Before I had scouted out the pastel My Little Pony-tinged furisode kimono in Kyoto for my Halloween outfit last year, my original idea was to go down a sort of cyber geisha route, reason being that I had typed it a few months earlier when I wrote about the Maison Margiela S/S 16 show.  It was in reference to my favourite, and the dominant part of John Galliano’s second ready-to-wear collection for the house.

Sure, the cyber geishas were preceded by sci-fi Stepford Wives and cyborgettes who lunch, clutching their coats together and hanging their handbags on the crook of their arms.  But for me, the collection’s appeal kicked in, when those abstracted obis, worn high up below the bust added yet another notch in Galliano’s finely fleshed out repertoire of Chinoiserie and Japanaiserie-entrenched clothes.  He is of course adept at the language of obis, kimono wraps and cherry blossom and koi carp motifs but the question was how would Galliano, Margiela-fy that language though.  In one of the most famous trademarks of the house – the tabi boots – Margiela already has an instantly recognisable twist on Japanese traditional dress.

Galliano’s application of bulked out bonded volumes, sheeny paint-streaked fabrics and safety pin and button embroidery is almost the opposite of his previous sartorial trips to Japan.  Here, the point wasn’t perfection, cultural accuracy or seamless lines (in that a kimono has to be worn without any lumps or bumps).  And that approach mirrors the unexpected union between tabi sock and shoe.  There was a spirit in this collection, that reminded me of the way Kansai Yamamoto or cult label Angel Takyua designed by Takuya Sawada disrupted Japanese motifs and then subsequently the way teenage mavens would segue cyber/neo/techno/raver with traditional dress.  The unusual colour combinations seem to have stemmed from the fantasy palettes of anime characters and manga fan art.  You can’t really use the ubiquitous (and often misused) k word (that would be kimono) when talking about the technicality of these clothes.  It’s about overt suggestions rather than obvious iterations, hence why a fairweather Japanophile like myself is raving about it.  It’s all in the neo.

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Jotaro-Saito-AW-2012-13-FuturismJotaro Saito A/W 12-3 from Tokyo Telephone

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marie helvin wearing kansai yamamotoMarie Helvin in Kansai Yamamoto in 1971

2667212Fashion model Lorraine Naylor wearing gold and red brocade in London, to introduce Japanese dress material to British manufacturers in 1969

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serge-mouangue2Hybrid kimonos by designer Serge Mouangue from 2008

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2046Stills from Wong Kar Wai’s 2046

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fan art 3

fanart2Various anime fanart

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mcqueen-devon-55083f487136dPhotograph by Nick Knight of Devon Aoki in Alexander McQueen for Visionaire, 1997

bjork-1997-nick-knight-homogenic-01Photograph by Nick Knight of Bjork in Alexander McQueen for the cover of Homogenic

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nausicaaNausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

neongenesisevangelionRei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Takuya-Angel-2Streetstyle images of cult label Angel Takuya

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cybergeisha2From #FuturisticMode

cybergeisha1Streetstyle images from TokyoFashion.com

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Photographed by Ishi for Vogue Netherlands March 2013

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Citizens of Rome must be slightly amused by the fashion cavalry that has passed through its marble monuments, ancient ruins and golden excess, not once but twice this year.  In the summer, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccoli of Valentino presented us with their ode to Rome – an outpouring of heartfelt love for their hometown.  The Frenchiest of French houses, Chanel taking their Métiers D’Art show to Rome was of course going to be an entirely different affair.  The hashtag would clue you in.  #ParisInRome.  Sure, before the show, journalists and editors had scoffed lashings of pasta, marvelled at the Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning when it was practically empty and gorged ourselves on Caravaggio’s, Bernini’s and enough varieties of marble and gilt that made your mind and gut full of pleasure.  So far, so very Roman. 

Then things took a very different turn when we arrived at the legendary Cinecittà film studios.  Behind the facade of a plywood Rome film set (incidentally this was where the BBC series Rome was filmed) and the polystyrene statues and inside Teatro No. 5, the movie stage favoured by Federico Fellini, it’s Paris that took centre stage.  But wait, it was a Paris that exists only in the minds of Japanese tourists before they suffer a severe bout of Paris Syndrome.  All quaint cobbled streets, charming cafes, boulangeries and boucheries, adorned with a classic Metro stop and Eiffel Tower twinkling in the painted backdrop.  It was a Paris that feels like it’s fast disappearing, given what has happened this year and so for some, this black and white set might have felt like a mythical wonderland. 

The fantasy was pronounced though.  We could see the film set lights.  We could see the exposed backdrops.  We could see the make-believe.  Lagerfeld was perhaps in a bit of a meta mood as his latest (and longest) directed film Once and Forever, sees Kristen Stewart tackling the role of a young Coco Chanel.  It’s meant to be a behind the scenes peek at the making of a brand film as you see Stewart throwing tantrums with the fictional director, doing rehearsal second takes as well as some very awkward French singing.  The world can’t all be about surface, gloss and perfection.  We know that.  Lagerfeld knows that. 

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And thus the scene was set for a show that affirmed a vague connection between Coco Chanel and Rome’s cinematic heyday (she dressed French ingenues like Romy Schneider and Jeanne Moreau when they starred in Visconti and Pasolini films) but ultimately gave Lagerfeld license to express Chanel at its haughtiest and Parisian best.  It was hard not to think about all those countless Paris-girls-dress-better-than-everyone-else books and articles that have been lobbed our way over the years.  It’s a tired trope that I’m not personally a fan of but it was hard not to be seduced by these beehived, smoky eyed Left Bank Beat-era femmes.  They wore sleaze-hinting patent, racy lacy tights and stuck to black and white for the most part, adhering to Coco Chanel’s favoured colour scheme: “I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

Metal hardware like giant hooped earrings and ring zipper pulls made you think of sixties space age detailing.  And yet, as much as the retro-isms ran amok, the result was in fact a playful and deftly handled take on our collective imagining of French ingenue chic.  And begrudgingly I have to admit, as much as I hate oft-repeated mantras about timeless style, what Lagerfeld resurrected from black and white French new wave cinema, does in fact remain relevant today.  I’m just going to be crass and say it: these girls emerging from the Metro station steps looked cool.  It’s a silly word to use most of the time but in this instance, it’s difficult to refute.  

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It wasn’t all black and white though.  Just like that famous scene in Wizard of Oz or a more relevant reference for me, that charming 1998 film Pleasantville – colour did seep into this monochrome Paris.  So did some hint of Italiano.  Like an empire line floor length gown decorated with leather farfalle pasta and a pretty pink bow.  Or a delicate ovoid feather cape dyed with pink streaks to look like travertine marble.  Appliquéd autumnal leaves and rainbow dip dyed lace brought Métiers D’Art’s purpose to the forefront and that is of course showing off the wonderful and magical skills of the specific craft houses that are owned under Chanel’s Paraffection umbrella – namely Lesage and Lemarié.  That’s the next chapter of my Metiers D’Art journey, as I was lucky enough to go visit these ateliers in Pantin, Paris a week before the show.  Rome might have been the temporary backdrop but all roads in fact, lead back to Paris.

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>> Way back when I would have the time to kill a whole day watching obscure screenings and popping into galleries not for ‘content’ but for the eyes, I happed across the work of artist, animator and all around creative polymath Suzan Pitt – namely her most famous work, ‘Asparagus’, which was made in 1979.  It’s twenty minutes of brilliantly vivid stream of conscious, inspired by Carl Jung’s idea of images being pregnant – so that one beautifully painted cel scene segues into another seamlessly without any straight cuts.  The result is a languidly surreal vision that leaves you aroused and confused in the most positive way possible.  No wonder then that it became a seminal work of animation and propelled Pitt’s name into the limelight. This documentary Persistence of Vision is a succinct and fascinating exploration of Pitt’s work.

Rather than being prolific, Pitt has decided to give ample time to each film project, creating Joy Street in 1995, El Doctor in 2006, Visitation in 2011 and Pinball in 2013.  And all the while, Pitt – now based between Los Angeles and Mexico – teaches, travels and paints.  Out of the blue Pitt’s work came flooding back to me as she emailed me last week,  about her latest project of hand painted coats and trenches, which she used to do in the 1980s to much success.  Patricia Field Online recently commissioned them again and four out of the six styles have now since been sold.  That’s the persuasive power of Pitt’s saturated paintings.   Lichtenstein-esque characters, alien creatures and abstracted visions come flying at you in vivid acrylic colour blocks.  One jacket’s design is derived from Pitt’s latest animation ‘Pinball’, which is an almost dystopian depiction of a being panic-stricken, where pinballs and splatters ping about.

I love the exuberance and humorous generosity of Pitt’s work where it doesn’t matter whether it’s celluloid, canvas or an old London Fog trench coat, her sense of self and idiosyncrasy are communicated loud and clear. The questioning of whether it’s art or fashion seems pointless. A unique point of view doesn’t require finite definition.

More one-off painted coats by Pitt will be available at Dover Street Market New York from December 3rd onwards.  Trust DSM to celebrate the cult creatives of our time.  Pitt’s work leads a different life when painted onto vintage outerwear.  You’d surely get a lot of joy out of wearing one, hence why I’m pondering the Big Flower coat that will probably be snapped up imminently.

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NancyNancy jacket

painter front

painter backPainter coat

sailor1Sailor coat

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SP_painted_white_coat-3_1024x1024Crum coat

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SP_painted_beige_coat_ver2-3_1024x1024Pinball Coat

SP_ww_painted_coat_1024x1024_d6368ff7-4653-4544-a698-1445ee96f01b_1024x1024Women Comic Coat

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SP_painted_beige_coat3_1024x1024Big Flower Coat

And just in case you’ve not seen Asparagus… take a trip why dontcha…

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How does a film title become an adjective?  As in, “Oh, that’s very Marie Antoinette.’ in reference not to the historical figure but Sofia Coppola’s film, to denote anything pastel, frilly and vaguely 18th century rococo in feel.  Or “That jacket is so Blade Runner!” meaning it has 1940s shoulder pads that segue into the 80s.  Certain films and their associated aesthetics, have become part of our mainstream descriptive lexicon and it’s why even without reading the not-so-subtle title of this post, it’s not difficult to see from the line-up of models above, that the theme is… *Lucasfilm intro*… Star Wars!  

Despite the array of British designers that were invited to take part in Selfridges’ Star Wars extravaganza last night, somehow it created a collective tableaux that couldn’t have been inspired by anything but the most anticipated film happening of the year.  J.W. Anderson, Peter Pilotto, Thomas Tait, Agi & Sam, Bobby Abley, Claire Barrow, Christopher Raeburn, Phoebe English and Preen by Thornton Bregazzi were all in this stellar line-up and the results were impressive.  Especially when preceded in a show that had R2-D2 and C-3PO come out for a brief cameo as well as a marching mass of Stormtroopers, accompanied by the famously rousing soundtrack.  Unlike the scores of brand tie-ups and sponsorship deals that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has incurred, the pieces that the designers have created have creative merit to them, precisely because the theme is genuinely potent for the designers.

I love that the world of Star Wars always manages to encapsulate an environment with an aesthetic that balances between the future and the past,” explained Thomas Tait as to the appeal of Star Wars.  His black cut-out floor length cape and space age dress with patent boots had a hint of retrosuperture that is evident in the original Star Wars films.  Other designers also went down an abstracted route to create their outfits.  For Agi & Sam, the intensity flash of colours of battling light sabers translated into layered plastics in various hues seen in the refraction of light.    For Phoebe English, it was the strength of the Stormtroopers and the movement of space travel that inspired her textural black and white looks with a controlled fringe detailing.  Moments like the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive powering it into light speed gave Peter Pilot the linear motif on their dress.

Many of the designers looked directly at the attire of characters like Rey from the forthcoming film, who inspired Nasir Mazhar’s womenswear look.  Or the kimono silhouette of a Jedi knight influencing Preen’s black and red graphic dresses.  When we think of Star Wars it’s always the light and the dark,” explained Justin Thorton and Thea Bregazzi.  Christopher Raeburn too also played with the film’s central theme by using light reflective panels in his Jedi-esque outfits. 

Bobby Abley’s childhood memories of Star Wars led to his graphic-heavy sportswear looks featuring the classic Stars Wars logo as well as an ode to Captain Phasma from The Force Awakens.  Rather than going for direct representation of the film’s characters or themes, J.W. Anderson pays homage to the obsessive cult-like adulation of the film, using transfer stickers, cotton patches and Star Wars-esque illustrated imagery to adorn quilted crop tops with padded tops.  It’s the spirit of intense fandom, which fascinated Anderson and the result is a pseudo sci-fi aesthetic that hints at Star Wars rather than referencing it literally.

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Peter Pilotto:
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J.W. Anderson:
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Preen:
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Phoebe English:
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Thomas Tait:
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Christopher Raeburn:
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Nasir Mazhar:
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Claire Barrow:
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Perhaps one of the most meaningful pieces belonged to Claire Barrow.  Her signature paintings depict beings listening to Captain Phasma on a sleek silver satin dress.  To go with Barrow’s black body suit covered with Swarovski® crystals is a bionic arm created by progressive prosthetics company Open Bionics, modelled by amputee model and vlogger Grace Mandeville.  They’re paving the way in affordable bionic hands that are 3D printed to reduce the costs.  Their black lit-up design created for this Star Wars show, blended seamlessly with the catsuit and more importantly, is more than functional for Mandeville (who doesn’t wear a prosthetic in her day to day life).  Star Wars might deal with sci-fi fiction but companies like Open Bionics are bringing us closer to bionic reality, which made this particular ensemble memorable in more ways than one.

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All the outfits featured in the show are currently being auctioned online with proceeds going to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.