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>> My first port of call when it comes to Graduate Fashion Week isn’t necessarily the fashion design students.  It’s the University of Salford course of image making and styling headed up by Christine Ratcliffe.  The photography that emerges from this progressive course can hold its own up there with images in style titles and mainstream publications, so much so that for the past two years, they’ve branched out from their stand at Graduate Fashion Week to exhibit in the nearby Herrick Gallery.  If you had wandered in on the night, you would not have thought these images came from barely graduated 21 year old BA students.  Then again, it’s their youth and energy that contributes to these images that express the things that somehow affect you deeper at that age – isolation, not fitting in, confronting sexuality, feeling both wanted and unwanted.  All of those elements bristle in bedrooms and bucolic landscapes and are captured with a grounded sense of reality.

A quick glance through the Tumblrs and the collective course blog Uossaim and you might be thinking that you have seen this all before and that the root of all that film-derived grain and lo-fi styling of course leads back to Corinne Day or Nan Goldin.  But truth isn’t a trend.  It resonates no matter what generation of photography, and matters whether it’s a picture of a boy in a Man United shirt or a girl sitting on a hay bale obscured by her hair.  Ratcliffe seems to have a knack of coaxing layers and nuance out of her students and the result is a group of young photographers and stylists, who go beyond fashion’s framework.  It’s how a fashion image can go deep without losing out on aesthetics.  Long live Uossaim!

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”  Susan Sontag, On Photography          

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jodiecox2Jodie Cox


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AbbeyJB_2Abbey-Jade Birden


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emilyburkitt2Emily Burkitt


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jessicagwyneth3Jessica Gwyneth


Ashleigh_Cunningham_copyAshleigh Cunningham


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kristinalaisney1Kristina Laisney


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laurenjadekelly3Lauren Jade Kelly


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sharenat3Shahrenaz Tavakolynik


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stephwoods2Steph Woods


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zigourniej2Zigournie Jarrett


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vickychambers1Vicky Chambers

>> For my birthday on Saturday… I saw some exhibitions and had a lovely nice dinner and was back by 10pm with a cup of tea in my hand. Welcome to my thirties. Ok, I omitted the fact that I did go out on an all-night rager in Tokyo the night before and was still recuperating from jet lag. Still, the quiet birthday did give me a chance to attempt to chug through the clog of style and fashion related exhibitions that London is enjoying at the moment. It’s not drudgery when everything is worth the trek and the crowds. I’ve still yet to see the excellent Women, Fashion Power at the Design Museum, Knitwear from Chanel to Westwood at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Horst at the V&A and Allen Jones at the Royal Academy of Arts.

I attempted two in a day to compare two very different photographers of different eras, who both have distanced relationships with the products they are photographing. First was Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House and the second was Viviane Sassen’s Analemma: Fashion Photography from 1992 to 2012 at the Photographer’s Gallery. There’s no superlatives that hasn’t been said before about Bourdin’s work and specifically this exhibition. It is the biggest exhibition of his work with plenty of unseen images, films and other visual material that reveal sides to Bourdin that the fairweather photography or fashion fan may not know. A series of photographs taken around Britain for the shoe brand Charles Jourdan (for whom Bourdin shot many advertising campaigns) in 1979, for instance opens the exhibition as we discover a humourous and detached oddness – a world away from the glossy-lipped hyper sexy femmes of his editorial work.

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On display are plenty of those famously surreal images as well where sense of proportion is distorted as well as many where the female subject is obscured and shrouded in sex-tinged mystery, namely shot for Paris Vogue, with whom Bourdin collaborated with extensively in the sixties and seventies.

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More revealing were the sketches on display that mocked up the shot that Bourdin wanted to create as well as magazine layouts with meticulous notations about dimensions. These were examples of Bourdin’s exacting approach towards his photographs. Nothing was spontaneous or haphazard. This evidence of planning and eye for detail only adds potency to the final image.

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I especially enjoyed the showreel of Super-8 films which Bourdin shot. These were less about precision and more about the energy on set that you can’t quite glean from the resulting photography.

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I also loved seeing Bourdin’s early paintings (they’re undated by probably date to the 1950s) and how they would directly correlate with his photographs.

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But of course the exhibition isn’t a complete tell-all. You still leave wondering what exactly is Bourdin’s relationship with the fashion and women he photographed so extensively. It’s not as simple as calling it out as “sexual objectification” because it feels so much more complex than that. The image leaves you hanging and that tension is difficult to explain in an exhibition. Perhaps that’s why he shunned books, exhibitions and even awards.

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Over at the Photographer’s Gallery, one of my favourite contemporary fashion photographers Viviane Sassen has taken over the top floor, not with static hung frames but with a moving “analemma” of 350 of her fashion photography looped into a video projection, moving across the walls and floors. You’ll see there’s a slight graininess to the images below. They don’t need to be crystal clear though to convey Sassen’s pre-occupation with disgured forms and using clothes and background to sculpt an image. The body is always manipulated somehow either with the clothes themselves or the angle which Sassen shoots from. Sassen has said herself that she has a love/hate relationship with fashion. That shows in her photography but you wind up being intrigued by the new form that she has created be it an inside out skirt pulled over the head or a shadowy figure striking an abstract pose.

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I was going to be longwinded about recapping my brief trip to Tokyo for Dior and do it all in one big hella long post.  Despite having only spent two days in the city, it warrants more.  We experienced Dior’s history and Japan’s tradition by day and then Raf Simons’s vision of the future for the house and a look at Tokyo’s in-flux present by night.  I therefore want to be extra careful to separate the “experience” from the “show.  The former ran the course of how these “far-flung” maison shows normally operate – the experience was about giving us a flavour of the locale we’re in – in other words, Japanese culture of our collective imagining.  The latter though ran far, far away from cultural cliche.  For the show, officially called “Esprit Dior Tokyo”, Raf Simons presented a collection filled with nuanced observations and layers (literal ones too) connected with his own personal experiences of Tokyo.

That had nothing to do with irresistible details like Dior grey taxi seat covers inside specially branded Japanese taxis or the beautifully decorated restaurant where we had a lengthy kaiseki lunch complete with New Look printed lanterns and origami table pieces.  The collection also throttled away from the gowns and occasion wear that made up the majority of the Esprit Dior Tokyo exhibition in Ginza that is open to the public (for free!) until 4th January.  It felt like a familiar book, immersing oneself into Dior’s history.  The facts and the images and many of the silhouettes felt textbook.

What was newly emphasised in this particular exhibition was Monsieur Dior and the house’s specific connection with Japan.  He was enamoured with Japanese culture and art, and once likened Japonaiserie heroes Hokusai and Utamaru to his Sistine Chapel, hence why he’d give dresses name like “Jardin Japonais” and feature cherry tree motifs.  The Dior-Japan connotations don’t stop there as we’re treated to photos of Margot Fonteyn in a Dior costume for Madame Butterfly and Princess Michiko wearing Dior for her wedding in 1959.  In Dior’s successors of course Japan came alive most notably in John Galliano’s stupendously lavish spring summer 2007 haute couture collection as well as in Raf Simons’ autumn winter 2013 haute couture collection.  The contrast couldn’t be more stark when you see the silhouettes in situ as Hokusai waves flourish over voluminous opera coat with pleated bodice and collar by Galliano next to Simons’ pared back interpretation of kimono and obi folds and shibori techniques.

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The rest of the exhibition ran the gamut of Dior 101.  The bar jacket and its architecture was exposed with digital skeletal analysis.  A showcase of the petites mains that work behind the scenes in Dior’s atelier demonstrating pattern cutting.  From a commercial perspective of course, Miss Dior and J’Adore Dior took centre stage too to add a more tangible aspect to the exhibition.  Cue Dior workers busy tying up ribbons and gold thread around perfume bottles.

Running throughout the entire exhibition were new and unseen photographs by Patrick Demarchelier, who has created a second volume of portraits of iconic Dior haute couture looks from Christian Dior to Raf Simons, out now on Rizzoli.  They breathed life into the space when used as the backdrops to mannequins and display cases but also much credence to Raf Simons’ tenure at Dior.  His work for the house isn’t so much a straightforward continuation on from his predecessors but a fresh chapter that returns to the qualities, which underlined Dior right from the start – the new and the modern. That’s what I’ll be talking about when I get on to part two of this Tokyo sojourn.

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>> In London there hasn’t been enough of those days when the sun is really bright but the air is bitterly cold and every surface you touch to the ground that you walk on feel “crispy”.  My favourite kind of days.  This seasonal rarity somehow coincided with my going to Hampstead Heath to play around with Simone Rocha’s stupendously good collaboration with J Brand, photographed by the talented young photographer Natasha Mann.  Bear with me if I’m repeating myself but because of its proximity to my school, Hampstead Heath was my go to teen spot for pensive thinking.  It’s where every “Woe is me!” thought was exaggerated and where every book (from Bronte to Mills & Boons borrowed from the library) came to life, because I was somewhere “wild” and “rural”.  It seemed like the perfect setting to take Simone Rocha’s ruffled denim pieces that collectively mark another collaborative hit for J Brand.

It was all too easy to pair the familiar wildness of the Heath with the collection and Mann’s photographic eye that shoots with youthful longing in mind.  Teenage rebellion and ruminative thoughts have underpinned so much about what Rocha’s work is about.  It’s why her collections convey so much more depth than just the pretty fabrication that you see.  Approaching the collaboration as someone who isn’t a “denim” person is precisely why Rocha’s signature palette black/red/sherbet treatment of J Brand staples is so evocative.  The ruffles transferred from her mainline to denim creates a continuity that works.  It means they’re pieces that are for non-denim people too.  No wonder that on the day of launch of the collection, back in November at Dover Street Market, pieces were literally flying off the rails (for real – I’ve never seen anything approximating chaos inside the zen of DSM).  The pieces are now available in-store at Selfridges and on J Brand’s webstore to fulfil the ruffled demand that Rocha has undoubtedly unleashed.

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