Into Another Garden with Chanel

There’s talking about Chanel haute couture.   There’s seeing it from afar on Style.com (rest in peace…).  There’s going to the shows, and being swept away by the set, the music and the magic of it up close in the showroom.  Then there’s the ateliers, seeing the custom made forms of the couture clients and the work of the petite mains, who are not just mere hands at work but craftsmen and women characters alive and passionate about their task, be it in the workrooms of flou or tailleur.  Then there’s the on-the-brink of demise, but eventually rescued and revived métiers d’art ateliers where you really feast your eyes at the surfaces of haute couture – the stuff that is bursting with statistics.  The hours a piece of embroidery.  The numbers of pailettes, crystals or feathers.  The weight of a piece of cloth once embellished with sequins and bugle beads.  The volume of a dress once engorged with ostrich fronds.    I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be privy all of the above. 

How to top all of that?  Hmmmm…  oh I don’t know.  A conversation that went something like this.  Or at least that’s how I played it in my head when the idea was first being gestated.

Chanel peeps: Would you like to wear pieces from the collection for some photos?

Me: Errrrrrr…… yes?  By wear, do you mean put on?  Me?  Non-sample sized me and my post partum mini-me?

Chanel peeps: Yes you and your mini-me.  Choose your looks!

Me: Any look with a skirt that juts out sideways and takes up the width of a very wide double salon door with its awesome tulle gorgeness please.

Chanel peeps: Done!

In all seriousness, there’s talking about couture and then there’s wearing it.  And it’s the wearing that takes my interaction with the at once intimate and intimidating world of Chanel haute couture to another level of familiarity.  Of course it has to be said that the pieces I wore were samples.  Prototypes if you will, that will then take on a further-refined, custom-fit and perhaps much-altered state once it reaches the body of a couture client.  But the biggest takeaway from even just a brief encounter (an hour to be precise…) with these pieces was the instant headrush giddiness of being in such close proximity with this level of craft and effort.  Like “Wheeeeeeeee!  There’s THIS many sequins on me?”  Or  “How much volume of fabric am I swathed in right now?!”

But also the complete switch of context, from simply viewing an haute couture piece be it in a show or on a mannequin in a museum to seeing it as a living and breathing piece.  For this specific Chanel Haute Couture S/S 18 collection, which originally promenaded in a very very French jardin, with its perpendicular hedges, ornate fountains and well-manicured lawns, I was keen on taking it into a very different sort of garden.  A free-flowing one that’s a little on the wild side and overgrown in areas.  Step in the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden, London’s oldest botanical garden with its 5,000 species of medicinal plants and an accompanying English drizzle as our backdrop to roughen up that French polish.

And whilst the original garden setting might have been a formal one, the weight of the dresses were own fact light.  Even the seemingly “big” dropped waisted tiered tulle skirt number with its beaded elongated bodice and pannier-esque sideways skirt.  It didn’t weigh heavy on the body and in fact, it had an aerated bounce to it – an whiff of 18th century court dress lightened for the present day.  The flou of the collection had a lot of frou, exemplified by the ostrich feathered lace dress.  This is surely the casual number to throw on when trudging through the muddy plant banks of a February day in London.  There’s a reverse perception too of pieces that seem simple on the surface.  The easier “day look” off-shoulder poppy printed chiffon in fact comprises of a lot of intricate Maison Lognon pleating (on my Métiers d’Art hit list fo sho) and layering of patterns o achieve an almost kaleidoscopic floral effect.  And then how do you resist a bijoux minidress, wrapped and tied with a gathering of empire line tulle and pink satin bow.  This is chocolate box Chanel, complete with a matching pair of embroidered Massaro ankle boots.  They all traipsed and trailed through the Chelsea Physic Garden.

The next step of course is ,if I ever suddenly come into an enooooormous amount of wealth, a phone call to a Chanel vendeuse and lo, my very own Susie-shaped dress form in the atelier, would complete this slightly implausible haute couture journey.  Of course that won’t be happening anytime soon.  This little garden adventure with the smell of wet grass in the air might well be the zenith.  Well, that’s just super fine by me.  The fleeting encounter only emphasises the sheer height of all that haute.

Photographs by Roisin Murphy

Films by Joseph Wilson

Make-up by Victoria Bond

All dresses and shoes Chanel Haute Couture spring summer 2018 except for the lonesome pair of Shrimps x Converse.  Because Chanel couture and Cons go together liiiiiiike…

Spring Snow Sprung

>> The cherry blossoms are trying to pop out but snow still fell.  Perfect opportunity then to break out with one of the key “long-life” pieces from Coach’s SS18 show, which was the weirdly weather appropriate shearling jacket inlaid with that iconic square face on the back as part of the wider Keith Haring collaboration that landed in stores a month ago.  I say “long-life” because as per the cannon of Coach’s outerwear in the Stuart Vevers era, they stand the test of time.  And not for the dull reason of “oh it’s a classic” but rather because the balance between quirk and quality makes the piece feel like it’s “worth-it”.

The collection of course runs the gamut from these weighty pieces like the jacket and the heavily sequinned dress where you can just about make out Haring’s livewire dog being beamed up by a spaceship, but also segues nicely into pleated skirts and dresses featuring the recognisable dancing man and of course the all important tees and sweatshirts.  On the double-ended – Mailbox bag, reissued based on a Bonnie Cashin 1970s design, Haring’s artwork is used more sparingly, befitting of the utilitarian onus on Coach as an American leather goods house.

After the SS18 show, Vevers spoke of the respect required in a collaboration with a figure like Haring.  “I spend a lot of time talking to people who knew [Haring] – people who knew him socially or who worked with him—so that I could try and understand how I could do a true homage to his legacy.”  Haring’s own hand painted and customised leather jackets was one particular jump-off point for Vevers to ensure that the artwork doesn’t look overly precious or high-falutin, when placed in the context of the collection.  Moreover it’s a collab that is similar in vein to Coach’s tie-ups with Disney or Gary Baseman – it’s all a dosage of poptastic Americana.

Coach x Keith Haring sequinned dress and Coach x Keith Haring Mailbox bag

Coach x Keith Haring shearling jacket and slip dress with Coach x Keith Haring Mailbox bag

Coach x Keith Moto Bootie

Coach x Keith Haring t-shirt and pleated skirt worn with Coach x Keith Haring Moto booties

Coach x Keith Haring sweatshirt, layered crochet skirt and Coach x Keith Haring Rogue bag

This post is part of an ongoing partnership with Coach

Coach Customise 2.0

You’re either are the type of person who is into customising or someone who just wants everything handed to them readily designed.  If you fall into the first category, then the options can sometimes feel limited, particularly for leather goods.  An initial here.  A monogram there.   Stamped on a hand tag or one pre-designated area of a bag or wallet.

Coach’s customisation service began with that standard monogramming service, albeit with an ultra extensive range of emoji motifs (my current very useful card case holder bears a silver unicorn courtesy of Coach).  Then when their New York and London flagship stores opened, a far more complex Made to Order service was introduced for the Rogue bag with over one million possible combinations – a serious customisation affair, aimed at fanatical bag connoisseurs who like to feel up leather swatches and obsess over bag linings.

Now the Coach House craftsmanship bar has begun to offer a more free-handed type of customisation in the form of Coach Create.  With an arsenal of Tea Rose leather appliques, metal souvenir pins and rivets that have featured in Stuart Vevers’ recent collections for Coach, you can basically create your own ornamentation design, using Coach’s Dinky, Saddle or Clutch bag in a myriad of colours as your canvas.

Even the usually swiftly decisive me (shop assistants love to raise their eyebrows at my ten minute shopping strategy of marching straight to rail, choosing something and then hotfooting it to the till without trying it on) was slightly flummoxed by all of these elements at my creative disposal.  Or it could well be that I’m just not very visually creative at all.  My Coach craftsman for the day Alex, who heads up the London flagship’s Customisation Bar, was telling me that people had been coming in creating constellation designs out of rivets and the like.

Oh!  I know!  How’s about a Clown Face on a cornflower blue Saddle bag?  Yes!  That’s my creative genius unleashed.  Not.  I basically honed in on the charming metal pins and thought, SMILEY FACE!  Clever, right?  In all seriousness, my juvenile example of Coach Create’s customisation options isn’t at all representative of the cool possibilities that the service offers, combined with the experience of seeing it all expertly hammered, sealed and delivered with a monogrammed smile.  And on strategic level, spending an hour or two in Coach’s store of course prolongs the shopping “experience” – the all-important word that has come to define a generation that isn’t satisfied with something purely material.  Anyway, I digress.  You go Create.  Make wise choices.

Coach Create now available at Coach House, 206 Regent St, Soho, London W1B 5BN

This post is part of an ongoing partnership with Coach

All Hail Sarah’s List

Fashion month has been and gone and I have plenty to say on the collections (skip to end if you want an explanation on the scant blogging) but first up, a time-sensitive call to go and discover, admire and enthuse in a gathering of fashion talent that is collectively standing for SOMETHING other than just more “stuff”.

Sarah Mower needs no introduction as an inimitable fashion writer as well but her work as a tireless champion of young fashion designers, and particularly for British talent is something that perhaps goes unnoticed in the public sphere.  Her nurturing of talent through one-to-one mentoring, studio visits and business and media introductions in addition to her work as a journalist has seen countless designers rise through the ranks to LFW’s headlining fashion fore.

Through Instagram though, Mower has found a new outlet for her passion for talent-spotting. Her hashtag #SarahsList was born out of a positive fightback against the post-Trump, post-Brexit political climate.  At a time when you might think creativity could be stifled or impeded, Mower’s discoveries demonstrate a young fashion designer landscape that has all the motivation to find alternative ways of doing things.  “I got really down about the political situation and so I thought, what could I do.  Perhaps the one thing I can personally do is to shine a light on fashion talent that are being threatened by Brexit and by Trump and to hopefully get them hired and commissioned by bigger companies.”  To captivate her audience, the accompanying captions for her #SarahsList discoveries on Instagram are lengthy, opinionated and tell a compelling story.

So much so that they caught the attention of Liberty, who then offered to make #SarahsList a shoppable reality, bringing the wares of these fashion fledglings to the 1st floor of the department store.  They’re names that I incidentally have a lot of love for too and ones that I’ve either written about myself or look forward to discovering more of.  And so in a challenging retail environment, where stores aren’t necessarily going all out to take risks and where budgets for young designers have seen shrinkages, Liberty continues its founder’s tradition of seeking out the idiosyncratic and the beautiful to present a new generation of arts and craftivists in fashion.

Looking beyond the immediate razz-ma-tazz the pieces for sale and cannily, Mower has chosen a group of designers that represent not just a an exuberant and celebratory aesthetic but something conscious (without the weight of labelling oneself as “sustainable”), something that contributes in their own little ways a ray of positivity in and industry dogged by cynical ambitions.  Richard Quinn made his LFW debut in the central atrium of Liberty with a continuation of his magnified floral prints blown up to smother the body and so appropriately a collation of special pieces are available as part of the #SarahsList pop-up.  In addition to running his label, Quinn has also just opened his RQ open-access print studio in Peckham that has already become a valuable resource for students and young designers looking to get garments printed.  It’s an ambitious venture to run on top of his own label and I’ll hopefully be checking it out soon to see the print studio at work first hand.  Craft is also apparent in the work of the Georgian jewellery designer Sopho Gongliashvili – the one non-London exception to this group who uses traditional Georgian artisans to create beautiful enamelled accessories.

Kitty Garrett at #SarahsList

Sopho Gongliashvili at #SarahsList

Marta Jakubowski at #SarahsList

Designers such as the young American Conner Ives, who is still studying for his BA at Central Saint Martins makes his retail debut with a collection of special edition shirts made up of vintage scarves and donated Liberty fabrics.. Similarly newly graduated Kitty Garratt, also from Central Saint Martins, took second hand shoes (peer into the painted shoes and you’ll find high street relics like Faith!) and painted them with Charleston-esque freehand brushstrokes.. Upcyling is nothing new of course but in the hands of Ives and Garratt, the proposition is less about a pragmatic approach towards tackling waste but more of a celebratory repurposing of the old.

#SarahsList also hosts designers that have consciousness of sourcing.  Look at Richard Malone’s beautiful AW17-8 collection that features naturally dyed fabrics woven by a community-supporting organization of women weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India, with the proceeds earned enabling their children to go to school.  Malone’s work doesn’t need that explanatory tag to entice the eye though.  Likewise, there’s an honesty in Sam McCoach’s Le Kilt, which I’ve long been a fan of, with her collection of kilts and knitwear made by small family-run enterprises in the UK.  Fellow N15 resident, Marta Jakubowski also gets the Mower seal of approval with her leftfield approach towards deconstructed tailoring and clubwear-inspired formalwear.

Richard Malone at #SarahsList

All this bigging up of young designers though made me think of a conversation strand brought up at a panel I was a part of recently, chaired by Jefferson Hack as part of Dazed and Huawei’s Secret Lectures.  Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Granary 1 talked about the responsibility we had as media professionals, who actively promote young talent.  In an increasingly difficult fashion system that can be unforgiving for young fashion designers, how do we balance promoting and writing about their work, whilst being mindful of the precariousness of operating as a start-up business.  To that, Mower has the final say that few could argue with and also gives indication on how #SarahsList could possibly spur the fashion system in new directions.

“Does everything have to be large-scale, and everywhere to be valid? I think the opposite values – small-scale, hand-made, consciously produced and NOT everywhere are exactly the ones which people are instinctively drawn to now.  The system at large is dysfunctional, as is widely admitted. I agree it is irresponsible to stand by and wave on more and more people to face exactly the same problems – and the education system is a fault too, in not arming their students with the facts.  The people I mentally put on #SarahsList are the ones I see who have the seeds of new ways of doing things. I think they have a hell of a lot to teach the corporate world – not the other way around. That’s why I have this vision that#SarahsList could become a vehicle for discussing and magnifying the strengths which are already there – and for spreading information and exchanges which are both idealistic and concrete.”

Word.  Preach.  Hurrah.

#SarahsList on the 1st floor of Liberty in London for the forthcoming month

Obviously I couldn’t help but get in on the #SarahsList action…

Richard Quinn “toe” velvet socks from #SarahsList worn with old Jil Sander shirt and H&M’s Design Award Richard Quinn dress (the collection launched last week and pleasingly sold out immediately!)

Conner Ives shirt from #SarahsList worn with Ambush jeans and Nike trainers

On a side note, I too have to spur myself on in an announcement about the blog…

I realise blogging frequency has slowed to a trickle here because I’m in the process of a relaunch (she says with a booming voice).  Actually that word sounds too offish.  It’s more of a rejig – one which means I’ll hopefully still be rambling on about fash-un in that long super-forever-scrollin’ way I favour.  I’m loathe hauling Nico out as an excuse but if truth be told, juggling baby, with jobs that pay the bills and writing for the luff luff luff of it here has been nigh on impossible.  There’s light in sight though.  Nico will be starting nursery soon.  That’s precisely thirty hours extra in the week not spent Dettol wiping after Nico.  Here’s hoping they will be spent productively.