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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First day of Paris Fashion Week down and it can no longer be called the “sleepy” day.  Jacquemus’ shiny happy people on the beach antics, Anthony Vaccarello saying “Hey it’s A to the V” with to-the-point typographic dresses and a view of fetishised women straddling spinning office chairs up on Tour Montparnasse for Hood by Air’s part deux show.  And that’s just day one.  Making a Parisian debut though was Japanese label Anrealage designed by Kunihiko Morinaga.  Anrealage is no newbie in Japan and having seen three of his brilliant shows in Tokyo, each dealing with different propositions of aesthetic-based tech – be it UV glow in the dark materials, injection moulded plastics to form silhouettes or mechanical hem lines – it was difficult to know what to expect for his first show in Paris.

Entitled ‘Shadow”, the press notes were unsurprisingly cryptic.  “Where there is the light, the shadow appears, where there is the shadow, the light exists.  It lights the clothes white.  It shadows the clothes black.  Shadow the light.  Light the shadow.  Even if the light disappears, let the shadow remain.  Even if the shadow disappears, let the light remain.”  Not to generalise or anything but you’d be hard pressed to find a more typically Japanese set of press notes.

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This shadow/light poem though did explain the first half of the show well enough.  Garments from the side view and from most angles were cast in harsh chiaroscuro light – a midday shadow contrast between black and white rendered in different fabrics and silhouettes.  A lace trench coat, a crochet dress, a cotton biker jacket, a studded coat and laser-cut ensemble all had light and shadow spelt out in literal black and white fashion and accessorised with the amazing sculpted and corseted headpieces by Katsuya Kamo (a long time collaborator of Anrealage).   This part was to be the commercially minded but no less interesting entree to the main plat.

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Two models emerged in a plain white dress and a trench coat.  They stood in the centre of the catwalk surrounded by light lamps.  They had placed their arms over the dress and the coat, in a reverse fashion to how you’d stand when you get scanned by security in an airport.  The light started to beam strong.  For a few moments you were wondering what was happening to these white garments.  Was there going to be some sort of projection or light show on the dress?  No that’s just silly theatrics that is used purely for showing off (*ahem* Phillip Plein…).  Morinaga is going for something far more radical and permanent.  When the lights dimmed, the models emerged and where their hands had been, you could see a shadowy outline around it.  The light had basically turned whatever area of the dress that wasn’t covered by their hands and limbs into a hazy grey area.  The science?  Well, I’m not sure if I’m saying it all right as there was no detailed explanation in the press notes (guess Morinaga is keeping the secret locked away…) but it’s basically light sensitive ink that had been applied on to the dress strategically and as soon as it comes into contact with light (and possibly heat too), the fabric’s colour state changes.

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And so and so forth the show went.  Models then came out with black cut-out pieces to illustrate how a stencil can be used to create the light-derived colour change.  It was a demonstration of “Here’s one I made earlier” as I suspect you have to actually stand in the light for a long period of time to get a very intense dark colour.   In the catwalk setting, sometimes it was hard to discern what had actually happened because the colours were so faint, especially with the dresses at the end where beams of laser traversed up and down the body drawing out what looked like a dot matrix pattern in blue on a white dress.

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Still we applauded because the process was so fascinating to see and because of the effort that the Anrealage team had put in to make their mark in Paris.  We were seeing not a theatrical stunt but an experiement straight from Anrealage’s investigative laboratory where Morinaga is striving hard to push things foward.  You could make comparisons to Alexander McQueen’s S/S 99 collection where Shalom Harlow was sprayed with paint by two robotic arms, which in turn was inspired by a performance piece by the artist Rebecca Horn.  In that instance though, the transformation process was savage and intended to shock.  Here, Anrealage was quietly demonstrating a technique that whilst not new in a scientific sense, nonetheless opened our eyes to possibilities in clothing that changes its state as it reacts to the environment. It’s a mighty great leap from Global Hypercolour, that’s for sure.

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092314-FWN-ANR1-superJumboImages from Firstview via New York Times

>> I’m not one for cheer leading digital hoo-ha that has been created purely for the sake of saying “Oh look, we so modern!  We are DIGITAL” (whatever being “digital” means…).  So present me with a the concept of a digital magazine cover and there might be some eye-rolling.  But as it turns out, AnOther’s “digital cover” is the one that is the most arresting out of the lot.  For their A/W 14 issue, they can’t get enough of Kate Moss and to celebrate her return to the cover of AnOther after ten years, they’ve created four very different print covers and one, what I think is a pretty ace digital cover.  On print, Moss’ iconoclastic persona is interpreted as a Warholian muse by Willy Vanderperre, as a film star by Collier Schorr, a sensual girl lolling about the countryside by Alasdair McLellan and as a provocateur by Craig McDean.

For AnOther’s digital cover, in collaboration with Burberry, Moss is rendered in grainy black and white and moves like “liquid lightening” as described by Jefferson Hack.  Renowned fashion film maker Ruth Hogben captures Moss beautifully, wearing a Burberry black patent trench coat, with dappled light and rain adding unexpected texture to these moving GIFs.  “Kate has such a brilliant, uplifting energy and her movements in the various shiny silhouettes dance across the screen to hypnotic effect,” explains Katie Shillingford, AnOther’s fashion director who styled the cover.  “You see something that is very real but at the same time you’re transported to a magical world… and that’s what fashion is about, isn’t it!”   Both Hogben and Shillingford intuitively know how to ensure that film is completely distinct from still photography, as opposed to eking one out of the other.  Sure, the cover lives in a digital sphere but it brings Moss alive with mesmerising effect and more impressively, showcases a different facet about present day Moss outside of her current portfolio of campaigns and editorials.

On a less ethereal note, the cover is of course another publishing milestone for Hack and Dazed Group in general.  “We are digital first publishers… our audience love print and collecting the physical editions of the magazines but they voraciously consume culture through digital media,” says Hack.  “We are fulfilling the demand for premium storytelling online and it’s working very well.”

The proof is in the pudding.  Or in this case, the resulting imagery.  You might not be able to physically hold the cover in your hand.  But the image stays with you inside your head.  And that’s what counts.

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