“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!”

I’ve emerged from the newborn hell and fash-un is calling.  In between the thankfully reduced night feeds, I’ve been dreaming that I was having imaginary conversation about Edward Enninful’s new era at British Vogue or how insane/funny the queues are going to be for Supreme’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton.  Not a lie.  I did indeed wake up one morning thinking I had had a chummy frow-worthy chortle, and was then brought back down to earth by the rhythmic beat of Ewan the sheep and the milky scent of leaking boobs.

And so I’ve decided to throw myself into the deep end of the cruise show diving pool.  I’m doing all of ‘em.  As in all the biggie houses that take you around the world, serving up experiences as well as clothes so that whatever far flung location seeps into your brain.  The freezer is full of blocks of my boob juice.  The other half has been schooled on the art of Milton cold water sterilisation.  Timer alerts have been set for FaceTime sessions with Nico and five minute bouts of breast pumping.

To start the cruise journey off, there was an easy one-day jaunt to Paris on Wednesday for Chanel’s cruise 2018 show.  Chanel may have been one of the first houses to pioneer the extravagant travelling cruise show but such is their might, that the move to bring it all back to home turf in Paris, following their Metiers D’arts show at the Ritz, was a compelling  one.  Especially as we entered the Grand Palais under the angsty pre-election vibes of a drizzly Paris and found ourselves bathed in the warming hues of terracotta stuccoed walls and the ombre light of a sun setting over the Aegean.  The scent of real olive trees planted in amongst the meticulously crafted Doric column ruins was authentic enough, as was the wafts of burning charcoal roasting sticks of gyros at the after show cocktail (was I the only one who found it really great that we ate meat on a stick at a Chanel party?).  We didn’t physically go to Greece but in ambiance and mood it came to us.

And it doesn’t take a plane journey to make sense of the clothes in a collection Karl Lagerfeld called “The Antiquity of Modernity.”   This was perhaps one of Chanel’s most straightforward, easy-to-decipher collections of late.  You couldn’t possibly apply the phrase ‘It’s all Greek to me’ in this instance.  Because the collection was the opposite of unintelligible, which isn’t to say that the clothes are simple.  “Reality is of no interest to me. I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”  That was the bold assertion from Lagerfeld in the press notes and indeed it’s not quite the reality of the country today, marred by economic woes.  Instead, it’s the mythical Greece of not just Lagerfeld’s imagining but a collective one.  This Grecian jaunt ran the gamut from Madame Grés-esque pleated and draped gowns, to amped up Halston vibes in caped printed chiffon dresses and then to modern day chiton mini robes for those Insta-friendly holidays in Santorini and Mykonos.  Gabrielle Chanel provided the starting point with her costumes for Jean Cocteau’s 1922 staging of Antigone and her marble Venus statue that still sits in her Rue Cambon apartment.  From there, it was every tried-and-tested Grecian-inspired dress trope for Lagerfeld’s taking.  Chanel’s tweeds were roughed up and frayed for rugged coastal climates.  Knife-cut pleats were moulded into amphora-shaped dresses, tightened in with embellished corsets.  The King Midas touch of gold was scattered all over a recurring laurel leaf print motif, an owl of Athena on a double CC purse and the gentle jingle of hammered coin embroidery.  For the lover of a memorable kitsch Chanel shoe, gladiator sandals come with ionic column heels.

The familiarity of it all works in the context of a cruise collection.  Type in beachwear into MatchesFashion.com and ye shall find the holiday friendly fashion category, burgeoning and bursting as a sector in its own right.  The monied and jetsetting community of the world who can afford to look to Chanel for their poolside and yacht-sunning needs will find that these toga-lite silhouettes and sun-friendly shades of terracotta, midnight blue and white fit that functional bill.  And for something more fanciful that mirrored Michel Gaubert’s 21st century Greek soundtrack consisting of Aphrodite’s Child and Iannis Xenakis?  How about those black ankle Daria-esque boots with criss-cross straps?  Or a transparent swiss dot-decorated kimono in thin plastic.  Or a crackled marble waist cinching corset rendered in sequins.  In the end it was proof again that Kaiser Karl could apply just about place Chanel codes amidst any era, civilisation or universe.

I hadn’t really intended to write any posts about dressing my pregnancy bump for two reasons – first that the internet is awash with advice, tips and recommendations on maternity attire and second that from the get-go, I had wanted to adjust or change as little as possible with regards to my wardrobe.  There’s no nice way of putting it .  Mainstream maternity wear by and large, sucks.  It can generally be summed up with horizontal stripes, faux kimono wrap constructions and copious amounts of cotton jersey (scroll through #Bumpfie on Instagram and your eyes adjust to that linear striped pattern).  In other words, clothes that I wasn’t prepared to spend actual money on.

But as my due date has been and gone (yes, I’m STILL pregnant) and I’ve weirdly adjusted to this bulbous formation that has been with me, more or less since August last year, I realised I had gathered up a personal arsenal of tactics that has enabled me to largely avoid the dull horizontal stripy jersey maternity hole.  Therefore here’s one last set of outfits in my largest, most rotund state, that pretty much sums up my mat wear approach.  I can’t say there’s any legit wisdom that other pregnant person can take away seeing I can only speak for my own changing curvilinear bod, but anyhow, here goes… the most specific and therefore least useful bump-dressing advice that has been ever been administered…

Enjoy!  Or not as the case may be…

– Layering need not be abandoned.  In fact the bigger I got, I think the more layers I put on just because once it was evident I was pregnant, nobody was going to really mistake three layers of skirts with two jumpers for a food baby.  When I wore a voluminous skirt with an extra puffy Coach shearling coat over it, I did get a male nurse at UCLH asking me, “Are you pregnant or is that just fashion?”  Chortling, I replied with, “It’s both!”

– There are obvious designers that aided me through the months.  Molly Goddard’s gatherings of tulle, smocking and elastic that got me through dressier occasions.  Simone Rocha’s generous proportions of beautiful fabrics, which “swaddled” my body, as it did hers when she was pregnant with her own precious daughter Valentine.  Sturdy outerwear from Coach to keep the final trimester months warm and cuddly.  Then there were less obvious culprits.  Thanks to Selfridges’ support of Fashion East designer Richard Malone, I overwore his use of ribbed jersey, asymmetric cuts and apron-esque constructions.  Vetements’ floral dresses – either in oversized bonded cotton or stretchy viscose – were also hugely useful.  Yes, wearing all that hype may have added extra weight but it would be churlish to fault the design or the roomy sizing…

– Wrap skirts that had several button settings or kilts that had different buckle distances can be worn when fastened “incorrectly” and worn over trousers, almost like a pelmet.  I had to look longingly at my rack of zippered skirts but wrap skirts were fortunately game.

– All hail the knitted trouser.  Ribbed knit trousers sort of became my equivalent of the legging.  Yanking and peeling off huggy sports leggings has become virtually impossible in the last two months without my partner helping me out but not so with the knitted trew that flops to the floor once waistband has been eased down .  Topshop and ASOS both did some great ones that were either made more interesting with a flare shape or cropped proportion.

– Speaking of elastic waistbands, not all are created equal alas.  The prize for the bestest of elastic waistbands goes to a pair of Comme by Comme des Garcons red velvet trousers, which festively doubled up as Santa Pants.  Plenty of give in the waistband despite it being a size SMALL and no painful digging in to the belly.  Topshop’s Lucas maternity jeans were the one exception to the no-mat-wear rule as the soft ribbed waistband also proved too comfy to forgo.  And leather trousers miraculously worked for most of my pregnancy thanks to J Brand’s cropped matte leather trews that came with a very forgiving elasticated waistband.

– It goes without saying that roomy dropped waist flapper dresses and bias cut slip dresses were also my salvation.  Except I’ve stretched a few of them out at the belly.  Bias cut pieces in particular seemed to skim over the bump most pleasingly.  Therefore browsing on eBay/Etsy/Kerry Taylor and on Camden Passage and Alfie’s in London was still viable.

– My love of flatforms was sustained all the way through pregnancy, with ankle straps and buckles tied at their largest size to allow for any swelling.  The key is weight of the shoe, illustrated by these Coach resort ones where the creeper sole is surprisingly light, with the added benefit of being about to have a bit of bounce in the step when the time comes to get the baby head down.  Fortunately my feet didn’t swell up so most of my flat shoes and trainers were by and large still wearable.

– Jumpers and sweaters have not in fact been ruined by their stretching over a bump.  I’ve come to be quite fond of the way they ride up at the front revealing a slither of bump to the world in all its stretch marked glory.  But just in case of the odd uncomfortable stare from sniggering teenagers on the bus, like I said before, there’s the layering thing with long shirts and tunics that can go underneath the riding up knitwear.

– I’m thanking the statement jackets and outerwear that I could still fling on if I did end up defaulting to shambolic lasagne-stained t-shirts underneath.  The zanier the coat or jacket, the better it made me feel in fact.  Volume!  Colours!  Print!  Embellishment!  Looking like an overly decorated sausage roll was precisely what I was going for.

– Oh, and lest there are any holier-than-thou zenned out mothers or mothers-to-be, thinking that I dedicated far too much thought to what I wore during what is supposed to be this beautiful and magical time, to ponder the miracle of life that is growing inside of me, time sloooooowed to a snail’s pace.  Every minute became more pronounced and elongated, even more so when I did eventually begin to wind down work-wise.   All the better to devote time towards sifting through dropped waist flapper dresses and experimentally yanking elasticated waistbands up and down my body…

Wearing Coach four pocket leather jacket, Coach cut out creepers and Coach patchwork Rogue with Richard Malone top from Selfridges, 2ndDay patent skirt and ASOS flared trousers

 

Wearing Coach Wild Beast cropped coat, Coach Car sweater, Coach haircalf cut out creepers and Coach Rocket Rogue with Prada sheer dress and Topshop knitted trousers

Wearing Coach Western Moto jacket, Coach car sweater, Coach patchwork Rogue and Coach cut out creepers with Vetements floral dress and Paskal sheer skirt

Wearing Coach car sweater and Coach haircalf cut out creepers with Ryan Lo blanket coat, Comme by Comme des Garcons velvet trousers and Low Classic shirt

I’ve yet to write extensively about Burberry on the blog before.  Why?  They’re the big razz ma tazz tent of a flagship British brand that rolls into town come London Fashion Week, into which I race in, huffing and panting because inevitably some traffic disaster has made late.  I plonk myself on a seat, the show starts immediately (on time), a very very loud soundtrack blares out (sometimes live, sometimes not) and out comes a troop of trenches and then there’s some confetti moment at the end.  It’s over in a blur and resides in my mind often as a blur.  What else could I add that Tim Blanks, Alex Fury and Sarah Mower can not?  So it’s been a brand watched from afar as they sped up, digitised, and pushed the industry into a social media initiative overdrive.

Burberry September, as they’re now calling it, would be a different beast.  Last Saturday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, I openly expressed my scepticism over see-now-buy-now, summing up in short what I also said in this Vogue.com interview I did, regarding the future of fashion a few months ago.  I’m skeptical because I have qualms about how the pressure of delivering straight after the show and in the right quantities will affect the aesthetic merit of the clothes.  Will collections be as creative and innovative as they can be, or will they simply be robotically designed and manufactured according to what the market demands, because sales will be monitored straight away?  Furthermore, is it a model that every brand can and should adopt?  What of young designers who don’t have the means to produce in advance and are taking a big financial risk by doing so?

Those questions still rage on but I did lay the hope of someone succeeding at see-now-buy-now at the hands of Burberry.  They’re big enough.  They’ve set agendas before.  If they didn’t pull off this coup, then who would, you wondered.  What I didn’t expect though was the all-encompassing experience that Burberry would serve up.  One that touched you emotionally, quelled the nay-saying and more importantly, physically (and digitally) engaged with the non-industry onlooker.  To the point where you would go have a gander at the store to check out the ruffled shirts or go online .  Incidentally, I have anecdotal evidence to back it up.  A day after the show, I was in Selfridges’ new Designer’s Studio to pick up a few new thangs (do check out their very brave, new-generation designer selection by the by) and a shop assistant who I wouldn’t have pegged as a Burberry fan, enthused about the show and talked about logging on the website to see what he could get his hands on.

I’ll leave the semantics of how Burberry’s take on see-now-buy-now is operating to this very useful Business of Fashion piece.  The graphic of Burberry’s timetable in particular makes sense of how production will work, demonstrating a level of extreme time re-management, that needs to take place to actually make this work.  What I was interested in was the process of seeing something and the inciting of desire to buy it immediately, coming from a place where I was previously content to wait for said desire to burnish and build up over a six month period.  If something is great, it will remain great

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Orlando was already an irresistible starting point but one that cleverly makes an inspiration catch-all for Christopher Bailey.  Its themes of gender fluidity and an ageless narrative unshackled by time and history, means that all of the influences laid out so evocatively on the mood board that you see in one portion of Maker’s House – English stately homes, foppish imagery of the Bloomsbury set, 16th-17th century aristocratic portraiture, Colefax & Fowler-esque fabric swatches and embedded in amongst all of what seemed oldy-woldy and deathly traditional, the insouciant airs of more contemporary figures.  All readied and mixed into a potent cauldron that would produce one of the most stirring Burberry shows that I’ve ever seen in person.   

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The notion of see-now-buy-now strikes fears of “easy” product in my mind.  A textbook sweatshirt.  A sellable coat.  These things must shift straightaway, on the basis that collections in quantity have already been produced, so the pressure to perform is heightened.  And yet in Burberry’s September collection, you found uncompromising aesthetic that when broken down still fell in line with their previous output.  The military braided coats and jackets of seasons past looked more quietly regal, in an intimate setting, where there were centimetres rather than metres separating your eyes and the clothes.   The English pyjama prints layered up with belted-cardis and Oxford shirts counteracted with the high-necked Elizabethan ruffs, embedded pearls and voluminous sleeves.  Where Bailey had previously looked to the Bloomsbury literary scene for inspiration, those same muted tones of Vanessa Bell’s Charleston home felt tangible and covetable.

In effect we had seen many of these thematic explorations before but somehow, as one historical period seamlessly segued into the next, and scruff and splendour worked in harmony with one another, there was something that clicked.  And it wasn’t just the sound of the Buy button (early analysis says Burberry are seeing the fruits of their see-now-buy-now labour).  I immediately looked up the price of the gold tasselled boots for pure personal curiosity.  It was an impulse aided by what looks to be an abundantly stocked e-commerce site.

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You could deduce that my personal appreciation of the collection had much to do with the vastly smaller and changed-up format of the physical show, soundtracked by a live orchestra playing an original composition.  That’s something that is often a shuttered off experience for the masses and one that is hard to communicate from still images and even high quality video alone.  Step in the open doors of Makers House, residing in the former old Foyle’s bookstore building off Charing Cross Road.  On the first floor, where the show played out, the clothes are there on mannequins for you to touch and feel.  On the ground floor though is where Burberry has borrowed smatterings of other brands’ experiential-based exhibitions (Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior are all of course dab hands at this).  Beyond a charming courtyard of sculptures and ivy and then into an abbreviated version of Thomas’ Cafe (I highly recommend the vicky sponge…), in partnership with The New Craftsmen, Burberry gathered up a lovely group of embroiders, passementeriers (the last remaining ones in London hand-making braided trims and tassels), patchworkers, sandcasters and more to demonstrate not necessarily the craft of the actual collection, but to celebrate these endeavours that echo Burberry’s own brand values.

We weren’t there to witness the making of the collection as we did at Chanel’s recent haute couture show but to marvel at niche crafts that incite emotions of nostalgia and curiosity.  How you link up sandcasted jewellery and hexagonal patchwork cushions with the collection is entirely up to you.  For me, it was a much more subtle and celebratory showcase of craft – one that wasn’t necessarily designed merely to schill product but instead to shout out about a fundamental aspect of craft today – that if you don’t raise awareness of say, Jessica Light’s handmade tassels or Rose de Borman’s silk screen prints (both available to buy in an on-site gift shop) then it’s likely their craft won’t likely survive. It was basically what entities like London Craft Week have been promoting, but of course it’s hard to parallel the backing of a brand like Burberry.

The programme of various craft demonstrations and events finishes up tomorrow and it will be even more interesting to see how many visitors the venue got and whether that visit, in turn led to a gander up to the flagship store on Regent’s Street.  Maybe those of you who managed to make it down to Makers House can report back. If enough people went from live stream to Maker’s House to store or to the website, then I would consider a success from Burberry’s perspective. And as someone who has often felt like someone peering inside Burberry’s shiny windows, this felt like a re-assessment of sorts, where qualitative experience triumphed over the need to merely sell you something immediately.

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