Beatie Wolfe’s Tap and Play Album and Musically Generated Digital Textiles

Beatie Wolfe moves to the beat of her own drum.  An entrepreneur, recording artist, song writer, polished public speaker and folky technophile, Beatie is making and promoting her music, her way.  We met at The Hospital Club to talk about music, fashion and technology.

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An Independent artist with an impressive roster of mentors and collaborators some of whom were met through family contacts, others by chance at events and gigs – She met Wynton Marsalis, who now mentors her, while gigging at Ronnie Scott’s.  She’s not shy and grabs unexpected and obtuse opportunities with both hands.  She is pushing the limits of her musical vision and staying true to her love of storytelling, eschewing potentially lucrative big label offers.  It’s a bold move that she says is instrumental in maintaining her integrity as a recording artist and allowing her to work with other artists, maintaining the freedom to say yes to exciting collaborations without a big label calling the shots.

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It’s fascinating to hear Beatie’s journey.  She began playing piano aged 8 and confesses she used her piano tutor to transcribe her songs for her, rather than learning to play herself.  The piano was restrictive in a way the guitar was not and a chance conversation with a Spanish handyman (who happened to be a guitar virtuoso) fixing her parents kitchen led to lessons and a passion for getting her songs down on paper via acoustic guitar.  From then her storytelling and songwriting passion grew.

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The decision not to study music was an early one – Beatie says she prefers to learn on her own terms rather than in a pre-prescribed way.  A degree in English Literature followed secondary school, culminating in a dissertation on the poetry of Leonard Cohen (an act of defiance against her tutors who contested the choice citing Cohen’s work as absent from the English literary canon). Beatie got a first and the dissertation has been published and shared with Cohen since. Beatie is articulate and eloquent and admits she’s honed her email-writing skills over the years which has helped her make initial connections with people and grab opportunities.   She is clearly a highly motivated, goal-oriented entrepreneur who is neither phased by the fame or expertise of her peers and mentors nor prone to listening to those who say there’s a ‘right way’ of doing things.  There’s the path most trodden, then there’s the Beatie path.

Beatie’s recent Power of Music and Dementia project is the first of its kind to attempt to engage and reconnect dementia sufferers with emotions and memories through new music. The Independent reported it as ‘A musical miracle for dementia’ and it’s one example of an array of interesting projects she is involved with.

Beatie’s upcoming album is to be launched via cards embedded with NFC technology, enabling smart phone users to scan the cards (created in collaboration with Moo) to initiate instant song playback whilst viewing the song artwork and lyrics.  It’s a tactile, immediate and intimate introduction to her music – via technology – which is what makes it so interesting. No wonder it captured the imagination of David Rowan, Editor of Wired Magazine and iTunes pioneer and founder of record label AWAL (Artists Without A Label) which counts Nick Cave amongst its artists, Denzyl Fiegelson.  Beatie’s deck of NFC playback cards harks back to an era when music was sold on vinyl.  It also reminds me of giving and receiving CDs as gifts, compete with the lyric booklet and album artwork.  Nick Cave’s textured and embossed CD cover for the Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus album still sits proudly on my bookshelf as an object of beautiful design and Beaties cards are giving back that tactility in an age of downloads and streaming.

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Beatie Wolfe x MOO - Music Album Deck of Cards - World's First - v2

Individual NFC cards for each song off Beatie’s album

Beatie’s NFC launch is powered by Microsoft’s Nokia Lumia, whose fashion tech collaborations with Fyodor Golan were covered in my previous blog post.

I first met Beatie at Wired Next Generation and was compelled to speak to her on hearing about her upcoming collaboration with the head of soon to be revived fashion label Mr Fish, David Mason.

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The founding designer, Michael Fish, crafted elaborate shirts for musical icons from the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix in the late 60’s.  He also created the kipper tie and velvet frock worn by Bowie on the album cover of The Man Who Sold the World, so it’s fitting Beatie is collaborating with Mr Fish’s successor for the launch of her new album.

mr-fish-60s-fashion-2Mr Michael Fish

9f31d9eaaeff740f0eb9eee769a7f3adMick Jagger in Mr Fish dress

David-BowieDavid Bowie in Mr Fish shirt and trousers with Angie Bowie

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The images above remind me of  fashion designer Jonathan Anderson’s direction at JW Anderson.

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 09: A model walks the catwalk during the J.W. Anderson show at the London Collections: MEN AW13 at The Old Sorting Office on January 9, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)

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David Mason is also the Creative Director of British bespoke tailors Anthony Sinclair, famous for creating James Bond’s suits until Tom Ford took the mantle recently and whose first clients were the Beatles, followed by Eric Clapton and Elton John. Beatie bumped into David at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of months ago and he revealed he had moved into the flat once occupied by Yoko Ono and John Lennon – the site of many a famed and industry-defining recording, including Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” (incredible animated music video here) and Hendrix’s “ The Wind Cries Mary”.

tumblr_ngpd1vjaRL1rqn0oeo1_500Jimi Hendrix at 34 Montagu Square

Beatie went over for tea and on discovering the musical history of the room in which she sat, concocted a collaboration with David that at once allowed her to record the song Take Me Home to a gaggle of music industry insiders and David to measure them up for Mr Fish shirts, marking the relaunch of the fashion brand.

Beatie explained that there was still something missing in the mix and subsequently filled this gap by collaborating with BeatWoven – a textile designer creating digitally generated woven fabric from sound. The live recording of Beatie singing Take Me Home with the ambient sound of her audience at David’s flat at 34 Montagu Square is currently being woven into a fabric to be crafted into a gown by David Mason and launched at DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in January.

Montagu Sq - Beatie Wolfe performing 2 at the former home of HendrixBeatie and her Pack performing Montagu Square recording “Take me Home”

The process of BeatWoven founder, Nadia-Anne Ricketts is a fascinating fusion of textiles and technology, explained in the video below.

 

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A BeatWoven fabric

This isn’t the first time Beatie has explored promoting her music via technology and her first album 8ight launched with 3D interactive Palm Top Theatre app which projected Beatie atop a smart phone screen, effectively putting the listener/viewer in the front row of a virtual Beatie Wolfe concert. Pretty ingenious.

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10.+Beatie+Wolfe+-+3D+Album+8ight+App+-+Palm+Top+2Beatie’s Palm Top Interactive App for *8ight

We chatted about the new album Montagu Square, which I had been listening to on my way to the interview.  Firstly, I’m surprised at the simplicity and ease of the songs.  It doesn’t sound overly-produced (which is refreshing after being forced to listen to commercial radio far too much recently) and a strong percussive sound with a bluesy overtone, especially on Green to Red. It’s sounds low-fi and honest. It’s storytelling – no bells and whistles.  Maybe that’s why the innovative tech-led presentation works so well in contrast.  In her music, Beatie is concerned chiefly with lyrics and expression.  Her literature degree is an important and powerful tool in this amazing all-round creative tool-kit she has built. It makes me think about the BA fashion students I teach and how important a creative and entrepreneurial approach to life, study and work is, rather than simply relying on being a creative individual.  Beatie’s story is both a lesson and an inspiration.

Beatie Wolfe - with red guitar in Montagu Square by Stu Nicholls

Beatie will be promoting her album via iTunes appearances stateside and public speaking engagements in the coming months and I can’t wait to hear next collaborative instalment.  I’m finishing up this article listening to 8ight. Bowie’s Man Who Stole the World is next on my playlist (for musical and sartorial reasons).

Montagu Square is out on Monday 9th November. The launch gig is on November 12th. Check out beatiewolfe.com and iTunes for more details.

 

Make your own NFC cards with Moo here

Header Image: Clay Patrick McBride.  All other images (except Beatie and I at The Hospital Club): Stuart Nicholls 

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Fyodor Golan: The Fashion Designers Collaborating with Microsoft and Hasbro to Create the Smart Phone Skirt and Transformers Sweaters

It’s an insightful and warm conversation that plays out in the depths of Somerset House where Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman, the designers behind fashion label Fyodor Golan, invite me into their temporary studio while their usual one is undergoes renovation. Golan tells me they’re arranging pre-collection production now, then beginning their main line production before moving onto designing the AW16 collection, which launches at London Fashion Week in February. Phew! The fashion wheel keeps on turning…

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IMG_6716Production at the Fyodor Golan studio

Fyodor points out very early in the conversation that the fashion industry has changed dramatically since their Fashion Fringe launch seven seasons ago. Their evolution as designers and as business owners has been just as dramatic. They began by making restrictive, complex couture and changed direction when they gained global attention and realised that one Fyodor Golan woman did not exist – there are many. She comes in all shapes, sizes and ages and she doesn’t want to wear a corset. The philosophy of making their clothing lighter and easier sits well alongside two designers who are natural, pragmatic and thoughtful. Their customers speak, they listen.

00070big_1Fyodor Golan Fashion Fringe Winning Collection, 2011

Fyodor explains that the internet explosion and uptake of social media means that the old system of designers dictating whole customer ‘looks’ died with Instagram’s birth and has fertilised the Fyodor Golan brand’s growth.  It’s safe to say they are happy with fashion’s democratisation and credit fashion bloggers and clients styling their own looks on social media as sources of inspiration, revealing their fashion personalities and breaking down the ‘whole designer look’ phenomenon.

They gain new clients across the globe who contact them directly for special one-off pieces or to purchase garments directly on the strength of an Instagram image.  This is a powerful tool and leads us to contemplate whether the relentless pre-prescribed fashion industry collection schedule makes sense.  Do they need it? As a small label they are still responsive and in touch with their clients and that is a strength and competitive advantage.  Fyodor explains that he would love to make mini collections every three months, freeing them from the restrictive shackles of fashion’s seasonal calendar.  I notice from images and seeing first-hand the constructed textiles of their pre-collection that they are no less ambitious in terms of materials and concepts when creating their pre-collections, in contrast to some designers who approach these as “mainline lite” collections in terms of design and realisation.  It’s clear Fyodor Golan don’t take short cuts and invest their energy into realising ideas, not churning out product.  I admire them and I admire their ease and resolve. They know exactly why they are creating their collections, and it’s not just for the sake of it or because the fashion calendar says it’s time to churn another one out. They have recently launched resort S/S16, deciding to create one pre-collection per year instead of the standard two, in addition to their two mainline collections (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) so that they can maintain some balance and not stretch themselves too thinly.

IMG_6750Fyodor Golan Resort S/S16 postcards

This leads us to a discussion about the recent exit of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz from their fashion design and creative directorships of Dior and Lanvin respectively. As admirers of both designers, Fyodor and Golan discuss the unrealistic expectations on such designers to conceive and oversee the execution of upwards of eight collections a year, plus accessories, fragrances and in some cases retail spaces.  Being spread too thinly kills creativity.  We know it and have experienced it.  Golan wrestles with it when having to abandon concepts for collections part way through the development phase because he does not have the time and means to see them through.  He talks of being forced to wade through admin work and arrange business transactions in order to meet responsibilities to staff and suppliers – people have to be paid on time – leaving his unrealised ideas lingering.  It’s a tough and bitter pill that leaves doubt in the mind of a designer as to whether they have accomplished what they set out to and whether their vision has evolved into full bloom. The idea of the creative exploration being curbed too soon is a brutal one, especially considering a collection takes up to six months to create and is presented in around 6 minutes on the runway. If you don’t get to finish your sartorial sentence it’s an all too abrupt ending.

Fyodor Golan have embraced technology and the changing fashion landscape more than most. By launching a smart phone skirt collaboration with Nokia Lumia and a Microsoft-powered runway show with an impressive pyramid installation displaying projections from Nokia Lumia cameras in the front row, they have been at the frontier of experimenting with how tech gadgets can interact with fashion.  Their forays into combining fashion and technology have been facilitated by the Fashion Innovation Agency, spearheaded by FashionTech stalwart Matt Drinkwater.

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Fyodor-Golan-Nokia-3Fyodor Golan x Nokia Lumia smart phone skirt in collaboration with research and design studio Kin

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LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Fyodor Golan and Lumia 830 blend digital with reality to reinvent the catwalk show at London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015 on September 12, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Kin_FG_01SS15 FG x Microsoft + Nokia Lumia

Both designers are at ease combining fashion and technology, but also recognise its current limitations.  The limitations they cite come as a shock. Where previously I believed the lack of collaboration between technology and fashion designers lay with the designers’ lack of affinity for tech or a mismatch between the tech and the textiles or aesthetics, what it truly comes down to (at least in part) is the insistence on a new product outcome within a very short and strict timeframe.  One year to innovate and create a whole new fashion tech product? “How is that possible?” asks Golan.  The expectation of technology companies during pre-collaboration discussions with Fyodor Golan has been to create a new tech-driven product to sell within 12 months.  There appears to be a lack of appetite for experimentation for its own sake and for exploring long-term, ambitious and integrated fashion tech innovations in this collaborative environment.  Maybe that’s why fashion and technology aren’t integrating seamlessly and desirably yet – at least in the wearables space.

Fyodor and Golan are experimenters with spirit. They have a penchant for grabbing familiar references and layering textiles in a way that captures the imagination.  Their clothes are bright, bold, fun and attractive.  They’re highly tactile and attention grabbing. It’s hard to imagine not feeling happy and celebratory wearing their printed, vinyl, ruffled neoprene shift dress with neon trims. It’s a recognisable silhouette, making it firmly wearable, but it’s shaken off any shift-dress dowdiness by way of neon trims and chunky metal zips and the unexpectedly successful pairing of roses, ruffles and neoprene. SOLD!

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Their latest SS16 collection, which launched at London Fashion Week, evolved out of an existing collaboration with toy maker Hasbro.  The designers used My Little Pony as inspiration for their A/W15  ‘Rainbow Wheels’ collection and when offered the chance to delve into the Hasbro Transformer archives for S/S16 they grabbed it.

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my_little_pony_sabor_abbigliamento_licenzatarioA/W 15 collection in stores now

Unfortunately I’m not able to view and publish those original images, suffice to say that the bright colours and bold transformative nature of Transformers comes through at least in the spirit of the collection, and through the Transformer-inspired prints on sweatshirts. Being in the priviledged position of seeing never before published Transformer sketches the collection spontaneously erupted into a cacophony of colour and graphics.

IMG_6711Golan and the ‘front row’ Transformer

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A smattering of Geisha-inspired silhouettes and accessories (the shoes were a collaboration with Kat Maconie) give gravity to the playful colours and prints.  The indigo pieces are a personal favourite and appear to ground the collection amongst the flurry of digital prints, vinyl and colour.

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Fyodor Golan is the unexpected.  The designers themselves define it as ‘a spirit’. I define it as a breath of fresh air. They’re as candid as their clothes.  And that’s rare.

Header Image: Noctismag

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