>> How to alleviate the tiresome feeling of waddling around town with what feels like a 3 kilo bag of rice strapped to your belly?  By doing the conga with a human sized dinosaur mascot and Bryan Boy, which got the bump jiggling along too.  And as I hit my final days of being quite uncomfortably pregnant, I thought I’d look back to more jovial times when me, bump and Rexy were havin’ it large at the Coach House flagship store opening in London’s Regent Street back in November.

As this belatedly posted set of photographs attest, touring new stores – more often than not a solemn activity, peppered with facts about marble finishings and architecture waffle – can indeed be fun.  That is the key word of course that has underpinned Stuart Vevers’ turnaround of the brand, particularly in the runway Coach 1941 collections.  But even as T-rexes and stegosauruses waggle their leather puzzle piece tails about and kitschy Brit-themed badges that peppered a special capsule collection of accessories and varsity jackets (scoured from eBay by Vevers’ team apparently), there’s heft to back up the frivolity.  At the Craftsmanship Bar, there’s a wall of emojis to choose from to monogram Coach classics, in addition to the normal initial stamping.  Downstairs, there’s now a Made-to-Order service where a bespoke Rogue bag can be created in over one million possible colour combinations.  And throughout the store, Coach’s hometown of New York is evident in black steel fixtures, mahogany wood and a central mechanised conveyor belt that actually moves – a symbol of the chugging along of Coach’s upward trajectory.  Even Bryan and I play acting with a baseball glove and ball bears some significance, as they’re pertinent reminders of the glove-tanned leather that the founder of Coach was inspired to create because of the well-worn patina and buttery feel of a pitcher’s glove.

For Vevers, London is a chance to come home and officiate Regent Street with a proper retail incarnation of what he has achieved at Coach.  It’s a concept that has rolled out in New York and is likely to do so in the future in other cities.  The word “House” as opposed to “Maison” is fitting for a store that sits on what a street that straddles between contemporary, high street and designer.

A giant Rexy near the entrance is there to invite gawkers in for a gander and a feel of what are in essence, comparatively accessible products.  Incidentally, did you know Rexy’s a “she”?  According to Vevers, “she’s” not strictly speaking part of Coach’s 75 year history but has become an apt character and mascot, representing the sort of japes that now goes down in Coach design team.  Nope it’s not that dignified or necessarily “luxurious” to be hugging a lycra-clad female dressed up as a T-Rex.  But it is a laugh – and nestled in amongst all that leather and shearling – it’s providing a formula that’s working for Coach’s newfound customer base.

 

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

I joked to a friend that London is burying its head in luxurious looking baubles and fairy lights this year as a privileged rebuff to Brexit, Trump and what has generally been a year that I’m personally fine to see the back of.  Because the last time I was in town, wandering the streets of Oxford, Regent, Carnaby and Bond, London DID look particularly seductive.  It’s that warm glow of beckoning merchandise, whiffs of spice and all things nice and the sort of curated-to-the-hilt tasteful Christmas that have spawned about a bajillion books on the values of Danish hygge.

Except, I’ve not been able to enjoy any of this much.  This holiday period where my birthday bleeds into that Christmas lull, hasn’t been that merry.  Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter might have sniffed out the reasons why.  I’ve not even thought about what wrapping paper I might use this year, which will surprise those who know me as an obsessive consummate papier freak, hellbent on matching up GSM to folding techniques, and ribbon texture to patterns.

Christmas pop-up shops are even further from my mind.  Pop-up.  Pop-off.  Whereas normally I’ll do a quick blitz weekend of pooting from one crafty affair to the next, this year will see the penultimate days to Christmas spent… well, not doing much to be honest.  I did however find some time to go and see Birdsong’s first physical temporary presence in Shoreditch.  Their feminist pop-up concept store is also another way of combatting the “heart breaking shiftiness of 2016” in Slater’s words.

I’m hesitant to add the loaded word “ethical” to what Birdsong do.  Their tagline “No Sweatshops, No Photoshop” is perhaps a more comprehensible way of describing what Sarah Beckett, Ruba Huleihel and Sophie Slater have collectively created.  I can crow “social enterprise”, “fair fashion” and “ethical sourcing” at you from dusk till dawn.  Those phrases can daunt a shopper.  The crux of Birdsong is, that they’re selling lovely things, made in partnership with lovely women’s organisations and charities and you feel lovely as a result.  You can delve deeper and look at the incredible women’s knitting groups or impoverished migrant women’s circles that create these things.  Or you can stop and admire aesthetics alone and just count on  the fact that by shopping at Birdsong, something good is coming out of that credit/debit card swipe.

They have bought their feminist-focused wares to physical fruition at their pop-up on 46 Charlotte Road, alas only on until Monday 19th.  No matter.  You have this penultimate Christmas weekend to head on down and pick up a selection of what I think are pretty ace gifts for a lot of people I know.

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Avocado/egg/pomegranate boob sweatshirts and tees?  They’re not just there for emoji lolz.  They’re a result of designer Clio Peppiatt working with the women’s migrant group Mohila in Tower Hamlets to hand paint these fun motifs, that means they can earn a living wage whilst their children go to school, which subsequently goes into a collective pot for the group.  There are also a few pieces from Clio’s AW16 at the pop-up too.

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cliopClio Peppiatt AW 16

Or how about a hand knitted jumper, lovingly made by elderly female knitting circles Knit and Natter in Enfield and The Bradbury Centre in Kingston.  Each tag tells you who made your cosy piece.

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I expect the printed tees, swimsuits and hand painted denim by public artist Ibiye Camp to fly off the rails.  As part of an ongoing series ‘Such a Fan’, Ibiye uses denim as her canvas for black pop cultural icons like Lil’ Kim, Beyonce and TLC as well as more historical figures such as Rosa Parks and Josephine Baker.  In addition to paying homage to these brilliant women, they also happen to be awesome to look at/wear.

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Perhaps one of the most poignant stories to emerge from Birdsong is that of label Two Neighbors, a collaborative enterprise created by an Israeli and a Palestinian, putting their differences aside and meeting in a border town between Israel and the Palestinian Territories to find a co-existing common ground by employing both Palestinian and Israeli seamstresses to give a modern spin on traditional Palestinian embroidery that has been passed from generation to generation by women in the south Hebron hills.  In grid formation, traditional motifs and symbols of Palestinian culture are cross stitched and Two Neighbors becomes the linking conduit to take that tradition and filter it through contemporary designs such as the tencel jackets that are being sold at Birdsong’s pop-up.

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Tonight, Birdsong’s pop-up will be doing a launch event in collaboration with the first period-proof underwear brand Thinx, who caused a stir last  year when their supposedly provocative ad campaign was initially banned on the NYC subway.  Thinx is the brainchild of Miki Agrawa, who spent three years designing these wonder knickers that are able to absorb up to two tampons worth of blood.  Having done a NCT class on postpartum bleeding and the joys of Tena Lady Pants (!), I’m somewhat intrigued by Thinx so will definitely have to get some for trialling.  TMI?  Well, that’s the nature of being a woman isn’t it and thankfully, Thinx don’t shirk from those biological truths.

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1200 grid for designers and developers

Being a sucker for African prints, I was also drawn to Khama, a group of designers and makers in London who work with a workship in Kasungu in Malawi to create clothes and accessories from that distinctive West African printed chitenge fabric, that has been ethically sourced and often produced in limited print runs.

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More underwear as Birdsong also gives substantial space to Pico, a London-based brand, that are entirely traceable from organic cotton farms to a fairtrade workshop in the South of India.

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Jewellery wise, the selection is again geared towards organisations that help women around the world better their lives.  Birdsong founder Sophia Slater makes an important point in this interview where she points out the pitfalls of feminism that is overtly focused on the issues of middle class white women and so the more global feminist stance becomes a unique USP at Birdsong.  “It can’t just be ‘Feminism Lite’ for middle-class white women,” she says.  “For us, worker’s rights, funding cuts and a lack of diversity are all top priorities.”  Jewellery designer Kirsty Kirkpatrick for instance works with the Fountain of Life Women’s Centre in Pattaya in Thailand to create her Jit-Win-Yan jewellery made out of semi-precious and regional gems, with all funds from sales going back to the organisation.  London-based jewellery label Finchittida, created by Lao-British twin sisters Tida and Lisa Finch focus their efforts on clearing the residual bombs in their mother’s home country Laos, left behind from the Vietnam war.  And Quazi Design‘s workshop in Sidwashini, Swaziland give full time employment to female artisans, in need of a living wage to support on average seven dependents per woman.

 

 

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More familiar names are also available at Birdsong’s pop-up in the form of Auria swimwear, made out of recycled fishnets as well as Alex Noble’s… well, noble EMG Initiative salvage t-shirts.

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It none of the clothing floats your boat, these brilliant drawings or surly girls in sassy clothes by Clio Isadora surely will, coupled with some lovely heartfelt bouquets by Bread and Roses, new florist venture that works with refugee women in Hackney.

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I’m guilty of making Christmas about ‘stuff’ and ‘frivolity’ as much as the next person but a visit to Birdsong is a pertinent reminder of what this time of year can really mean.

Birdsong concept store open until Monday 19th a December at 46 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, London

>> Seeing as I’ve been away for so long, I’m now hell bent on colouring in this homepage to the max.  If Port Eliot was the weekend-length dose of a creative ideas haven, then God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow is the convenient neighbourhood (well, within a ten mile vicinity of my house) happy place, where you can’t help but reverberate off of good vibes in amongst the neon light installations of artist Chris Bracey.  Where else to take the similarly bright neon components of Swatch’s latest POP collection as I was tasked to create a set of imagery to match up with a “watch that POPS!” with a pop-out watch face.  Alongside a group of talented digi creators, we all attempted our own spin on our favoured POP watch.  Naturally I veered towards the hues that dominate a segment in my wardrobe.   

Neon watch, neon outfit components, neon lights… it’s almost like a not-so-clever lightbulb has switched on inside my nugget-sized noggin.  Still, any excuse to head up to Bracey’s lit-up land is fine by me, especially as we arrived for the shoot saw the lights get switched on in the morning.  If you’re in London, do go and bask away. 

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0E5A0972Wearing DI$COUNT studded biker jacket, Molly Goddard dress, Christopher Kane trainers and my own shoes designed with Six London with Swatch Popover neon Watch and Beads

Resuscitating blog in action.  Pump.  Pump.  Pump.  The faintest of heartbeats can just about be detected.  It just might make it past this restful summer…

On the subject of life resuscitation, some of you might know that the reason why the blog has gone into a coma-like state for the past month or so.  I now have two heartbeats coursing through my body – my own plodding one, and a much faster pulse drumming away in my lower belly.  Steve, my partner and I were surprised and excited to find out that we’re going to be expecting a young arrival sometime in next January.  To say that it has made me rethink work, home and life in general is an understatement.  As a result, since the haute couture shows in July, I’ve given myself some time off to take my family to California in keeping with my annual love affair with the Golden State, gorge on a combination of Monster Munch, hash browns and Marmite on toast and most importantly give my brain a bit of space to process the fact that there’s a little being growing inside of me.

August has of course brought about its own inevitable slowdown but it’s also time to ease back into things.  And ease, is exactly what comes to mind when Port Eliot comes around.  This year marks my fourth time at the festival in Cornwall.  It felt like the “biggest” in terms of attendance and the “star” power of speakers.  Gloria Steinem!  Noel Fielding!  Kim Gordon!  Dawn French!  They were the buzz talks of the festival that had the tents all packed out.  It was a little surreal to see for instance Steinem, speak about how wonderful it felt to be a Port Eliot.  She too was probably seduced by the idealised bubble that the festival has come to be known as.

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And fortunately, you lost none of that free-spirited intimacy that has come to define this annual gathering of ideas.  Especially where the Wardrobe Department was concerned.  This has come to be the domain of Sarah Mower, contributing editor of American Vogue and all-round champion of British fashion, tucked away in the Walled Garden of the Port Eliot house.  The number of talks and ‘happenings’ here have slowly been on the increase since my first time at the fest, and although it’s still dedicate to the best of London’s grassroots fashion, this year French house Chloé ended up being this year’s official fashion sponsor at Port Eliot.

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Port-Eliot-35Feminist icon Gloria Steinem speaking with Cathy St Germans

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IMG_8066Inside Piers Atkinson’s flower headgear workshop

Hashtag Chloé Girls in their wafting white dresses and flowing tresses of course fit right into the festival’s lush surroundings of woods, riverbanks and rolling hills.  The house’s signature ease-led white dresses, spanning over four decades of the house’s history, sat pretty in the duck egg blue Drawing Room of the house, remodelled by Sir John Soane, next to vitrines of antique lace.

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My own attempt to channel the spirit of a Chloé Girl was aided by this floaty number from their S/S 16 collection complete with daintily dyed tassels, as well as my abode for the weekend, the tried-and-tested Yurtel yurt.  On the day that creative director of Chloé Claire Waight Keller came to do her talk in the Wardrobe Department, the house’s oversized Carlina sunglasses could be seen dotted everywhere.  All the better to go all hazy eyed as we lay around on hay bales, sipping gin (or a delicious frozen Rocktail in my case) and listen to Waight Keller talk creative freedom, the fluidity of a house like Chloé and festival antics with Mower.  Their talk was brought to life of course by the faces of Port Eliot – Bea, Imogen, Aggie, Lulu and Octavia Warren wearing the festival-inspired S/S 16 collection where 90s hoodies collide with ditzy florals and vibrantly dyed chiffon.  Musician Flo Morrissey was Chloé’s choice of artist, who gave both a poetry reading a musical performance.  A mega brand zooming in on a festival can often feel like an overly orchestrated endeavour.  Chloé’s involvement felt… natural… precisely because their clothes fit the meandering-in-the-meadow bill.  At least that’s what I thought as I tumbled about in a Chloé peasant tunic.

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IMG_8286Octavia, Lulu, Imogen, Aggie and Bea Warren

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Their involvement was a contrasting foil to what was going in the rest of the Wardrobe Department, as thematically we were submerged into the eighties.  That’s the !!!Eighties Now!!! collaged in newspaper font and printed on neon poster paper.  The broader umbrella though was London’s youngest generation of riotous creativity.  First of all, roll up, roll up for recent CSM MA graduates Luke Brooks and James Theseus Buck’s new collective project, the Rottingdean Bazaar, launched during LC:M in June.  They were selling temporary tattoos and badges that celebrate the amazingly ordinary.  A Nokia 3210 tattoo?  A balloon badge that looks vaguely like a nipple?  It’s your local high street market coming alive on your body.  By the end of the weekend, I had a Colgate toothpaste, a counterfeit handbag, a broken doll and a pair of false teeth adorning my arms.  Their “bazaar” is definitely a sign of things to come from the duo as they continue to think up ways of elevating the mundane.

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IMG_8073Designer Claire Barrow getting dolphin happy

In the Special Special tent, Mower has gathered up trinkets and lovable clutter from young designers to sell to festival goers, with all sales going to the British Fashion Council Education Foundation (you know, for those ever-spiking uni fees).  Highlights included Ed Marler’s bungee cord handled carpet purses, Sadie Williams’ lurex patches, Claire Barrow’s ghoulish charm bracelets and the most awesome neon jewellery by Matty Bovan and his mum Plum.

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IMG_8030Jewellery made jointly by Matty Bovan and his mum Plum

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Returning to Port Eliot with M.A.C. were drag group DENIM – this time not only to entertain the Port Eliot crowd but also to talk about the act of transformation.  How for instance, Amrou becomes Glamrou or how Tom becomes into Shirley.  Their backstory incites interest primarily because the group formed when they were undergraduates at Cambridge, creating the first drag night at this unlikely institution.  Their act is more than just comic relief but rather a representation of a beacon of inclusivity and open-mindedness.  Seeing them speak about their experiences definitely gave DENIM a more shades of depth.

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The riot of colour carried on into the introduction of Michael Halpern’s Central Saint Martins MA collection at Port Eliot.  Halpern was one of my personal favourites from this year’s crop of MA graduates and it was interesting to discover the backstory behind the asymmetric assemblages of glitz.  I’d never heard of the spectacle of horse-diving, a now illegal spectacle that involved horses diving off of into piers, that was popular in America in the 1880’s.  Halpern’s collection was inspired by the elaborate costumes worn by the female riders that performed these dangerous stunts.   What appeared to be surface-driven disco dollies on the runway were in fact daredevil women in carefully contoured ensembles, involving hours of handworked sequins.  His collection has landed Halpern a gig at Versace, working on the couture Atelier line but he’s also in the process of launching his own line in London.  A new kid on the sequinned block is born.

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In stark contrast to Halpern, was John Alexander Skelton, another standout MA graduate from Central Saint Martins, who was in conversation with Alex Fury to talk about the “Mass Observation” survey of Bolton in the 1930s, which formed the roots of Skelton’s collection and the North/South class divide that is still very much at play today.  Upon discovering that only 3% of so-called British woven wool is actually made out of British fleece, Skelton’s collection also utilised yarns from British sheep.  Skelton is part of the newest wave of sustainable designers that are seeking new methods of working and creating and as he begins to start his own label, I’ll be looking forward to seeing how his trajectory continues.

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It ain’t Port Eliot without something elaborate going on, on top of people’s heads.  This year, we got not one but two milliners displaying their wares.  Piers Atkinson talked us through his iconic pieces, which have graced many a celebrity head.

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Then the inimitable Stephen Jones entertained a crowd with his hat-led rundown of the eighties, aided by hair support from Bumble & Bumble.  Jones of course knows a thing or two about the subcultural havens that remain for me, the most interesting facets of the eighties as a stylistic period.  New Romantics.  The Face.  The Blitz kids.  “Boy George” was undoubtedly the star of Jones’ show.  I was chuffed to be a part of this eighties cavalcade, by throwing my best Wuthering Heights moves and attempting to channel Kate Bush, with thanks to a voluminously crimped up mane, conjured up by Sven Bayerbach from Bumble & Bumble, a gothic visage by Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry at M.A.C and a crowning crescent of silver courtesy of Jones.  My Stars in Their Eyes was complete.

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IMG_8319Siouxsie Sioux, is that you?

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IMG_8365The Lady Di demure smile

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IMG_8375Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

In the Wardrobe Department’s most ambitious show yet, Mower had gathered up a treasure chest of fashionz to bring the Eighties Now theme to life, in a show-and-talk, styled by Matthew Josephs and Ed Marler and explained by Alex Fury, Sandy Powell and Terry Barber.  The theme was prompted by J.W. Anderson’s AW15-6 collection and the sheer chutzpah of those giant leg of mutton sleeves and Sprouse-esque squiggles.  Calling in the latest Kenzo collection, a feathered frock from Gucci, some Sloane-appropriate archive Roksanda as well as a few pieces of vintage Zandra Rhodes and Bodymap, the best of the decade was refracted into the here and now.  Fury and Mower prompted some intriguing questions in the accompanying talk.  What does it mean when fashion is looking back at a decade that saw the rise of excess and wealth, and the political stranglehold of Thatcherism in the UK?  In our post-Brexit state, is it about escapism to a no-holds-barred era of sartorial expression or a darker reflection of the poor-rich wealth gap, with the positive outcome being that from crisis comes a creative upsurge, as evidenced by the participating young designers in this year’s Port Eliot line-up.

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One of them in particular is partying like it’s 1980 in Billy’s nightclub.  Charles Jeffrey‘s work and regular party nights Loverboy, represents the newest gen of London’s out-there club scenes.  On Saturday night, we got ready for weekend revelry by ransacking the M.A.C. tent in an unprecedented fashion.  Pots of glitter and smears of bright pigment went everywhere.  Evidently I went overboard by diving in with with turquoise and orange combo, partly inspired by extreme Japanese ganguro girl make-up.  Jeffrey went one step further by diving into the muddy banks of the on-site estuary to go full on Cornish native.  Sadly he didn’t factor in the freezing state that the mud would leave him in, so he washed it all off and emerged kabuki faced for his DJ set in the Ace of Clubs tent later.

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The next morning, the M.A.C. tent underwent another transformation with Matty Bovan‘s artwork adorning the exterior.  Bovan has just been announced as the newest addition to the Fashion East S/S 17 line-up for London Fashion Week, which comes off the back of Bovan spreading his rambunctious energy through his work on the mannequins at the Miu Miu resort presentation last month in Paris.  A fearless approach towards colour and bold strokes define both his aesthetic and his own personal styling.  We were given the opportunity to strike a Bovan pose with some cleverly drawn perspex sheets and mirrors.

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Before we departed Port Eliot land to head back into the real world, we caught the beginnings of Molly Goddard‘s second life drawing lesson, giving everyone the opportunity to observe and sketch out a selection of her frocks from past and present collections.  It was the final component to Mower’s well-curated snapshot of fashion now in London and for me, perhaps a due reminder that fashion month isn’t far.  From the dreamscape of Port Eliot, it’s back to reality for me, my bump and I.

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