Friday, 24 February 2012

Proud To Be British

      In the midst of what has been a month of unpredictable highs and lows...there has been London Fashion Week. From Adele's triumph at the Grammy's to Meryl Streep's Cinderella moment at the BAFTA's there has been plenty to enjoy over the past view weeks but with Greece's bailout and Whitney's untimely death there has also been plenty to mourn over and reflect. Not to mention the passing of 95 year old fashion legend and socialite Zelda Kaplan who fainted and passed away on the New York FROW last week - absorbing fashion up until her final breath.

        However, as superficial as LFW may seem at a time like this, it is not. It is exactly what we need. Zelda Kaplan embraced fashion throughout her life for a reason and as we look at LFW it is only too clear what that reason was: beauty. LFW itself is a flurry of home grown beauty designed to make our lives that little bit more enjoyable. It is a showcase of British inspiration and creativity put on to entice and intrigue us with it's covetable designs and you'd be a fool to miss it...particularly when some of it's products are the equivalent to what Florence +  the Machine is to British music - refreshing.

       Which is what London fashion always is - refreshing. In an industry, which can repeat itself more than Taio Cruz does the word 'Hangover' in his new club-friendly song, London acts a hub of innovation. Despite Britain's relatively small size, London and its very own Central St. Martins attract talent upon talent, year after year to our green and pleasant land. We are, for some reason, 'where it's at' and this couldn't be more apparent than this week as we find ourselves at the end of one of London's strongest seasons to date.
         In terms of our young established designers Erdem treated us to textured delights, Christopher Kane indulged us with his psychedelic leather cuts and Ashish proved that humour is still an important part of fashion with cartoon smiles. In fact these acclaimed men had far from become complacent with their brands but instead Erdem strayed out of his floral comfort zone with tweed-look leather pieces, Kane somewhat developed his look with leather floral references to his 2010 show and Ashish demonstrated that granddad cardigans needn't look as old as they sound. The result was bliss.

        Then of course there were the designers of the BFC brigade who, although they may seem to be the sole focus of my attention at the moment, looking at their designs, how can they not be? Meadham Kirchoff commanded our attention as they moved from Courtney Love inspired looks to 70s disco extravagance and print princess Mary Katrantzou kept us on our feet with her futuristic interpretation of the elements in sharp silhouettes that are to die for. Not forgetting, Jonathan Saunders who undoubtedly proved himself with tongue and cheek visors and sumptuously subtle prints.

       And finally we have the heavyweights: Burberry, Matthew Williamson, Antonio Berardi etc who stood side by side to prove that longevity is indeed attainable for British brands. Bailey kept the Burberry look chic and British with military jackets and quirky owl prints, whilst Williamson played with the layering of sheer tops on shirts to evident success and Berardi seemed to re-sculpture the female body once again. His works reminded us that 20 years in the business do mean a lot and judging by both his and Bailey's peplums, these men know the business. This SS trend is going nowhere...and, luckily for us, neither is LFW.

Proud to be British? Of course.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


     For one reason or another we as a human race find it hard to take each other seriously. Whether it's a politician who's received one or two Clegg-ups in their lifetime or a singer who's risen to fame off of the back of a reality TV show, we form preconceived opinions about people and we overlook them. We assume that they have little if any talent and decide that they deserve about as much recognition in their field as a member of the BNP does in parliament. It's unfair's life.
        However, as unfair as these judgements may be, they can have positive effects. The backlash of the public and critics alike can break people but it can also make them. It can cause those who are judged to persevere. It can cause them to work harder, cut off the hackneyed labels of their haters and prove themselves so that they, along with those who had to climb their way up the labour ladder, are taken seriously. It cements the likes of Victoria Beckham in the fashion world.

        Beckham was of course Posh Spice, one fifth of the world's largest ever girl group: The Spice Girls. She was a pop star first and foremost and when the band officially disbanded in 2001 she even had a few successful solo singles, which may or may not be guilty pleasures of mine, before giving up music. However, having remained in the public eye as the WAG of David Beckham throughout the early 00s...there was no surprise that, when she actually did go on to launch first a denim label in 2006 and then her own designer brand in 2008, eyebrows were raised.
     Yet what the critics didn't foresee under their poised brows was the talent Beckham possessed. Her debut collection was met with rave reviews and successfully established a place for her demure designs, suited not only to her but women in general, in NYFW. What's more is that she hasn't tripped herself up since but stomped into the acclaim of naysayers and fans alike, even bagging herself the 'Designer of the Year' award at the BFAs. And if her most recent, military, collar featuring collection (above) is anything to go by she'll stay popular for years to come.  

         Like Beckham, Christian Siriano is a designer who has faced the harsh scrutiny of onlookers. He is after all best known for winning both Season 4 of Project Runway with his undeniable potential and the public over with his sassy persona, not to mention his unforgettable catchphrase 'hot tranny mess'. Thus, despite his immediate commercial success, it has taken him the best part of three years to get the critics on board but boy does he deserve it now. His SS collection (above centre) was a pretty coherent citrus delight of organza and his AW bikers and fishtail dresses (above) will no doubt be coveted come the end of the year.
       And alongside Beckham and Siriano there is of course their matriarch Stella McCartney who, upon entering the industry as daddy's little rich girl with Naomi Campbell, Yasmin Le Bon and Kate Moss modelling free in her graduation show, is now a talent in her own right. After just two collections she was appointed the Creative Director of Chloe and is now fashion royalty. Her AW polka-dot dresses were must haves this season and her paisley designs are set to be ones this SS. The fashion world is entranced by her and as we admire her AW pre-collection (centre/below) we can't help but wait with bated breath for the main one this month.

       Fashion like any industry is filled with talents, who both have had and are yet to overcome the misconceptions of others but as the collections above deem it's ever so exciting when they do.  As Natalia Kills demonstrates (below) in an AW Stella McCartney polka-dot number for her 'Kill My Boyfriend' video, there often is talent behind the hands of those who seem to effortlessly enter the industry. Seriously.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Supporting Success

      The fashion industry is noted as being one of the most notoriously hard industries to get into. From fashion college to fashion courses there is no easy paint-by-numbers way onto the catwalk. You can't cheat. Fashion just isn't that simple. Not only that but it is also one of the hardest industries to stay popular within. One bad move and your career can be upturned. One minute you're on the runaway and the next minute you've fallen off it and landed in a MacDonald's commercial. In the infamous words of Heidi Klum: one day you're in and the next day you're out.
        Although, this is not altogether true, the industry is not quite as black and white as it would seem and whilst many models, designers, photographers and journalists alike make fleeting appearances within the industry, others establish themselves. Of course the majority of fashion hopefuls, do remain fashion hopefuls forever but it's the same within the industries of music, books, film and theatre. Success isn't easy but with talent, hard work and, more often than not, Internet exposure it's accessible. How else would Lana Del Rey be the success story she is today?

      Del Rey put in the hours. She wrote her own music, created her own videos and posted them online. She took control of her own career and as a result, she is now both number one on this week's UK album chart and on the cover of the March issue of Vogue. And if we look at many of today's fashion success stories, they did the same. Ricardo Tisci was not immediately embraced by high fashion after his stint at Central St Martins but he worked at the likes of Puma and other outlets before eventually becoming the praised Creative Director of Givenchy, which he is today. Tisci worked.
        However, what's interesting about the industry is that alongside hard work it does give the talented a helping hand. In the U.K. not only does British Vogue offer it's popular Talent contest to help aspiring fashion journalists enter the business but, along with the British Fashion Council, it gives out a Designer Fashion Fund of £200,000 at the start of every year. It helps British Fashion's most exciting names cement their positions within the industry. And as we can tell from 2012's nominees and, of course winner, the U.K. is not short of talent:

       Marios Schwab launched his eponymous collection just two years after graduating and from awards to collaborations the 33 year old never fails to produce some of LFW's most exciting shows. SS 2012 is no different as he plays with the contours of the female body to brilliant effect. Meadham Kirchhoff, on the other hand, have been the focus of continuous fashion attention due to their eccentricity, as they play with old fashioned images to create thoroughly modern looks, whilst Mary Katrantzou has alternatively earned her praise through creating innovative prints that impress even the most hardy of critics.
       There is an abundance of talent and that is not even including Jonathan Saunders, the well-deserving winner of this year's award, who having been short-listed for the award last year against the tough competition of Christopher Kane, was finally paid his dues. In the short space of a year his brand has developed from the work of a gifted young designer to that of a sought-after talent. His oriental inspired designs for AW held the spotlight this season and looking at his array of ethereal SS calf-skimming dresses it looks as though the spotlight will be his for years to come.

         However, despite Saunders' success it is 2012 nominee Roksanda Ilincic who has particularly caught my eye. The London based designer has created an array of looks which combine both boldness and subtlety to perfection. They are colourful and yet not fussy. Ilincic plays with the likes of pleating and printing but doesn't overdo it and as a result it would seem that Saunders is not the only winner this season. There are plenty of other young talented British designers to look out for and luckily because the industry is so supportive, it looks as though these brands will not fade into obscurity but prosper just as the likes of Amanda Wakely and Burberry Prorsum have done so before.
Who will you be supporting this SS?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Controversy & Couture

        For centuries culture has caused controversy. In the 1300s Dante's 'Divine Comedy' invoked uproar due to its inclusion of then living politicians in its depiction of hell, in 1850 'Wuthering Heights' became the topic of conversation when it was revealed that its author was not a man but a woman and throughout the 1900s George Orwell's literature not only raised eyebrows but was banned for its not so subtle satire of European politics. Controversy was a cultural pandemic.
      And, whether it's Michelangelo's David being banned from study in American high-schools for its 'pornographic' nature or the question as to whether Lana Del Ray is manufactured or not - controversy is even more apparent within culture today. It has become somewhat innate to it and this couldn't be more evident than in 2003 when Madonna performed at the VMAs. The performance was seen as both vulgar and brilliant. It was controversial...but, like most controversy, it was useful, it garnered attention – it put Madonna on everyone’s lips.

        Fashion like any culture is controversial. From its designs to its designers and its photographers to its photo-shoots, it is both praised and put down, both celebrated and criticised. That is after all what makes it so interesting; it is subjective. Whilst many deemed Alexander McQueen to be some sort of misogynist due to his array of dark women's designs, others saw him as a visionary who interpreted women's pain and subjection through the means of clothes. He was not a misogynist but an artist and his clothes, like many works of art, split opinions.
     And whilst 2011 was filled with its fair share of fashion controversy: FHM’s embarrassing Andrej Pejick misunderstanding, Rihanna’s Vogue ‘whitening’, Lea T and Kate’s LOVE cover...not to mention John Galliano’s anti-semitic remarks - it looks as though 2012 is set to be no different. It has after all already got off to a controversial start at this year’s SS Jean Paul Gaultier couture show. A show which was very much Gaultier, extravagance to the extreme displayed in the form of ball gowns and stylistic boldness.

       However, there was of course something particularly unique about this show because among the ball gowns and boldness were beehives and barbershop quartets singing the likes of Valerie. In the midst of the show there was Winehouse, Amy Winehouse. The show was a tribute to her and her style and whilst for Jean Paul Gaultier and many a magazine editor this was a fun celebration of her life and fashion, for her family and friends the show was seen as distasteful and offensive - an exploitation of her image and death used solely for monetary purposes.
       Yet celebrity celebration and endorsement is nothing new to fashion. Gaultier himself has used Madonna as his muse, whilst Pamela Anderson has been the focus of many a Vivienne Westwood collection. Celebrities inspire designers. Winehouse inspired Gaultier. Thus, whilst the collection is too soon for Winehouse's family, Gaultier's actions were not money-driven; his intentions were good. He is a talented designer after all - he needn't use celebrities. In creating this collection he has not shamed Winehouse but honoured her public image just as designers do Monroe, Hepburn, Kelly and more. 

       I found Gaultier's actions endearing, enthusiastic but endearing. For others they weren't. The collection was and still is controversial. Its presence and execution is subjective. However, as with Madonna's kiss, the controversy is not solely created in Gaultier's design but people's response to it. It is the negative backlash of the show which has made it newsworthy outside the fashion world and it is this which has actually detracted from what has otherwise been a wonderful week of couture for both Gaultier and his counterparts. 
        The event has seen couture veteran Lagerfeld both take air-hostess chic off of the ground with delectable uniform inspired numbers and present a selection of beautiful bold gowns perfect for taking overseas. Versace has in contrast made its longed for comeback to the couture catwalk in the form of head-turning maxis and vibrant bodices, whilst Tisci has in turn stepped out of his comfort zone at Givenchy and produced an array of ornate yet modern looks for the season. Alexis Mabille on the other hand, has finally begun to establish his name alongside the greats with his floral inspired delights.

      So couture has been at its best and as a result the year is already looking rather fashionable, be it in terms of couture or controversy. However, it is up to us not to gormlessly watch the year unfold but face each controversial issue we hear of and collection we see with a critical eye. Examine them and work out where we stand on the matter. Do we like it, do we dislike it? Do we agree with it, do we disagree with it? Observing fashion is of course fun but engaging with it is so much more.