting waste.  Her work really centres around the hand and the ability to see a new lease of life in unwanted textiles.  Like many of her fellow finalists, Mackinnon doesn’t want to pigeon hole sustainable fashion into a beige and basic box.  Her cut-and-paste approach may not be for everyone but I personally like the unapologetic warts-and-all show of where the fabrics came from.

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Sara Kiani was the third finalist to use old bedsheets but her idea has legs to be taken further as a fully fledged business idea as she looked at the discarded bedsheets of luxury hotels in London, contacting a laundry contractor that takes care of London’s hotel laundry to source her supply of cotton sheets.  They were then made up into an all-white collection of shirts and dresses, inspired by traditional cheongsams.  She also cut up sheets into balls of yarn that was then knitted up into a new textile.  The point was to remind onlookers of the fact these clothes came from hotel bedsheets but Kiani did say that you could transform the sheets further with dyeing, embellishment or more advanced fabric transformations.  It’s certainly an innovative way of dealing with an area of textiles waste that most of us don’t even think about, and as the rest of the judging panel noted, an idea that could actually be implemented on a larger scale.

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It was perhaps a shame that there was only one big prize winner as I felt all the finalists had something to bring to the table and each contributed quite sound ideas.  Perhaps what made Patrycja Guzik‘s collection stand out was the complete transformation from the source materials to the final garment.  None of the textiles looked like end-of-rolls waste or unwanted textiles.  The vibrant purple colour palette was so deliberately artificial looking that it took you away completely from the upcycling techniques that Guzik employed.  From her native Poland, Guzik found damaged tweed from a local textiles factory and end-of-roll polyester, that was reprinted with a distinctive graphic.  Tufted knitwear made out of unravelled yarns added another dimension to this texture-heavy collection.  It was perhaps the most visually well-rounded collection of all the finalists and didn’t take on any of the aesthetic aspects of what we have come to associate with upcycled or sustainable fashion.

From observing the finalists in the various workshops though, it’s clear that the taking part really did matter more than the competition itself.  It’s an opportunity for like-minded young designers to come together, exchange thoughts and trade experiences, given that the finalists have come from all over Europe and Asia.  Some have still got BA’s to complete or MA’s to embark on.  Some are already working designers or in the process of setting up their own labels.  They will all be going forth into the industry with the belief they can propel change.  Only now, with our collective changing attitude towards sustainability in fashion, it’s not a distant hope, but a distinct reality.

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I’ve just come back from a mammoth trip in Asia where I’ve had the time to really think about this idea of a quickening speed, that has taken over fashion’s consciousness (and perhaps its conscience, if it indeed has one…).  In Seoul, the pace was fast with its frenetic frenzy of K-pop stars and buzzy street style scene almost overshadowing what you saw on the catwalk.  In Japan, it slowed right down into a zen zone of wabi-sabi greens in Hakone and tradition-seeped reds in Kyoto and quickened back up in Tokyo, when Halloween.  And then for my final jaunt in Asia, I was flung into the heart of Hong Kong, where I didn’t even have time to take in the waves of nostalgia hitting me because it was so vibrant with cries in Cantonese, cranes shifting and the sheer amount of people crammed into the narrow streets of Soho/Central.  I was there to attend the finals of the Y.E.S. (Yoox.com & Esthetica Sustainability) Awards, which I was part of the jury for and also modelled for the website.  Inside PMQ where six designers from Asia presented very different approaches to fashion, I got thinking about an alternative and ultimately slower pace that the industry could benefit from.  One where designers can create with time to make innovative research into materials and production practises and actually make them a working reality.

This brings me back to my trip to India in February.  I’ve still not yet been to see the much-talked about The Fabric of India exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  That will hopefully complete the cycle of the trip, but I’ve still got a wealth of experiences to share, which I didn’t want to be lost in the sea of fashion week madness.  In lieu of the varying speeds of Asia from my trip and where fashion seems to be going right now, it feels appropriate to look at hands working away at cloth and making that connection between craft and consumer even more pertinent.  I know I bang on about it to the point where it will bore some of you, but as fashion’s pace becomes ever more voracious, it’s worth reminding myself of the things that really get me excited in the creation of clothes.  And that happens to be craft, skill and making.  If that isn’t “fashion” for some people, then so be it.  Maybe there will come a point where I won’t want to be part of a fashion landscape where the hands that went into a garment aren’t valued.

I have to therefore thank the V&A for giving me the opportunity to see an India that goes beyond the tourist flurry of colours and patterns and for showing me processes that would have otherwise been closed off to me.  I’m separating out the posts by craft, beginning with tie dyeing.  There would have been no way I would have found this tie dyer Haji Ahmed Badshah Miyan in a particularly run-down part of Rajasthan.  Here, Badshah Miyan, who has been recognised for his skills as a master craftsman, showed us the myriad of examples of Indian tie dyeing.  Like shibori in Japan, the indigo dyeing of Hausa in West Africa or pelangi and tritik in Indonesia, India – and in particular Rajasthan – has its own disinctive dyeing techniques.  Bandhini is the name given to fabric dyed with tied up small dots and leheriya is a traditional style of tie dye where a wave like pattern is achieved with a tie-resist method and is meant to visually represent the flow of water.  Older examples of India’s affinity with deep vermillion and indigo dyeing techniques can be seen in The Fabric of India exhibition but in Badshah Miyan’s workshop, we saw brightly coloured examples that you might see hanging up on laundry racks all over Jaipur, as dyeing fabrics is a regular commission that gives women a certain ownership over the customisation of their attire. 

Badshah Miyan took us through the basics of tie dying, first prepping the dyes (mostly natural and azo-free) and then skilfully knotting the cotton with thread and a fine metal finger nail attachment.  Building up the waves and lines of colour is a multi stage process and even though we were shown a very simple pattern in green and yellow, you could see how more complex designs could emerge from the process.  Especially when you saw all the examples of fabric that had been knotted up and tied up in concertina folds, ready to unleash various patterns.

Throughout the trip, questions about how craft can be exported outside of India, or how it can be situated within a contemporary fashion environment were constantly asked.  I found it interesting that in contrast to Japanese shibori or Indonesian batik, which has filtered into high fashion collections, Indian bandhini and leheriya hasn’t necessarily had that same West-wards cultural flow of direction.  That’s also in comparison with India’s embroidery and block printing, which has had more of a design imprint.  The setup of Badshah Miyan’s workshop felt like a craft showcase but the resulting textiles felt relevant and vibrant.  Perhaps it’s the hand-led intricacy that makes this sort of tie dyeing confined to small tubs sloshing dye.  And perhaps that in itself is a positive thing.

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The Fabric of India, supported by Good Earth India, with thanks to Experion and Nirav Modi, is at the V&A until the 10th January 2016

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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.

>> When I was tasked to customise the new Coach Swagger bag as part of their #WhatsYourSwagger campaign, I did have to think long and hard.  I’m sadly not a person who is naturally imbued with “swagger”.  In fact, I had to Urban Dictionary search the word just to clarify its meaning.  Thankfully the bag’s history was a guideline in itself, as it’s rooted in an original 1967 design by Coach’s first creative director Bonnie Cashin.  Ideas of the old and new, and the past and present started to whir around as well as being faced with the perfect shade of periwinkle blue as a foundation.

Then I happed upon stashes of vintage indigo fabric swatches at the Dyeworks stall at the Selvedge fair in Bath last weekend.  Polly Lyster has been indigo dyeing antique fabrics for the last twenty years in the Cotswold and she’s also an avid collector of Indian silks and hemp and linens from France.  The bundled up fabric scraps are a mix of her own dyed cloth as well as antique samples with one particular quilted indigo cotton dating back to the early 19th century.

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Inspired by the patchworked aesthetic of Pero in IndiaBlackmeans in Japan as well as the obvious originating source of Japanese patched and mended boro textiles, I set about cutting up the swatches into squares and rectangles and getting patchwork happy on the main body of the bag.  If I could stitch through such thick leather, I would have done but I took the somewhat easy but efficient way out and used leather-appropriate and fabric glue.  A Sharpie paint marker was used to add some deliberately fake stitches.

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The result?  Something old, something new, something borrowed and something that’s most certainly very blue that is surprisingly easy to achieve if you have the right fabric foundations.  That’s my very un-swagger-like swagger.

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0E5A9591Customised Coach Swagger photographed with Master & Dynamic x Proenza Schouler headphones, Riposte magazine, ‘The Smell of Us’ by Larry Clarke x J.W. Anderson, ‘In Memory of Things to Come’ Kim Hye Mee lookbook, ‘Subtly Worded & Other Stories’ by Teffi (Pushkin Press), Japanese indigo dyed scarf, Studio Arhoj ‘Ghosts’