I challenge you to find someone who is more enthusiastic about tufts wool “tops” (the stuff that a sheep’s fleece is processed into before it gets spun into yarn) than Laura Lusuardi, the longtime global fashion director of Max Mara.  At the launch of Max Mara’s Woolmark collection at their Old Bond Street store a fortnight ago, Lusuardi thrusted a wad of super soft tops in my hands, urging me to feel it.  “There are 71 million sheep versus 21 million people!” she exclaimed.  “The ingredients of the wool is the lovely grass and the Australian sun – the sheep run free and it makes the wool super soft.”  Lusuardi of course knows a thing or two about a flock of sheep.  Max Mara is of course famed for their iconic camel coat but whether it’s camel, cashmere or Merino wool, Lusuardi’s wealth of knowledge of the various fibres, yarn weights and fabrication possibilities is vast.  And with that expertise, Max Mara have come up with a way of replicating the look of denim with its traditional 3/1 weave, but instead of cotton, they have used 100% Merino wool to showcase the lighter side to this natural fibre.

“Wool is a fibre that is most versatile,” said Lusuardi.  “You can have it light, medium and very heavy.  Wool is very easy to shape.  This wool-denim is new because it’s so fluid.”  Indeed, scrunch the fabric in your hands and it is far more malleable than traditional cotton denim and once released, it instantly returns to an unwrinkled state.  Lusuardi also pointed out the various examples of Max Mara that utilise wool – mixed with lycra or silk for instance – to create fabrics that feel like anything but wool, and are also suitable for the summer season with its breathable qualities.

On one of the hottest day of the year in London, I donned the double breasted jacket and matching trousers from the wool denim collection, into town (on the tube) and emerged remarkably perspiration-free.  And comfort aside, this also happens to be the first trouser suit in my wardrobe (yes, I triple checked just to be sure).  Max Mara’s ability to master wardrobe cornerstones makes the ensemble an easy one to wear and to mix in with some of my more adventurous pieces.  Lusuardi often photographs women wearing Max Mara on the street with her phone.  How does she envisage this collection being worn?  “With personality!  It’s exactly what I believe in it.  You can customise it as you wish.  Max Mara clothes aren’t overpowering and so you can wear it as you want.”  Don’t mind if I do…

Max Mara double breasted wool-denim jacket and trousers worn with Marques Almeida corset, Uniqlo shirt and Malone Souliers sandals

Max Mara x Woolmark wool-denim dress worn with Marques Almeida jeans, Coach shoes and Delada shirt

This post is sponsored by Max Mara

>> It could be the fact that I’ve spent more time at home, camped out on the sofa with Nico permanently attached to my chest and a roster of distractions on Apple TV.  I’ve somehow found myself reliving the decade of the Space Race by rewatching Mad Men (I like to shuffle play the episodes in non chronological order just to prove to myself that the writing of that show reigns supreme), binging on the documentary series The Kennedy Files, along with its declarations of “We choose to go to the Moon” and also catching the brilliant film Hidden Figures, about the role of African-American mathematicians at NASA, when I was flying to Los Angeles.  It’s not so much the intricate science of space but more the idea of getting there and unravelling the mystery of the skies beyond that makes that 1960s journey of reaching this new frontier so compelling.     Type “space collage” into Google Image and you’ll find a whole raft of Photoshopped imaginations of space that are also tinged with the era Kennedy vs. Khrushchev with a litany of dreamscapes, depicting galaxies colliding with retro pool scenes and cadillacs.  Irish artist Steven Quinn is a primary instigator of these weird but wonderful images that draw your eye into a world where outer space feels that bit more tangible.

It’s no wonder then that Americana dreamer Stuart Vevers chose to blast off into space for Coach, with a comprehensive collection of jackets, sweatshirts, tees, bags and trinkets that have been embellished with space age nostalgia.  Coach’s stable of shearling, varsity and leather jackets and Dinky and Saddle bags have been patched up with space motifs that might have lured the wide-eyed wannabe astronauts, watching the Moon landing in 1969.  “There’s something about the time of the Space Program that just gives this feeling of possibility,” says Vevers about the collection.  “The space references, rockets and planets are symbolic of a moment of ultimate American optimism and togetherness.”  Two things that seem woefully lacking right now, which is probably why the gung-ho patriotism and enthusiasm of those space missions feel somewhat comforting to watch.  And even more of a trip to wear.

 Coach Space sweatshirt and Gotham Tote worn with ShuShu Tong poloneck and Serena Bute tracksuit bottoms 

Coach Space varsity jacket and bad worn with Miu Miu skirt

Coach Space trucker jacket worn with ASOS shirt, SomewherexNowhere dress and Christopher Kane sunglasses

Coach Space sweatshirt and purse worn with Blue Roses by Ed Meadham sleeves and Jonathan Saunders slip 

Coach Space shearling jacket and Dylan bag worn with Balenciaga vest and MYOB trousers

All collages by Steven Quinn

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

“I don’t like the word cruise,” declared Miuccia Prada after well, what was in fact, Prada’s first cruise show.  That sounds like a deliberately contrary thing to say when venturing into but I think what Miuccia really meant was that she these clothes that form a pre collection in between the two main ready to wear seasons aren’t just for the jet set cruising folk.  They’re clothes that spend the bulk of the year on a shop floor, hence why they’re given this mini schedule of experiential shows.

But even as Prada felt the commercial need to join the other biggie houses in showing their resort collection, they were never going to do so in a far-flung location.  Another reason why the word “cruise” feels inappropriate.  Instead we went to the historical heart of Prada.  Moments away from their 150+ year old historical store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is the Osservatorio, a new addition to the Fondazione Prada, which will play host to photography exhibitions.  You clamber up and industrial staircase and find yourself in what feels like a secret of a space, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the iron framed cupola of the Galleria.   For this particular showset, OMA/AMO deliberately designed a contrast between the grandiose curves of the central dome, conceived by Giuseppe Mengoni in the 19th century, with a surreal mirrored set and pink satin linear seating, flanked by photographic screens.  Miuccia was fixated on the transparency of this setting – the view of the cupola seen from the Osservatorio, the panes of glass that loom over the resplendent shopping arcade and the flood of light coming into the space itself.  It certainly felt wildly different to the Prada shows of norm, held in their headquarters in a windowless space.

The Osservatorio also happens to be a lot smaller than the normal Prada show space.  All the better to appreciate Prada’s first standalone resort outing.  The transparency in the venue prompted a delicate spread of Japanese organza-esque fabric worked into frothy lingerie layers, echoing the pastel hued cakes and confectionary of the Prada-owned iconic cafe Passticeria Marchesi 1824 downstairs, where we had lunch beforehand.  Those ultra feminine underpinnings were contrasted with puffed up sportswear, like an off-the-shoulder tracksuit jacket with billowing sleeves, worn with knee high striped socks and chunky trainers.  I love that there’s a hint of late Victoriana worked into the track tops.

“I wanted something contemporary – somehow sporty – and then for it to metamorphose into elegance and then vice versa,” said Miuccia.  “I really had in mind what this place means in history and the beauty and charm of that period.  There was a sensuality as well as an eccentricity.”  And so the girls with their single feather headbands, girlish plaits and layers that flickered from club sportif to Belle Epoque promenade walked to a similarly juxtaposed soundtrack, where Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube, sampled by Malcom McLaren on a mash-up house track on his album Waltz Darling.

There was also an unabashed transparency about the way some of Prada’s greatest hits were recycled and remixed.  Miuccia talked about her love of see-through fabrics in the 90s and add to that, you can tick off familiar Prada territory such as knee-high socks, techy nylons, diamanté and feather trims.  But the most notable Prada archive resurrection was a repeat collaboration with the artist James Jean, who was responsible for the fluid Art Nouveau-ish lines of fairies and blossoms in the S/S 2008 collection.  His signature florid lines this time featured illustrations of a reworking of the Prada logo and rampant pink bunnies.  This time round, Jean’s illustrations were sensual rather than whimsical.  There are many Prada collections that have been seared into my memory but that I particularly remember the frenzy of love for this one.  It’s been a whole decade since that S/S08 collection and thus there’s enough distance for Miuccia to dip into her archives, reviving an artistic collaboration for a new generation of customers.  No doubt, those illustrated bunny bags will fly.  For the Prada faithful such as myself, that of course wasn’t the only cause for celebration in this collection.  Much like the rows of mini fruit tarts and iced mini treats at Marchesi, you’re tempted to say, “One of everything, please!”

I’ve emerged from the newborn hell and fash-un is calling.  In between the thankfully reduced night feeds, I’ve been dreaming that I was having imaginary conversation about Edward Enninful’s new era at British Vogue or how insane/funny the queues are going to be for Supreme’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton.  Not a lie.  I did indeed wake up one morning thinking I had had a chummy frow-worthy chortle, and was then brought back down to earth by the rhythmic beat of Ewan the sheep and the milky scent of leaking boobs.

And so I’ve decided to throw myself into the deep end of the cruise show diving pool.  I’m doing all of ‘em.  As in all the biggie houses that take you around the world, serving up experiences as well as clothes so that whatever far flung location seeps into your brain.  The freezer is full of blocks of my boob juice.  The other half has been schooled on the art of Milton cold water sterilisation.  Timer alerts have been set for FaceTime sessions with Nico and five minute bouts of breast pumping.

To start the cruise journey off, there was an easy one-day jaunt to Paris on Wednesday for Chanel’s cruise 2018 show.  Chanel may have been one of the first houses to pioneer the extravagant travelling cruise show but such is their might, that the move to bring it all back to home turf in Paris, following their Metiers D’arts show at the Ritz, was a compelling  one.  Especially as we entered the Grand Palais under the angsty pre-election vibes of a drizzly Paris and found ourselves bathed in the warming hues of terracotta stuccoed walls and the ombre light of a sun setting over the Aegean.  The scent of real olive trees planted in amongst the meticulously crafted Doric column ruins was authentic enough, as was the wafts of burning charcoal roasting sticks of gyros at the after show cocktail (was I the only one who found it really great that we ate meat on a stick at a Chanel party?).  We didn’t physically go to Greece but in ambiance and mood it came to us.

And it doesn’t take a plane journey to make sense of the clothes in a collection Karl Lagerfeld called “The Antiquity of Modernity.”   This was perhaps one of Chanel’s most straightforward, easy-to-decipher collections of late.  You couldn’t possibly apply the phrase ‘It’s all Greek to me’ in this instance.  Because the collection was the opposite of unintelligible, which isn’t to say that the clothes are simple.  “Reality is of no interest to me. I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”  That was the bold assertion from Lagerfeld in the press notes and indeed it’s not quite the reality of the country today, marred by economic woes.  Instead, it’s the mythical Greece of not just Lagerfeld’s imagining but a collective one.  This Grecian jaunt ran the gamut from Madame Grés-esque pleated and draped gowns, to amped up Halston vibes in caped printed chiffon dresses and then to modern day chiton mini robes for those Insta-friendly holidays in Santorini and Mykonos.  Gabrielle Chanel provided the starting point with her costumes for Jean Cocteau’s 1922 staging of Antigone and her marble Venus statue that still sits in her Rue Cambon apartment.  From there, it was every tried-and-tested Grecian-inspired dress trope for Lagerfeld’s taking.  Chanel’s tweeds were roughed up and frayed for rugged coastal climates.  Knife-cut pleats were moulded into amphora-shaped dresses, tightened in with embellished corsets.  The King Midas touch of gold was scattered all over a recurring laurel leaf print motif, an owl of Athena on a double CC purse and the gentle jingle of hammered coin embroidery.  For the lover of a memorable kitsch Chanel shoe, gladiator sandals come with ionic column heels.

The familiarity of it all works in the context of a cruise collection.  Type in beachwear into MatchesFashion.com and ye shall find the holiday friendly fashion category, burgeoning and bursting as a sector in its own right.  The monied and jetsetting community of the world who can afford to look to Chanel for their poolside and yacht-sunning needs will find that these toga-lite silhouettes and sun-friendly shades of terracotta, midnight blue and white fit that functional bill.  And for something more fanciful that mirrored Michel Gaubert’s 21st century Greek soundtrack consisting of Aphrodite’s Child and Iannis Xenakis?  How about those black ankle Daria-esque boots with criss-cross straps?  Or a transparent swiss dot-decorated kimono in thin plastic.  Or a crackled marble waist cinching corset rendered in sequins.  In the end it was proof again that Kaiser Karl could apply just about place Chanel codes amidst any era, civilisation or universe.