Let me hear you say MA!


I seem to love confusing the hell out of streetstyle photographers when I spell out the names of what I'm wearing during fashion weeks.  They're probably annoyed at me for not wearing the easily recognisable roll call of names (Balenciaga, Givenchy, Acne etc etc) that they can take down on their notepads in simple shorthand.  This season, I'll be spelling out the following names as three London College of Fashion MA students have very kindly lent me a few pieces to gallavant around Paris in, proving a) their viability in a situation outside of professor crit meetings and student catwalk shows and b) that if I'm going to be supposedly "peacocking" around the shows, at least let it benefit those where any sort of exposure, be it my spelling out "Nishiyama" to a journalist/stylist/buyer or the pieces being street-snapped may lead to a positive path.

LCF kicked off London Fashion Week with their first ever MA show at LFW, enrichening (not competing as some would think…) that first day in the February A/W season when Central Saint Martins also have their on-schedule MA show.  Most people in the know will see that there is a fantastic diversity in British fashion schools with standout London names graduating from schools that aren't Central Saint Martins.  Along with the Royal Academy of Art, London College of Fashion has an impressive list of alumni, which include J.W. Anderson, Lucas Nascimento and James Long.  Their place at LFW is yet to be cemented of course but this stellar start saw a select edit of ten students showed that they were serious contenders either to start up on their own, go into the business or otherwise.  It really makes that first day of London Fashion Week in February, an exciting prospect with LCF kicking off the day and CSM finishing off the night, filling you with a head of names to watch out for in the future.  With such a tightly edited student show, you remembered each and every LCF MA grad and in all honesty, I could have picked out all of them.  For pure aesthetic pleasure though, here are three that have made their way into my suitcase, which has exploded in my Paris apartment and will hopefully make a visual imprint on a few people's brains.    


Keiko Nishiyama 
– When Keiko Nishiyama's English gardens fully bloomed on the stage of the sun-filled Royal Opera House, her carefully placed prints were a no-brainer for me.  After studying BA fashion and performance in Tokyo, she moved over to London to complete her MA at LCF.  She never left behind her Japanese roots though as she married Japanese technical production and printing facilities with the picturesque traditional English garden.  Turning to landscaping and horticulture skills, she created that sense of spatial illusion on her garments in the same way a garden might be designed.  Flowers start off big and full at the bottom of a dress, jacket or skirt and grow small as they disappear at the vanishing point.  We've seen florals time and time again, but t's the hand drawn finesse of these prints that really makes this collection sing as well as Nishiyama's dedication to working with Japanese factories to get the printed textiles just so.  On the body, I feel like I'm blooming as I'm walking.  I may not be able to keep flowers or plants alive in my house but at least I can legitimately wear some and feel there's something naturalistic about all this flora and fauna creeping up and around a well-formed trench coat and a matching skirt and shirt.  



















Min Wu  – Fashion courses in London continues to see students from China on the rise and Min Wu, hailing from Suzhou, China, after her BA at the China Academy of Art in Shanghai knew LCF was the place for her.  Her collection smacked of technical precision, inspired by the multi-disciplinary artist Anthony McCall and his "Solid Light" series as well as the object "Schizo Vase", produced by Studio OOOMS.  So far, so lofty but Wu interpreted those inspiration points by pushing boundaries of pattern cutting so that fabric reinforced by strips of foam would bend and moulded into structures, supported by thin rods, creating both angular and curvaceous sculpture.  Eschewing digital print, Wu also painstakingly hand dyed her fabric to have colours of pale and deep blue and aubergine gradiate beautifully into a blanket of white.  Wu also got it spot on with her moulded plastic heeled laofers that sparkled like boiled sweets on the catwalk.  There's something scarily delicate about the structures built into Wu's garments but at the same time, they put those art references in a context that is ultimately wearable.   

















Nadia Scullion  - Unexpected fabrics.  Check.  Unexpected textures.  Check.  Nadia Scullion's collection is one that needs to be appreciated up close.  Using fabrics normally confined to interiors and furnishings and using moulded rubber as a motif running throughout the collection, she creates clothes with a quiet and yet interesting appeal.  The rubber panels on coats and dresses and separate collars are actually based on the broken basket weave bases of rattan chairs, something, which underscores the interiors-based theme of the collection.  Scullion's collection is probably the most rail-ready of the three with coats, knitwear, separates and even edged socks ready to get people to embrace a touch of rubber in their lives.  I'm going to enjoy wibbling/wobbling about with this subtle but effective use of texture.  


















Strap n' Snap


Photo from Refinery 29 

>> I can't get enough of this mental 1980s Kenzo jumper, which I found on Etsy after a six hour browsing glut.  The relevance of the jungle frenzied pattern in relation to the current incarnation of Kenzo under Humberto Leon and Carol Lim's creative direction is seriously uncanny.  More importantly though, it's the perfect crazy tiled print foundation to the Sarah Frances Kuhn x Meredith Wendell strap, which has been the most asked-about thing I've worn at fashion weeks.

Remember Sarah Frances Kuhn and her niche-finding experience of going from being Teen Vogue's accessories editor to err… camera strap designer?  During NYFW, she debuted a new range of straps, made in collaboration with accessories label Meredith Wendell, using materials from their past collections such as eye-popping climbing rope, Italian leathers and Scottish plaid.  All cameras from bulky DSLRs to small point and shoots are catered for and they're now on sale online.  The strap I have is the Ruby River Super Deluxe which has been hoisted onto the Canon 60D and swung around multiple times without any accidents.  The green leather which rests on the shoulder happens to have a decent bit of cushioning in it too to counteract any strap chaffing issues.  It's a bit wrong to describe them as camera "outfits" seeing as they serve a practical purpose but the straps definitely make these bulky-yet-necessary objects less of an eyesore.  Also, not to encourage the ridiculous notion of buying a bag purely to match a camera strap but the current season Meredith Wendell backpacks, which are on Matches online, would look ridiculously cute alongside the SFK straps.  It's a combination that almost begs for a gaggle of streetstyle photographers to pounce upon with their own DSLRs, snapping away at the more colourfully attired DSLR.  Is that all a bit meta mental?  I don't think I'm selling this into you, am I?








The Return of Machine-A


When I really think about the number of independent multi-label boutiques in London that I would heartily recommend, excluding the biggies like Matches and Browns or the department stores, then I could in fact count them on my ten fingers.  The number may not even reach ten and over the past decade, they've also come and gone (The Shop at Maison Bertaux, The Pineal Eye etc).  I banged on about Machine-A at its original Berwick Street address, formerly known as Digitaria, when it opened back in 2009, seeking to sell edgy with a capital E, and perhaps scaring off the mainstream crowd of Soho.  I personally loved its selection of young graduates, small independents and leanings towards fetishistic or hard-edged aesthetics.  A window full of limp scarecrow-esque dummies or frightening masks weren't the ticket to retail success though.

Therefore owner Stavros Karelis shut up shop, relocated to 13 Brewer Street (in between two massage parlours if you must know…) with a whole new buying and aesthetic outlook.  In effect, Machine-A 2.0 has gone more high end, stocking brands that the average fashion joe walking into the store (they've done brisk trade in the first week of its opening) would know.  That doesn't make the store any less interesting than its previous incarnation.  In fact, the selection perhaps reflects an eclectic crosssection of what London fashion is about at the moment, something which resonates on an international as well as a domestic level.    



Menswear designer Alex Mattsson has worked with Machine-A on an exclusive range of t-shirts and iPhone cases as well as a light installation slash changing room area, in what is actually a fairly minimal interior design space, all the better to let the clothes do the talking.  




The first significant shift in Karelis' buy strategy for the store is to stock hero brands such as Mugler menswear and Raf Simons, as seen here in the campaign imagery styled by Anna Trevelyan (also part of the Machine-A gang).  Whilst hardly "mainstream", they're brands that the average fashion joe in London would seek out and at the same time, be introduced to the other brands at Machine-A.  The same goes for the inclusion of MCM bags, which sit perfectly in amongst the other designers.  

SS13 Campaign _ Bag MCM, Shirt Shorts and Blazer Mugler, Shoes, Raf Simons, Coat Raf Simons _1





Machine-A also reflects the gamut of styles that London Fashion Week currently plays host to.  Rather than concentrating on the very young fashion grassroots, Karelis has chosen designers that are strong but not necessarily household level yet.  Christopher Raeburn's functional outerwear, Sibling's funtime knits, Louise Gray's print mix and Nasir Mazhar's sporty ready to wear and inventive millinery – it's great to actually see these London-based labels mix it up in a physical store.  In particular, Machine-A is actually Louise Gray's sole London stockist, something which I was shocked to find out (why exactly is it that nobody has taken the Gray gamble yet despite the product looking so strong on the rails?).  It's obviously great to be able to refer people to a bricks n' mortar store where these designers, which I regularly bang on about, can be bought.  

SS13 Campaign _ Coat Christopher Raeburn, Cap Nasir Mazhar_1


SS13 Campaign _ All Louise Gray _1




SS13 Campaign _ Trousers Nasir Mazhar, Shirt Jaewan Park, Hat Nasir Mazhar, Trainers Raf Simons_1


On the menswear front, Agi & Sam (had no idea they did such a cute collaboration with Tabio socks) and Shaun Samson represent the experimental yet astute spirit that is making London Collections Men so exciting to watch.  



That said, Machine-A hasn't completely abandoned its original ethos of supporting super young designers.  Ashley Williams, the Westminister graduate who has just shown her latest Elvis-nostalgia-tinged collection as part of Fashion East, is in Machine-A, brightening things up with her ice cream prints and lattice knits.    

SS13 Camapaign _ Dress Ashley Williams, Bag MCM, Ring Duffy_1



Trompe l'oeil neoprene pieces by RCA graduate Peiran Gong jump out at you as shadows and relief detailing is cleverly created by gradiated colours.  These pieces are available on a made to order basis as are painted anarchic coats by Central Saint Martins graduate Tigran Avetisyan.  Machine-A plans on selecting graduates on the basis that they can a) produce their pieces and b) have the potential to grow their own label should they wish to.  

SS13 Campaign _ Dress Peiran Gong, Watch Fred BUtler for Swatch_1




Accessories and jewellery in particular are the centrepiece of Machine-A's modest space.  Fred Butler x Swatch's collaboration may be the eyecatcher but the store has been shifting more subtle pieces such as Kyle Hopkins' rings (they can take an imprint of your finger and cast it into a made to order ring for that extra personal touch), enamel spiked rings from D by Dominic Jones, Ambush' visually impacting pieces and Bethan Laura Wood's composite rings.  






These pics are just a small indication of what's to come as of course with any new store opening, it takes a season or two to really hit their stride and to see the full scope of their approach to buying.  Machine-A's return is much welcome in Soho, where shopping has fallen down the activity agenda, in comparison to say, eating out.  The likes of Other, Opening Ceremony and now Machine-A though are waving the flag that there are still independent fashion gems that aren't designer designer designer to be found in town, in amongst the sea of chains.  

Too Much


When in Milan, I like to take an afternoon to saunter around Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga and the like, and take in the glossiness of everything.  Going in and out of the flagship stores of all the biggie Italian houses that seem to be far better stocked than the ones back home.  It's educational window shopping, taking in the merchandising and seeing what's coming and going.  I also like to imagine what it's like to veritably walk into a Prada store and drop x number of ¬£k's just as so many of the Chinese/Russian/Middle Eastern shopper tourists do.  Instead, I'm just a voyeur.  Not an envious one but a curious spectator, who is completely aware of "how the other half live."

This is exactly how I approach the following collections that have thus far bucked the sombre tones of New York, the precise and etched out ideas of London, where even the most colourful of butterflies such as Meadham Kirchhoff toned it right back and the "real clothes" approach of the likes of Prada and Marni in Milan.  More is more and more is never enough.  There's a "We know who our girl/woman is so fuck it!" attitude that I can't help but admire.  Much like my onlooker tendencies in Milan, I like to fantasise for one moment of what it's like to sashay, shimmy and smoulder in these clothes, before snapping back into reality.  Some of this dances around the murky lines of bad taste, whether it's intentional or not.  In fact ostensibly to most fashion poo poo-ers (you'll find them pouring dirge in the comments section of The Guardian) these are exactly the sort of clothes, which sum up the evils of the industry  – ostentatious, brash and hideously expensive.  I'd like to flip it and say that whilst those qualities aren't positive, there's value in gorging on this visual fest of OTT.  Well, I'm certainly never going to have a rat's chance of physically touching the stuff but as an image, it's certainly a guilty pleasure to be stuffing your face full of Tom Ford's dressed-to-the-tens prima donna, Fendi's "If we're gonna do fur, let's amp it up attitude and Donatella Versace's Vunk (that's Versace mixed with punk‚Ķ).  I literally just feel like I've polished off a whole box of Quality Street, just by uploading these images – and I don't even like chocolate all that much.  

I wasn't expecting to get a Tom Ford ticket.  Yes, it was finally a proper show after a few seasons of his intimate, no-photos, no-one-except-editors-in-chief presentations.  Still, a blogger let loose with her DSLR at a Tom Ford show where god forbid, there are non-sanctioned images of the show going out into the messy cyberspace?  I was half expecting to be stopped at the gates of the lavish Lancaster  House (an ex-Royal residence, ya know‚Ķ) only to be told it was a ticketing mistake.  Still there I was allowed to snap away, processing the excess of sequins and beading, the comic book KAPOWs, the kitsch Chinoiserie and the electric coloured furfurfur.  For some, it was a head-scratching moment of "WTF?"  It certainly felt like Ford had allowed something to explode in his womenswear collection, which he called a "Cross Cultural Multi Ethnic", a title not to be over-analysed.  Taken as a whole, it can be a bit puzzling to see where to place this in the context of Ford's meticulous brand carving, something we all know he is capable of.  Unlike his precise and agenda-laden menswear offering, the womenswear has run quite a free-reined gamut.  It felt strange to see him let loose.  Still, looking at the individual pieces and taking them out of their context, I actually felt the urge to try on the weight of all those lavish coats and dresses dripping with sequins work or to see what an all-over embroidered boot would be like to wear.  There were moments of hilarious Too Much Ness that I somehow couldn't resist.  Whether Ford meant for it to be hilarious is questionable.   The joke will be lost on a certain clientele in the world that will be gagging for Ford's offerings.  I'll see them stalking up and down the ritzy streets of Milano or London's Bond Street.  And I'll try and give them a high five if their bodyguards/chauffeurs don't stop me. 



















Into Milan, and I lost my Fendi show virginity.  I'm a bit of a show hermit when it comes to Milan and there have always been some must-see shows that I never managed to get to, with Fendi being one of them.  What everyone was murmuring before and after the show was "Gosh‚Ķwhen/how did Fendi get good?"  Their S/S 13 collection was stonkingly good, translating the graphic mood of the season into some of the best accessories and shoes that I woefully never saw in person.  A/W 13 continued that upwards trajectory.  It was as if the Silvia Venturini Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld sent a mantra out to their team to say "We are a fur house.  Let's not apologise.  Let's run with it, amp it up and just go for it."  The models wore fur mohawks and fur-sided sunnies like an imaginary homage tribe to eighties New Wave.  Electric colours would streak mink coats, skirts and sweaters like flashes of post-punk nostalgia.  Once again, the accessories got people talking with the furry gremlins hung off crazy-coloured shearling bags and the zebra patterned shoes and their architectural heels.  There was a masterful display of the house's expertise in fur – shaved, colour-blocked, woven, plaited and feathered into sculptural pieces that moved with verve to the thump thump thump of Morning Hours by David Mayne.  Again, the impact on the eye was high.  You couldn't help but be bowled over by the boldness and conviction with which everything emerged from the double F Fendi logged box.  

On a furry note, I got into a long comment-thread with people on my Instagram about the tactics of anti-fur protests.  It will disappoint some to say that I don't have a strictly anti-fur policy.  I don't wear the stuff.  But I'm not against featuring it for aesthetic reasons (such as posts like these), but I'm reluctant to do it often.  I don't besmirch those that wear/buy it either.  We need more awareness of what is technically bi-product, whether the animals would survive in the wild on their own accord or how humanely the animals are killed from the designers themselves.  That would ease the argument and prevent blind furor from both sides. 





















Finally we have Versace.  I'll admit, I was slightly distracted by the surreal front row situation going on across from me.  Christopher Kane sitting next to an almost unrecognisable Lana del Rey (her hair is black and her look is devoid of that nostalgia-tinged romanticism) and new Versus guest designer J.W. Anderson next to Janet Jackson.  A few British editors and I swore that Janet made eye with us, smiling back and forth.  Well, I'm going to swear that happened anyway.  Once Donatella got her "Vunk" going though, it was hard not to tear your eyes away from the audacious mix of vampy PVC, Clueless-esque checks, giant spikes and pins worn as earrings and as halterneck clasps (a throwback to THOSE giant safety pins preventing Liz Hurley's modesty from escaping) and yes, more fun fun fun fur in blob-patterned canary yellow and black and white.  It's sort of everything you want a Versace show to be.  In a perverse way, you want people to question "Who would wear THAT?" but the very fact that these clothes exist scales up the parameters of extremity.  Head to toe skintight PVC aside (I'll leave that Ms. Del Rey – she seemed to be loving those looks), the Fraggle fur skirts and coats (Muppets and Sesame Street-esque furs – both faux and real – are abound this season as Sarah Mower noted), the mohair-patched-up cobweb knits and the metal tipped collared coats are just OTT bits that I'll be stroking up next season when at the Versace boutique on via Monte Napoleone.