“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!”

>> 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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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