Body Art – La Perla at BLAW

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At the start of 2016, lingerie, beach and loungewear specialists La Perla, announced Pedro Lourenço as its new creative director. Lourenço, who has held positions at Lanvin and Giambattista Valli, will present his first collection for the luxury Italian brand, for autumn/winter 2016 at Milan Fashion Week.

However, those with a penchant for La Perla’s sculptural forms and architectural lines, will be given a sneak preview of the inspiration behind the upcoming collection during Brown’s London Art Weekend. Indeed, La Perla has plenty of treats in store during the three-day event. For starters, on Friday July 1st following the official kick-off Gallery Hop, it will be hosting a cocktail evening from 8-10pm at its Burlington Arcade men’s concept store. It’s worth noting here that in recent years La Perla has expanded its menswear collections and opened dedicated men’s stores both in London and Milan.

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Meanwhile, art-loving lingerie connoisseurs can also participate in curated walking tours led by one of BLAW’s expert guides on Saturday 2nd/Sunday 3rd July. The walks take place twice daily starting with a ‘breakfast’ tour at 10.30am followed by an ‘afternoon tea’ tour commencing at 3.30pm. Before setting off from La Perla’s Old Bond Street flagship, participants can view the timely in-store exhibition aptly named; ‘The Making of a Collection’. The showcase goes behind the scenes of Lourenço’s innovative, architectural approach to fall/winter 2016 through a series of atmospheric photographs – some of which are shown here.

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According to the official line, art has always been a fundamental reference point in the inspiration of La Perla’s collections and the definition of its aesthetic vision. The La Perla’s fall/winter 2016 collection, for instance, takes inspiration from the Zero (art) movement. Founded in the late Sixties by German artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, it is commonly interpreted as reaction to Abstract Expressionism by arguing that art should be devoid of colour, emotion and individual expression. It explains why La Perla’s gallery hop, includes a tour of the Mazzoleni Art and The Mayor Gallery, both of which specialise in works from the group’s wider collective. Best heel forward!

 

mazzoleniart.com/artisti/

• mayorgallery.com

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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

“You take inspiration from the street, with the trousers so low…” said the late, great British fashion designer on the creative effect that London had on him.

2. Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers, Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, La Dame Bleu, Spring Summer 2008, copyright Anthea Sims
Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers, Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, La Dame Bleu, Spring Summer 2008, copyright Anthea Sims

Speaking of London, I remember Alexander McQueen or ‘Lee’ as he was affectionately called, from my fashion school days at Central Saint Martins. Back then I would spot him in Dave’s – the second floor coffee bar  – which was so much more than just a coffee bar. It was THE place to be seen. There he would often quietly sit smoking in a corner or hold court with a mix of textile and fine art students. He was portly and wore baggy jeans and a Fred Perry T-shirt most days but there was definitely something about him – enough for the well-connected stylist and fashion editor Isabella Blow to snap up his entire MA collection in 1992. The rest as they say is history.

So it’s good to see ‘Savage Beauty’, a major retrospective of McQueen’s work on show at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Having originated at New York’s Metropolitan Museum in 2011, it feels right that it should return to the designer’s birthplace.

10. Installation view of  'Platos Atlantis' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of  ‘Platos Atlantis’ gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum London

At the opening night gala, models, fashion editors and actresses gushed over his designs. “Whenever you wear a McQueen dress you feel powerful – there’s something about his clothes,” said Salma Hayek. Meanwhile, Kate Moss quipped, that had Lee still been alive he probably would have avoided such a lavish soirée. It’s funny to think of him as shy, hiding behind the skirt tails of his exuberant creations but then that’s how he was.

Curator Claire Wilcox is responsible for telling McQueen’s story, which she splits into several defining years. There are 240 ensembles and accessories on show – ranging from a striking frock coat inspired by the story of Jack the Ripper from his aforementioned graduate collection, to pieces in his 2010 show which was to be his last.

The first part of the exhibition aptly called ‘London’, focuses on three of McQueen’s early collections: ‘The Birds’ (S/S 1995), ‘Highland Rape’ (A/W 1995) and ‘The Hunger’ (S/S 1996). The second category, ‘Savage Mind’, demonstrates his razor-sharp tailoring, a skill he learnt as a young apprentice first at Anderson & Sheppard and later at Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row. The low-slung ‘bumster’ trousers, which he invented, serve as a reminder of the street culture influence that he drew upon at the very start of his career.

6. Bird's Nest Headdress, made with Swarovski Gemstones by Philip Treacy and Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen AW 2006
Bird’s Nest Headdress, made with Swarovski Gemstones by Philip Treacy and Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen AW 2006

McQueen’s fascination with the dark and the macabre is touched upon in the next section, ‘Romantic Primitivism’. He loved dying roses, insects, skulls and bones and feathers – great plumes in shades of heart-pounding red and Gothic black, which he painstakingly applied to voluminous ball gowns. Meanwhile, ‘Romantic Nationalism’ demonstrates his creative fling with all things Scottish, along with the twilight years of the British Raj. As you walk further into the show, you come to the Cabinet of Curiosities, a specially designed display room that forms the heart of the exhibition. This double height gallery is interspersed with accessories such as the wild headdresses he created in collaboration with milliner Philip Treacy and jeweller Shaun Leane. The tottering ‘armadillo’ shoes, which were adored by Daphne Guinness, also fill the display shelves. Meanwhile, a reproduction of the iconic strapless gown model Shalom Harlow wore during McQueen’s S/S 1998 catwalk show takes centre stage. A video reminds us of how she once stood on a revolving section of the catwalk as robotic arms on either side sprayed coloured inks from the hem up.

3. Spray painted dress, No. 13, SS 1999, Model - Shalom Harlow represented by dna model management New York, Image - Catwalking.
Spray painted dress, No. 13, SS 1999, Model – Shalom Harlow represented by dna model management New York, Image – Catwalking.

Personally, I would have liked to see more space given to runway footage. As it stands, a lot of the screens appear hidden behind the mannequins. When ‘Fashion Galore’, an exhibition celebrating Isabella Blow’s life and wardrobe ran at Somerset House last year, it featured a darkened room with an enormous floor-to-ceiling screen, which played McQueen’s infamous ‘Dante’ catwalk show on loop. If you were lucky to find yourself watching alone, it felt as if you were right there, standing at the end of the runway as each model fixed you with her gaze and then turned on a heel.

3. Installation view of 'Romantic Gothic' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of ‘Romantic Gothic’ gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum London

To sum up a static exhibition that’s easy. The designs speak for themselves and confirm that he really was one of the greatest designers of a generation. To sum up McQueen, the designer, that’s best left to the biographers who have released several books around the show. One thing is for sure, the artistry he put into ever creation and the theatrical drama he weaved into every show will be matched only by my fond coffee bar memories.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski, supported by American Express, with thanks to M∙A∙C Cosmetics, technology partner Samsung and made possible with the co-operation of Alexander McQueen, runs from 14 March – 2 August 2015. www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty

Bond’s Best

Simone Rocha’s Belted Tulle Trench Coat

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Fashion design runs in the family for Dublin-born Simone Rocha whose father happens to be John Rocha. A designer in her own right, Simone has managed to coin a feminine aesthetic since launching her eponymous label in 2008.  If anything sums up the wispy romance of spring, if not here, than perhaps on the Neapolitan Riviera, it’s this lightweight Italian-made trench coat £985.

For spring/summer 2015, Simone took macs and made them ready for anything but a sudden April shower. Instead, she rendered them in soft shades of blossom pink and thanks to the cut of delicate nude mesh, made them fluid enough to be worn as a dress. With double breasted-buttons and a belt to accentuate the waist you could of course simply draw attention to a simple camisole and skinny jeans (preferably all white) underneath. Sweet.

Simone Rocha, Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street

Top Stitch: Hand & Lock

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Embroidery is a craft often associated with a less frenetic, bygone age. But if next season’s womenswear collections from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen and Chloe are anything to go by, embellishing skirts, dresses and coats with a rainbow of coloured yarns is back in vogue. While the spirit of the 70’s features heavily this spring, winter 2015’s key pieces will also be lavish and textured. The dark florals British textile designer Celia Birtwell created for Valentino’s Pre-Fall collection for example, best sum up the on-going retro mood.

So to Hand & Lock, one of London’s oldest embroidery brands, founded in 1767. As embroiderers to leading fashion houses, the Royal Family and the British Military, it’s all hands on deck. Located on a street behind Oxford Circus, this gem is quite possibly one of fashion’s best-kept secrets. In recent years it has produced bespoke embroidery for a number of luxury labels. These include Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes – to name but a few. It has even put the finishing stitches on the interiors of private jets and the contemporary art, including works by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

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Hand & Lock is also the place where Savile Row tailors, including Gieves & Hawkes and Turnbull & Asser, still send their button-down shirts to be monogrammed. No one applies delicate lettering on pockets, cuffs and collars quite like Hand & Lock’s seven-woman team of hand and machine embroiderers.

Stepping into its central London atelier is like entering an Edwardian time warp. Here, walls twinkle with embroidered crests and other regal and military pomp while antique cabinets reveal ornate buttons and threads.

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I watched in wonder as head embroiderer, Stéphanie Bonneau, began the intricate process of stitching my initials onto a pair of Olivia von Halle silk pyjamas. Thanks to Hand & Lock’s private monogramming service you can mark your name on just about anything you hold dear, from cashmere socks to yoga mats. Here they still use Art Deco, Fishtail, Kite and Diamond fonts and score letters onto fabric with ground cuttlefish or charcoal before hand-stitching them with fine threads. It is painstaking work and requires the patience of a saint.

Jessica Pile, who at just 25 is the youngest female production director in Hand & Lock’s 248-year history, is responsible for driving the heritage brand into the future. She is also on a mission to give young embroiderers a head start in the industry. Cue the Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery, a yearly competition, which has been going since 2000. It offers a prize fund in excess of $26,000. Previous prizewinners have been able to fund their designs, start their own businesses and go on to have great success.

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Speaking of young talents, the embroidery house is committed to putting lavish touches to the ready-to-wear collections of even more of London Fashion Week’s rising stars. Mary Katrantzou’s A/W 2014 collection for example demonstrated Hand & Lock’s expert handy work on stunning, floor-length dresses. And for winter 2015, Pile and her team worked closely with newcomer Ed Marler. For a company so steeped in history and heritage suffice to say, the future for fashion embroidery.