Power of Lace

If you have read my 10 things about me, you’ll know that I’m a complete sucker for period dramas and a most lavish BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre will be gracing our British TV this fall.  A material featured heavily in the costumes undoubtedly will be lace, also a big big trend this summer.  It was of course a sign of status in the 19th century to be able to wear this intricate, handcrafted material.  What most people won’t know is that the lace used in this 21st century adaptation was made in Sri Lanka where a vibrant lace making craft has existed since the 15th century.  However, the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 utterly destroyed this by frightening off tourists who would have bought this lace.  UK costume designer Andrea Galer has taken this cause under her wing by making a documentary on the plight of the Sri Lankan lace makers and promoting the use of Sri Lankan lace in costume making as demonstrated in Jane Eyre which has provided the Sri Lankan lace makers with 2 months work. 

"All the well-to-do characters wear lovely jabots (ruffs) made out of Sri Lankan lace, and most have lace frills on the ends of their sleeves," she says. "And I’ve put lace all round the collar of Jane’s wedding dress."

This enterprise named Power of Hands is now fighting the cause by generating orders from establishments like the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and of course other major period dramas (we get a LOT of them in the UK!). 

If you would like to help the cause too, you can purchase lace wristbands (as modelled by Christina Cole in the picture above who places Blanche in upcoming Jane Eyre drama) from the Power of Hands site or even buy lace by the metre.  I would use it for all sorts of things, trims on t-shirts hems and sleeves, lace neck chokers for that Madame de Pompadour look or simply tie some around your head for an easy headband.  You could sew some lace along the buttons on a men’s shirt for that Baroque men’s shirt feel.  I would really support the cause if you can because genuine handcrafted goods are hard to come by in the world we live in so don’t let them die out!     

Christopher Raeburn: Definitely NOT a reality show dropout

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Christopher_raeburn Up until now, I had not yet confessed that I was avidly addicted to Project Catwalk, the British version of the hugely popular Project Runway.  I know some of you non-Brits downloaded the torrents as well so clearly I wasn’t the only one.  Well, I’ll just spit it out…..I was freaking’ obsessed with that show and the person I was rooting for, right from the start was 22 year old Royal College of Art student Christopher Raeburn.   When he was eliminated because he failed to create the right party frock for Liz Hurley (for whom only a white long dress with a thigh high split and a plunging neckline would have sufficed anyway….), my reaction was a howling ‘Nooooooooooooo!’ before lambasting Lorraine Candy with some unmentionable expletives.   

Well, the show has passed, the winner announced (it was Kirsty if you don’t already know) and the ratings were appalling so much so that Liz Hurley may have to fund the second season sans TV company backing.  Christopher Raeburn has very very kindly answered my little Q&A and so here it is….. a guy who I think has huge potential to be the next….well, I don’t know what because if you check out his website, his work covers a lot of ground, broader than fashion.  It’s just as well that the show did not become a ratings hit Big Brother reality fest because it might have attached an unfortunate stigma to Raeburn’s name.  I see great things for this guy, so watch this space!

1) How did you first become interested in fashion?

I don’t think that there was ever a definite moment when I realised that fashion was for me, the journey seems to have been slightly less ordered. Inevitably we are all products of our surroundings; I always liked the experimentation of the arts and the process involved in product or graphic design. The other massive factor is my brother Graeme. He is three years older than me and also studied womenswear at the RCA, design-wise we are already walking in step and the plan is to work together in the future.

What is your design philosophy?

If I had to sum it all up in a sentence my design work is about encouraging the functional beauty of modern city-dwelling nomadic lifestyles.
If I had a little longer…  It’s about complete design; embracing forward thinking fabrics and cutting edge technologies but mixing these elements with vintage military cloths and original detailing. Layers are really important in my philosophy. I like the idea that a wearer will buy one of my jackets but wear it with a top-shop dress and a pair of shoes they have found in a charity shop. That side of my thinking is socially led I guess, I want people to make garments their own; I hope that my work is already distinctive enough that as single pieces they will work beautifully when thrown on with a battered pair of levis or a chanel dress; I believe this is the way things are going.

(Fashion Fringe 2004 where Christopher was a semifinalist)

What influences your designs? This could be music, other designers, anything!
The military, extreme weather conditions, social trends, happy accidents, technology, problem solving, clarity, Menlo Park, modernism, The 1980’s, clouds, Krakow, the ribbons, microscopes, future, profiles, Pandas, leaf skeletons, muses, sportswear, expertise, vision, yesnomaybe, irony, found items, snow, love, hope, newspapers, layering, The Pompidou Centre, opacity, pace, clichés, stealth, the urban landscape, sleeping bags, Vice, The V and A, festivals, protection, details, anger, bikes, camouflage, Nivalis, ice, panopiticons, The underground, collaborations, emails,  London, balance, reading, museums, History, San Pedro de Atacama, the Kinks, concept , keys, romance, Quadraphenia, zip-tags, aesthetics, 10 A blades, beaches, Karen O, reptiles, my wrongs, birds of prey, price points, ties, girlfriends, buttons, smiles, sustainability, warmth, surgery, tools, ink, airplanes, Papillion, plants, politics,  sexuality, patents, friends, simplicity icons, Hyde Park, security, Gore-Tex, parkas, packaging, fastenings, details, cells, education, value, Radiohead, Glastonbury, contours, machines, boxes, speed, pockets, cases, films, home, memories, id-cards, digital cameras, leather jackets,  sand,  buttons, rapid-prototyping, denim, silver, Markbeech, Orwell, the Lloyds building, cards, Biology, St Ives, Kew gardens, learning,  mountains, pod-casts, DVDs, rotoring pens, apples, leatherman’s, race-face, movement, meshes,  trading, accuracy, there’s a few at least…

(I absolutely love that list of inspirations…. I think I need to write one as well!)

(Designs from Project Catwalk)

Do you design for functionality’s sake or do you veer more towards the conceptual?
I spent a while thinking about this question and I think that when I design it always comes down to a combination of these five elements:  Concept, Function, Aesthetic, Muse and Technique. They’re all self-explanatory and each is equally important, as such they are interchangeable but in order to create a good “product” (be in dress, table, coat whatever…) you must have resolved them all, the clothes should be about the experience of the user and as such they will become a state of mind.

How would you define your own personal dress style?  Any designers you favour?
It seems to change a lot. I ride everywhere in London so sometimes I have to dress for specific weather conditions but I do like to wear a good suit when I get the opportunity. It’s interesting how differently people treat you when you dress differently, maybe that’s linked to self-image and confidence as well?

(Christopher’s design for Barbour on Project Catwalk)

What made you apply for Project Catwalk in the first place?
Interestingly I never applied for Project Catwalk at all, I was at the Glastonbury music festival when I was phoned by Shine TV and asked if I would come for an interview for the show; apparently I ticked their box for the “tall, blond, straight character”. It’s quite funny when you look at the programmes demographics… I went for an interview and then things started to move quickly but I wanted to use the show for my education as well as potential publicity; I was already researching CCTV and surveillance for my dissertation at the RCA, I decided to write about my experiences on the show, I broke my dissertation into two parts, the first part, “The architecture of control” was about wider society and the enforced surveillance that we all live under as well as issues of protection and self policing. The Second part and perhaps the more relevant for this interview was called “Throwing myself to the lions” in which I wrote about placing myself in a voluntary prison. I wrote about my experiences; Reality TV: Surveillance as a spectacle of entertainment, media narcissism, authentic self-preservation, the Benthamian paradox and becoming an artificial cadaver. I signed the contract for the show on the tube ride to the first day’s filming… That’s when I realised what I was letting myself in for…

(Swarovski Competition design)

Do you think being on the show has hindered or helped your prospects as a fashion designer?
The short answer to this is that at the moment I don’t know, the good news is that the feedback from the programme has been overwhelmingly positive and I have made a lot of good contacts. The negative side is that the stigma attached to reality TV means that potentially people may view my participation as unprofessional or may take the view that I should not be taken seriously. I look at things clinically; I learnt an incredible amount about myself and my design aesthetic in a very short time, further to this I made some genuine friends and there are now opportunities arising that would not have happened if I had not been on the programme. Its interesting to think about the changes our choices make; the way I see it though its always better to have a go, as long as your honest with people and importantly yourself then I think its difficult for anyone to criticise you.

Do you think the best designer won in the end?
I went to the final show at London Fashion week and I think of the three designer’s left Kirsty had the most concise, well designed and beautifully resolved of the collections, that is not to take anything away from Matthew or Debbie; at the end of the day they had held themselves together during the original nine episodes so it only leaves me to say congratulations to all three, I wish them well. The problem with subjectivity and aesthetics is that different audiences will inevitably view a finished product differently so its conceivable that to the right audience and of the original twelve contestants may have been considered the “best”. I think it was Pierre Bourdiou who wrote that “ taste classifies and it classifies the classifier”. We are all bracketed by our own taste but taking a step back I think by the final Kirsty deserved it the most.

(Christopher’s design for a garden party dress using material from a garden centre)

Why did you ALWAYS have a satchel on, when on the catwalk at judgings?
It’s a great bag…

What are your plans for future? What do you hope to achieve?
I graduate from the Royal College of Art this year so at the moment I am working towards the final show on June 7th.  The theme is:
Godspeed / gad’sp:d/int an expression of good wishes to a person starting a journey. A collection inspired by clothing extremes; harnessing the functional beauty of modern nomadic lifestyles. Heavy military wools, unique digital prints contoured leather accessories and laser cut silver combine to provide a strong, wearable, feminine profile.
That’s the next couple of months covered. But in the near future I am excited about the options, there are certainly companies that I would like to work for and I would never discount the option of moving abroad for a few years to work. Ideally though the hope is to get into a multi-disciplinary studio this summer.  I already do some freelance work and I have had some interesting offers but it would be perfect to be working with my brother Graeme. Setting up the Raeburn brand is going to be important and creating the image and reputation that comes with a successful company will be something to focus on. Both Graeme and I have been successful in collaborations and it would be excellent to continue our work in this vein.

Christopher will be showing his final year collection at the Royal College of Art on June 7th.  If you would like to see it (as I have said before, graduate fashion shows are very worth going and I’m definitely going to this one!), you can buy tickets here or alternatively, you can buy tickets directly from Christopher via email.