Despite having written two young designer round-ups for BOF during the course of the month, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t get much time during fashion month to digest anything truly “new”.  As in, something I’d never discovered or didn’t have a mild inkling of beforehand.  On my last day in Paris though, The Broken Arm came to my rescue.  The much-vaunted, rightfully-respected store, founded by Guillaume Steinmetz, Anaïs Lafarge, and Romain Joste, nestled oin Marais has become something of a destination shop during fashion week.  With just a handful of labels, they seem to be able to capture the here and now of what’s making fashion hardcorers’ pulse race and do so with a limited amount of rail space.  During Paris fashion week though, what took over their windows wasn’t the column inch-garnering Balenciaga or the critic hit of the week Jacquemus (a personal survey around the critics’ quarters say so anyway…) but a young French graduate from the esteemed La Cambre Mode (s) school in Brussels Belgium, whose alumni are littered throughout the fashion houses for good reason.

Joste discovered Marine Serre whilst on the jury for this year’s graduate show at La Cambre and promptly decided to showcase her graduate collection, as well as selling and aiding production of select pieces, during the high-people-traffic period of fashion week.  That’s quite a chance to take on a graduate to sit alongside the likes of Celine, Loewe and Raf Simons in the store but knowing nothing about Serre or her work, I was immediately struck by the mix of fabrics and the fluid silhouettes, tinged with hints of sportswear.

Upon further research, that’s when Serre’s collection really hit a high for me.  Entitled “Radical Call for Love”, the collection was conceived as a way of emphasising ties between the Arab world and the Western one, compounded by the sense of urgency, in light of the atrocities in Paris, Brussels and of course more recently in Nice, within the last year.  Serre used a combination of 19th century Arabic or in Edward Said language, “oriental” fabrics and elements of traditional costume and then worked them into sportswear.  Most potently, the crescent moon, one significant part of the symbol for Islam, is adapted into a repeat logo pattern that you might find in branded sportswear.  On a widened headband (or resembling the under bonnet of a hijab depending on how you look at it), it becomes a subverted take on say a Nike sweatband worn by elite athletes.

Serre says the collections is about “establishing links and connections, or rather about expressing links that are actually already there, already made, in Brussels but equally in the world at large.”  Or to put it in more emotive language, and borrow from the late Jo Cox’s maiden speech in Parliament, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”  That’s a sentiment that emanates from Serre’s collection.  Serre seems to be saying that the evils of putting up metaphysical walls, barriers and divisions between a “them” and an “us” can be mediated through the very fabric of fashion.  The William Morris-esque fabrics that are woven through the collection find their roots in Islamic Art.  The intersections between a kelim tapestry fabric and heavy crepe de chine is a visible to-and-fro dialogue.  You could also draw parallels between the pairing of sportswear traits and silhouettes with the traditional fabrics and the way kids dress, on their way to prayer at mosques in Whitechapel, with their Adidas trackie bottoms and Nikes peeking from underneath their shalwar kameez.  It’s a compelling message from a singular graduate collection, demonstrating that fashion enter the fray of political commentary without a) being self-righteously heavy handed and b) missing the aesthetic point.

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marineserre40Photography: Tanguy Poujol, assistant Axel Korban, Consulting: Benoit Bethume, Make Up: Isabelle Bertrand

Because it was the aesthetics that lured me into buying this particular dress from The Broken Arm.  I hadn’t gone deep into Serre’s work at that point.  Instead, I was drawn to the interesting mix of fabrics and the way the sleeves detached from the halterneck.  My pregnancy bump is of course obscuring the dress from the way it’s supposed to fall on the body (not that it’s going to stop me from wearing it anyway…) but buying a piece of this collection felt like something of a future collectible as a piece of clothing that really says something.

Serre is currently working for Demna Gvsalia at Balenciaga, deciding to gain experience first before launching anything on her own.  That’s a wise move in this climate of a crowding of young designers jostling for attention.  Whilst in employment and figuring out her next move though, it’s great to see retailers like The Broken Arm helping powerful voices like Serre get their point of view out into the world.

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When new app Frock Advisor asked me to take part in their Fashion Independents Day’ Grand Prix yesterday with the aim of visiting as many independent fashion stores in London as possible, garnering maximum retweets for the win, I was well up for it.  In other words, spending the day visiting shops that I’ve supported in the past and catching up with them, visiting new ones and all the while supporting independent bricks and mortar stores, that are toughing it out in harsh retail conditions in London.  A big fat hell yes to that.  Frock Advisor is a new app that aims to connect shoppers with independent boutiques around them, building up people’s profiles with lust items and loves.  Ok social shopping is nothing new but encouraging people to “find something different” as their tagline puts it, is bang on the agenda.

It certainly coincides with the release of The True Cost directed by Andrew Morgan (out on Netflix and iTunes) today.    On Tuesday night, I participated in a Guardian Live panel with my guiding stars in the ethical fashion sector Lucy Siegle and Orsola de Castro, designer Wayne Hemingway and Morgan after a screening of the film.  It was difficult to address all of the issues that this potent film brought up but what’s important is the beginning of the conversation of how we buy our clothes at large.  The film did a brilliant job of succinctly summing up what the problem is.  Now we can go and seek out the solutions, and have fun doing so at the same time.

I motioned that there isn’t one singular and correct way of having “guilt-free” wardrobes (and in any case, I’m against being ridden with guilt when shopping…).  Buying from independent boutiques is certainly one partially ethical way of opening our eyes to alternatives that exist beyond the high street and mainstream stores.  The optimistic glass half-full angle is that the act of buying isn’t bad but that instead, we could be buying well and make that bit of buying an interesting experience at the same time.

Furthermore the other crux of Fashion Independents Day is that we can all collectively seek out independent stores to support a fashion industry that is constantly coming out with the new.  Whilst Style.com busies themselves with their e-commerce venture and Yoox and Net-a-Porter become a joint behemothic force, indie stores still have a huge role in playing when a) supporting young designers and b) becoming the first port of call for shoppers to familiarise themselves with these new names and new brands.  And in the case of vintage stores… well, what comes around goes around.  London’s rich pick of vintage isn’t celebrated enough.  Ever year, one important vintage landmark seems to disappear, under pressure from high rents and changing shopping habits.  I’d love to see Fashion Independents Day made a regular thing, to encourage people to go off the beaten path with their shopping.  If not for other people’s benefit, than at the very least it gives me an excuse to shop properly in my own city and keep updated on what’s happening on those all-important rails…

On my own whistle-stop tour of ten boutiques in London, I bought/learnt the following…

… Bag designer Kate Sheridan‘s new-ish store on Lower Clapton Road is a beaut, selling not just her own wares but other brands like Bonne Maison socks and printed pieces by LF Markey.  Might have to do a 253/254 detour to E5 more often…

Pelicans and Parrots (and its sibling store Pelicans and Parrots Black) is still Stokey’s prime call for vintage…

House of Hackney‘s fashion offering has come a long way from printed tees and sweatshirts and I’m still pondering the need for the beautiful ‘Martello’ chair

… So.Much.Change. at Celestine Eleven since I first wrote about them.  Owner Tena Strok has changed up the buy so that it’s slightly more affordable and contemporary but no less interesting with labels like Claire Barrow, Rejina Pyo and Dorateymur…

Miista shoes‘ pop-up store on Redchurch Street is on until 7th June but they’ve done a roaring trade selling their S/S 15 Future Athens collection, full of pastel patent finishes and sporty details.  Here’s hoping they find a permanent physical space..

… I hadn’t been to The Laden Showroom on Brick Lane since I was at uni but to my mind, there’s no place quite like it in London with its assembly of super affordable indie labels.  It is the price-point alternative to the high street and is good fun to browse.  I loved the neon screen printed pieces by Typical Freaks

… Lamb’s Conduit Street is a bricks and mortar shopping delight and Darkroom is its biggest gem.  Founders Lulu and Rhonda have grown the store significantly since its beginnings with their own corner at Selfridges but their original store remains the better destination.  On this visit, I discovered that old Style Bubble fave Michelle Lowe-Holder has started doing plaited leather clutches that match up perfectly with Darkroom’s primary hued colour scheme…

… I need to race back to BOB by Dawn O’Porter’s pop-up on Monmouth Street as I loved their rail of designer vintage, and I believe their pop-up is ending pretty soon.  But on a more affordable scale, there’s fun to be found in Dawn O’Porter’s own range of clothes; especially in the latest addition – a Dirty Dancing inspired ‘I carried a watermelon’ skirt’ designed by Karen Mabon

Machine-A is obviously a primary destination for both myself and Steve.  It’s the boutique that I do go to frequently because I categorically *ALWAYS* find something to buy here.  I only had five minutes to browse on my Grand Prix shopathon but I’ll definitely be back to convince myself I need Ambush’ denim jumpsuit or some of the Diesel Tribute neoprene pieces…

… Finally, I made my way back to One of a Kind, the vintage store that used to feel so intimidating when I was a young teen exploring Portobello.  The prices were of course super scary back then.  Now though, with my more selective approach when it comes to vintage, I’m definitely going to task them with a list of specific designers to see if they can work their vintage-sourcing magic…

FIDAY21 From left to right, top to bottom: Clutching at Kate Sheridan’s geometric tote; Trying on Ambush’s denim jumpsuit at Machine-A; Getting to grips with “I Carried a Watermelon” skirt at BOB by Dawn O’Porter‘s pop-up store; Loading up on Pichulik Ndebele necklaces and bracelets at Darkroom; Discovering Typical Freaks‘ screen printed fun at The Laden Showroom; Scrambling for Claire Barrow at Celestine Eleven; Cycling to nowhere on Miista’s bike installation at their pop-up on until 7th June; Loving House of Hackney’s popular ‘Narcissa’ print; Getting into the carnival spirit at Pelicans and Parrots.  
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Last year due to a conflict of travel schedules, I wasn’t able to make it down to Bath in Fashion, which is currently in its sixth year of incarnation.  A solid (and vaguely gruelling) fashion week from menswear to couture to womenswear has meant though that some sort of a respite was long overdue.  Like the London-dwelling gentlefolk of the 18th century, who would take to Bath to enjoy its health-beneficial waters and a vaguely gentler pace of life, I too decided to flee town for a few days in what is undeniably one of my favourite places outside of London in the UK.  I was there to a) be in conversation with Lulu Kennedy and Ed Marler about being a young designer as well as do a career panel talk and b) revisit some of my favourite spots.

This time I was ensconced at the Royal Crescent, a beautiful feat of Georgian architecture built by John Wood the Younger in 1767-74, in the Royal Crescent Hotel.  It’s a surreal address to stay in as you walk out to see the immaculate lawns of Royal Victoria Park and beyond.

0E5A8719Wearing a distinctly un-Georgian combo of Wood Wood bomber jacket, Bliss & Mischief army jacket, Phiney Pet t-shirt, Meadham Kirchhoff slip dress, Aries jeans, Vans x & Other Stories shoes

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Round the corner from the hotel, is No. 1 Royal Crescent, a historic house where viewers can immerse themselves in a Georgian lifestyle.  The natural aesthete in me was of course loving all the lovingly reproduction interior features like the wallpaper of a gentleman’s bedroom, a nightshirt on the bed or botanical prints on the wall.

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Being in the heart of Bath meant being within walking distance of my beloved Fashion Museum, which is currently in bloom with a new round of exhibitions like the Great Names of Fashion and Georgians – Dressing for Polite Society.  I loved the way the exhibition pitted 18th century frock coats, mantuas and pannier skirts against more contemporary iterations of these fashions as seen in pieces by Meadham Kirchhoff, Vivienne Westwood and Anna Sui.  Sadly I didn’t have Iain R. Webb, esteemed journalist, consultant on the Fashion Museum and Bath’s most fashionable residence to guide me around the exhibits.  Still, that meant I could shamelessly do things like… try on a replica Victorian dress.

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Not gonna lie… would totally wear this out and about in the here and now…

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I also got to come and the new Dress of the Year of 2014 – a Gareth Pugh plastic kimono coat and calico trousers ensemble – as picked out by Katie Grand.  That tops off what has been a pretty special homecoming year for Pugh.  I was honoured to choose Dress of the Year for 2013 and this was the first time I saw the me-esque mannequin in the flesh dressed in Christopher Kane.

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In town I was eager to go back to Bath favourites like vintage and antique textiles haven Susannah.  I was on the hunt for vintage lace but obviously got side-tracked by the delectable selection of Victorian/Edwardian petticoats and nightdresses.  What Holly Golightly said about nothing bad ever happening to you in Tiffany’s is precisely how I feel about Susannah.

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Down by the Ponte Vecchio-esque Pulteney Bridge, I went back to the contrasting foil to Susannah, the decidedly contemporary and extremely-well curated Found.  Olivia Brewer and Nick Blake’s store is approaching its five year anniversary and as yet, still has no equal in Bath and beyond as their continue to find interesting labels to sell in their store and on their successful e-commerce site.  For instance, Found is still the only solid place in the UK where you can find Karen Walker ready to wear (odd, right?).

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I indulged and got myself an A-line shift dress from Walker’s Garden People collection,  stiffened from a unique bonded cotton fabric, as seen here in front of the grandiose gothic doorway to the Bath Abbey and also incidentally chiming in with the daffodils coming up all over the place.

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The best thing about Bath is its walkability and the way all shop facades are presented in a state that is fitting to its World Heritage Site status.  Even the most normal of corner shops and chain shops look a whole lot more inviting when housed in Bath stone-constructed Georgian architecture.  The emphasis on independent retail here though is pretty irresistible.  I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where there there’s almost a 50:50 ratio of speciality stores in relation to chains, which is pretty rare in big towns in the Uk these days.

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No wonder then that Danish interiors giant Hay decided to open their first ever UK standalone store, not in London, but in Bath.  In typical London-centric fashion, I did squawk in surprise when I heard that Hay had opened up in Bath.  Turns out the owner of Hay was obsessed with the Georgian architecture of the city and so chose a former bank on Milsom Street to open up this generously proportioned store with its original 18th century panelling and double height ceilings.  Steve and I are Hay aficionados and we do often go a bit bezerk when we see a large amount of Hay goods in concentration.  Yes, we can go to the source in Copenhagen or to the shop-in-stores in Liberty or Selfridges in London but it’s nice to know that there’s also a UK-specific Hay address, which can also order pieces directly from Denmark for customers.  We lugged home some new bedsheets and a paper weave rug.

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For other Scandi home delights, we also loved Shannon on Walcot Street where there’s the biggest selection of Marimekko soft furnishings and homewares and Moomin merchandise that I’ve ever seen in the UK.  Mooooooooomin galore!

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Oh yes, the fashion!  David Simon Contemporary gallery is hosting a fashion illustration exhibition at the moment to coincide with Bath in Fashion.  Erin Petson‘s drawing of Christian Lacroix in the window caught my eye and inside,  I particularly loved the energetic work of Sarah Tanat-Jones and the abstracted depictions of familiar collections by Helen Bullock.

IMG_8551The Trench Coat illustrated by Sarah Tanat-Jones

IMG_8558Le Smoking illustrated by Sarah Tanat-Jones

IMG_8549Sophia Webster and Sibling illustrated by Erin Petson

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It was these Jude Jelfs ceramics though, which we really fell hard for.  The black one came home with us.

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Speaking of Helen Bullock, this established textiles designer and illustrator was also down in Bath, sketching out the proceedings of Bath in Fashion, which can be seen on her Instagram account.  She had a busy schedule bouncing from talk to talk.  The ones which I attended included Roksanda Ilincic speaking to Claudia Croft of The Sunday Times Style about stepping up and becoming a designer with a store on Mount Street and fans like Michelle Obama and an extremely candid and frank conversation between Susannah Frankel and Tim Blanks about Lee (as opposed to Alexander) McQueen.  Their talk added a much more storied context to the Savage Beauty exhibition, as they described many of McQueen’s memorable early shows and their personal interactions with Lee, as do their essays in the accompanying book.  Other highlights included Jessica Bumpus of Vogue.co.uk in conversation with Holly Fulton, Central Saint Martins’ Hywel Davies speaking to Anna Sui.  I also chaired a conversation with Fashion East‘s Lulu Kennedy and Ed Marler.  It feels odd to recap my own talk but hopefully those in attendance gleaned a little insight about the process of going through a scheme like Fashion East, what it’s like to be a young designer, and the changing face of London Fashion Week.

untitled-folderIllustrations of Bath in Fashion talks by Helen Bullock

The one part of my Bath visit that had to be undertaken by a car was a trip to the American Museum in Claverton, which is the only American folk and decorative art museum outside of the USA.  I was there primarily to see the Hatched, Matched and Dispatched exhibition (no photographs allowed alas) which explores the rituals of birth, marriage and death through textiles.  But what I loved the most actually was their super impressive quilts collection.  Hung in giant plastic folders, you could flip through quilts dating from the early 19th century through to the mid-20th century.  It was striking how modern and contemporary the designs looked whether they were from 1865 or 1965.  As with much of what you see in Bath, it’s all brilliant visual fodder to feed the brain.

IMG_4822In front of a 19th century millinery shop housed in a Dutch summer hut on the grounds of the American Museum wearing Comme des Garcons zip-up top, Louis Vuitton skirt and boots

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>> A PR from Harrods recently told me that they can’t keep Balmain on their rails – the pieces literally fly out of the store.  That’s Balmain, purveyor of the £3000 jackets and £6,000 plus dresses.  It’s well-timed then that they should open their first ever London store on South Audley Street to meet demand.  The full address is 69 just to add a cheeky wink from Olivier Rousteing to London’s international set, ready to splash the cash and flash the flesh.  The real significance is of course that the store arrives into a city which contributes a fair amount in terms of revenue for the brand.  “We sell really really well here,” said Rousteing.  “It’s such an international city – the most international of all cities in Europe, I think.  You have women from the Middle East, Russia, Brazil.  I love the diversity and the mixity (yes he did just invent a word there) of the city.  You can a fifty-something year old who wants a well-cut jacket or you can get a twenty-something pop star who wants a short dress.”

Rousteing’s audience may be a diverse one, given that he has the biggest social media following of any French designers out there but his own Balmain Army, a brand concept born in London a year ago, when Mario Sorrenti and Katie Grand shot Ysaunny Brito, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Issa Lish, Kayla Scott and Binx Walton for the A/W 14-5 campaign, is of course really only available to the very affluent – the sort that pass through this part of Mayfair on a day to day basis.  In a bijoux former gallery, designer Joseph Dirand, imagined what Pierre Balmain’s London pied-à-terre might have been like with mid-century furniture from André Arbus and Jean Royère contrasting with the gilt and the marble.  It’s cosier than the Paris flagship, as a nod to its London location but not lacking in what Rousting calls the “couture feeling” of the maison.  “What is amazing about London is that it’s very warm and so the store combines that with the richness of what Balmain is known for,” said Rousteing.  That warmth is being exuded as we speak.  Even as the round of press appointments were going on in the store yesterday, customers were coming in enquiring about specific pieces.

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Last night at Annabel’s, the London portion of the #BalmainArmy marched in, with the likes of Poppy Delevigne, Jourdan Dunn and Lily Donaldson ensuring you heard and felt their presence with their beaded tassels and fringing.  Witnessing these good time girls in their environment goes some way to explaining the root of Rousteing’s success.  There’s nothing apologetic about the short and sharp dress lengths, the amount of couture-derived embroidery and embellishment and the fact that you need to exude not just richness in spirit but also in wealth to embody these clothes.  That richness also pervaded Rousteing’s latest collection for the house, as he re-imagined the exoticism of 1970s Parisian fashion excess, like the saturated tones of Antonio Lopez’ Instamatic photographs of the young and the beautiful.  He was candid about references like Yves Saint Laurent and the bejewelled colours of purple, red and jade green brought back from far-flung destinations like China and Morocco.  “As recent events have reminded us, France has a long and proud history of defending  essential  liberties  and  artistic  freedom.  That  unique,  open-minded  spirit  is  also  something  that sets  Parisian  fashion  apart.  we celebrate that Parisian tradition, as well as the evolution of my city into a truly global melting pot,” was how Rousting poignantly chose to sum up recent events in Paris in relation to the collection.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the surface level of all those YSL-isms, jewelled tones and 80s tinged brassy silhouettes but upon speaking to Rousteing, it’s hard not to see them with deeper meaning – the richness in colour palette is yet another way for the designer to communicate his love and support for an enriched racial and cultural landscape.

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