There’s nothing like forced contemplation to wipe away the London Fashion Week gloss and dole out a little reality. After the Phoebe English presentation I received a message that my brother-in-law was in hospital (thankfully he’s fine) and as I write this I am sitting in my local pub charging my battery-sapped phone hoping my husband comes home soon (I stupidly left my keys at home this morning). Reality bites. Fashion week is a bubble largely devoid of reality. But what happens when we let a little of the real stuff in? What happens when fashion absorbs the zeitgeist and spits it back out, rearranged and transformed into the tangible and consumable?
Phoebe English opened one such sobering conversation at her AW17 presentation in the Fitzrovia Chapel – once a place of prayer and quiet contemplation for National Health Service staff and patients of the Middlesex Hospital, which delivered free healthcare to all, regardless of race, religion, nationality or wealth – making this is a fitting venue for Phoebe English’s collection, which was an exploration of tyranny, apathy, fear, voice, courage, unity, repair and ultimately hope – a commentary on our current political climate. Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler The collection was presented as a number of installations with each model/group of models embodying one of the emboldened words listed above and acting as symbols of strength and resilience, surrounded by flora in collaboration with Maison de Fleurs.
Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler
English used textiles to capture her sentiments – an example being trapped glitter between layers of tulle used to create jackets and bags. She collaborated with heritage knitwear specialists John Smedley for the third season running and took to the knits by twisting and knotting them, lending them a tortuosity in keeping with the tensions of her theme.
Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler A large crowd gathered throughout the presentation, with Phoebe English amongst them discussing the collection. The show notes state that the conversation between tyranny and unity throughout the collection “aims to explore both the fragility and the strength of our times”. Here are the closing words: Tyranny oppresses Fear Divides Apathy rest Voice calls Courage braves Unity binds Repair cures Hope reigns Me. You. Them. US. Phoebe English AW17 Images: Techstyler My closing thoughts rest on the rising global voices in fashion that originate from vastly different cultures and belief systems, and that speak on behalf of under-represented groups. I want to sit at shows and presentations alongside men and women representing all colours, faiths and styles. Where are my hijab wearing sisters? We know modest style is big business (see Dolce Gabanna’s recent hijab and abaya collection, which missed the mark in many ways but is recognition that the industry knows that women who wear hijabs also wear mainstream high-end fashion) but broadly speaking, this isn’t reflected in the fashion week crowd. We need diversity, love and unity within the industry as much as we need it around the world. IMG has just signed Halima Aden, a Muslim model who wears a hijab and this season threw some Kanye-tinged light on the subject of diversity as she was cast in his Yeezy season 5 show. Halima Aden: Top and bottom images by Mario Sorrenti for CR Fashion Book. Middle image: Yeezy Diversity, unity, love – as long as we’re all represented and have a voice there’s no basis for fear. Thank you Phoebe. Let’s keep the conversation going. Follow Techstyler on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat
Peter Jensen opened my London Fashion Week round of presentations, events and shows a day before the schedule kicks off in earnest in a behind-the-scenes invitation to see his lookbook being shot, which culminates the creation of the AW1 7 collection and opens the wholesale business selling season. Peter told me that this open presentation style takes him back to the birth of his label, mirroring his first ever presentation back in 2000. Peter set up at the Shacklewell Lane studios, just down the road from where today’s shoot took place and was the first of a number of designers to move in ‘when it still had a Vietnamese sweatshop in the basement’ and ‘you had to step over drug addicts to enter the building’. Long gone are those days, but it’s surely a business that has solid foundations that is still based in the same studio post- East London gentrification, sixteen years down the line.
Illustrations: Peter Jensen
Peter talks me through the collection, including a hand-illustrated female muses print, including Jodie Foster, Nina Simone and Shirley Kurata by Julie Verhoeven that adorns shirts and dresses, alongside his favourite corduroy, which he just can’t depart from due to his Scandinavian roots and the nostalgic memories the fabric conjures up. His strong grasp on the commercial silhouettes that work for his brand, and explanations of the fabric compositions and weights that sell well demonstrate the maturity that comes with sixteen years in the business. Hence this collection being entitled “Greatest Hits”.
Photos: Amy Gwatkin
This collection marks the Peter Jensen brand‘s sixteenth, and he’s not showing any signs of giving up the playful thread that has run through his collections to date. I ask if adulthood in two years time will spell a grown-up direction, to which he laughs before introducing me to these pieces designed in collaboration with Nickelodeon to mark another birthday – SpongeBob SquarePants eighteenth. Peter Jensen’s signature rabbit logo takes centre stage, alongside SpongeBob and his pet Gary. Nickelodeon collaborated with a number of designers, including Jensen, for the 27 piece range which is part of the SpongeBob Gold brand, launching commercially in May.
The chance to see the team working on the shoot, the mood-boards informing the styling and photography and the collection details and textiles up close, as explained by Peter, helps to understand the entire commercial and creative aspects of the fashion business. Fashion week often serves up one without the other, which isn’t bad, it just isn’t whole either.
Happy sweet sixteen Peter, and many happy returns.
These are some of the words I frantically tapped into my iPhone notes during Fyodor Golan’s stunning London Fashion Week presentation: ‘tender, ferocious, glitchy, primal, diverse’. The words hit me in digital waves, a helpful metaphor for a presentation that opened with a CGI film in collaboration with Miximaliste that cast avatar models hovering above water and interacting with each other in a tender and glitchy way, creating a warm and poetic narrative about nature, technology and design.
This piece of CGI fashion film art, entitled ‘Change of Paradigm’ portrays a fantasy world described in the show notes as “an artificial FG paradise”, and is the first step in Fyodor Golan’s journey to fully digital design and specification of garments pre-sampling, removing the need to toile. Ultimately, they would no longer sketch the designs and make a paper pattern and mock up a the garment in fabric – this would be done digitally – streamlining and speeding up their design and development process and allowing their creativity to run wild. This new digital process will also enable Fyodor Golan to create seasonal experiences, testing the relationship between fashion, fantasy and reality.
Fyodor Golan X Miximaliste ‘Change of Paradigm’
The multicoloured avatars gave way to a live presentation of the SS17 collection on models packing a serious punch that left the marks primal, attitude and fearlessness in their wake. This was an expression of the beauty of diversity as much as it was about fashion, technology and new presentation formats. Fyodor Golan are pushing all sorts of boundaries – I viewed their presentation twice to take it all in. A fashion journalist from the Czech Republic was enjoying his third viewing when we struck up a conversation.
Amongst my aforementioned frantically typed notes I also wrote ‘so much direction here’, which, simplistic as it is, serves to remind me that the strength of vision in the film-making, use of colour, styling, casting, set design and sound made this presentation a force of fashion, technology and nature. The collection is an extension of pre-SS17, which I wrote about previously on Techstyler, with its inspiration rooted in holographic pop star Hatsune Miku, making their avatar model concept a ‘natural’ extension of their pre-season inspiration.
The hybrid hiking trainers by Salomon led me to imagine a place where these models might scale epic heights, conquering the next frontier of fashion tech and leading an intrepid journey forward into digital fashion’s future. I can’t wait to see how Fyodor Golan bend tech to their will to present the next installation on their fashion tech journey.
Golan Frydman, Fyodor Podgorny and a presentation guest, backstage
It’s all Greek to me as I enter the Burberry Makers House venue via a heavily scented and clay sculpture-adorned corridor (reminiscent of Aesop – the fragrances, and the Greek story teller) by Thomas Merrett, scholar of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. Thomas is one of a number of craftspeople and artists under The New Craftsmen collective, lending their talent and artistic practice in the form of live installations – they work in Makers House as members of the public look on and learn about the art of craft.
Thomas Merrett’s sculptures at Makers House
I spoke with Rose de Borman about her hand-painted silk screen prints as she worked away, blending paints inspired by a nearby pots of flowers she had collected from her garden and brought in as colour inspiration for her prints. When I asked her about the designs she said she freestyles them, and hanging behind her are examples of pieces drying before being sold in the Makers House shop. I thought perhaps Rose designed prints for Burberry, but she explains to me that she has not and that much of her work is for interiors.
Rose de Borman at work
I also met a trio of students from the Royal School of Needlework who were spending the weekend cross-stitching designs provided to them by Burberry. Items from the RSN Handling Collection were displayed and available to touch via gloved hands, which was an interesting addition to the passive nature of the other displays. I chatted to one of the students about her craft and asked whether fashion tech or conductive yarns, for example, are on her radar. They aren’t, as the course at RSN focusses solely on traditional craft – there are no machines, all work is done by hand – and the threads and yarns are all traditional natural materials.
Royal School of Needlework students and Handling collection samples
When I first entered Makers House, I assumed there was a connection between the work of The New Craftsmen and the creation of the Burberry September collection. The collection, shown at London Fashion Week on Monday 19th September, is on display at Maker’s House alongside the craftspeople, but it transpires that these makers are unrelated to the making of the Burberry collection.
Burberry September Collection
This is where Makers House feels more like an exercise in creating an experience by association rather than telling the story of the Burberry September collection and its relationship with craft. That’s not to say there isn’t the inclusion of craft in the collection – there is – but the beading, to my eye, could very easily be the work of Indian embroiderers. Burberry’s printed fabrics have historically been made in Italy, so unless there has been a sudden change, this collection is likely to have been printed there too. This is no bad thing, it just jars with the romanticised and earnest display of English craftsmanship accompanying the collection at Makers House.
This is also against the backdrop of Burberry recently halting plans to open a factory under the title ‘Project Artisan’ in Leeds to make their iconic trench coats. Sadly, an aura of faking rather than making is cast over this experience. Contrived mood boards of highly symbolic and literal inspiration for the collection sit alongside the makers, which adds to the feeling I can’t shake that this is all a bit forced.
I found the opportunity to get up close, walk around the clothes, feel the fabrics and see the silhouettes and layering in detail far more interesting and engaging. It is another example of a strong argument for presentation formats that allow buyers/the public to inspect and absorb the details and beauty of the clothes at their own pace, in contrast to a blistering dash on the runway. This space had a showroom feeling, with buyers replaced by members of the public. With the “see now, buy now” launch (the collection is already for sale to the public) this makes perfect sense.
Burberry September Collection and Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer, Burberry
Burberry has been a digital pioneer, incorporating technology into every facet of the presentation and sale of its collections for years and always leading the fashion pack – that’s why this feels somewhat like reverting to analog. Put this in the context of a London fashion week that saw the first holographic fashion presentation by Martine Jarlgaard London and Fyodor Golan’s CGI avatar model fashion presentation and it is suddenly feeling like retreat rather than innovation; not withstanding the live streaming on Facebook with chatbots on Facebook messenger to answer questions during the show itself and support online sales.
Pondering the absence of tech, I notice the longest queue in the building leading to The Studio space and after enquiring what the fuss was all about, I learn it’s the queue for the Instagram booth made famous by a number of celebrities in videos messing around amongst the aforementioned clay sculptures. The urge for social media and sharing the Makers House experience is strong, and Instagram is an extremely powerful marketing tool for Burberry. The current count of followers is 7.6 million.
Attendees of Makers House queued for Instagram photos in the same studio as the celebrities above
The current Burberry campaign featuring Burberry Artisans alongside the September collection
Whilst compiling this article I discovered via the Burberry online store that the collection is made in Italy. The mens beaded waistcoat is not for sale, so appears to be a one-off show piece. This leads me to wonder what the purpose of placing English craft next to Italian manufacturing was, if not to dupe the Makers House audience into thinking English craftsmanship and Burberry go hand in hand.
Fyodor Golan are somewhat of a paradox – at once intellectual and playful, they traverse the fringe of a fashion industry in a state of flux. Whilst contemplating the structure and aim of their fashion business, they are questioning the importance of individualism in a sea of rampantly ‘cohesive’ and highly refined fashion. The designers open the interview with the revelation that they delayed their seasonal trip to their Paris showroom in order to vote in the referendum. The fallout from the vote in favour of ‘Brexit’ has left them with a sense of resilience in the face of potential EU funding losses. Many of the projects and initiatives they have undertaken whilst establishing and growing their business have been supported by EU funding and they predict a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation will ensue amongst young independent fashion designers in London who are struggling to create seasonal collections and remain solvent.
Where this dramatic and uncertain political climate could potentially trigger cautious conservatism, Fyodor and Golan are intellectually and pragmatically assessing all areas of their business and considering the needs of their customers and the best platforms with which to engage them. They resolve to stay ‘individual’ and adopt an ever more digital and tech-driven approach to their seasonal collections. Why do a show at London Fashion Week that draws vast energy and finance away from the business and requires the creation of some garments that they know will not be good sellers, but that are necessary in order to create requisite looks simply for the purposes of the show? If the show is to the clear detriment of their product offering and bottom line, what is the point? The vast press generated by a fashion show is well documented and, as any fashion designer involved in London, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks will tell you, the credibility gained from showing on-schedule during fashion week is immense and affirming – at least ostensibly. But the rise of social media has taken fashion out of the hands of the few and placed it in the hands of the many global consumers. Digital platforms have a life beyond a seven-odd minute fashion show during which time it is ‘impossible to see the clothes properly’ as noted by Fyodor. In summary, fashion shows aren’t fit for purpose and the stigma attached to designers who decide to no longer ‘show’ is waning.
With new presentation platforms comes new opportunities for self-expression and consumer interaction. Golan explains how insightful and inspiring the dialogue from client to designer is on Instagram. Their clients post images of their self-styled ‘FG’ looks, thereby contextualising Fyodor and Golan’s seasonal work – a dialogue that never occurred pre-social media when the only route to market was through wholesale accounts – meaning no direct contact between the designer and the consumer. That’s all different now and brings me back to questioning the point of ‘cohesiveness’ of a fashion collection.
The generally accepted framework for the study and application of fashion design that I, and many other designers have experienced at London/UK-based fashion design institutions, hinges on a refined, highly focused – ‘cohesive’ – presentation of a design concept/concepts in order to ensure that a specifiable ‘aesthetic’ is presented. This occurs to me to be a useful tool for categorisation and identification of a designer or brand for the purposes of critique, but may be at odds with the way fashion is best presented, experienced and consumed in a digital age.
Cohesive uniformity – Burberry Prorsum SS13
Sure, brands like Burberry are built on a largely singular aesthetic/design language and their merchandising depends on a sort of ‘cohesion’, but what of the explosion of Vetements against the backdrop of such ‘cohesiveness’ and singularly focused vision – and what of the conversation about this collaborative, multi-faceted and un-cohesive aesthetic that is starting on social media (of course)? Will cohesiveness and a singular aesthetic vision be relevant to millennials and Generation Z’ers? If they’re shopping online and creating individual looks according to their own vision, and Instagram and Snapchat are ultimately more influential and engaging and more readily consumed than fashion shows, what is the point of cohesiveness at the expense of alienating consumers? And again, if fashion shows continue to lose favour as the predominant presentation format, individuality becomes an even more powerful element of fashion’s presentation. Fyodor Golan question this uniformity and go on to state that they have never sought ‘cohesiveness’ in their collections, but rather the creation of clothing as a vehicle for self expression and fun for their broad customer base, whose age group spans four decades and is global. It could be argued that cohesiveness can kill creativity by stamping out individual expression, spontaneity and the charm of the unexpected – a fate unlikely to befall Fyodor Golan.
Vetements P/E 16
On the subject of individualism in an increasingly ‘global’ market the duo explain, ‘Our clients come to us to express a different side of themselves… they have serious, professional jobs and wear Fyodor Golan as a way of tapping into their personality and as a visual representation of that (fun) side of themselves’.
Fyodor Golan’s creations are seriously fun. Frothy? Yes. Flimsy? Definitely not. The products are underpinned by solid, quality-driven construction techniques employed since the launch of their label (which drew heavily on couture techniques initially) in 2011, and have evolved to express a sense of confidence through playfulness.
Fyodor Golan SS2012
A further discussion that touches on current challenges in the area of fashion tech centres on product design versus fashion design. Golan expresses the frustration at being restricted to short development times due to the seasonal nature of the fashion industry and longs to be able to explore design concepts in greater depth – as a product designer would, for example. The approach through product design of creating a perfectly formed, functional and beautiful object is a luxury that just may be possible once Fyodor Golan have broken free of the restrictive cycle and demands that come with staging a fashion show each season. Fyodor and Golan lament the unresolved design ideas that ping into their minds at that last evolutionary design stage – often the week before their London fashion week show – leaving them no time to see these ideas through to fruition because of limitations caused by show preparation and the restrictive need to create ‘looks’ for the show, rather than individually strong and exciting garments. Due to the seasonal nature of fashion, the scope to pick up and continue such ideas in following seasons does not always present itself. There is a serendipitous aspect to such ideas and sometimes, when the moment has passed, the opportunity and magic passes too. Essentially, dropping the traditional fashion show format allows the freedom and time to be more innovative. It’s during this stage of the interview that Golan mentions the Makerversity, which is situated near their studio in Somerset House, which has clearly provided a point of reflection for the designers where the process of product design and development is concerned, versus that of fashion.
Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17
In their Pre-SS17 collection, Fyodor Golan have furthered explored a number of concepts initiated in their AW16 collection, including hybrid sportswear with strapping and bows that are silhouette-changing, rather than simply surface details. This plays into their desire for individuality within the collection – so one garment has many guises depending on the wearer’s styling preferences. The collection, entitled “Sakura Kawaii’ was inspired by Hatsune Miku – a hologram-generated pop star – resulting in a collection that expresses “romance through plastification”. It’s surreal to see real live fans at the concert of a holographic pop star screaming and waving glow sticks, but it perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between reality and artificiality that Fyodor Golan have distilled into this collection.
The animated look book is the perfect expression of this darkly psychedelic-samurai mood, in collaboration with digital artist and animator, Ignasi Monreal. Part of the joy of Fyodor Golan’s look books is that they seek to excite the imagination, rather than simply sell, and it expresses an aesthetic that the designers describe as resolutely ‘digital’.
Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17
The digitally driven playfulness in the presentation of their Pre-SS17 collection causes me to speculate as to the format of their next fashion presentation for London Fashion Week in September. ‘We’re still exploring options’ and ‘we’re looking at integrating the process of creation into the presentation’ were the official standpoints at the time of our interview – suffice to say it will be an exciting, experimental and likely experiential offering that will gloriously break with tradition in yet another refreshing Fyodor Golan chapter. It’s an exciting time in an evolving industry where as many lessons come from Darwinian truth as they do from social media metrics. If fashion’s future is about creative adaptation, dynamism, freedom of thought and individuality, Fyodor Golan are surging ahead.
“I wasn’t exactly top of my class, my techniques were a bit out there.” Edda Gimnes confirmed what I feared when lecturing recently – that in some institutions, students were being moulded, polished and judged according to a narrow set of guidelines where a certain ‘aesthetic’ prevails and is thought of as ‘good design’ and all else is less than acceptable. Want to design shiny ballgowns? Tacky! Want to scribble on blank canvases then slash and top-stitch them together a la’ paper doll dress? No way! Fashion design is almost entirely subjective, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you listen to some schools of thought in fashion education (no pun intended).
What makes a good design? What makes a great designer? Does it have anything to do with taste? Does it matter? The question I prefer to ask is how does the designer’s work make me feel? What does it inspire in me? If the answer is nothing, then subjectively, it’s not for me. In the case of Edda Gimnes collection it filled me with happiness, excitement and wonder. I think fashion is largely about magic… and clothes. Edda’s clothes are sprinkled with a childlike fun that came from her abandon and wit in scrawling across vast sections of cloth with her non-dominant hand in an effort to return to a time when she was learning to draw – to return to being a kid. The charming naivety leaps off the fabrics which are stiff cotton ‘canvases’ that showcase her monochrome illustrations to great effect. The jagged seams and raw edges suggest an immediacy of design realisation – it’s like she created the pieces with fervour before their essence could be lost. She admits to struggling with pattern cutting and finding a way around that limitation by creating cutouts roughly in the shape of a dress sketched flat on a piece of paper. Rather than being held back by her limitation, it fed into the quick, naive mood of the illustrations and brought them to life in an honest and ‘fitting’ way.
The slow and at times laborious nature of refinement and re-working in clothing design and creation can mean that all that is human about the design is smoothed away, leaving a perfect but impersonal result. The ‘hand’ in the creation – the personality – is lost. Edda’s clothes are theatrical and honest – not unlike her. Edda’s personality shines boldly throughout the collection and I want to wear it all. I was in and out of tops and skirts and shoes and lived for a little while in her world. It was fun, personal and compelling.
To hear Edda talk about receiving a warm and positive response to her work was a joy. She was still beaming from meeting Jimmy Choo earlier that day. He took a huge shine to her and her collection. He adored her mis-matched and customised high street shoes. I can’t help but think of Quentin Blake‘s illustrations when I look at her black scribbles atop the pointy toed shoes. She beams with the recollection of reading Roald Dahl‘s books as a child and initially couldn’t remember where her inspiration for this illustration style came from, until she dug deep into her memories and saw the connection.
I’m delighted to bring the passion and energy of Edda’s designs to the ‘pages’ of Techstyler. Her garments are digitally printed and cut and sewn in London and when I spoke to her at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week she was taking private orders. Sara Maino from Vogue Italia stopped by and Edda had interest from boutiques in Japan while I was chatting to her, so get your orders in fast, before everyone’s chasing a piece of Edda Gimnes magic.
Edda Gimnes AW16 Lookbook
When rounding off this post I read a completely unrelated (but brilliant) article and realised that the success of Edda’s collection lies in its authenticity. It offered this:
“When you’re not trying to hide away the real version of yourself, people will respond’. When you’re demonstrating authenticity, not some contrived personality, that’s when you find a way to reach out and connect with other human beings”
In continuation of London Fashion Week‘s Films, Fraying and Frizz, the second instalment of my fashion week roundup starts at with Belstaff, in collaboration with (an elusive) Liv Tyler.
The Belstaff presentation could scarcely have been more different from the others I have experienced. It occurred to me that a show format would have made it easier to see the clothes. Being a bigger brand with a larger captive audience, it was in a basement sauna of winter woolies and leathers with a biker-lite /polar vibe and a melee of guests enjoying the wares and fizz. The show notes stated that the collection was inspired by ‘female pioneers venturing into the earth’s most bleak and hard-to-reach locations in the most challenging of conditions’. Polar pioneer Christina Franco was named as a special guest, which I only discovered after re-reading the show notes for this article. I can think of at least a dozen questions about protective clothing and design I’d have fired off in her direction. I bumped into a couple of old friends and had a chat with Jonathan Saunders (whose mate designed the collection) on the way out, so it was suitably fashion-y and fizzy.
Huishan Zhang offered up the most elegant and serene of presentations at The Connaught in what felt like the coming together of two perfect halves – the romantic decadence of the location and the gently elegant and luxuriously refined clothing. The clothes screamed, or rather elegantly asserted, a grown-up ladylike appeal and I passed Linda Fargo on my way out, further confirming their level on the elegance stakes. Look out for Huishan Zang in Bergdorf Goodman next season?
The highlight of the day came in the form of Sid Neigum‘s mathematics-inspired and mostly monochrome collection. Chatting to Sid I learned that the starting point for silhouette development for the collection was a measurement of a shoulder line, say 30 cm for example, which was then multiplied by Da Vinci’sgolden ratio (1.6), applied rigorously by Le Corbusier and a hallmark of his modulor proportions, to determine the opposite shoulder line length, creating a harmonious set of measurements that formed naturally aesthetically pleasing proportions.
The best way to describe the experience of seeing the collection is to say that it all felt “right”. It was at ease. The lengths, the volumes, the textiles. Not forced, but lovingly calculated and evolved from a series of applied multiplications, which led Sid to his final silhouettes. Sid is a patter-cutter who designs in 2D by working back from a 3D ‘mental rendering’ of what he’s imagining he will make. He rarely sketches his designs, but rather sketches pattern piece shapes which he can mentally assemble before doing so physically. Brilliant. I plan to talk in more depth with Sid and bring you a more studied summation of his technique, but until then, enjoy the collection images.
Finally, we dashed to the 100 Club on Oxford Street for a slice of Mary Benson magic, only to discover we’d missed the show and caught the party. Here are the post show leftovers and gif-ified show images thanks to Village PR:
Today’s London Fashion Week opener was a screening at the Curzon Soho by recently launched luxury accessories brand Hill & Friends and it was friends by both name and nature with a gaggle of family and familiar faces flooding in as people caught up and chatted intimately pre-show. I felt I may have been gatecrashing slightly and sidled over to take dozens of pic’s of the pink popcorn and teaser film playing in the foyer, pre-screening.
It was all fun, cheeky and very English. The swag was cute too, with a bag choc (wink) full of pink sweets (aka lunch) thrown in to the (sadly cloth, not the Hill & Friends leather kind made lovingly by hand in Somerset) bag alongside the stickers and look book, which was a vast catalogue of the Autumn Winter Collection of including bag details and prices. The event served as a brilliant piece of branding and a great sales pitch. I fizzed on out of there to Brewer Street Carpark contemplating the fashion film format versus the live installation presentation format. The film was fun, witty and polished. It had a strong air of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel about it (the show notes cited The Italian Job – hence the Mini – as an influence) and its charm makes it very watchable. The hand bags replace look in Hill & Friends take on The Italian Job’s bullion. It’s worth noting this is the second direct reference to a Wes Anderson film in the past two days, following Gabriel Vielma’s inspiration from The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou mentioned in yesterday’s post, confirming his already ardent fashion following.
Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel
Peter Collinson’s The Italian Job, 1969
Bags don’t necessarily demand a live show or presentation, I guess, and a presenting a film is a chance to carefully control the branding of the erm, brand. Already stocked at Net-a-porter, Harrods, Selfridges amongst others, I bet they’ll sell bags of bags!
At the Brewer Street Carpark I revisited Susana Bettencourt’s knitwear collection. Today she presented the collection on a handful of models atop plinths at the Designer Showrooms, which brought her knits to life and showcased the textures. I caught Susana and her team as they were setting up. Susana is involved in the ‘Rebirth’ of the knitting industry in Portugal, having accepted a lead lecturing role in Knitwear design at two Universities in the Porto area, facilitating the reinstatement of knitwear design courses which had not been offered to students since the mid-nineties. Portugal is a European hub of knitwear manufacturing (jersey fabrics and knitwear) and supplies some of the luxury fashion houses in Paris. The Portuguese just aren’t as prone to self-promotion as, say, the Italian knitwear manufacturers are. It’s an exciting time for knitwear manufacturers who are working directly with the two Universities to support the knitwear design students and provide practical hands-on experience – a must for a design discipline as technical as knitwear. An in depth interview with Susana will follow this piece, so look out for major knitwear geekery.
Next stop was the Chelsea College of Arts for Danielle Romeril‘s sixteenth century futuristic sportswear mash-up with graphic tape sets and a killer soundtrack – she had me at Tame Impala. The show notes were accompanied by a playlist, serving as a reminder that our perception of visual artistry is effected by the sound experienced alongside it. The presentation format delivered yet again with brilliant access to clothing details and engagement with Danielle’s team.
I met Susie, Danielle’s pattern cutter; Sarah, Casting Director and Nobuko, Stylist. We chatted about the presentation briefly and the benefit to the designer of getting instant feedback before Nobuko had to run-off to check on an outfit change. The models work on rotation and take a five minute break at regular intervals. Ever tried to stand still(ish) for two hours? It’s difficult, and sometimes it shows.
I got totally absorbed in Danielle’s presentation, visiting each of the three rooms twice and finding new clothing details and angles to shoot each time. It was a relaxed journey of discovery through the collection, picking out details from the show notes and seeking them out in the finished articles.
On to Phoebe English‘s desperate and gloomy waiting room. Housed in a basement theatre at the ICA, the presentation was a sombre affair of models appearing anaesthetised by the boredom of the waiting room scene. Here, the sound played a hypnotic and maddening part of the presentation in the form of a recorded voice in the vein of ‘hold the line, your call will be answered shortly…’ on a loop.
An at-arms-length presentation, it was the most theatrical of those I’ve seen with a strongly dark narrative that carried through from the models entering the set and taking a ticket before waiting their turn to be called to a check point before being visually assessed, preened and dispatched by a clip-board wielding quality controller (my summation).
This presentation saw the models contributing personally to the creation of the piece, like actresses. The show notes describe Phoebe’s strong focus on textiles, incorporating shredded sequins, knotting, knitting with elastic and a variety of string and silk weaving. She collaborated with John Smedley on knits and Hereu on shoes. The sound was by Gabriel Bruce. I can’t wait to see the collection up close in the Designer Showrooms as the textile and construction details were difficult to capture during the presentation.
The brilliant presentations I’ve reported on so far show the depth of talent, creativity and skill amongst the teams creating these dynamic installations. I’ve included a role call of all credited contributors so you can check out their individual work in more detail.
Stand by for the second instalment of Sunday’s shows on Techstyler, but for now I’ll leave you with this anatomical-inspired gem from Phoebe English’s set-making collaborator Sam Edkin‘s homepage. Go explore:
Rewind back to London Fashion week; Amidst the chaos of fashion shows and general Soho mayhem; On London’s Southbank there were groups of ambitious and driven technical, creative and business people coming together to pitch and initiate new fashion apps and products, within a 54 hour timeframe. The format is essentially as follows: there’s a big brainstorming session on Friday evening, followed by some mock pitches (during which I proposed an Angry Birds-esque game called Kanye Potato Face – you throw potatoes in Kanye’s seasonal fashion palette at his face and watch Kim’s butt grow as they hit him) followed by real pitches, then the formation of teams. The teams then begin to create a final proposition (throughout Saturday and Sunday) and at the 54th hour on Sunday evening they pitch it to win entry to the final (held in Poland on October 19th ). One such proposition at the end of this incredibly productive weekend was ModeForMe.
Claude Schneider, creator of the ingenious app SmarterQueue, and I.
Michelle, a languages graduate turned coder, tells me that she and her close friend (and developer sidekick) Claire attended the Fashion Startup Weekend to get involved in a project “just for fun”. They’re avid coders and both trained at Founders and Coders on the four month free course, graduating in May and going straight into freelance work as developers. Michelle says she’s getting more offers for freelance work than she can accept and receives daily LinkedIn messages asking if she can take on more work. It’s an inspiring story in itself, and when you add to that the rest of the team’s experience and diverse backgrounds it’s phenomenal to see what a group of creative, business and technical people to build in a matter of hours – especially considering most of them just turned up on the Friday night into session to “see what happens”.
The ModeForMe team consists of Maria, an ex-buyer from Matches and a keen and dynamic entrepreneur; Alex, Ex-Spotify and now a Business Developer at an NGO; Ray and Gigi, Investment Bankers; and Claire and Michelle – coders. Their ModeForMe platform, which was functional at the time of the final pitch already has five fashion designers signed up for the demo phase and allows emerging designers to crowd-fund limited edition production, thereby having the funds up-front to complete production and eliminate the risk for both the designer and manufacturer. Michelle also explains that the team sees ModeForMe as an exciting research tool for designers to understand which of their products show greater demand and where to invest time and energy in development. There is an immense amount of data to be gained by understanding the preferences of customers for certain styles, colours, quantities, so there is a huge potential for industry “intelligence” with this platform too. ModeForMe won the Fashion App battle and are now working solidly to get ModeForMe ready for the final battle in Poland.
The winning team, ModeForMe
Attendees, Fashion Startup Weekend
Michelle has made quite a leap from her previous Tech Marketing role at WonderLuk, where she now works as a developer since completing her coding course. She shows me her recent addition of cool customisation options to the WonderLuk website for their collaboration with designer of 3D printed dress for Dita Von Teese fame, Francis Bitonti. Michelle also tells me about an app she built for a teacher wanting to share assignments with students to complete ‘in app’. There’s also an option for students to give feedback in three words to sum up their feeling about that particular piece of homework. Totes amaze lol!!
Michelle is bursting with creativity and excitement over building ModeForMe from scratch in Java but without the JS backend. I’m baffled and impressed all at once. It’s inspiring to meet someone who launched into a whole new career simply because she was dabbling in website customisation when launching a blog with her friend and became frustrated at not being to create the exact look and functionality she wanted. She taught herself Java online, then took the Code Academy tests before enrolling at Founders and Coders, where she now teaches alongside Claire. It’s a part of giving back to the NFP organisation that empowered them with their new careers.
It’s with a massive burst of energy and enthusiasm we part ways (we have an experiment in the works) and Michelle heads off to sort some code at WonderLuk while I head back to my studio to write. The final pitch happens on October 19th in Poland. Vote 1, ModeForMe!
I wanted to meet Kevin Geddes for personal reasons. Personal in the sense that Kevin, like me, is a pattern-cutter turned designer and owner of his namesake label. He is a rare, creative, frank person who took a long and at times painful journey from law, business studies and accounting at A levels, to a BTEC in fashion, before achieving his goal of entry to the BA Womenswear course at Central Saint Martins, followed by a swift exit, before returning to his native Birmingham when the BA course didn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s been a convoluted, interesting, inspiring and honest journey.
Kevin is bold. Immediately I get the sense he is telling me his story. The real one. Not the image-conscious one covered in a veneer of glossy hindsight bias. Kevin tells me straight – “I don’t think the story behind the clothes has to be important”. He doesn’t feel the need to make anything up – verbally or sartorially. Kevin worked for over a decade in retail, pattern-cutting and as a machinist for a handful of labels, including in Birmingham where he worked for a bridal wear company and developed exceptional sewing and finishing skills, and London where he worked at Richard Nicoll, amongst other fashion labels. He currently works for six different designers as a freelance pattern-cutter whilst running his label. As an ex-pattern cutter and someone who owns a label I can appreciate how difficult this is. Kevin explains it is a blessing and a curse. Freelance pattern-cutting is helpful while his business grows and he appreciates the variety and opportunity to learn something new every day. He enthuses about still learning and always discovering new ways of doing things and new technology.
It’s his inquisitive mind that led him to each decision he has made throughout his career. Kevin left his BA at CSM on day one of the second year. He explains he went to the first day of the second year of his BA, sat in a room with all these people from his first year and thought to himself, “do you know what, I think I’m going to quit today”. It just felt wrong. Kevin says very simply “I’ve always had this thing in me, if I’m not enjoying it, if I don’t like it then I don’t need it in my life”.
It immediately strikes me as a brave move. A CV containing CSM is an insurance policy above all others for graduating designers, as proven by the BOF 2015 University Rankings . Kevin’s response to my comment is that at every point in his life he has done what wanted – what he enjoys. He is motivated by ideas and discovery. His return to education several years later was motivated by the vast opportunities to utilise new equipment for garment construction and textile developments at Coventry University, where he then completed his BA. He saw no point in completing the degree if there wasn’t something exceptional being offered in terms of learning and skill development. He cites the laser cutters, heavy duty industrial equipment such as raincoat sealing and bra moulding machines as the driving force behind his decision to choose Coventry University. He was driven by what he could learn rather than the prestige of attending a particular institution.
After winning the MyWardrobe capsule collection award in his second year at Coventry, he resisted the impetus to launch a label and continued to build his skills and hone his craft. The benefit of his considerable industry experience meant he realised how much he still had to learn. He was no longer naive enough to just jump straight in.
Fast forward six years and Kevin is in his second season having created a collection inspired by Evel Knievel, his childhood hero, and the Battle of the Planets, his favourite childhood show.
Kevin’s process is so quick and natural. He sketches, cuts the pattern, then makes the garment – first in toile form for fitting, then the sample. He is prolific and very much a maker.
It strikes me as an exciting time for a designer like Kevin, and for that matter, me. Being a technical and creative designer means realising ideas fast. It means creating collections with relative ease and it means other business models are possible.
We talk about the potential of selling online and being de-shackled from the seasonal model in the fashion industry, which Kevin admits is restrictive. Wouldn’t it make more sense to produce smaller collections more often? I mention the upcoming ModeForMe platform which is in development, and where I am headed to speak to one of the founders after my meeting with Kevin. We both believe the industry is ripe for such disruption and such technology could empower designers.
Kevin is off to see a client he is freelancing for and his entire collection, which I saw first at London Fashion Week before arranging this interview, is out being shot for various publications. Kevin’s approach is at once inspiring and restrained. He’s looking forward to the next phase of growing his business but is in no rush, which strikes me as probably the perfect balance. After all, every day’s a school day.