I found it difficult yesterday to clomp about my day, bashing out words about new collections and so on and so forth. That sounds trite and disingenuous but it’s true. I went down to Trafalgar Square at 6pm to join the vigil and held my keyboard (didn’t have a pen…) aloft in the air for an hour or so. It was weirdly satisfying to see the camaraderie of it all and to hear shouts for liberty in French.
Then I went up to Selfridges to go behind the scenes of the unveiling of what is an uplifting story to kick off the year, shedding some shred of positivity to follow what happened yesterday. Bright Young Things has turned into Bright Old Things. In a mainstream culture that associates the new with the young, Selfridges turns to talent who have found new creative outlets in later life – and not necessarily as a career path – but because they feel the urge to purely create and express themselves freely. A group of fourteen (including Sally Peplow, a Birmingham based textiles artist, who isn’t part of the London line-up) “old” things – some well-known, some not so much – have each been given a window at Selfridges to take us into their world, flanked by curation and support by Todd Selby. In previous editions of Bright Young Things, the set-up would normally run the format of fashion mannequins surrounded by set design. With a group that includes a full-time punk, a sci-fi vlogger and a topiarist, the windows were always going to be diverse. As such none of them run towards “trends” or any preconceived notions of “good taste” and they’re all riddled with idiosyncrasy. It’s evident that later life gives you the ability to go off on freeing tangents. Freedom, freeing, freely – these words are likely to resonate.
Selfridges are on the money of course. On the day that the BOT’s (sorry if the acronym reads funny…) were milling around the department store putting the finishing touches to their windows, Céline released their S/S 15 campaign, featuring not just an older women, but older woman of real substance. Joan Didion looking nonchalant in black has already resonated as one of the season’s campaign highlights.
It’s not age we’re celebrating here but talent and gravitas – earned and achieved over time. When Selfridges references the “old”, it’s not physical age they’re talking about. The age group of these Bright “old” Things ranges from the late forties to the mid-eighties. What they have in common is their experience in former careers – be it accountancy, architecture or being in the navy – and so when it comes to their later burst of creativity, they bring with them an attitude where going with convention, pleasing expectations and making all the money in the world no longer matters. Not to say that self-satisfaction can’t be found at an earlier age but with physical time, the more you come to know yourself, it seems that the more you’re likely to find out what you want to do.
“I adore being ancient,” says Molly Parkin, one of the more famous (and infamous…) luminaries of the BOT’s. “When people ask me what’s my happiest time, it’s definitely now.” An artist that has come full circle through successful stints as a fashion editor, a milliner and an author, Parkin concluded the in-house Bright Old Things newspaper with the following.
Older now, and nicer, wiser
Scrabbling to the top no more
Aware that I can be a bore
Repeating stuff I’ve told before
Replacing scowls with sunlit smiles
Scattering kissing, no longer missing
Love affairs, hot nights of passion
Dressing oddly out of fashion
Showing off what I’ve got on
Clashing colours feels so spot-on
Turning heads on Chelsea’s Kings Road
Each dashing swain, now withered toad
Yet feeling as I feel myself
Safe and satisfied on the shelf
Youth has its place
The unlined face
The body, strong and stripped for action
But old age boasts self-satisfaction
Fast jobs well done
Old age is fun
Sue Kreitzman (artist formerly known as a food writer and broadcaster) – Fans of Advanced Style will instantly recognise Krietzman. It’s impossible not to find joy in her “walking collage” sense of style. Her window reflects her love for the folksy and the tribal as she concocts a wildly vivid menagerie of dolls and figurines surrounding a mystical telephone, a direct dial to what she refers to as goddesses. For the Bright Old Things concept store, she’s co-created a “Sue” necklace with Tatty Devine as well as prints of a pertinent quote. It reads “Don’t wear beige, it might kill you!”
William-Forbes Hamilton (painter formerly known as an actor) – This jobbing actor and entertainer (funnily enough he worked at Selfridges in the 50s demonstrating toys) has turned to painting and his window features his idea of The Last Supper – the humble fish and chips. And so it is that the rest of his charming work takes inspiration from his day to day life, as he finds beauty in the everyday.
Tim Bushe (architect moonlighting as a topiarist on the weekends) – I’m going to plot out a North/East London route of Tim Bushe (yes that’s his real last name) examples of topiary. An architect by day, Bushe took up topiary as a way of giving back to inner city London, bringing joy to people in a way that his buildings don’t. Elephants do exist in Finsbury Park thanks to Bushe’s deft skills.
Sand Laurenson (artist with a varied career past including being a police woman) – At the age of 42, Sand Lawrenson was the oldest student ever to get place on the post graduate course at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. Her mind blowing installation consists of hundreds of painted hollow egg shells. They’re painted not as chintzy ornaments but as other worldly sea anemone-esque creatures illuminated by UV light.
Den Woods (furniture designer formerly known as an actress) – I didn’t get to see the finished window of Den Woods (many people with interconnected names and natures here) but it reflects her love of natural materials used in her chairs, that are inspired by traditional 16th century Spanish and Portuguese designs.
Roger Miles (artist and consult formerly known as a chartered accountant) – After working in accountancy for 32 years, Roger Miles decided to study fine art at Chelsea College of Arts. Again, I didn’t get to see the final vision of his window but it’s basically a surreal recreation of a 70s record store backgrounded by Mills’ artwork, connected with nostalgia and memories. The windows also features a Neil Young lyric: “I won’t retire but I might retread” which lingers in your head.
Tony Gibson (vlogger formerly known as a product designer) – Fun fact. Tony Gibson invented and developed the Heinz squeeze ketchup bottle as well as the opening to a Pot Noodle. Currently a gift retailer, Gibson now presents a video blog called Earth News for Space, explaining all about what we earthlings do to life out there. Gibson’s window features his recreated vlogging, which reminds me of The Sound of Sleep.
Robert Roope (eyewear designer formerly known as an optician) – After 50 years of working as an optician and witnessing the collapse of many a frame maker, Robert Roope decided to go into eyewear design himself, taking inspiration from yesteryear eyewear worn by jazz musicians of the ‘40s-‘60s. Now with the ability to design eyewear on his own terms, Roope sells his frames from his shop Black Eyewear on Goodge Street.
Andrew Ekins (painter formerly known as a decorator) – I like that Ekins specifies himself as a painter as his work concentrates on the medium itself as installations are made out of layers and layers of paint. Ekin’s window is a gilded ode to his one and only medium as hundreds and hundreds of genuinely used paint and spray cans tower in an impressive blinded out heap.
Michael Lisle Taylor (sculptor formerly known as a Royal Navy aircraft engineer- The youngest out of the all the BOT’s, Michael Liste Taylor came to sculpting having spent 13 years in the navy. That experience has given him an appreciation for military apparatus and new sort of craft sprung from the ritual and iconography of military life. His magnificent sail boat stitched, welded and bolted together floats loftily in the window with illustrated sails but when in situ on the shore as Taylor showed me in photographs, it makes a whole lot of sense.
Nick Wooster (menswear designer formerly known as a fashion retailer/buyer) – Nick Wooster is probably the most well know in style circles of all the BOT’s. called the “Aretha male of American street style” by GO this former menswear buyer and retailer has waded into design with his first collection made with Lardini launching this season. He credits photographers like Tommy Ton with his later life street style fame with his window features mannequin heads, replaced with camera clusters, as well as a floor strewn with street style images of Wooster.
Bruno Wizard (full time spiritual punk living it up all day everyday) – “I want to paint this window with ‘We are Charlie’ but I don’t think Selfridges would go for it.” That’s the first thing Bruno Wizard said he came out to check up on the progress of his window. What happened in Paris yesterday would hit someone like Wizard hard. Wholly anarchic, free-spirited and completely lucid about the harsh realities of the world, hearing Wizard speak is like throwing yourself head first into a giant vat of out-of-body wisdom. Wizard hung out with all the legends of London counter-culture – he performed with his band The Rejects and The Homosexuals – and squatted with the Blitz Kids in Warren Street. He talked about flogging John Galliano designs to the Patricia Field store in New York. These extreme highs are coupled with lows as Wizard battled with all manner of drug addictions all manner of substance addictions as well as having lived rough on the streets. A volunteer at a homeless shelter in 2011 rediscovered Wizard’s story and so the film The Heart of Bruno Wizard tells his tale. Wizard’s word wizardry is evident in his window as he reinterprets the flapping Union Jack flag in the wind, not as a symbol of oppression in his opinion, but as a positive octopus, spreading its “tenta-cultures” – ideals of love, creativity and poetry to the world. Wizard as a cult figure warrants this resurgent interest. Wizard isn’t someone who has found a new calling later in life but someone who has had a roller coaster ride with his calling. He lives by his motto: “My life is my art is my business is my life.”
Molly Parkin (artist formerly known as a fashion editor/author) – I’m ashamed to say I knew Molly Parkin as a fashion editor first, with successful stints at Nova and the Sunday Times in the ‘70s. Parkin was quick to dismiss that part of her life. “That decade was wasted,” she said. “My heart was never in it.” Art is Parkin’s true passion as she is currently in a jubilant period of creation, inspired by the joyous colours of India, where she owns a house and visits frequently. Parkin is brilliantly candid, outspoken and probably in her words, doesn’t give a fuck. Whilst loathing fashion, her body is a canvas as she makes her own clothes and dons extravagant hats and she makes a clear distinction between fashion and style. “You don’t take yourself too seriously with style – in fashion you don’t have that same sense of self-derision and certainty of who you are.” There are some people that seem to gain vitality and energy as the years pass – like a mental Benjamin Button reverse ageing process – Parkin definitely falls into that category.
And to end… seeing the world with a child’s eye – Todd Selby’s illustrated train set complete with a polar bear and a rainbow.