Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Photo Evidence of a Genius Window Display

Liberty has the best Christmas window displays in London: FACT. I love the theatricality and the determination to combine Christmassy warmth with a dash of cool. I do not, however, love the service in Liberty - I decided to treat myself to a sheet of wrapping paper (I know, last of the big spenders... but it did cost me a fiver and it's a beautiful old map of England) and could have honestly received better service in Primark. What's more, the guy in front of me spending £400 (yup, I was eavesdropping) got the same indifferent treatment, at the same snail pace. It's lucky for Liberty that their visual merchandisers are working harder than their sales assistants, because it's displays like this one which will keep customers coming back rather than defecting to other department stores, or indeed online shopping. Much as I adore their window displays, I'm not sure I'll be going back to purchase anything in a hurry.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

We are not all one size. We do not come from moulds.

After lusting over leather dresses for weeks on end, I finally took the plunge and headed to the changing rooms of Bershka to try one for size. Many people have been sceptical about leather dresses, seeing them as a step too far in the leather trend and verging on overkill. I was determined to prove them wrong and team mine with minimalist pieces and make that dress the ultimate statement. However, I fell at the first hurdle when I put this one on: it was clingy in all the wrong places and strangely baggy at the neckline and back. Being synthetic, it was also boiling hot within 2 minutes of being zipped up, and I could feel myself panicking about leaving the dress dripping with sweat and running make-up in an effort to extract myself from it (luckily it was quite easy to remove). The dress I tried on was a size Large, although I can honestly say that it wasn't made for a woman with hips or a chest and it tried desperately to skim over both these features with little success. I do expect to be a bigger size in a Spanish retail chain, because traditionally they seem to cater for smaller, more birdlike women - it's just one of those things. But I don't expect to find the 'L' labelled dress like a sausage skin, whether it's in faux leather or cotton. I should be able to move my legs and not feel my circulation being cut off.
Undeterred, I found a simple but edgy jumper on my second look in the store - it was khaki with elbow patches and I knew it was going to end up in my wardrobe. But, after browsing through a pile of at least ten jumpers, I was dismayed to find that every single one was a size 'Small'. I returned a week later with fresh optimism, only to find the same problem. I won't lie; I already felt a little insecure about expecting to buy a Large, or indeed Extra Large, but seeing row upon row of garments in 'Small' around the store, I didn't find myself excited about the jumper any more. I'd expect to see a full size range catered for in the high street, especially when the size 'Small' equates to a 6-8, because it's hardly appealing to a diverse range of customers. I love the fresh and interesting designs available in Bershka, but this has left me reluctant to visit regularly if they are quite happy to place a size 12 customer in a 'Large' category and consistently not stock anything beyond 'Small'. I will never have a size 6-8 figure, even with a severe breast reduction, and I don't want to feel as though it's wrong to be a size 12. The leather dress was just the catalyst for me in realising that some retailers in Britain target a scarily exclusive size market.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Shop Window Moments

Three things catching my eye this week:

1.) Zara's menswear mannequins which seem to subconsciously pay tribute to the monk haircuts seen in Channel 4's The Pillars of the Earth (a fantastic series, by the way). I half expected Prior Phillip to pop up in the background. The severe bowl haircut was also seen on some of their female mannequins, but managed to look more elfin. The image I have captured seems to suggest how a monk might dress if he were out of the monastery...
2.) H&M for Lanvin windows, seen on 22nd November. I was browsing outside and. failing to realise it was the 22nd and not the 23rd, left bemused as to why there was no long queue snaking down Oxford Street for the collection opening. On the correct day, things were as you would expect, and the crowds were entertained by an in-store dj playing headache-induscing music. I managed to pick up some Lanvin fishnet tights that had been discarded by another shopper and the accompanying packaging really makes this collection. Elbaz has gone all-out to give the H&M customer a boutique experience. Regarding the clothing, it was pretty and bright, but hard to tell apart from other pieces on the high street except for the graphic t-shirts. However, for the packaging alone, it was worth a visit.
3.) Zara's female mannequins (the non-elfin ones) plumped for decadent plumage-style hair in scarlet, much like the shade I'm currently trying to achieve. There is something of the Queen's Guards about them, which I really like.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Fashion Collage

These were created earlier this year with the aid of the many magazines I read. Thank you Elle/Sunday Times Style/More/Company/Vogue/Nylon/Saturday Telegraph Magazine/Look/Grazia/Pop/AnOther/Dazed. Also the odd one or two are taken from The Sartorialist/Jak&Jil, because I like a little blog reading now and again.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Marina Abramovic at the Lisson Gallery - Ritualistic Hairbrushing

I must admit that, before attending this exhibition, I had never heard of the Lisson Gallery and so didn't really know what to expect. The website seemed to indicate a very sophisticated operation and one that was possibly more high-brow than my favourite artistic haunts, but I was willing to embrace the high life in the name of blogging. It therefore came as a slight shock that the Lisson was nestled between grocery shops and tired-looking buildings, whilst the gallery itself (spread across two locations in the same street) stuck out like a sore thumb.

Marina Abramovic, meanwhile, was familiar to me through studying a lot of art history and theory in my undergraduate course, though I had never witnessed her performance art. The exhibition did not involve any live work, but used video footage, projections and photography to demonstrate her previous pieces. It was incredibly easy to immerse yourself in Abramovic's world in this sparse but impressive gallery setting, and the monochromatic images really stood out. I couldn't help but notice the obvious ritualistic elements to her work, from the use of chanting and repetition to the symbols of fire, knives and lambs. There were often sacrificial leanings, such as in the Rhythm 5 piece which involved Abramovic cutting her nails and lying down inside a large star shape which had been set alight. The ensuing heat caused her to lose consciousness, and she was subsequently rescued from this performance.

Some of the artwork also struck me as being too attention-seeking to be taken seriously, and two key examples spring to mind. Firstly, the piece involving stabbing herself with a knife, which felt visceral but not really art. For me, this just felt like an 'Artist glorifies self-harm!' tabloid piece waiting to happen; it was crude, not very meaningful, and also managed to look quite dull in its repetitive nature. I have never considered self-harm to be art, and I don't believe anyone else in the gallery did. If the knife had been another object then this could have formed an interesting comment on the monotonies of daily life and those ritualistic tasks we perform. Another complicated piece involved Abramovic with an air blower, waiting to pass out from the air flow which, for some unknown reason, required her to be naked at the time. I felt like the nudity didn't add anything to the piece and actually proved to be distracting from the event itself. If she had been clothed, we also could have understood the air flow currents more readily, especially if she was wearing billowing fabrics. Something that looked like a drunken teenage prank could have looked almost poetic with the right approach.

Another Rhythm piece really stuck with me, and this included the chanting which I have previously mentioned. Abramovic repeatedly brushed her hair, with painful sound effects, calling for the artist to be beautiful. I couldn't tell if this was her view, the projected view of someone else, or an attempt to mimick the views of others on the beauty of art and the involvement of the artist. Because of the loud and thudding sound effects, it seemed more like self-flagellation than a call to arms for women artists. I also felt strong links with the importance of image and perfection in modern society; it is not enough for the artwork to be beautiful, but the artist must also achieve a beautiful self-image. The question is, who becomes the real work of art here?

I enjoyed seeing something different in this performance art display, but without the anxiety of witnessing a live performance (there is something of the pantomime about some of Abramovic's audience participation). Sadly, the gallery provided little information on the exhibition and there were no staff available to interview. In addition, the location of the Lisson seems a little strange, though its dual sites somehow work well together. I would recommend a visit and would be even more enthusiastic in encouraging people to discover Marina Abramovic. She is more than just a stunt-woman, and many deeper meanings can be found in much of her work, but only if she wants them to be found. I just wish she'd stop flaunting herself in what I presume is an attempt to gain artistic integrity.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Further Words from the Drawing Fashion Debate

Taken from the debate at the Design Museum, London, on 05/11/2010, where the Drawing Fashion exhibition is currently running.

Those taking the floor:

Colin McDowell (CM) – guest curator of the Drawing Fashion exhibition

Joelle Chariau (JC) – custodian of the collection on show

François Berthaud (FB) – artist (see

Howard Tangye (HT) – artist (see

William Ling (WL) – director of the Fashion Illustration Gallery (see


How did your career involve fashion illustration?

CM: Fashion illustration has obsessed me for years.

JC: I started with cartoonists in my gallery – popular, commercial art. Then I saw Rene Gruau’s work in a magazine and loved it, but I didn’t know if he was even alive or not. I found out he was and I contacted him, but he didn’t think his commissions would interest anyone. Fashion illustration was an unknown field in art. I didn’t think about the market; I held an exhibition and it was successful.

CM: They are artists first and foremost, but they just happen to draw fashion.

WL: Fashion illustration hasn’t always been fashionable. I collaborated with my wife on an exhibition at Gavin Turk’s studio in 1997, which featured in Vogue, and we were surprised they wanted to cover it.

CM: There has been a renaissance of interest in fashion illustration recently, for example at the new exhibition of Rene Gruau’s work for Dior, in Somerset House. However, commercial work [such as Dior commissioning Gruau] is always coarser, in my opinion.

HT: Drawing has taken me through everything I’ve done, and I began studying fashion at St. Martin’s, then at Parsons in New York in the 70s. There was an atmosphere of illustration at this time within fashion.

FB: I trained as a graphic designer, which covered drawing, typography, advertising and photography, though now you would study those separately. I worked for Condé Nast but also published comic strips, and I was then called in to work on a magazine called ‘Vanity’, which was created by Anna Piaggi.

CM: ‘Vanity’ was a marvellous magazine and Anna Piaggi is visionary.

FB: They called in talented illustrators to work on ‘Vanity’, but most knew nothing about fashion, whereas I did. The magazine had a niche success, but suddenly became worldwide after its use of illustration.

FB is then asked by the audience about the evolving nature of his work and how he has moved away from a linocut style.

FB: In the mid 80s I was looking to have a bold, black line drawing - something reduced to maximum simplicity. I then evolved and wanted to tell things differently, with more transparency. It’s now closer to painting than to drawing and it doesn’t really recall linocut.

The panel are then asked about a fashion designer’s influence over the illustration process and design.

FB: It’s not specific to illustration – whoever interprets the work of the fashion designers is creating a dialogue with them.

CM: When you’re doing something, you don’t normally feel you have to please the designer, as they aren’t normally your client.

JC: Even Gruau’s clients were mostly magazines.

On the subjectivity of fashion.

WL: It’s very difficult to second guess what we’ll think of Francois’ work in twenty years’ time.

JC: It’s subjective, and our subjectivity has a value.

CM: I’ve been in the fashion world for 35 years and I’ve yet to meet an intellectual because it’s so subjective.

On the idealised body in fashion illustration – the young and thin woman.

FB: I don’t see fashion illustration as a special occasion to discuss this in my work. The weight of the model is just not an issue.

CM: As a journalist I hear this all the time. Women in fashion are portrayed as young and thin because that is what we want as consumers; you want the dream. I would personally have a law banning anyone who was fat or over 40 from wearing jeans. I can’t wear them.


My thoughts on the debate: It was fascinating to hear all of these very high-profile industry specialists speak for such a long time, and with such freedom. I was really interested in the Fashion Illustration Gallery but, having conducted some research, it is essentially for buyers rather than general viewers or tourists, which is a shame. This is why it is so important to see exhibitions such as 'Drawing Fashion', because it is so rare to be given the opportunity to be in the same room as these images. Normally they will greet you from a magazine article or a retro fashion advert in a textbook, and you just don't have the same level of interaction. When you see them up close, they almost come to life; details are stronger, colours are richer, and technical accuracy is a lot clearer.

It was also amazing to meet fashion illustrators, and I may not get the chance again, especially considering the growing influence of graphic design and computer technology. It's been incredibly important to meet these more traditional illustrators, though they are not averse to using modern media in their work, and I do not criticise them for this.

The Drawing Fashion Debate proved to be a highly insightful experience for me, and one that I shall remember for years to come (not only because I lost the sole of my shoe on Tower Bridge, but that's another story, and one that cannot be illustrated in an elegant way!).

Monday, 8 November 2010

Highlights from the Drawing Fashion Debate

Taken from the debate at the Design Museum, London, on 05/11/2010, where the Drawing Fashion exhibition is currently running.

Those taking the floor:

Colin McDowell (CM) – guest curator of the Drawing Fashion exhibition

Joelle Chariau (JC) – custodian of the collection on show

François Berthaud (FB) – artist (see

Howard Tangye (HT) – artist (see

William Ling (WL) – director of the Fashion Illustration Gallery (see

CM: I believe in the drawn line. After food and before procreation, man has always had a desire to make a mark on a surface. All has started for centuries with a line...It [fashion illustration] came at a time when we were losing sophisticated glamour, with figures like Fred Astaire, and people started to think, ‘What have we lost?’. Now we have Francois as the new approach to fashion, as you have seen on our exhibition invitation, which is sexy yet incredibly beautiful.

WL: The art market is starved of that kind of hand-drawn work, and there’s a kind of grace to it, yet with these images of very, very powerful women. The future is fashion illustration.

HT: Each of the artists in the exhibition was a part of their time, in art and culture, and their work had a luxury appeal. The camera has its place too, but I don’t think drawing is redundant, and fashion illustration is such a specialist kind of drawing. You really do have to have the feeling of what the clothes are about – although the images look simple and elegant, it’s about what you leave out. It’s not like life drawing and it takes a special eye to do it.

CM: Fashion drawing is, to a degree, an idealising thing.

FB: My clients come to me because I can represent the more sophisticated items. I will be able to convey the extreme attention that my client has. In magazines, it’s more about challenging those empty pages and creating something new which you haven’t seen before.

CM: Is multimedia the future for fashion?

JC: It’s certainly a possibility, but I can’t say what will happen.

FB: I like drawing, scanning, getting it out and drawing again.

HT: I always work with a model and I prefer working on paper, because I like to see the real thing.

WL: ‘Does it engage me?’ is the question for me. Everybody finds their own medium.

FB: Most of the work in this exhibition is hand drawn and has a depth which you cannot compare; it has a superior quality.

Is photography a friend or foe?

CM: Magazine editors have told me that they couldn’t run a full-page spread on illustration because the advertisers wouldn’t like it.

FB: I think it’s enriching for the magazine [to contain illustration].

JC: My favourite magazines are from way back because they included photography and drawings. There was a tension you don’t have now.

WL: We have sold some magazines in the gallery, and some of the covers are just beautiful, but advertisers don’t like fashion illustration much. Yet we worked with David Downton for the 25th anniversary issue of Vogue Australia, where he produced four different illustrations of Cate Blanchett, and it outsold all previous issues of the magazine.

When is it illustration and when is it drawing?

WL: I distinguish between design drawings, to help make the object, and illustrations after the event. The temptation is to ring-fence categories, but artists often jump that.

CM: Drawing isn’t necessarily an intrinsic part of fashion design but there are some designers who draw profusely, such as John Galliano.

Will drawing come back as a popular medium?

JC: Handmade things belong to a world that doesn’t exist anymore, so yes, it’s very different, but something unexpected may come out of it.

HT: Exhibitions are another form of appreciation and promotion.

WL: These exhibitions do have an impact. For students now, these can be milestones, and there seems to be nostalgia for how things used to be, such as graffiti and street art of the nineties.

On the individuality of magazines.

CM: Italian Vogue makes less money than the other Vogue magazines, but it’s the one that everyone wants to collect, and they’ll give Steven Meisel forty pages to tell a story. I read Italian Vogue and sometimes Parisian Vogue, but nothing else. The others are just catalogues! I think it’s very sad that you can’t spot the difference between magazines by content. Magazines are in terrible trouble and they’re going to have to think again about how to keep people’s interest.

HT: Lots of young people are making their own magazines and publishing them. They find a way to get them out there.

To be continued...

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