Spiritual High

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“Material Girl Mystical World” is the tagline of The Numinous, a website started by Sunday Times Style contributor Ruby Warrington, who believes that, despite living in a material world, we can combine new age (or “now age” as Warrington asserts) thinking and post-modern spirituality and still enjoy the aesthetic pleasures of fashion.  Or to sum up this unlikely combination with a handy bit of alliteration, one Numinous article title reads: “Chanel Boots and the Fashion Chakra”

“I’ve always been obsessed with astrology and all things ‘mystical’ but coming from a fashion magazine background I always found a lot of the imagery around it really unappealing,” said Warrington.  “So much crushed purple velvet and dorky unicorn drawings!  I decided there was a niche for a site that married mysticism with a beautiful, stylish aesthetic – as I was aware that so many people in fashion world were also into this stuff.”  Warrington cites astrologer Susan Miller’s website as an example of being aesthetically unappealing but absorbing content-wise (although you could argue, that Miller’s web 1.0 hyperlink-blue style is making a lo-fi trendy comeback all by itself if you delve deep enough into the myriad of hipster Tumblr ages).

spiritualImages taken from The Numinous, Pamela Love and ManiaMania

You could view this as a surface-level chic repackaging of a lifestyle choice and belief system that has long existed.  Astrology, crystal healing, yoga, meditation – these are age-old belief systems and activites that have undergone various waves of in or out.  The current vogue for this holistic lifestyle though neatly coincides with an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle, dominated by a frenetic online presence and an inability to switch off.  “I like to call it ‘now age’ thinking – as I feel like a lot of the hippie ideals of the 1960s are coming of age with the current generation,” said Warrington.  “Our lives are so ruled by technology that any way to feel more ‘human’ – be this through yoga or meditation, eating a more natural diet, or looking to holistic healing modalities, is more and more appealing.”

Take my own interest into the “unknown or the “unknowable” as per the meaning of numinous, which is something that has developed over time as well as with age.  The more chaotic my work life has become, the more I want to escape into spaces, where the very force of Mother Nature moves you.  If I had read that line seven years ago, I would have cringed and berated myself for being a pretentious twat.  Thirty-year old me now insists that going out to Joshua Tree and looking up into the sky is incredibly important to my well-being.  I haven’t quite stepped up to the spiritual plane that Warrington and her friends are on but it may only be a matter of time.

It’s easy to see the relationship between spiritual enlightenment and fashion as a straightforward dichotomy.  One seems to naturally repel the other.  I’ve seen former editors and fashion PRs in the industry turn to more holistic enterprises or careers be it floristry (bigging up Taylor Tomasi Hill Blooms as an example), raw juice creation or even embarking on courses to become spiritual life coaches.  It’s fashion burn-out akin to the way City bankers and financial workers up sticks and move out to the country to start making cheese or craft beer.  “I think the way fashion is sold is designed to create / exploit feelings of lack – i.e. the notion that only by acquiring this seasons ‘must-haves’ will you somehow feel whole,” said Warrington, when asked about her thoughts on this idea of fashion burn-out.  “It’s totally possible to keep this in check and appreciate fashion as a way to enhance your experience of the world and express your whole self – but working in the industry it can be difficult to maintain this sense of balance.”  Or to use a notorious example, look at Lynne Franks, the infamous London PR, upon which Jennifer Saunders’ character Edina Monsoon in Ab Fab is based on.  Her 1997 autobiography Absolutely Now!: A Futurist’s Journey to Her Inner Truth chronicles Frank’s emotional and spiritual journey since leaving the world of PR and has since ventured on to projects promoting female empowerment, sustainability and social responsibility.

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How do fashion and spirituality co-exist then?  Warrington asserts that looking great can be equated to feeling great, which I certainly agree with.  “If our body is our temple, then surly how we chose to adorn it is an intrinsic part of our spiritual experience.”  Fashion, and in particular the high street, has already mined the surface of mysticism for its benefit.  Look at the festival trends that pop up year after year such as psychedelic crystal prints, fringed kimonos and the ever-prevailing feather head dress.  But when the likes of Pamela Love describes her creations as “deeply spiritual and intuitive”, you believe it.  Her jewellery is rooted around and genuinely influenced by astronomy, astrology and alchemy and this idea of keeping a dose of mysticism close to your being, be it a ring, a cuff or a necklace, is what has made Love so successful.  Same goes for the likes of Sydney/New York-based jewellery label Mania Mania.  Their Tumblr pages and inspiration images combined are unified in their aesthetic.  Where the rest of the fashion world is fleeting and in flux, the likes of Love have a consistent source of imagery that sums up what they’re about.

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Shop_Statement_CuffsPamela Love imagery

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The Numinous introduced me to IAmVibes, a label started by songwriter and spiritual sage Tom Hardless, which features clothing printed with the Islamic symbol of the Hamsa to provide defence against the Evil Eye.  According to Hardless, “I had a channelling of the word “HAMSA.” When I say channelling I mean that  in opening your mind fully to the universe, it shows you things and makes you feel things to help you be a creative, happy, balanced human. With a little bit of research and learning, I came to understand what this symbol stood for, what it meant to me and how I could incorporate my energy into this symbol to make it my own.”  The end gist of that?  That creativity equals happiness.  That’s something I can get onboard with.

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Retail-wise, we’ve seen Tena Strok’s Celestine Eleven in Shoreditch, touted as an “alternative luxury store” where you can feed yourself aesthetically and spiritually.  It’s still one of the most interesting retail concepts to have come up in the last year or so and approaches fashion and spiritual well-being with a notion that looking to the “alternative” side of things will ultimately make you more enriched.  I can’t deny that the combination of new season Meadham Kirchhoff, Niels Peeraer and Rachel Comey with wares from Celestine Eleven’s well-stocked apothecary as well as tomes from her brilliant book selection don’t make for a heady and nourishing combination.

 

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Last week, we’ve also seen the launch of a pop-up “modern mysticism” venture in London.  She’s Lost Control is “free-flowing concept space” which “fuses the synergies of urban style with modern mysticism, taking an unconventional view of art, music, fashion and lifestyle.”  Created by jewellery designer Jill Urwin and fashion designer Cheryl Eltringham, again they talk about creativity as a way of advocating spirituality – an easily dismissible bit of tosh – but when you meet them in their temporary space on 99 Morning Lane Hackney, it’s clear they have conviction in their beliefs.  How else to explain the little jars of gold leaf, sold for no purpose other than to bring good fortune to the receiver?  Or the aura potions kept in metal vials.  In addition to Urwin’s jewellery and crystal terrariums and loose kimonos from Eltringham’s Velvet Johnstone label, She’s Lost Control is showcasing art aura art by Lauren Baker and Burning Man-appropriate headdresses by Sister Rebel.  They’re also taking it a step further by holding meditation sessions with spiritual healer and life coach Jody Shield.  She’s Lost Control is at 99 Morning Lane until the 25th August, before it moves on to the Unknown in Croatia.  As in the festival called the Unknown, not the real unknown…

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IMG_5996Aura painting and painted skulls by Lauren Baker

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Hard nosed cynics will still find it difficult not to write this all off as merely an faddy aesthetic.  But is there anything fundamentally wrong with we’re trying to have our mystical cake and eat it with an awesome outfit on, especially when that outfit has been borne out of love, principle and as an affront to fashion’s mainstream.  Warrington’s advice on how to combine our material world with a spiritual one?  “Don’t blindly consume things – make considered material choices that will enhance your world on a deeper spiritual level.”  Right on…

Le Kilt

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>> Le Kilt was a nightclub in the early 80s on Greek Street in Soho London frequented by the ex-Blitz kids crowd and as the name suggests, clad with plaid on the interior.  Le Kilt in 2014 is a new label designed by Samantha McCoach, who has laid claim to this most famed of Scottish Highland wear, and created a line dedicated purely to the kilt.  “My Gran was actually a kilt maker for 30 years after moving from Italy to work in Scotland,” explains McCoach.  “I grew up in left over tartan scarps she would make up into skirts, dress’s and trousers… and tartan bonnets that never fitted on my head over a high pony tail!  Im hoping to keep the trade alive and give kilt making a modern fresh approach.  There are only a few factories left in Scotland that specialise in making them.  I’m really lucky to be working with one back home.”

The has been gently suggested as a staple item over the past seasons, particularly for AW/13 when Christopher Kane, another fellow Scot, turned to suggestions of kilts in his camouflage skirts.  J.W. Anderson too has had a kilt feature in his collections ever since he started doing womenswear and underlined that when he was creative director of Sunspel.  They’re still selling plain Scottish-made kilts as part of their core womenswear collection.  McCoach’s kilts deftly combine tradition with modernity though as each kilt is made with specialist knowledge.  For her debut collection of kilts, which is going to Dover Street Market, McCoach has a choice of plain wool and different plaids – chosen not for their connections to the different clans but for the way they might fit in with a modern day kilt wearer, who may not necessarily be Scottish.  These are exactly the sort of kilts that I longed for when I was a sulky teenager, traipsing up and down Princes Street in Edinburgh with my mum, because she wanted me to dress “proper” and get a knee-length kilt to wear for special occasions (in some lurid red tartan of course because of the colour’s connotations in Chinese culture).

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This is just the mere beginning for McCoach’s “kiltie” creations.  She’ll be introducing complimentary garments and accessories to go with her kilts in the coming seasons and for S/S 15, which I got a sneak preview of at CIFF in Copenhagen, as part of the ever impressive Touba showroom, she’s made an exclusive mixed plaid style as well as rendering her kilts in pastel shades of wool crepe.  My favourite though has to be the all over denim kilt.  It’s not for the kilt purist but it’s definitely a playful and versatile take on this iconic garment.

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Coming to Fruition

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10467917_242596119262782_1886810974_nSammy and Val fusing all of the elements that have make Fruition, the store an interesting concept

Fruition.  I’m pretty sure that’s one of my top ten most overused words in speech and in writing.  It is after all an uplifting word that neatly sums up the process of design, development and final product and in on this occasion, I finally got to see the “Fruition” of Sammy Jo Alonso, Val Julian and business partner Chris Julian’s eponymous store that is coming up to its ten year anniversary.  The trio started Fruition in their beloved hometown of Las Vegas because they wanted to shake things up in sin city.  Sammy has been reflecting on her close-to-a-decade Fruition journey on Instagram and had this to say: “To many of you, Las Vegas may seem like a barren desert.  But to me, Las Vegas is a city with boundless untouched treasures.  Treasures and undeveloped talents found within myself these past 9 years.”  

From Fruition’s seemingly in-the-middle-of-nowhere LV locale, they’ve expanded to Los Angeles with a store in Echo Park as well as collaborating left, right and centre with brands, like Nike, along the way to spread not just the Fruition gospel but Sammy and Val’s own mantras of living life to the full (see this post for motivating words that will make you get off your arse and well… just do it!).  On my trip to Los Angeles which also included a one day reccie to Las Vegas last month, seeing Fruition in both cities was on my agenda, just so that I could see this store that I talked up on the basis of their look book styling, which popped off the computer screen.  Hearing Virgil Abloh talk about these “Celine and Supreme” modern times, where one can mix and match street, high-end and other sources all together; it made me think of the aesthetic of Fruition.  Back in 2005, they were already recontextualising vintage to mix up authentically crafted “ethnic” pieces from all over the world, with vintage Chanel and Versace and then both new and deadstock streetwear and sportswear.  Back then, that mix would have been a zany one.  Now, we almost take mixing up style genres for granted.  Case in point, I came away from the Los Angeles store with a destroyed and ripped Chinese robe (no ridic London prices here – I paid USD30) and a Phoebe Philo concert tour t-shirt by the brand Modern Man Paris.  I’m not sure how Ms. Philo will feel about her image cut ‘n’ pasted this way but this t-shirt is certainly representative of the way designers are probably a bit uneasy about the way consumer mixes their collections up, styling and restyling until it is very far removed from the original catwalk context.  It’s why brands and houses instruct editors and stylists to showcase head-to-toe looks in magazines.  The very idea of designers ceding control so that “people” can remix brands in their own way is what makes stores like Fruition so refreshing.  They point out the roots of brands with their themed displays of military jackets, bleached-out denim and 80s windbreakers and pair them up with brand new streetwear or designers that link up to these references.  In the background of the LA store in particular, glitched up images of Celine and Margiela collections are spliced with their own references and we’re invited to “surf” the store and “instamoment” a selfie.  Fruition reflects the same kind of glitched up present, whilst recognising the weight of the fruitful past where so many of the clothes in the store come from.  But what of the future?

We live in a google generation.  A microwave culture where we’ve been conditioned to expect instant results and instant solutions. We’re led by bottom line expectations to produce, coupled with our internal pressure to succeed.  These circumstances can easily take the life out of living if not pursued with balance and meaning.  With patience and discipline, we can learn to run the race we have been called to run.  Life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. I promise you, we will surpass our own expectations and set the pace towards our best days ahead.”  From Sammy’s Instagram

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Into the Wilderness

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I’ve been spoilt with festivals on grounds of English stately homes this summer.  Ok, spoilt might be a stretch but following Port Eliot a fortnight ago with a day trip to Wilderness, in a comparison of two festivals that try to outdo one another with how British and middle-class they can get, does seem indulgent.  I have Mulberry to thank for my Saturday sojourn to the pictoresque  lush countryside of  Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire, which played host to the fourth Wilderness festival.  And luckily I was there in the sunny nick of time before being lashed by gale force winds and rain today.

It’s the first time Mulberry have had presence at a UK festival (they previously hosted events at Coachella a few years ago) and it seems like a significant time to rock up at a festival like Wilderness, engage with customers in an endearingly adorned tent and a handy hashtag #MulberryLovesCraft.  Wilderness is multi-faceted, on the one hand revelling in neon-spandex, sequins and feather attired debauchery, best seen late at night when children are tucked in boutique camping tents and adults come out to play in woodland raves and bonfire parties.  And yet on the other hand, it promotes genteel vibes with yoga classes, Swedish lakeside saunas and crafting stands aplenty.

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IMG_5876Two feather-headdress adorned babes inside the Secret Emporium tent – I’ll leave it up to you as to how to judge the PC-ness of their headdress styles

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IMG_5885Dive In, Feel Free people…

That’s where Mulberry came in with their Mulberry Loves Craft tent, set up with workshops to teach people to stitch or monogram their own leather bracelets in countryside-derived shades of pheasant green, oak and flame.  Festival goers could also speak to Mulberry craftsmen from the Bridgewater factory (otherwise known as The Willows) about the processes of making one of Mulberry’s iconic Bayswater bags.  Mulberry’s attempt to reshore their production back to England is not to be sniffed at as they’ve invested over £7.5 million towards The Willows as well as using a government Regional Growth Fund towards recruitment and training in the local Somerset area.  With over 700 craftsmen and craftswomen working at both factories (The Rookery is Mulberry’s premier flagship factory) and an ongoing apprenticeship programme, it’s definitely a positive step towards the overall process of reshoring in the UK, as pointed out in this recent Business of Fashion article.

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Over in a beautiful walled garden, away from the hub of Wilderness, Mulberry and their AW14 ambassador and collaborator Cara Delevigne hosted a picture perfect picnic complete with haybales, shabby chic blankets and custom-made hampers filled with cobnuts, heritage tomatoes and cucumber juice (we grazed like rabbits for lunch but feasted like kings later at night at the Hix banquet – two whole chickens between four people?  More food with fashion displays please…).

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DMB-MULBERRY_CARA_DELEVINGNE_WILDERNESS_EDIT004Photograph by Dave Bennett

IMG_5950I never know what the crap to wear at a festival.  Hunter wellies and sundress person I am not not.  Opted for my marabou-festooned t-shirt from Bubbles Tokyo, Romance was Born top, vintage skirt, a Nike Tech windrunner, Christopher Kane belt, PAM glitter boots, Ray Ban velvet sunnies and of course, a Mulberry bag.  

And of course the woman of the hour Cara Deleveigne was presnet to pull some funny faces, leap about the long grass around her “Cara-van” (geddit?) and get intimate with her own bag by  hugging, biting and kissing it.  It is a bag worth lavishing some love on as a nifty three-in-one style that can be worn on the shoulder, as a rucksack or as a hand-held satchel.  I’m particularly into the monochrome camouflage version.

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DMB-MULBERRY_CARA_DELEVINGNE_WILDERNESS_EDIT012Photograph by Dave Bennett

Cara, lush picnic and craft at Wilderness – what does it all project about Mulberry?  It all speaks of a gentle rebuilding of sorts.  Mulberry’s recent dropping profits, the stepping down of ex-CEO Guillon who was previously tasked to make Mulberry more exclusive, and thus expensive, and then departure of creative director Emma Hill doesn’t make for positive reading.  Back in February, it was then announced that a range of £500-700 priced bags would be introduced to entice back loyal customers (which already has had a positive effect on the share prices).  This is a new chapter at Mulberry as they also seek to reshore their manufacture, investing heavily in their two factories, as the Made in England tag becomes a communicable asset for the brand.  Then of course Mulberry are hoping that Cara’s bag will be an Alexa-esque turning point in the brand’s fortunes, as this former trophy bag helped the brand buck the last recession .  At Wilderness, Mulberry were given the opportunity to re-emphasise their core brand values – craftsmanship, Englishness and in their words “inspired by the cool of the city and the craft of the countryside.”  Mulberry’s participation in Wilderness is not just a jolly opportunity to roll around in bales and blankets, quaffing champers and canapes, but a sign that Mulberry perhaps are out of the woodland wilderness and into a once-again captivating clearing.

picnicPicnic Posers… via @TheOfficialSelfridges Instagram