Pre note: Realise it’s Fashion Month and I haven’t fashion month-ed posted yet.  You can read a bit of me here and here

She.  He.  Her.  Him.  Feminine.  Masculine.  Femme.  Homme.  These are the conventional ways of categorising fragrance that are also normally accompanied by pink hued curved glass bottles for women and impossibly deep voices on television adverts for men.   However, when Prada presented their olfactory interpretations of these gender constructs, it was striking that there was more of a to-and-fro dialogue between the two fragrances, simply entitled La Femme Prada and L’Homme Prada.  Just before the Prada SS17 menswear show in June in Milan, guests were invited to experience the two fragrances concurrently in a digital installation with projections of imagined conversations between a couple, where you can’t quite tell who’s the he and who’s the she.

The same can almost be said for the fragrances that line up together in half semi-circular bottles covered in black and white saffiano leather.  As a pairing, they almost invite you to dab a bit of both depending on how you want to mix things up.  I’m a bit rubbish at describing scent notes so in emotive Prada terms, the fragrances are “designed to take the wearer on a voyage through place, memory and time, somehow there appears a sensual meeting point for these distinct female and male fragrances to consummate an aesthetic relationship through experimentation and tradition.”  Solid, layered and complex is how I’d personally describe both fragrances with notes of frangipani and ylang-ylang in the La Femme Prada and iris and amber in the L’Homme Prada anchoring them.  Alternating between the two feels natural just as Prada’s menswear and womenswear can often go hand in hand in mood, spirit and aesthetics. 

So who is my male Prada counterpart?  Why it’s none other than Bryan Boy – a dear friend in real life and a fellow Prada aficionado.  We were excited to create these images to celebrate the launch of the Prada fragrances.  Shot at the Grafton Building of the University Luigi Bocconi in our matching AW16 sailor hats and Christophe Chemin print shirts, we attempted to bring that La Femme and L’Homme Prada spirit to life.  It’s certainly not the girl-finds-boy, boy-finds-girl sensual love tales of perfume marketing narratives.  Then again, Prada’s coupling in fragrance form doesn’t adhere to that stereotypical dynamic.  Hurrah for that.

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Having returned from a cosseted haven like Port Eliot where people were free to dress in a riot of colour without fear of judgement, you might think seeing Camila Batmanghelidhjih plastered all over the newspapers and websites, and now on this blog might be a pleasing  sight.  Except Batmanghelidhjih, the Iranian-born British philanthropist, is in the news defending her actions concerning the controversial shuttering of her charity Kids Company, which she founded in 1996 and was chief executive up until its closure last night.  I’m in no position to judge how Kids Company organised its finances nor how Batmanghelidhjih ran the charity and its employees but I was intrigued by the personal slurs and conjectured opinions that the public immediately began to sling her way purely based on the way she dresses.  In the media, she’s often been described as “eccentric” or “flamboyant”.  They’re polite ways of placing unconventionally dressed people into a neat and perhaps slightly condescending boxes.

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"CamilaPhoto by Mike Lawn for The Daily Mail

That seems harmless enough.  Yet when sartorial spectacles like Batmanghelidhjih are embroiled in media scandal as in the case of the downfall of Kids Company, it seems perfectly acceptable to deduce certain characteristics just by the way she chooses to dress.  A quick scan of the comment pages of the first news story that broke on Guardian yesterday and here are just a few examples:

“She always reminded me of Madame Trash Heap from the Fraggles, not that that should stop a person from running a charity…but…..”

“Her colourful, larger-than-life personality, flamboyant dress sense etc. – so adored by the media – were just symptoms of attention-seeking flakiness rather than suitability for managing a large organisation.  Which requires boring things like competence.”

“People who aspire to walking around dressed like a tropical fruit drink will never be taken seriously.”

“If you have to resort to wearing such garish and attention-seeking clothing, then you clearly lack charisma.”

“Would she get a job, turning up dressed like that for an interview. Unlikely, unless in pantomime.  Her dress says, ‘I’m not serious about this’.”

“Someone who dresses in a phony theatrical way in a calculated attempt to suggest she is some kind of unusual ethnic or religious minority ‘outsider’.”

“She dresses like an African dictator.”

And on and on it goes.  These are a smattering taken from Guardian, whose commenters are largely liberal and leftwing thinkers.  Dipping into the Daily Mail, the comments are infinitely worse.  The consensus seems to be that a woman, who swathes herself in colourful ethnic-tinged fabrics, who by her own admission dresses with a childish abandon, is somehow also incompetent, not serious about her job and clearly has something to hide.  She dresses like a child!  Ergo, she runs her company like a child.  She’s attention seeking!  Even though her role requires her to be in the public eye in order to fight for funding in an already tough sector.  She’s self-absorbed!  Arrogant!  Meglomaniac!  All of this deduced from the colours of frocks on a woman, who dares to speak out on the behalf of those less fortunate. 

One commentr recognises that Batmanghelidgh was a “formidable speaker” despite the fact that her dress sense “reminded me of some lurid 60’s carpets and curtains sewn together.”  Why can’t one be formidable in their speech and simultaneously be dressed in 60s carpets and curtains sewn together?   

Some have even used the same language levied when Jimmy Saville was being exposed for who he was.  “I have always felt that Camila Batmanghelidjh has been hiding in plain sight!” one person cries out, alluding to the similarity between Saville and Batmanghelidjh – that they both have distinctive dress sense and therefore use their clothes as a mode of disguise to then perform wicked deeds. 

I’m not here to judge what Batmanghelidgh may or may not have done in the running of Kids Company.  I just found it baffling that the way Batmanghelidgh dresses should be used to indite her below the line, whilst at the same time discounting and discrediting anything positive that she might have achieved in the past.  It speaks volumes about how society at large would like people in power and influence to behave and dress.  The subtext is if you’re not in a conservative attire, you’re not fit to run things.  Instead we prefer to have our eccentric and eclectic characters resigned to soft power creative circles.  Iris Apfel – a wonderful elderly muse!  Zandra Rhodes – how lovely that she pops up in the party pages of ES Magazine every now and again with her shocking pink hair.  Vivienne Westwood – oh look, there she goes harping on about climate change, how sweet!  Batmanghelidgh may well be found to have committed wrongdoing further down the line.  But that will certainly have nothing to do with the way she dresses. 

I’m not personally a fan of nostalgic regressions into the past.  Themed 1950s rockabilly bars with mandatory poodle skirts and busty cardigans?  No thanks.  Insisting that eating wartime rationed diets and rag rolling your hair into victory rolls is far superior to what the 21st century has to offer?  Not for me.  

And yet Port Eliot Festival with its bucolic ideals, lack of 3G (there’s a three metre square patch near the campsite where you might just be able to check an email or two) and its elevation of activities such as camp fire building, wild water swimming and stargazing doesn’t grate me in the same way as those aforementioned nostalgic retro-fests do.  Sarah Mower, who presides over Port Eliot’s ever-growing Wardrobe Department, housing all the fashion happenings at the festival, decided to christen this year’s proceedings with a theme, that could well sum up the appeal of the festival in general.  Medievalism, or specifically a Game of Thrones-inspired bout of Medievalism, was in full swing this year. 

Never mind the fact that the house itself dates back to the 12th century or that you can walk into an 11th century chapel on a Sunday, but everywhere you go, you’re reminded of a pre-industrial and pre-internet way of life.  Whether it’s a survival workshop manned by, Skye Gyngell of Spring advocating you to eat according to what comes out of good English soil or the numerous crafting sessions, which have grown thanks to the magazine Hole & Corner bringing indigo dying, clog making and pottery to the festival’s fray.  This particular strand of neo-Medievalism never veers into costume or role-playing territory.  It’s about glimpsing into the aesthetics and the practises for a few days of escapism.  With the benefit of distinctly un-Medieval comforts like ace food (Angus & Mitchell’s porky offerings and The Oyster Shack‘s seafood were this year’s standouts).  And when balanced with Port Eliot’s idiosyncratic line-up of progressive speakers, creatives and musicians (Ron Arad talking about his design process, electronic outfit Stealing Sheep and street poetry in the Ways of the Weird tent were my personal highlights), even with some nostalgic elements, it’s clear that free thinking reigns supreme here.  

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The madcap and yes, perhaps retro-tinged elements are all still there at Port Eliot.  The Vintage Tea Ladies, who call you “Luv” and faux smoke their fags.  The village fete-inspired Flower and Fodder show with people competing in jams, cakes and Alice in Wonderland themed flower and veg displays.

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IMG_2212Wearing Somewhere Nowhere top, LES by Lesia Paramonova dress, Nike shorts, Minna Parikka shoes and Prada bag

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Renowned film costume designer Sandy Powell – a longtime friend and frequenter of the festival – brought her thousand layered dress and Swarovski glass slippers, created for this year’s live action film version of Cinderella, to the Port Eliot House.  The dress in particular looked magnificent in the similarly blue-hued central drawing room.  When she spoke to Tim Blanks, she asserted that absolutely no CGI magic was involved in the dress’ magical wafting properties, as it was just down to “good old fashioned dress making.”

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A much welcome new addition to the festival was the beautiful craft magazine Hole & Corner‘s collaborative stand with Plymouth University, where daily workshops took place, led by people like bag designer Bill Amberg and paper artist Zoe Bradley.  The craft portion of the festival as a result was substantially beefed up, pleasing a crowd that were eager to get their hands dirty with pottery classes and woodworking.

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The Anthropologie tent is no more and in its place, Port Eliot kept it local with Cornish lifestyle brand Seasalt coming in and enticing the crowd with deckchairs, a free-to-play piano and marinière shirt customising workshops.

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In the bigger and better Wardrobe Department thanks to the voluntary support of members of the British Fashion Council, Port Eliot regulars like Stephen Jones (donning his Fashion Police cap), Barbara Hulanicki and Jenny Dyson running her Pencil Atelier were all back.  Other notable illustrators like New York Times contributor Damien Florebert Cuypers came in to conduct lessons.  Piers Atkinson was also back to help festival goers create their own permanent headbands and hats with synthetic flowers.  The emphasis this year was on teaching the process of a milliner as opposed to just handing over a ready-made headdress to someone.

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IMG_1525Rosanna Falconer looking lovely in Matthew Williamson and her Piers Atkinson wreath

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IMG_1536Wearing Risto shirt, vintage dress, Issey Miyake Pleats Please trousers, Nike trainers

The Wardrobe Department got a real space boost this year with the adjoining garden, dubbed the Theatre of Fashion.  This meant more talks, more workshops and more activities that stick to Mower’s aim of simultaneously adding substance to the subject of fashion as well as making it look fun.  “At heart, I think of everything we do here is to return fashion to a state where everyone can rediscover – or actually discover for the first time- the absolute delight in being creative, making things, talking, thinking and working together,” said Mower.  “That sounds soppy, but I will fiercely defend it as more and more important as the fashion system has morphed into such a rigid, corporate, harsh and relentless machine which is not generally kind and inclusive – and rarely ever laughs and lets its imagination off the leash.”

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Central Saint Martins MA graduates Luke Brooks and Beth Postle, who are still enjoying the process of their own unbounded creativity took to the Theatre of Fashion with their screen painted t-shirts with festival motifs and their own take on new ageism.  And the bigger they were the better as sizes went up to 8 XL.

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The Theatre of Fashion meant I could also get involved too this year as I was joined by knitwear designer Katie Jones to talk about sustainability in fashion.  The original plan was the crochet and chat.  Turns out, it’s really much too hard to crochet and chat about a weighty subject like sustainability, at the same time.  According to Katie, you can watch Eastenders, whilst working the crochet hooks.  She also conducted crochet workshops on fruity leather patches, where people surprisingly excelled in.   It might not have been seasonally correct to talk about Katie’s AW15 Let Them Eat Cake colourful knits but they certainly came in handy, when Katie and her crew could keep warm in the chilly Cornish night time temperatures.

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To mark Mower’s theme, tv and film set designer Derek Brown together with Port Eliot’s creative director Michael Howells created this impressive central Medieval banquet tableaux as well as a recreation of the boat in John Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott painting.

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The tie in with the Wardrobe Department’s theme carried through to the talks.  Fashion historian NJ Stephenson and Mark Butterfield of C20 Vintage Fashion were back to talk about 140 years of Liberty Prints in lieu of the upcoming exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum.  It was less about the inception of those original prints and their associations with the Arts & Crafts Movement but more about the way they wove in with the visual identity of 1960s radicalism in Swinging London and the Medieval Revivalism, popular in the 70s.

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Bumble & Bumble also took a hair cue from the Medieval period with braids and plaits a plenty thanks to both the Braid Bar and Bleach hair whizz Alex Brownsell teaching people how to recreate the styles of 14th and 15th century hair muses.

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I too got my complex braid on thanks to Bumble & Bumble stylist Sven Bayerbach.

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M.A.C. Cosmetics were also back with daily moodboards creating Pre-Raphaelite or tribal tattoo inspired looks on demand, which is where my black dotty and gold face came from.  I do miss Louise Gray’s more freehand face painting antics though.

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Mower’s Medieval theme definitely culminated on Saturday when the biggest draw of the festival had Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, former costume designer for GoT Michele Clapton (she just resigned after five seasons) and former production designer Gemma Jackson who worked on GoT for the first three seasons, in conversation with Mower.  Christie provided the comic relief as well as impressing us with her armour and sword welding skills in clips from the show, and Jackson and Clapton shed much insight into the level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into the costumes and sets of the show.  For example, I had no idea Sansa’s wedding outfits were imbued with so much meaning with their embroidered lions and corseted discomfort.  For GoT fans, this was a mega treat.  For those that weren’t, hearing about Jackson and Clapton’s work process is nonetheless inspiring.

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The GoT panel was followed up by a demonstration of how the show has refracted its way into fashion and into another bout of subconscious Medieval revival.  Mower and Alexander Fury came together to discuss the influences of both the show and a Medieval mood on fashion designers, both contemporary and from the past.  “I thought the resonances of Thrones are really profound – the idea of medieval fantasy, with all that horror, brutality and  bloodshed involved, seems like a mirror held up to today, in my mind,” explained Mower.  Accompanying them was a staggeringly ambitious fashion show – casted from the crowd as well as featuring the photogenic Warren family – Port Eliot’s unofficial models.  Mower was initially afraid of reaching out to designers but it turns out they were unbelievably accommodating.  Sarah Burton lent her Anglican church-inspired pre-fall 2013 Alexander McQueen collection.  Dolce & Gabbana’s Norman invasion of Sicily A/W 14-5 collection featured heavily too.  Mary Katrantzou, Giles, Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh also popped up with their whiffs of Medieval.  To show that this bout of Medievalism isn’t just a fuelled by Game of Thrones, pieces by Zandra Rhodes, Laura Ashley and Thea Porter from the 70s and 80s also featured.  Styled by Ed Marler and Matthew Josephs, the outfits had a weirdly contemporary resonance especially with surprise additions like recent RCA graduate Hannah Williams’ latex pieces and J.W. Anderson’s debut collection for Loewe.  The context explained and discussed by Mower and Fury brought these Kings, Queens, knights, ladies and serfs to life.  “One of the girls who we randomly cast for the Medieval show came up to me and said ‘I love wearing these clothes but listening to the talk was even better.  I had no idea fashion could be so deep!'”

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IMG_20150801_154503Georgie in Thea Porter was able to reenact William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott painting in his brilliant set 

IMG_2199Myself, Sean Baker from Paul Smith and Anders Christian Madsen of i-D couldn’t help but jump on that boat too

Away from fashion historicism and contextual analysis, Port Eliot is still faithful to giving children the opportunity to make and create.  “The children’s fashion show is a highlight of the festival and not just because it’s cute,” said Mower.  “Underlying all this is a mission to plant the idea that you CAN make things with your own hands, and it’s fun!  Now that art in schools is practically being stamped out it is really moving to me to see how many really young people just are naturally dying to be creative – and this is something I would like to take beyond Port Eliot as part of the BFC Education campaign.”  Whether Mower and the BFC accomplishes this missive, it is still lovely to see kids expressing themselves with their fashion show outfits and similarly seeing people get silly with their Port Eliot prom outfits.

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IMG_2283Winners of this year’s Port Eliot Prom

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IMG_2301I thought Phoebe Colling-James’ pineapple was an ace prom ensemble

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IMG_2363Modern Man t-shirt, Molly Goddard dress, J-Brand jeans, vintage Courréges jacket, Vans x & Other Stories slip ons

Despite the Medieval slant, Mower has added yet more New Gen designers to the festival to showcase what is actually happening in the here and now of fashion.  Marta Marques and Paola Almeida came down to talk about the attitude and the mood of the Marques Almeida “girl”, embodied once again by the Warren Sisters and make-up looks by MAC.  It’s a celebration of imperfection – night bus hair, chalk dust eye shadow and smeared on eyeliner.  It’s the kind of fashion and attitude that might seem blindingly obvious to those in the industry but to the average festival goer at Port Eliot, it’s a message that is worth repeating.  With the support of the British Fashion Council (who tirelessly worked on the festival from dawn till dusk), Mower has fostered a spirit of inclusivity, intelligence and spontaneity in the Wardrobe Department and the Theatre of Fashion.  It’s one of the few places where the fashion activities and programming, doesn’t replicate the shallow and cut-throat cliches that are perpetuated about the industry in the media.  Long may this continue.

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IMG_2422Wearing vintage stripy top, Dries van Noten vest, Comme des Garcons trousers, Vans x & Other Stories slip ons

With thanks to Yurtel for providing accommodation at Port Eliot.

LC:M has been and gone in a flurry of essential pieces, “wardrobes” for reality and perhaps a dose of predictability that seems vital in order for businesses to kick on.  There was one big exception though.  At Fashion East’s Menswear Installations, which was previously a house of cacophony where four or five designers converge to bring madness to the method, Lulu Kennedy and her team have edited it down to two strong voices.  They couldn’t have been more of a contrast to one another but they both sung from the same hymn sheet that preaches out why London’s is still the epicentre of creativity in fashion.  I came out buzzing with excitement and optimism because in a nutshell, they had collectively summed up the state of fashion at present and where it should be going if we’re to have an industry that isn’t devoid of feeling and inclusivity.    

Charles Jeffrey, a Central Saint Martins MA graduate from this year took over the ground floor of the ICA with a replica of his club night Loverboy, a dress-up-or-you’re-not-coming-in residency at Vogue Fabrics in Dalston, which has been dubbed the successor to the Boombox and Ponystep nights of the early noughties.  Jeffrey actually used the door takings of Loverboy to partially fund his MA course – just another pertinent reminder that fashion is increasingly in danger of slipping solely into the hands of the privileged. 

A throng of Loverboy regulars, ready for Instagram or Instax, waved their hands like they just didn’t care in a combination of their own charity shop or DIY ensembles mixed in with Jeffrey’s own customised denim, tailoring made in conjunction with Savile Row Chittleborough & Morgan and spliced up Aran knits by fellow CSM grad Joshie Beatty.  What Charles Jeffrey is communicating here is the fighting spirit of a group effort, that is saying no to formalised product, seasons or structure.  He’ll chuck paint Jackson Pollock style directly on the models.  He’ll screen test his tribe with Andy Warhol-esque Factory videos.  He’ll break up a chandelier and fashion it into a necklace.  And yet at the same time, Jeffrey knows what goes into the cut of a well constructed coat.  Loverboy goers throng about in amongst flower petals and broken glass and with every thrust of a limb, don’t-give-a-fuck scream and sellotaped seam, there’s desire to retain what London has always so successfully spawned – a club kid scene that elevates fashion to some non-formulaic heights.  Your entry into Jeffrey’s Loverboy world isn’t compromised by race, sexuality, wealth or social standing – just let your unbounded creativity do the talking. 

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Upstairs in the ICA you couldn’t get more of a contrasting foil to Jeffrey’s antics.  If Jeffrey thrilled you, then Grace Wales Bonner floored you.  As I was leaving, I passed my boyfriend Steve, who had emerged entranced for forty-five minutes in Bonner’s universe.  Bonner has had an unprecedented rise since her award-winning CSM BA collection ‘Afrique’ in 2014.  She debuted her second collection ‘Ebonics’ with Fashion East in January and has also taken part in V&A’s Fashion in Motion programme usually reserved for designers who have built up at least a decade’s worth of collections.  That’s just one indication of how deeply impressive Bonner’s work is, with deep being the operative word.  Few designers at such a young age pair academia and design in the same way that Bonner does nor use fashion to further a conversation about identity, race and culture as she has done.  Conner’s fixation with investigating black culture in fashion isn’t a gimmick but rather, she’s seeking to refute stereotypes and create a dialogue between clothes, wearer and onlooker that seeks to go far beyond whatever race you happen to be.  Hip hop swagger and heavy-handed streetwear or sportswear have no place in Bonner’s world where she explores a gracefulness that borders on being regal. 

Precisely why her S/S 16 collection is based on Malik Ambar, a 16th century slave in Ethiopia who becomes a ruler in Western India with an independent army.  That journey is a beautiful one as we wafted from room to room observing tranquil gestures and an abstracted sartorial take on Ambar’s life.    Our idea of African diaspora is altered as we observe this man of ease in battered silks, sun-bleached checks and wide linen trousers segueing into crushed velvet ensembles, encrusted with Swarovski and shells and nehru collar-ed shirts.  With Bonner’s clothes, the context is just as important as the construction and whilst that may not be a set-up that is sustainable, for now, Bonner is free to create candidly, trickling down her ideas to further the conversation at large not just with her collections but with projects like her Everythings for Real zine published by Ditto Press.  When fashion is powerful like that, it needs to be free to grow and develop at its own pace and the industry will do well to support this visionary.   

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