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Bath in Fashion 2015

Bath in Fashion gives the historic spa city its chance to show, tell and share fashion stories whether historical, bang up to date or revealing what’s coming next. Now in its sixth year, the event attracts some of the biggest fashion players with many talks and events staged in the Georgian Assembly Rooms, where the fashionable set of 18th Century Bath crowded to be seen.

Jolly's window display for Bath in Fashion

This year the city welcomed designers from established names such as Anna Sui and Roksanda Ilinic to the latest Fashion Week sensation Ed Marler, and fashion commentators including Susie Lau and Grazia’s Suzannah Frankel. Unfortunately I was out of the country for most of the events, but was still lucky enough to be one of the first to hear the Dress of the Year announcement, learn more about the art of embroidery and sit frow at one of the catwalk shows.

yarnbomb Bath in Fashion

Fashion permeated the city via these colourful yarn bombs by Emma Leith & creative crocheters raising money for Kids Company.

Dress of the Year reveal

The Bath in Fashion audience was in for a treat as the Dress of the Year 2014 was revealed. Gareth Pugh’s plastic dress was chosen by editor-in-chief of Love Magazine, Katie Grand. The announcement closed an event charting the making of a fashion book, Dress of the Year, celebrating 50 years of the scheme with author Richard Lester, Bath Fashion Museum manager, Rosemary Harden and publisher, Matthew Freedman.

At the end of the talk, Rosemary Harden unveiled the winner, and we were invited downstairs from the Assembly Rooms tea room to the out of hours Fashion Museum for a sneak peak at the Dress of the Year.

Dress of the Year reveal at Bath in Fashion

It had to be the Pugh dress for Katie Grand:

“I’m delighted to have been asked to select the Dress of the Year and to me Gareth’s plastic dress sums up 2014. I like the idea of how fancy and complex the dress is in structure, yet made of something so disposable. I had a super time photographing this with David Sims for Love 12; it was so easy as it gives a couture silhouette yet is ‘punk’, it’s Edwardian, forties, seventies and two thousands all at the same time. It is familiar in its historical references yet utterly new in its execution.”

Watch the Dress of the Year in the context of Pugh’s collection:


The sculptural piece comprises a tube dress which has iridescent plastic wrapped around to make a coat tied with a Japanese inspired obi belt. The wedge boots and trousers merge into one twisted around the leg. The everyday material of the dress contrasts with the architectural structure of the design (Rosemary Harden said it was like hanging a Dior).

Gareth Pugh's Dress of the Year in the Fashion Museum

Plastic is a recurrent material in Pugh’s work, and for the designer:

“I love the fact that is has such industrial connotations. The idea of making something beautiful from something that is generally used in a much more heavy-duty way is very interesting. It’s also an innately modern material and implies a mechanized method of production, which I think provides an interesting counterpoint to the labor-intensive handwork and historicism that is quite often present in my work.”

The idea of using throw-away, unwanted materials to create a beautiful garment swishing down the catwalk is appealing – and even better if recycled plastic. What do you think of Katie Grand’s choice of Dress of the Year?

The Dress of the Year story

Initiated by costume collector, Doris Langley Moore (pictured below), the founder of the Fashion Museum in Bath in 1963, the Dress of the Year scheme is a powerful and astute concept.  A leading fashion voice is invited to choose the outfit which encapsulates the year. The scheme works well in PR and marketing terms with a clear story to sell in to the press. But it also adds to Fashion Museum’s collection, as the outfits are donated at no cost ready to delight fashion historians and designers alike.

The selector of the Dress of the Year is almost as important as the designer. Colin McDowell, fashion writer says:

“But it was the Dress of the Year, initiated in 1963, that was the most exciting thing of all because it took account of a new profession in the fashion world: that of the professional fashion journalist who was an expert in her (or, indeed his) field.

“Previously, newspaper editors thought that fashion could be lumped together with cookery, flower arrangement and knitting as subjects that any female journalists could write about. But, by the time swinging London was born, the role of a fashion journalist was as specialist and precisely focussed as that of a theatre, art of music critic, a position it still holds today.”

For the first three years of Dress of the Year, the Fashion Writers’ Association were the pickers but then, marking their increasing power, fashion journalists were granted the honour. Significantly, Susie Lau of top fashion blog, Style Bubble, was the selector last year, showing the influence of style blogs, choosing the Christopher Kane dress below.

Christopher Kane Dress of the Year

Another quirky feature of the Dress of the Year is that each time a mannequin is designed and donated by Adel Rootstein Display Mannequins and styled to match the chosen fashions – and sometimes has a resemblance to the selector or model of the period.

The art of embroidery

Earlier in the afternoon, Rosemary Harden shared her obvious love and knowledge of fashion history and admiration for embroidery, stressing the art of the craft. I was reminded of artist Hannah Höch, who wrote a manifesto on embroidery urging women to take up the form.

“Embroidery is very closely related to painting. It is constantly changing with every new style each epoch brings. It is an art and ought to be treated like one… you, craftswomen, modern women, who feel that your spirit is in your work, who are determined to lay claim to your rights (economic and moral), who believe your feet are firmly planted in reality, at least Y-O-U should know that your embroidery work is a documentation of your own era.”

(Embroidery and Lace, 1918)

The story of embroidery was told from being an ecclesiastic and royal preserve right up to its appearance in the Dress of the Year in the early 21st century. Embroidery features heavily in Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen in 2011 with her snow queen evening dress combining embroidery with symmetrical cutting to the skirt. Embroidery is again brought up to date in Raf Simons for Christian Dior which won in 2012 (below).

Raf Simon for Dior Dress of the  Year 2012

Vintage Jaeger

Young Jaeger won the Dress of the Year in 1966 with a black and white linen mini dress, worn with a space age visor hat by Simone Mirman and a clear PVC coat by  Michèle Rosier. Ernestine Carter from the Sunday Times was the first editor to choose a Dress of the Year replacing the Fashion Writers’ Association. The Young Jaeger label was very much of its time aimed at 20 and 30 somethings with disposable income, who desired to look different from their parents’ generation.

Jaeger, one of the sponsors of Bath in Fashion, had a display mixing vintage with current trends illustrating the fashion conversations which go back and forth in time.

Jaeger vintage display at Bath in Fashion

Jaeger wool at Bath in Fashion display

Jaeger display mixing vintage and new

Jollys statue

Spring/Summer 2015 Frow

chandelier in the Assembly Rooms Bath

In a spot of mid-week indulgence with my Mum, we headed to Bath in Fashion for a frow seat to view Spring/Summer 2015 designs. The seventies influence was apparent right from the start with high waist trousers, suede skirts and victoriana lace necked blouses, whilst the warm colour palette took us far from chilly Bath. Kimonos, fringing, culottes, head to toe white and bold floral patterns are all wearable versions of the high couture Spring/Summer looks.

Mirror Assembly Rooms Bath

catwalk shot at Bath in Fashion Spring Summer 2015

A fine vintage 

Time to check out your local vintage store for a touch of seventies or invest in pieces which will not date this time next year but still nod to the trends, such as Kitty Ferreira’s colour palette.

After the catwalk show, we headed to Bea’s Vintage Tearoom round the corner for coffee and buttermilk scones. A perfect end to our visit to this fashionable city.

Bea's Vintage Bath

vintage ornament in Bea's Tearoom Bath

vintage mirrors in Bea's Tearoom Bath

If only I could have caught more of the talks at Bath in Fashion… but I will put it my diary for 2016, and in the meantime enjoy browsing through all 50 Dresses of the Year for vintage influences at my leisure.

Ethical fashion meets city chic: Kitty Ferreira

For ethical fashion houses moving from ‘green’ ghetto to city chic can be tough. But Kitty Ferreira shows how it’s done.

I came across the brand recently at a Fashion SOURCE Brand Preview event, where it really stood out.

The sustainable fashion business oozes both style – vivid colour palette, unique patterns, and wearable designs – and substance in terms of timeless design, sustainability, and innovative business practices. Kitty Ferreira exemplifies how ethical fashion can break through.

Kitty Ferreira Zephaniah trousers

As a marketing consultant, I’m interested in how brands manage to promote themselves as ethical, but with broader appeal. Valerie Goode, London College of Fashion graduate, the woman behind Kitty Ferreira, kindly agreed to fill me in on her sustainable business.

Valerie Goode

Valerie Goode, Creative MD and Founder of Kitty Ferreira

Inspired by past generations

Working as a senior womanswear designer in China and witnessing so much pollution was her inspiration to start up a sustainable brand. As she worked on ways to reduce the fashion carbon footprint, her thoughts turned to her grandmother, the eponymous Kitty Ferreira.

“I then began thinking about my grandmother’s lifestyle in the Caribbean, growing her own fruit and veg, going to the market to buy her chickens and goats, which she would keep in her yard, and used to feed her family. The general ‘make and make do’ ethos that was very much part of my upbringing.

“So for me, being ethical and sustainable is not a fad. Rather it’s about celebrating the way she had lived and generations before her, as the norm. This throw away and over consuming society we’ve all grown accustomed to is actually not what is normal and definitely isn’t right.”

sustainable fashion pieces.

Natural dyes: veg patch to catwalk

Sustainability runs through Kitty Ferreira from its exclusive production in the UK to manufacturing high quality garments built to last past the current fast fashion trend. Sourcing textiles is of course paramount, especially as dyeing has such an impact on the environment. (An average t-shirt will use 16-20 litres of water Cambridge University, Well Dressed report).

Rather than producing new fabrics exclusively for the latest collection, Kitty Ferreira sources upcycled materials and uses a hand-dying process inspired by practices from the West Indies. For instance, the Delice Dress (pictured below) is made using upcycled lightweight wool from the UK, and the sheer sleeves and waistband are created through eco dyeing using onion and pomegranate.

Kitty Ferreira Delice dress

 Valerie explains:

“These natural materials are also used to dye fabrics as a traditional technique originating from India – a large Indian community within the West Indies has created beautiful juxtapositions of cultures including cuisine. I came across pomegranate and onion skin dyes and tested out various degrees of colour intensity (it’s amazing how many shades of colour originates from one natural material), until I finally settled on the version you see on the website.”

Kitty Ferreira Pomonion coat Kitty Ferreira Pomonion Shirt

And the theme continues in the names of her silk shirts – Saffron, Cinnamon and Spice. This hand-dying process means that each print is unique offering a piece of bespoke luxury without the associated price tag.

Sustainability – an added benefit

The clothes speak for themselves in fashion terms, and the brand is aimed at the city set, who may not immediately be connected with ‘ethical’ fashion. For Valerie:

“I’m a Londoner born and bred, so a city girl at heart. I cannot ignore the more ‘sustainable’ values my parents have taught me, so the collection really is a juxtaposition of these two different worlds. The collection therefore has been designed in a city chic way, items you can from boardroom-2-bar, work and play; timeless silhouettes that can work with a variety of your existing wardrobe.”

Kitty Ferreira Petal Dress

The brand’s eye-catching yet timeless mix ‘n match pieces make them highly coveted by fashion fans, and also back up its slow fashion credentials. Valerie continues:

“Timeless is also a key word here, as following fashion trends is not part of the Kitty Ferreira ethos – rather knowing yourself enough to wear what feels right for you. They see that each garment can be worn for multiple purposes.

“It has been quite easy therefore, for people to recognise a good design with the sustainability angle being an added benefit.”

Innovative partnerships

Kitty Ferreira is also sustainable in terms of encouraging the next generation to enter the industry. The brand won an award from the Royal College of Art to train disadvantaged young people to offer a made-to-measure service to their customers of city professionals. Valerie said, “It’s all encompassing – from UK job creation and juxtaposing a luxury service with a down-to-earth conscious ethos.”

Kitty Ferreira lace shorts

Kitty Ferreira’s just returned from The Green Closet, a trade show in Milan, where they hope to secure further orders on top of those from other European boutiques. And Valerie has just been named runner-up with special commendation in the SCAP Extending the Life of Clothes Award (SCAP ELC Award).

I’m looking forward to seeing what this brand does next, but for now I’ll end on Valerie’s inspiring views about the fashion industry as a whole:

“Being ethical and sustainable is not a fad but rather a lifestyle choice and indeed a mindset. How models are shown are all reflective of an industry or institution that could do with a shaking up. This is what being sustainable & ethical is really all about- encompassing all aspects of life, not just fashion.”


What do you think about Kitty Ferreira’s designs and sustainable business model?  Tweet me at @carolynhair, contact me on Google + or Linkedin, or add a comment.

Bring the Marie Celestial to life

A performance art project to create a living, mobile spaceship – the Marie Celestial. It’s not necessarily what you expect to hear about whilst speed networking. But at a women’s business event recently, I was inspired by Juliet Webb and Ruby SoHo’s kickstarter campaign to bring an art installation to life, whilst giving young people the chance to learn new skills and unleash their creative potential.

The Marie Celestial is being hand-built by Ruby SoHo, with the assistance of a collective of emerging artists working across disciplines from welders to aerial circus acts to graphic novelists. When complete, this mechanical metal fabrication will be powered by performers and built and rebuilt in interaction with audiences at public events.

Marie Celestial kickstarter

The back story is that the Marie Celestial is a space-craft from a distant, dying planet, designed to re-propagate its species. Whilst mourning the loss of its crew, it remained hidden under the sea for generations, and now it will slowly come back to life to become a human-powered breathing, moving stage.

Ruby has vast experience in creating mechanical, art installations at major public events, including the main stage at Secret Garden Party. But the Marie Celestial is particularly exciting for her, as it’s the first project she’s devised on her own with all the creative integrity that allows – and the challenges of funding.

The catalyst for the Marie Celestial was at this year’s Burning Man Festival. Ruby worked on the beautiful Lost Tea Party installation with Alex Wreckage. From the heat haze of the Nevada desert to steamy breathes in a chilly workshop tucked away in St Phillips in Bristol, her passion and determination to make the Marie Celestial project happen is clear.

The team hope that the Kickstarter funding will help them invest in the Marie Celestial over the longer term to develop a more sustainable street theatre culture in the UK. For instance, Les Machine de l’île , a French street theatre company based in Nantes, is a huge influence, creating projects such as this impressive mechanical elephant. With a thriving scene in France, many performers are invited here as there are fewer home-grown projects, in part because of funding. The Marie Celestial team seek to turn this around and contribute to a growing, revitalised national scene.


The project in turn will support the arts and local community through education. With Ruby’s background in training young offenders and those excluded from school, she plans to run training days and apprenticeships for young people, who may not have the money or resources, to learn these valuable skills hands-on in the workshop.

In the Kickstarter video, Ruby places emphasis on giving young women the confidence to enter realms which traditionally have been male preserves:

“I want everyone to weld, but I think that it’s a lot harder to just walk into a workshop and just try something if you’re a girl.  Certainly when I walk into a building site or any other kind of site I have to prove myself again and again and again. I just want to open that up. The best crews I’ve ever worked on have been a mixture of men and women.”

And the Marie Celestial will certainly be an inspiring project for young people to get involved in, with its imaginative story-lines and construction, including CO2 cannons to make the sails billow and flame jets. The team plan to tour the show throughout 2015, and the Marie Celestial will land first in whichever city raises the most money in the Kickstarter campaign. (Come on Bristol, get supporting!) Then a UK tour will follow with prospective performances across Europe. For me, the Marie Celestial is well-placed to seek public support as it spins around interactive participation, and sustainable development of the art form through education and evolving performances.

To help Ruby and the team unleash the Marie Celestial, check out their Kickstarter campaign which ends on 3 December. Depending on the level of investment, funders can own a limited edition graphic novel of the Marie Celestial, attend workshops or even take part in performances.

If you live in Bristol or surrounding area, you can visit their workshop when it opens to the public on Friday 28 November. Marie Celestial is taking provisional bookings for 2015 and there are opportunities for artists and performers to join the crew. To find out more watch their video, and keep up to date with progress on @4mariecelestial.

From 9 to 5 to adventure in Costa Rica and Nicaragua

cloud heart Costa Rica.

Last September I took the freelancing plunge. With a successful start to working for myself, now almost a year later I’m in Costa Rica and Nicaragua volunteering for a sustainable development charity. From steep hikes to reach the remotest areas of Costa Rica to meet indigenous communities to stargazing in the clearest of skies in Nicaragua, it’s been far-removed from day-to-day life in Bristol.

But with all these new things going on, I’ve neglected this blog for too long… Now I want to play catchup, and share travel stories, cultural encounters, and new projects, as I’m no longer tied to the 9-5 rut.

Currently I’m based in Turrialba under its eponymous volcano – a beautiful, lush spot in the clouds of the Central Highlands of Costa Rica. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing updates on my volunteering adventures and travels.

Hope you can join me…

Edith Head: Google Doodle celebrates the costume designer’s birthday

Edith Head on today’s Google Doodle brought some much needed Hollywood glamour to this dark, rainy English Monday.

Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head, with her trademark black-rimmed round spectacles, must be one of the most famous in her trade. She received 35 Academy Awards nominations and won eight Oscars in her career, more than any other woman, and the only costume designer to make it to the Hollywood walk of fame. There’s even an animated homage to her in the shape of Edna Mode, costume designer to superheroes, in the Pixar movie, The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004).

Edith Head’s Hollywood career

Edith Head managed to make her way into Hollywood without any portfolio, later admitting that she passed off other’s sketches as her own to secure a post at Paramount, under Howard Greer and then Travis Banton. When Banton resigned in 1938, she would have her chance in the spotlight, becoming Head Designer at the Studio.

The Hurricane (John Ford, 1937) was the first film that brought her to public attention, where Dorothy Lamour wore a skimpy sarong, whilst her mink-trimmed gown for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark (Mitchell Leisen, 1944) provoked controversy contrasting with wartime austerity. Edith Head received her first Oscar nomination for The Emperor Waltz (Billy Wilder, 1948) beginning recognition after recognition from the Academy. 

The unlikely duo of Twiggy and Columbo‘s Peter Falk presented her Oscar for costume design in The Sting (George Hill Roy, 1973). It’s worth a watch, and Edith Head certainly knows how to do a short and sweet thank-you speech.

Costumes and character

Edith Head was a firm favourite of many a famous actor, including Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davies, Grace Kelly and Shirley MacLaine, because she consulted them and emphasised their strengths and played down their (perceived) flaws.

She also worked closely with directors to bring the characters to life, and ensure that the clothing would meet the demands of the action in the movies. Head noted that Hitchcock was extremely specific about the costumes for his leading ladies, specifying colour or movement of fabrics if they were important for plot or characterisation. In Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954), for instance, the perfect, richly embellished costumes worn by Grace Kelly, emphasise the difference in social standing between her and James Stewart, and his resultant insecurity.

Doris Day, who wore Head’s costumes in The Man Who Knew too Much (Hitchcock, 1956) gave the designer the ultimate compliment, stating that she dressed for the character not the actor. Day felt that the dresses she wore in the movie were not right for her, but they were appropriate for the part of a “doctor’s wife.”

Transformation through costume

In the clip below, Edith Head shows Audrey Hepburn’s costume ‘personality’ tests for Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953).

One costume is for Hepburn disguised as an ‘ordinary’ girl, with a simple full skirt and white blouse with rolled up sleeves and necktie, designed for when Hepburn is out on a motor scooter. The other two featured costumes show her character’s transformation through wardrobe when she is revealed as a Princess – a regal real lace fitted dress and a ball gown. Deborah Nadoolman Landis (whose credits include Michael Jackson’s Thriller), says, “Miss Head, she could do the high and she could do the low, she designed what was appropriate for every script.”

Edith Head dressed Hepburn again on Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954), and that little black dress turned into another Oscar win. However, there were rumours that actually Givenchy was the deserving winner, with both Head and the French designer claiming credit. 

Reuse and upcyle… even in Hollywood

For Cecile DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (Cecil B DeMille, 1949), she created the stunning peacock cape costume for Heddy Lamarr. Almost 2,000 plumes were gathered from DeMille’s own mansion. Indeed she had a reputation for reusing and upcycling. Randall Thropp, Paramount’s archivist says that she designed a nightgown for Gene Tierney, reused in Rear Window and trimmed with lace in another (Another Magazine, Autumn/Winter 2012, pp130-31).

Goodbye Tinseltown

When Edith Head’s contract ran out in 1967, she left Paramount for Universal, and towards the end of her career she was more involved in costume for television. Head continued in the costume biz until she died at the age of 83 of an incurable bone marrow disease whilst working on her last film, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Carl Reiner, 1982). And of course this film gave her the opportunity to look back to her golden period, referencing 1940s noir.

Bette Davis, who Head costumed in All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950), read her eulogy. 

“A queen has left us, the queen of her profession. Goodbye, dear Edith. There will never be another you.”

I’m certainly inspired to re-watch some of these classics with eyes firmly on Edith Head’s costumes. If you have time, I’d recommend watching this clip of a presentation by Deborah Landis Nadoolman about Edith Head and Hitchcock.

Wearable code and physical pixels

My week has been sullied a little with a cold so I’ve not been up to much, other than watching the final episodes of Breaking Bad... Actually discovering how that epic series ends is probably quite enough for one week, but here are my other cultural treats, both playing with the virtual and the ‘real’, the digital and the tangible.

How to learn code in style

I came across this article about wearable code earlier in the week discussing how people are learning to code through fashion. Check out this video about fashion and technology (the whole video is interesting but the DIY wearables segment is at 3.30s).

The ribbon hair bow comprised simply of two LEDs and a battery is super-cute, and as Becky Stern, director of wearable technology at Adafruit Industries, says a fantastic way to encourage girls in particular to take an interest in electronics and coding. The DIY, open source ethic is alluring meaning that these wearable computing fashionistas can create their own look and share and learn from the wider community. It’s the point where craft meets code, and puts what some might see as dry computing language in a new context on our bodies, either with a use value or simply to allow its wearer to glow.


Just as the code becomes wearable, pixels on a screen became tangible, replaced by thousands of floating lights at an installation I visited this week. Submergence is by the award-winning Squidsoup, residents at Bristol arts cinema, the Watershed‘s Pervasive Media Studio. In the exhibition space, there are over 8,000 hanging lights which change in response to the participants’ movements.

You become immersed in the changing lights, reminiscent of nature’s bioluminescence, which build to a rush of light. Yayoi Kusama’s Gleaming Lights of the Souls and her theories of self-obliteration came to mind immediately, although there is a perhaps a greater sense of losing yourself to infinity in her work through her use of mirrors.

Always a good sign, Submergence seemed to be enjoyed by all, becoming for babies and kids of all ages, a light-filled playground.

Bristol is home to Submergence’s UK première before it heads to St Petersburg. If you’re in Bristol, you can still catch Submergence on 12 October from 14.00 to 21.00.

What were the cultural highlights of your week? Go on, share with us…

Beats, portraits and tennis coats

As it’s now the weekend, here are three cultural treats of my week…

Hey Daddio, it’s Beat Girl

Swinging cats, strippers and squares all star in Beat Girl (dir, Gréville, 1960), an exploitation film revelling in the seedy side of Soho and the bad deeds of 1950s teens. The soundtrack by the John Barry Seven is the epitome of hip coffee bar cool. Just check out the entrance of the eponymous, rebellious ‘Beat Girl’, Jennifer (played by Gillian Hills) in the opening credits (and a young, zoned out Oliver Reed).

Jennifer is disgusted when her father remarries a much younger French women, Nicole, and sets out to reveal her stepmother’s murky past. One of the movie posters proclaims – “my mother was as stripper, I want to be one too”. Another warns, “this could happen to your teenage daughter”, but the moral panic offers an excuse to linger on lengthy strip scenes, explicit for the time.

The post-war generational divide is addressed awkwardly in the film, with the disaffected young men discussing their experiences of growing up during Blitz and hiding out in the underground, just like the cavernous clubs they now swing in.

In contrast, City 2000 is the obsession of Jennifer’s architect father, offering a rather sterile vision of the future, and her rebellion is a way to get attention from him. Ultimately, after she gets into danger with strip club owner (played by Christopher Lee), she is pulled back into the family unit.

While Beat Girl is not quite “over and out”, it’s worth a watch for the “straight out of the fridge” lingo, Gillian Hill’s pouty, beatnik disdain, and the recurring theme song. You dig.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

For an afternoon treat this week, I headed to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. You can explore some of the chosen photos in this gallery. This portrait photography competition received over 5,000 entries, which were narrowed down to the 60 displayed in the exhibition. There weren’t any portraits which I felt would linger with me long after the exhibition, but I enjoyed seeing the variety of contemporary photos from the famous to family, from friends of the photographers to those they met on the street. Most of the portraits were staged, whether strictly commercial or not, and often full of drama and imagined stories behind their faces.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 M Shed

A sense of discomfort emanates from the winning portrait, Margarita Teichroeb (2011) by Jordi Ruiz Cirera, and as a viewer you wonder why the subject of the piece is covering her mouth and whether you or the photographer should be sharing this moment. Margarita is from a Mennonite community in Bolivia, living without electricity and cars, and where photography is often forbidden. The photographer spent time with them, but they were very uncertain about having their portraits taken (understandable in the circumstances). You can see blurred glimpses of her mother and sister in the background, in the context of the photo, seeming to shield themselves from the camera’s gaze. In comparison the second prize-winner, captures a woman at ease, almost incidentally naked with a chipped mug in her hand.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 is on at the M-Shed in Bristol until 3 November. This year’s prize starts on 14 November until 9 February 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Tennis Coats… at last

When in Tokyo, we wanted to say “sayonara” to the city by going a gig on the final night of our holiday. One of the city’s coolest married couples, the Tennis Coats (Saya & Takashi Ueno), were playing so we headed off to see them, got a little bit lost and ended up arriving just as they were playing their last song. (We hadn’t realised that the main act plays first in Japan, but at least we got to see the support act.)

Serendipitously this week, I noticed they were playing a surprise gig at Cafe Kino in Bristol. Although both feeling a little under the weather, we knew the holiday circle had to be completed. We came away feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy. Memories of our time in Japan, combined with the lovely, mellow but energetic atmosphere the musicians created, delightful tunes and the way that random people took to the stage throughout to join the act. A perfect way to spend a Tuesday evening.

What were your cultural highlights this week?

Fix Up Look Sharp Pop-Up


Upcycled fashion at its best – the tenket. Last used perhaps to shelter revellers at a festival, now still keeping them dry, but in a little more style.

Tent and t-shirts Fix Up Look Sharp Popup

The tent was sartorially transformed by fashion label, Fix Up Look Sharp, whose upcycled and vintage fashion will be on sale today and tomorrow at Cabot Circus in Bristol. The pop-up proceeds will all go to CLIC Sargent, a charity for children and young people with cancer and their families.

Fix Up Look Sharp is run by the charity, and a large donation of tents lead to the tenkets, while other unloved, donated fabrics from bed sheets to curtains are used to create one-offs. The Fix Up Look Sharp fashion brand was created by Ruth Strugnell, fashion graduate and deputy manager of the Bishopston CLIC Sargent charity shop, and her partner Gemma Pope.

The pop-up shop got off to a flying start yesterday, opening earlier than planned with passersby keen to have a browse, and selling a tie-dye fix in the first five minutes. I attended the launch event on behalf of Bristol Ecojam, an online space to share green events, jobs and organisations in Bristol.

Fix Up Look Sharp popup shop

Upcycling is certainly a greener way to indulge in fashion. Research by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows that around £140 million of textiles are sent to landfill every year in the UK, around 350,000 tonnes. Reusing fabrics is cheaper than recycling, and reduces this shocking amount of waste languishing in landfills and the resultant greenhouse gases. And of course in fashion terms, upcycling means that you get a one-off so you won’t turn up to the party in the same chain store outfit.

The designers will be ready to create bespoke pieces in the store, so that you can see how the fix happens and get involved. Choose your hitherto unwanted fabrics, and go home with an original piece.

Mood board Fix Up Look Sharp popup

sweatshirts at Fix Up Look Sharp

Bikini and skirt Fix Up Look Sharp popup

The upcycled range includes playsuits, sweatshirts with reused fabrics, tie-up shirts and menswear, as well as vintage clothing, accessories and retro bric-a-brac. With the pop-up’s sunny, relaxed vibe, I couldn’t resist grabbing a vintage summer frock (which I’ll need to nip and tuck a little). Only because it’s for a good cause of course…

So if you’re in Bristol, head to Fix Up, Look Sharp’s pop-up in Cabot Circus Glass Walk One today and tomorrow. Enjoy seeking out your own upcycled outfit or vintage piece, and raise money for CLIC Sargent. Let me know what you find…

If you can’t make in person, you can still get your hands on upcycled style at asos marketplace.

Sewing machines Fix Up Look Sharp

Couture in Colour: Abraham’s silks in Antwerp at the Fashion Museum

Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balenciaga… you may know their haute couture designs, but how much do you know about the fabrics that give body to their creations?

On a recent visit to Antwerp’s fashion museum, I learnt a little more about the luscious fabrics that give couture its colour. The Musée de Mode’s (MoMu) latest display is ‘Silks and Prints from the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour.’ This fashion exhibition combines beautiful fabrics hanging like works of arts, key haute couture pieces and photographs from the Abraham Archive – a Swiss silk company, whose work is intertwined with couture from the 1930s onwards.

Haute couture and Abraham Ltd

Abraham Ltd meant nothing to me before attending the exhibition. The origins of this Swiss silk company can be traced to 1878, but it was not until after World War II that it became an international fashion heavyweight. In the 1930s, Abraham was run by Gustav Zumsteg, who mingled in the artistic environment of 1930s Paris with the likes of Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Alberto Giacometti, and famous fashion designers, including Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Yves Saint Laurent. This creative atmosphere influenced his designs, helping to position him as one of the top fabric suppliers to haute couture designers.

swatches of Abrahams fabric

Abraham archives interactive swatch files

Prêt-à-porter from the 1960s ushered in a new era for Abraham Ltd; as the demand for high quality silks diminished, they adapted to the high-end ready-to-wear market. In 1995, when the firm’s collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent ended, Abraham’s time was numbered. The company may have closed in 2002, but they left behind an extensive archive of textiles, sample books and fashion photographs telling a vibrant story of twentieth century extravagance and couture.

Christian Dior and Abraham partnership

Dior’s New Look, with its luxurious and excessive fabric contrasting with war-time austerity, was a perfect match for Abraham’s high quality silks, and thus an important fashion partnership was born in the 1950s.

Dior exhibit Fashion Museum Antwerp

This sweet, but nonetheless grown-up, Dior cocktail dress exemplifies the 1950s silhouette and style. Abraham’s flower print, “Apricotine” could hardly be more aptly named.

Dior orange dress

Yves Saint Laurent and Abraham

Yves Saint Laurent met Gustav Zumsteg at Christian Dior’s funeral in 1957, marking the start of a working relationship and lifelong friendship. The red and black silk satin dress from 1985 was the stand-out piece for me, with its bustle and large exotic flowers spreading across the fabric.

Yves Saint Laurent dresses

Balenciaga and Abraham

Balenciaga also came to Abraham for fabric, in particular for gazar (a crisp, sheer, plain-weave silk cloth), which was a speciality of this silk manufacturer, and was perfect for Balenciaga’s sculptural creations.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Balanciaga and monochrome display

Balanciaga black dress in the centre

Balanciaga blue dress Fashion Museum Antwerp

Fabrics everywhere

Fabrics weaved throughout the exhibition providing, not just a pretty backdrop to the fashions on display, but literally the material for them. From checks and animal prints to monochrome, from matte to sheen, a wide range of Abraham textiles, textures and patterns were on show.

monochrome fabrics hanging

Monochrome fabrics

Checked fabric fashion museum Antwerp

animal prints - fashion museum

Fashion Photo from Museum of Fashion Antwerp MoMu

Luxurious fabrics hanging Fashion Museum Antwerp

Flowers, and in particular roses, were a recurrent motif in Abraham’s designs, from traditional bouquets to more abstract, larger patterns.

Roses fabrics

roses catwalk

Fabricand shadows Fashion Museum Antwerp

Luxury shines through these heavy, glittering cloths. The high production costs of such fabrics meant that they were often the preserve of haute couture.

Luxurious fabrics Fashion Museum Antwerp

Givenchy and Abraham

Givenchy, whose fashion idol was Balenciaga, also collaborated with Abraham Ltd. Givenchy has become synonymous for dressing two stars in particular: Audrey Hepburn appeared in Givenchy on screen, for instance in Sabrina (for which costume designer Edith Head won an Oscar), and Jackie O wore one of his designs to JFK’s funeral. The yellow evening dress and cape below is from 1973 in silk gazar, and the similarities in shape between it and the blue Balenciaga dress (pictured above) are apparent.

Givenchy evening dress in yellow gazar

Givenchy dress black and green

The Givenchy piece above from 1987 is made from Abraham silk in crêpe de chine falconné imprimé. Although the puffball feature would probably be best avoided by almost everybody, this dress with its 1940s silhouette stood out for me (perhaps a nostalgia trip to the 1980s and reminiscent of a dress that my Mum wore and loved).


Towards the start of the display, this sweet table-for-two tableau greeted visitors. It represents Kronenhalle restaurant, a Zurich institution with a guestbook of the big names of the time across the spectrum from politics to art. Gustav Zumsteg helped his mother, Hulda, run the business and used the restaurant to house his growing art collection. His artistic connections helped in designing the restaurant: Alberto and Diego Giacometti designed lamps and other furnishings for its bar which was designed by Robert Haussman.

Kronenhalle Zurich at Fashion Museum Antwerp

Before Pinterest…

Long before Pinterest, the pleasure of preserving memories and aspirations was played out through cutting out and sticking in scrapbooks. On display were twenty scrapbooks from between 1947 and 1996 creating a picture book history of fashion, textiles and Abraham Ltd. 

Scrapbooks at Fashion Museum Antwerp

The Abraham Textile Archive is housed at the Swiss National Museum. Abraham Ltd began archiving professionally in 1955 preserving 50 years of creativity, and I imagine this collection would be invaluable to fashion students and designers now.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Musee de Mode MoMu

I would recommend an Antwerp adventure full stop, and if you do, check out the Fashion Museum (MoMu). “Silk and Prints: From the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour” is on until 11 August 2013.

Could Sift be the best place to work in Bristol… ?

… well I can’t say for sure (and have no scientific evidence to back this up) but I think it must be in the running after its CEO, Ben Heald, rewarded his employees in a particularly Bristol fashion.

After a quarter of beating budgets, Ben wanted to give a little something back to his employees. But coming from an innovative, creative Bristol business, he felt it needed a twist. So, all 130 of the Sift team were rewarded with a beautiful, crisp Bristol Pound tenner.

Read more on Bristol Pound’s blog…



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