I often wonder about the concept of “forever” clothes.  What are the things in my wardrobe that will stand the test of time and be considered to have cultural (and perhaps monetary) worth and be thought of as valuable further down the line when no doubt, should I have children, they’ll probably want to get rid of my dusty mountain of clothes.  A Mariano Fortuny “Delphos” gown is most definitely a forever piece.  Unlike other designers of his era, this one pivotal silk shift dress, marked by its permanent finely spaced pleats, has been photographed on different woman, decades after its debut in 1909.  Natalia Vodionova wore a vintage pink one on the red carpet as recently as 2009.  As a noted artist and lighting designer, Fortuny was less a fashion designer and more of a fine-tuner of a singular garment, as he eschewed the normal cycles of fashion.

You could say that by being inspired by Fortuny in their latest haute couture collection for Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, are echoing that same “forever” factor.  Chiuri and Piccioli rarely wavers from their floor-length, inherently feminine and poetic gowns, invariably accompanied by Pre-Raphaelite tresses and a neo-classical soundtrack.  For some, one collection might blur into another with their steadfast allegiance to the sort of beauty that goes beyond trends.  However, this haute couture collection in particular with its interpretations of the Delphos, its replication of Fortuny’s painterly colour palette, and sumptuous aged velvet and hand-painted textiles, created in conjunction with the present day interior textiles company Fortuny, somehow transcended to another level of beauty.

Fortuny’s ‘forever-ness’ is one thing.  But evoking bastions of un-corseted, expressive and free movement like Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis (any chance Chiuri and Piccioli might have also seen BBC4’s excellent Dance Rebels documentary?), added another dimension that, in particular spoke to women directly.  Harking back to an era when boundaries were being broken and a woman’s sphere of influence was fast changing, coupled with the open-referencing of a designer, who also played his part in the liberating of women’s bodies, is a winning combo for Chiuri and Piccioli to reach new heights in their oeuvre at Valentino.

The transparent Grecian gowns seem more nymph-like, allowing the female form to flourish.  You want to associate those eclectic patchwork of painted silks and free-flowing velvet with minds that were shaping culture.  These sumptuous gowns mastered in Valentino’s atelier aren’t just vehicles for pure surface, but communicate a great deal more because there’s technical as well as emotional depth to them.  They’re in their own category of ‘forever’ pieces, should you be lucky (or rich) enough to afford them.

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henriettefortunyHenriette Fortuny, wife and muse of Mariano Fortuny

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anna-pavlova-wearing-fortunyAnna Pavlova wearing Fortuny

clarisse-courdet-wife-of-conde-nastClarisse Coudert, wife of Condé Nast, in a Fortuny Delphos and long mantle, c. 1919

regine-flory-1910-in-fortunyRégine Flory in a Fortuny Delphos dress c. 1910

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TJM_Rubinstein_12retouched-MuraywtmkHelena Rubenstein wearing a 1923 Paul Poiret dress c. 1924

peggy-guggenheim-fortunyPeggy Guggenheim in a Fortuny Delphos in her Venice palazzo, c. 1979

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fortunysilksdyedColour palette of dyed silks of Fortuny dresses

tina-chow-with-collection-of-fortunyTina Chow with her collection of Fortuny pieces

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paulpoiret1911Paul Poiret design 1911

542412979Ladies in Paul Poiret designs in a garden in Paris, 1910

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Mishkin.Ruth_.St_.Denis_Ruth St Denis dancing in ‘Egypta’

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030-martha-graham-theredlistMartha Graham in 1930s

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shizukashiraShirabyoshi – female dancers in the Japanese Imperial court that dressed as men

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loie-fullerLoie Fuller

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madeleinelaf1Asian-inspired robe by Madeleine Laferriere from 1912

paulpoiretPaul Poiret harem trousers and sultana skirt c. 1911

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knossosFortuny “Knossos” dress

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iduncan_3Isadora Duncan

IsadorablesThe “Isadorables” – Duncan’s adopted daughters

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tumblr_mphgd6PMkC1r1p7nfo1_1280Colette Alliot-Lugaz in a Fortuny Delphos and velvet mantle stenciled in silver and gold, with a motif inspired by Cretan art

tumblr_mpjt1uVjM51r1p7nfo1_1280Fortuny short jacket in lavender velvet stenciled in silver

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fortuny02Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi wearing a Fortuny Eleanora dress, 1920s

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I’m going to be frank. I haven’t done a great deal since I got back from California.  Call it a freelance funk.  Every time I try and muster up some energy to plan a day of worthwhile activities, my mind wanders back to the meeting of sea, vertical cliffs and redwood trees in Big Sur, soundtracked by Yumi Zouma and You’ll Never Get to Heaven.  And then I go into a Sur-induced slump.  The slowdown does of course coincide with the quiet August before fashion weeks brew up again in September.  But hush… who wants to think about that just yet, when I can sit around Googling images that relate to sulphur baths at the Esalen Institute, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell at the Big Sur Folk Festival and read and re-read Big Sur literary aficionados Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller and Hunter S. Thompson and what they have to say about this place, this “myth-make’s paradise, so vast and so varied and so beautiful that the imagination of the visitor is tempted to run wild at the sight of it.”

Back in July during couture week in Paris, I went to see the recently opened David Yurman boutique in Galeries Lafayette.  A brief history of David Yurman and wife Sybil reveals that a young Yurman once incidentally hitchhiked his way to Big Sur in the early 60s, to revel in the beatnik wave that wound up here in Miller’s wake.  David and Sybil’s sculptural and freehand artistic approach towards jewellery makes David Yurman as a brand, an unusual entity in the world of fine jewellery as DY calls for bracelets, rings and necklaces to be stacked, clang about and worn with a lack of preciousness that belies the actual gemstones and metals.  DY’s signature cable bracelets and pavé rings are here to temporarily bring some sparkle to my Big Sur-ified solitude, before the the real toil of the day begins.

0E5A2861Wearing Molly Goddard dress and David Yurman jewellery

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20150708_172915Selection of David Yurman cable bracelets taken at Galeries Lafayette boutique

Big Sur at Esalen

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Esalen_1Esalen Institute, Big Sur

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Woman roaring w. laughter as she undergoes a  head-tapping session, part of a sensory awareness class in an encounter group at the Esalen Institute.Woman undergoing a head-tapping session, as part of a sensory awareness class in an encounter group at the Esalen Institute

0E5A2935David Yurman gold cable bracelets

Big-Sur-Glass-Roof-Yurt-Built-in-1976-4 by Mickey MuennigGlass roof yurt in Big Sur in 1976 built by Mickey Muennig

20150708_173916David Yurman pinkie ring and Willow ring

American actor Steve McQueen (1930 - 1980) and his wife, Philippine-born actress Neile Adams, sit together in a sulphur bath, Big Sur, California, June 1963 by John DominisSteve McQueen and his wife Neile Adams in a sulphur bath, Big Sur in 1963 photographed by John Dominis

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Sandy and Agar, Big Sur, 1961, by Hunter S. ThompsonSandy and Agar in Big Sur 1961 photographed by Hunter S. Thompson

0E5A2943David Yurman Labyrinth and Confetti ring

Man_Ray_Juliet_at_Big_Sur 1940Juliet at Big Sur 1940 photographed by Man Ray 

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A woman sitting on a rock, playing a wooden flute, on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., on April 1, 1987 by Matthew NaythonsWoman sitting on a rock playing a wooden flute at Esalen Institute in Big Sur 1987 photographed by Matthew Naythons

20150708_174020David Yurman Midnight Melange ring taken at the Galeries Lafayette boutique

adarsha_benjamin_big_sur_fool_of_illusion_2-777x765Photograph by Adarsha Benjamin

0E5A2965Close up of David Yurman Renaissance bracelets

huntersthompsongonzo2Rogue magazine, October 1961 – Big Sur: The Tropic of Henry Miller by Hunter S. Thompson 

0E5A2918David Yurman Hampton gold chain necklace, oval large link necklace and silver buckle chain necklace

Mimi Farina Wedding to Milan MelvinPhotograph from Mimi Farina’s Big Sur wedding to Milan Melvin in 1969

20150708_174419David Yurman Starburst double ring

Joan Baez at the Big Sur Folk Festival, 1969Joan Baez at Big Sur Folk Festival

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Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez perform at Esalen Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez performing at Big Sur Folk Festival at Esalen in 1969

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originally uploaded @ http://melisaki.tumblr.comSulfur bath in Big Sur 1949 photographed by Ellen Auerbach

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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.

i know next to nothing about vintage denim.  I also know next to nothing about vintage t-shirts.  I do however love rabid obsessions and Americana vintage as seen at Lot Stock and Barrel garners the sort of feverish geekery that is somehow quite pleasing, in a world where detail and minutiae are being glossed over.  Originally in the Downtown area, LS&B have now moved to a bigger space in the Arts District around from my favourite shop Poketo, making it a welcome addition to this pocket of LA.

The first impression when you step into Florence Tang and Ben Phillips’ store is one of familiarity.  We’ve been hoodwinked with dime-a-dozen identikit Americana vintage stores, which have also been adopted by high street brands in their visual merchandising (American Eagle, Pull & Bear, Jack Wills etc etc).  But have a few words with Ben, the co-founder of LS&B and you know you’re speaking to someone, who is seriously passionate about what they’re selling.  Scouring all over America, they’ve been able to curate (yes, I’ll rightfully use that dreaded word in this instance) garment stories, inspired by certain epochs or movements that inspire them be it creatives living in Topanga Canyon in the 1960s or Edward Abbey’s treatise on preserving our natural surroundings.  Their website certainly shows a level of depth and detail that shows that they’re willing to go far beyond the mere surface of Americana.

Authenticity is a huge part of that too.  And central to the store is a an old Singer machine – one that operates with a hand crank and foot pedal, running up single needle chain stitch embroidery that you would have seen in Western wear of the past like Nudie.  Since embroidery computerisation in the 1960s, these manually operated machines have largely fallen out of fashion but as Ben very kindly showed me, punching the outline through a paper template and filling it in with a circular motion gives this type of embroidery a type of texture that like LS&B’s store concept, has real depth.  Ben learnt his trade with a group of veterans that are carrying on this tradition.  Tommy D, Tul Jutargate and Ed Hernandez are known as the The Chain Gang, and from their East LA base, they’ve been servicing the car and bike club circles with their custom embroidery and chenille patches for years.  It’s not a public service but rather an insider’s gang, who operate much like tattoo artists, embroidering their dynamic designs on club jackets only for those in the car/bike circles.  Being a biker himself, Ben has been apprenticing with The Chain Gang and invited them to set up a residence at the store, running up custom designs or pre-chosen patches such as Lot Stock & Barrel’s logo and in-house mascot “Elsby”.  I love the idea of a trio of tough bikers hammering out embroidery on an old Singer.  it’s a dichotomous image that shows a level of respect for a craft that has been handed down through wartime souvenir jackets to letterman and varsity jackets to greaser sub cultures.  It’s about showing the true mark of belonging to a gang or club and so LS&B offers that same mark of authenticity to your chosen shirt, jacket or denim garment.    

Denim and tee’s aren’t necessarily my thing and we stumbled in by accident, jaded by generic vintage commodification but instead we were met by truly geeky passion.  I left a week later with *oh no she didn’t* a pair of denim cut-off shorts embroidered with Mexican-inspired flowers.  It was the Singer stitching that did it…

Lot Stock & Barrel at  801 1/2 Traction Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90013, Open Tuesday – Sunday; 12-7 pm

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A brilliant little documentary LS&B produced dedicated to The Chain Gang:

Their 2015 lookbook:

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