There’s something grossly uncomfortable about this interview that Ed Meadham did with Anders Christian Madsen for i-D.  Over tea, Meadham opens up about the demise of the almost-cult label Meadham Kirchhoff, one of the saddest and in my mind, completely preventable losses of the fashion world.  The interview touches on the label’s insolvency, Meadham winding up in a coma, an unsanctioned sample sale of the brand’s precious archive as a result of a cruel case of profiteering and a personal isolation that left Meadham practically jobless for two years.  It makes for a tortured and bittersweet read because it brought up the waves of anger that I’ve touched upon time and time again about the fit-in-or-die mentality of the most cut throat parts of the fashion industry.  How genuine talent isn’t always necessarily rewarded.  How waves of press hype often malign the designers that deserve it.  How retailers are often restrained in their financial and sales-driven ability to buy as creatively as one might hope.

Certainly in the case of Meadham Kirchhoff, it was never the case that the public didn’t want what they were serving (which is the stark and plain truth behind many labels’ downfall).  The love was strong.  It was a rainbow outpouring of unicorn, heart and sparkle emojis from all over the world, reblogged and liked on Tumblr and championed by maverick-minded figures such as Tavi Gevinson and Ione Gable of Polyester Zine.  The mainstream press of course chimed in and celebrated the label’s high points as well when it suited them, but as Meadham recalls being blanked by certain people in the industry at a recent RCA show, it exposes the cruel fickleness of the industry.  Meadham ponders this volte-face: “It was like, ‘Are you not allowed to speak to failures?'”

There is of course no point in praising talent to the high hills if there’s no work to show for it.  So in an act of cathartic defiance and to trial a new way of channelling Meadham’s ideas, energy and yes, talent, Ronnie Newhouse of fashion agency House + Holme and Adrian Joffe of Dover Street Market invited Meadham to create a new brand for the store.  That warms the heart.  Two people with means, power and influence creating alternative paths for a designer that was always destined for alternative ways of working.

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br2The Blue Roses space at Dover Street Market replete with Meadham’s collages and scribblings

And so on Thursday on the ground floor of Dover Street Market London, a heart-shaped chocolate box opens up to the debut of Blue Roses, named in reference to the famous line in Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.  With the support of DSM, Meadham has created a line of affordable tees, hoods, stockings and pretty pieces of frippery such as a Victorian velvet collar and matching sleeves.  Glitter encrusted sweatshirts are perhaps the only direct flashbacks to Meadham Kirchhoff’s early past but it’s an idea that still stands solid (literally) today.  The texture makes for a nice onomatopoeia and leaves its sparkly fairy dust all over my coffee table when I try it on at home.  It’s not really a regurgitation of greatest hits but rather essences of Meadham’s oeuvre and aesthetic that come with pleasingly and comparatively purse-friendly prices (starting at £58 for a tee and rising up to the £200s for the velvet and glitter stuff).  Former MK-heads were already enthusiastically rifling through the rails when I popped in to delve into the Blue Roses corner on Friday morning.  Some of the pieces are available on the DSM site but the best selection remains in-store.

Where does this leave Meadham then today?  It’s not quite a full on resurrection, nor would you expect a shouty comeback from Meadham.  The i-D interview ends with “I always wanted to put some beauty into the world. I tried very hard.”  The past tense tinged with sadness, in that last sentence seemingly comes with a hardened sigh of despondency over his output and achievements.  No, Ed.  You DID create beauty and it DID spread far and wide in the world.  With Blue Roses, there are signs of a beginning that could indeed flourish with the correct modifications that such a floral genus requires.  I, along with countless others will be sitting here willing it to happen.

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img_3033Blue Roses velvet frilly collar and sleeves worn with vintage dress

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img_3075Blue Roses long-sleeved tee worn with Sacai shirt, navy tulle skirt and Marques Almeida furry trainers

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img_3082Blue Roses pink glitter top worn with Minki Cheng skirt

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“Welcome to Loewe Land”  I *think* Jonathan Anderson was saying this in jest, as he waved his hands over the “Past, Present, Future” exhibition that is currently open to the public at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Madrid.  But over a compact two day trip to the city where the Spanish leather goods house is rooted to, it really did feel like an excursion to a Loewe Land of sorts.  One that crazily, has really only been in existence for two years since Anderson became creative director.  The word ‘past’ in the title of the exhibition lingers in the background, and yes, we saw traces of Loewe’s 170 year history embedded here and there – but there can be no doubt that what you took away was the here, the now and the yet-to-come from Anderson’s creative direction.

Case in point, there was a stark difference between when I last visited Loewe’s factory in Getafe, on the outskirts of Madrid back in 2012 when Stuart Vevers was still heading up the house to the factory visit I undertook this time round.  Everything looked different.  The physical layout and decor.  That M/M Paris reconfigured logo embroidered on all the craftspeople’s uniforms.  A snazzy canteen that looks more than fit to feed what looked to be an increased workforce.  Above all, the processes looked completely different.  More machinery in rooms where alas, I wasn’t allowed to enter due to my advanced pregnancy.  Peering in through the window, I could hear the hum drum of vast laser cutting machines programmed to cut all those wonderful skins.

The leathers had broadened out.  The super soft Spanish entrefino lambskins, sturdier calfskins and marble-rubbed suedes were all still there and obviously take centre stage in the key bags that Anderson has since introduced into the Loewe bag fold – the Puzzle, the Hammock and the Barcelona to add to the existing Flamenco and Amazona styles.  On a crazier rail in the leather research room though are bonded leathers, pleated finishes and bold patterns as well as swatches of hand-painted leathers.  It’s a balance between the traditional and the experimental that the Loewe craftsmen have taken onboard and you see an excited glint in their eyes when they recall creating objects such as the leather-clad giant cat necklaces of the AW16 collection or being tasked to take the material of a trainer recontextualise it into bags.  And yet, at the same time, Anderson still has the appreciation of leather that is “like a lady with very little make-up on”.

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Perhaps the biggest change I saw was in the production line of the factory.  You can always tell demand for a brand’s bag is up when there are target sheets pinned onto the line.  Production of the hit Puzzle bag was in full force and I finally got to see the beginning-to-end of the assembly of what is a complicated bit of leather pattern cutting, where forty pieces of leather come together.  Around ten craftsmen work in tandem with one another to bring the components of structured last, the canvas lining, handle and of course the distinctly cut and sewn Puzzle configuration in leather together.  It’s perhaps a more efficient process to what I saw last time I was at the factory when they were making the old style Flamenco bags.  This paced up production is required of course to meet the customer demand that Anderson’s transformation of Loewe now engenders.  And yet, despite the sped up hands and lean manufacturing processes, the quality control that goes into a Loewe bag isn’t lost.  That’s evident in the final product itself as well as the numerous checks put in place to ensure stitch, seam and component meets the exacting standards of the house.

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The main purpose of my being in Madrid though was the opening of Casa Loewe, officially now the largest Loewe store in the world and the first in Spain that reflects the new direction of the house.  In bricks and mortar form, Anderson’s indelible mark can be seen everywhere.  Again, I’m comparing and contrasting against the last time I was in Madrid with Loewe.  Back then I visited the historic but small Gran Via store.  The newly revamped Casa Loewe is a different beast altogether, occupying an entire corner of Calle Goya and Serrano in the Salamanca district.  When we were there, that famous Madrid golden light in the late afternoon was hitting the impressive facade.  And inside that light flooded into the double height space of over a thousand square meters that accommodate specially chosen pieces of artwork such as Sir Howard Hodgkin’s giant aquatint entitled ‘As Time Goes By (Orange)’ that stretches across the ground floor wall.  Keeping Casa Loewe specific to Madrid is a wall installation of handmade ceramic tiles by Spanish-Americna artist Glora Garcia Lorca.  Their earthiness complements the Valencian clay floors and Camparspero stone of the central staircase as well as the organic craft-led textures of Anderson’s most recent ready to wear collections for the house.  Cleverly, amidst rough-hewn tweeds, shades of calico and veg-tan leather though is product.  Plenty of it.  Anderson has never shied away from the P word and so elephant bags, abstract brooches, interiors-led blankets and now a his ‘n’ her house perfume are now recognisable signifiers of Anderson’s Loewe, in addition to the stable of bag styles.  They take pride of place in Casa Loewe.

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To the side on 4 Calle Goya is an unexpected addition to the store that will draw in most non-fashion folk with a florist that ties in with Anderson’s latest collaborative imagery with Steven Meisel, inspired by British educator and florist Constance Spry.  Her books on flower arranging are floristry classics and so her ethos flourishes both in this Loewe florist and in the set of stunning colour photographs, that look almost like painterly Dutch still lifes.  This “Flowers” series is also on display at the Royal Botanical Gardens.  The spontaneity of the arrangements and their exuberant palette is an irresistible combination.  They simultaneously have everything and nothing to do with what Loewe are outputting.  That’s Anderson again asserting his unpredictable respect for the past, which just so happens to feel right for the present.

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In the other part of the ‘Past, Present, Future’ exhibition you can see the taxonomy of Loewe laid out before you in the form of collaged walls and floors as well as a clear perspex display of objects from Loewe’s archives, current product as well as antiques that configure into this architected brand map of the house, conjured up by Anderson.  In other words, Loewe Land.  One that feels like it has been around forever but scarily, has only been in fruition for just over two years.  Which leaves the question of where Loewe and Anderson can go in the future.  You couldn’t but wonder about where else this exacting vision, curation and precision of aesthetics could be applied to.

Casa Loewe now open at Calle Serrano 34 in Madrid. Loewe ‘Past, Present, Future’ exhibition on at the Villanueva Pavilion inside the Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid until the 9th December 

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P.S. Yes the blog has been lying dormant for a while.  Hormones, hospital visits that involve a “bleed bag” and extreme fatigue somehow don’t make you want to HIP-HIP-HURRAH about fashion.  My fash-mojo will be making its way back onto the site now though…

“You’re going to Tokyo… straight after fashion month… and you’re six months pregnant….”

I didn’t consider the madness of that sentence until someone strung it together in that way, in addition to the raised eyebrows that went with it.  Under any other normal circumstances, I don’t really need a rhyming reason to go to Tokyo.  It is my happy place, where the simple act of going into a convenience store instantly lifts my spirits.  Therefore I saw a three day jaunt to Tokyo as my last random trip hurrah, before I really have to nest up and wait for the pending arrival of Lau-Salter sprog.  

I have to thank Gucci for giving me this condensed opportunity to see my favourite city one last time as a pre-motherhood freedling – or as a child at heart that is about to have a child of her own.  What was the occasion?  Gucci were celebrating the debut of Gucci 4 Rooms, an immersive installation featuring four artists that get carte blanche to interpret the codes of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci at their flagship store in Ginza as well as in the window of Dover Street Market nearby.

Tokyo as a location for Gucci 4 Rooms is of course a natural one, given that the current AW16 ad campaign was shot in the city amongst a backdrop of pachinko machines and dens of iniquity in Shibuya.  It’s also an important market that accounts for 10% of Gucci’s revenue and it’s easy to see why.  All those wonderfully adorned surfaces that Michele has been creating with their animal motifs, prints, textures and accumulative we candy fall perfectly in line with the Japanese penchant for the kawaii – I don’t mean the  ‘cute’ definition of the word but more a general aesthetic that favours anything that is instantly eye-catching.  

When Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzari gave his speech to introduce the exhibition, he talked about the need for a luxury house like Gucci to take risks and to look at their agenda from different angles in order to move forward.  And so Gucci 4 Rooms was conceived initially as a digital only project that then became a physical one.  Four artists.  Four rooms.  And you can experience the true essence of each artist’s intent online in the form of slick mini films and animated visuals.  Guests that happened to catch the exhibition in Tokyo get the bonus backdrop of the city of course.

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The Tokyo-based contemporary artist known as Mr. ‘s Gucci Garden is perhaps the most ostensibly ‘Japanese’ of all the installations as the artist Mr. is fascinated with placing the geeky otaku world within an art context.  And so anime character heads roll around in amongst a manga interpretation of Gucci flora and fauna.  It’s more of an urban jungle than garden as graffiti and apocalyptic messages like “Stay with me absent Tokyo-minded’ are scrawled across the walls. 

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Berlin-based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota’s trapping of the Gucci Herbarium print in the form of toile de jouy covered bed and matching accessories is a mind bending maze of luminous red thread.  It’s as if a game of cat’s cradle has been enlarged and engulfs anything that comes into its twine-based path.  Superficially it makes for an impressive backdrop to our Gucci outfit antics, in particular the coat I wore to the party, which blended right in.

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Gucci Words by Daito Manabe is an interactive experience where viewers can play pinball with Gucci pieces hanging on the wall, melding seamlessly with a digital backdrop.  The ball pings around hitting bags and jackets, causing them to spin, reminiscent of the clanging noise of the arcades of Tokyo.  Japanese literature on love inspired by Michele’s slogan of L’Aveugle Par Amour forms the backdrop to this surreal pinball game. 

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Brooklyn artist Trevor Andrew otherwise known as Trouble Andrew, of course is by now no stranger to all things Gucci as his graffitied GG and Gucci Ghost take over the window of Dover Street Market Ginza in the Elephant Room, housing an installation of his lo-fi films, Gucci Ghost accoutrements and all the accompanying merch that debuted in the AW16 collection.  I in turn, got my chance to be Trouble Andrew GG’d by pretending to be a Gucci baller on not one but two nights, wearing both graffitied denim jacket and the orange fur coat for the trip. 

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The bits in between the serious business of appreciating the art were padded out by hanging out with my real life bezzies Bryan and Tina in Tokyo.  They’re the peeps to rely on when one wants to sing karaoke in a Kigu animal suit, eat ramen AND fried chicken at 3am in the morning or go hunting for second hand Comme.

As Gucci feted their 4 Rooms with a rave-ish party at the store that was all UV walls, laser lights and glitched up video installations, which later morphed into an after party at Shibuya’s legendary Trump Rooms, Tina and Bryan were also on hand to provide the sort of japes and hi-jinx, that perhaps I’ll tell Baby Bubble about when she’s a bit older.  All that remains to be said is… Tokyo, you still slay me.  I’ve loved you every time I’ve seen you.  Even a three day trip is a fix worth having.  Next time, I will be back with a new addition.  And you’ll feel completely different. 

Gucci 4 Rooms on until November 27th at Gucci Ginza 7th Floor

img_4505Arrangement of some Gucci-appropriate garms in the Peninsula Hotel where we were staying

img_0402Dame Edna eyes courtesy of Gucci glasses

img_0425Draping a Gucci chain mailed hand across a course of kaiseki dinner

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img_0453Karaoke is defo more fun with a) animal suits and b) a mic booth that lights up

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img_3739Getting Gucci Real at the official Gucci 4 Rooms party held at the Gucci Ginza store

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img_0647Tina in the Gucci Ghost UV universe at the party

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img_0669Playing Mannequin outside the Gucci Ginza windows

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img_0679Ending the night as most fashion parties do in Tokyo… in Trump Room

How often have I typed the words “petite mains” on this blog?  Or “atelier”?  Or “craftsmanship”?  You’ll have to bear with this broken record of mine because they’re words that constantly bear repeating.  Even if within the fashion industry, those words are thrown at us consistently to the point where the seasoned journalist becomes weary, but beyond that, it’s still a special insight into a world that isn’t necessarily widely known about.  Case in point, anytime I put up a video of a craftsman or woman working away in an atelier on Instagram, the pouring-in of love is evident.  Whilst there may be a hardened cynicism over the nuts and bolts of the business of fashion, at the very least, there’s still still unadulterated admiration for what skilled hands can do.

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And so we come to Chanel’s AW16 -7 haute couture show, which took place back in July.  It’s a collection that has a life in it that goes beyond that singular show, because as I learnt, orders for haute couture pieces were still being taken at trunk show events in London, Hong Kong and Dubai as late as mid October (I believe the collection is currently in Hong Kong), and the meticulous fitting and making process means that orders are still being fulfilled long into the next year.  See now – buy for a good half a year or so – wear forever… it’s buying pattern based on patience and longevity.  Despite the selling beginning as soon as the show finishes, I love that the process and lifeline of the collection extends far beyond that.

This particular collection spelled out all that hard work, back and forth fittings and waiting in a way that was literal.  No razz-ma-tazz mechanical set or kitschy theme.  Instead you took the time to round the circular catwalk, looking at the very real petite mains, drafting up calico toiles, pattern cutting, handling pieces of embroidery from Lesage, draping on the mannequin – all related to the collection that would be shown.  The set-up mirrored the ateliers down to the minutiae of personal knick knacks of the seamstresses, chains of thread bobbins and paperwork that accompanies this very real and working atelier.  In a way this collection carries on neatly from the ‘eco’ couture of the SS16 collection with its zen message.  Here, the takeaway was, “Look at the hours of work work that goes into this fifteen minute show.” 

Flash forward to September in London, and the collection was made available for prospective clients to see up close, in all its pleated and embroidered glory.  Despite SS17 ready to wear shows taking place, Chanel’s AW16 haute couture is in the midst of its world tour, going directly to the customers that couldn’t make it to Paris for the show.  Orders and fittings were being done in London ready for the ateliers in Paris to tackle. 

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Last time I was allowed into the Chanel haute couture workrooms of Rue Cambon, I saw one of the tailleur (tailoring) ateliers, headed up by the most longstanding of all four Chanel HC premières, Jaqueline.  During Paris time round, I went in to take a wee peek at one of the flou (draping) ateliers, overseen by Cécile, who was at the time busy with a client fitting.  I was interested to contrast the day-to-day functioning of Chanel’s HC ateliers versus the mightily impressive display of over hundred petite mains working away at the show at the Grand Palais back in July.  The difference wasn’t as stark as one might thinks.  It seemed the seamstresses were just getting started on the orders, dealing with measurements and pattern pieces rather than doing the finishing touches.  It can take up to two months to finish a piece depending on how the client takes to each fitting of the toile replica before receiving the final piece. 

Just to illustrate the length of time that haute couture warrants, even at the beginning of October, Cécile’s atelier were still working on pieces from the January SS16 eco couture collection for clients.  That’s nearly ten months after the collection was first shown.  No doubt the same lifecycle will occur for this AW16 collection as its lampshade pleats, Edwardian-esque silhouettes and sharp shouldered suits are adjusted for the individual clients.  No radical changes though as Lagerfeld’s sketches must be respected and adhered to more or less.  With each Chanel haute couture collection that I get to go behind the scenes at, I seem to be gathering another piece to what is a mysterious puzzle, one that will probably never be completed, no matter how many times I enter those hallowed ateliers. 

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