Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Lakme Fashion Week: Aarti Vijay Gupta puts the art into Winter/Festive 2013

Fashion Month may not have begun yet for New York/London/Paris/Milan, but Lakme Fashion Week has already come round again - how time flies in the style calendar. Right now, the hottest Indian designers have just shown or are about to show their collections to the crowds, causing Bollywood's finest to flock to the side of the catwalk (or even to be part of the show). 

First up in this series of posts is a design talent who has the edge when it comes to prints; this season she's really showed her artistic knowledge.

 Aarti Vijay Gupta hits the right notes with her Winter/Festive designs.
 [Images via The Fashion Weekend.]

 I love the cut of this trouser suit.

Aarti Vijay Gupta has to be my favourite designer to come out of India. I've written about her many times previously on the blog and compared her eye for prints to that of Mary Katrantzou, and this season's offering was even more fun and fearless. She called it simply 'I Love Music' and combined linear drawings of trumpets, drums and pianos with classic music-themed paintings by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso (The Red Orchestra and The Old Guitarist, respectively). 

 Dali's surrealist painting sees a skeletal man playing another like a cello.
[Image via]
 Picasso's Old Guitarist was part of his Blue Period.
[Image via].

This was a youthful and lively collection, standing out from the current punk trend that's rocking the UK and feeling more authentic. As ever with Gupta, the shapes of pieces were edgy and directional, from crisp jumpsuits to minimalist sheath dresses, accessorised with the white spectacles that have become a signature part of her work. It feels like she has really hit her stride.

If you want to see more examples of art inspiring fashion from the blog, check out the Ansel Adams and David Hockney-esque prints by Warehouse and the Delaroche tribute dress by Giles Deacon that had me waxing lyrical. For even more designer insight, see my report from the front row of Holly Fulton's A/W 2012 show and my backstage interview with her about the connection between fashion and art. Make no mistake, readers: the two topics are firmly intertwined, as Aarti Vijay Gupta has proved so recently.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The fashion loop: what's so radical about A/W13's high street buys?

I bloody love Autumn/Winter clothing collections; it's no secret that I normally find them more exciting and creatively diverse than Spring/Summer, when pastels, neon and all things 'cute' come out of the woodwork with ritual predictability. But this year I've found that the bigger ritual and the feeling of being stuck on repeat has come from my first glimpses of A/W13 on the high street.

Soft pale pink mid length jacket Zara AW13
That pink coat could have been bought last year, but it's a new Zara offering.
[image via].

Whilst I loved the big trends of A/W12, with the burgundy and the khaki and the navy, the continual appeal of leather trousers (which have been knocking around for a few years now), the quirky squirrel and owl motifs on jumpers, the punk nail art, the fake fur and mohair in crazy colours, the dark florals, the tartan prints, the pale pink coats, the spaghetti strap silky camisoles and slip dresses, the houndstooth and the metallics and the faux-leather midi skirts, I've found them to be coming around again with very little difference in what's being offered. 

Clearly retailers know when they're onto a good thing, and we obviously all bought up the stuff last year, but how much of it - realistically speaking - needs replacing (apart from my faux-leather trousers, which need yearly replenishment as the knees always go)? How many trends are we going to buy into for the second or third consecutive year and not even bat an eyelid, dampening the impact of the really unusual trends for this coming season, like Celine's bag lady chic and Stella McCartney's oversize pinstripes? In amongst all of the recycling, the Celine and Stella tributes aren't given the edge that they need to stand out against the repeated failsafe hits.

Brocade suit from M&S in ladylike goth trend of AW12
 Brocade for A/W12 from Marks and Spencer [image via].

Brocade vintage style dress Marks and Spencer
Brocade comes back again for A/W13 [image via].

It just feels oddly like a huge case of deja-vu as I walk round the shops and browse the internet, seeing the same tartans, the same kooky jumpers, the same punk luxe and grunge pieces. In fact, currently in the Zara sale you can pick up a faux-leather burgundy pleated skirt, which looks remarkably like it could work for the upcoming season, so just buy it now and save it for a month or two and you'll be ahead of the game... or just wondering if it's a ploy to make you need the inevitable newer and shinier version that they're bound to bring out. 

Of course, people may have missed out on certain key purchases first time around, and I'm all for getting the items I should have put in my basket in 2012 (pale pink coat, please), but there's honestly very little at the moment that feels distinctly new or innovative to make this feel like a new season. Maybe the retailers are afraid to take a risk and they feel safer picking up the trends that have been recycled by designers again and again; maybe it's down to the trend forecasters looking to street style photographers and hipsters, who are all looking at each other, and we've just run out of ideas? Has there been a saturation point? Or can we expect a sudden injection of originality in September and October, when the real hardcore winter fashion starts to hit home?

Leather jacket with stitching detail and soft shearling collar AW12 Zara
 Shearling meets leather for A/W12 at Zara with this short jacket [image via].

Zara leather and soft collared coat
Here it comes again, with the 'combination cropped jacket' for A/W13 [image via].

If you think I'm catastrophising, I'd ask you to go into any high street fashion retailer - Zara, M&S, H&M, Primark - and check out their early A/W13 drop right now. Look at the items carefully and try and picture them in light of what was on sale a year ago. Does anything feel like it's too new, design-wise, to be something you could have bought in 2012? I challenge you to find five items that are definitely from this year's Autumn/Winter collection and couldn't be mistaken for last year's, or 2011's. Let me know if you're successful. The best examples I could track down were some rather brilliant furry winklepickers and slipper shoes from M&S - pure fun, but I need more like this in order to feel confident that retailers aren't getting lazy.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

What to pack - and what to buy - in Thailand

So, it's been a little while since I returned from Thailand, but I've been dealing with a delightful inner ear infection, which meant that it's taken me a while to get back to normal. This means I've been a little late in filling you in on bright and bold Thai style, but I figured it would be better to wait until the room stopped spinning... call me old fashioned and all.

Beachgoers playing ping pong next to boat on Chaweng Beach
 Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, at midday.

Wicker lounger overlooking green view at Charm Churee
 The eco-friendly and fabulous Charm Churee Resort, Koh Tao.

Tiger petting at Namuang Safari Park
Meeting a tiger for the first time.

Without further ado, this is what I'd advise for you to pack and to buy in order to make the most of a Thailand holiday, whether you're at the beach or in the temples.

Koh Nangyuan eco island view
 Looking out over Koh Nangyuan Island during a snorkelling stop-off.
Swimwear by Tu, sunglasses by Bromptons Opticians, Brighton.

Wannabe chefs at Chef Tummy's Cookery Class, Koh Pha Ngan
With three members of my Contiki tour group, after tackling a cookery class.
Primark maxi dress to combat the heat.

Dressed for the heat in Green Mango club, Koh Samui
Hitting up Green Mango, one of the best clubs in Koh Samui.
Skull print skirt and sheer vest, both by H&M.

Fill the suitcase with...

  • Sleeveless blouses from H&M. In an array of colours and prints, and typically at just £7.99 to £12.99 a pop, they're a real bargain, and you won't find anything quite as versatile here. I teamed mine with a skull print skirt, candy striped shorts and tile print silk trousers.
  • Patterned dresses from Primark, Topshop, H&M or New Look, in lightweight fabrics. I found that many of the dresses on sale in the Eastern Islands were either designed for lithe size 8 figures, a bit mumsy and plain, or very synthetic, which seemed odd for a hot country, as the last thing I wanted was a ton of viscose to help me work up a sweat. The most useful dress I took was a very thin strapless paisley number from Primark.
  • A couple of scarves or pashminas that can be used to cover up in a temple, wrap around your swimwear, protect your body from the hot sand on the beach or to tie around your hair. The ones you can buy in resorts tend to be heavily tie-dyed, which isn't everyone's cup of tea.
  • One or two pairs of shorts, especially if you're going to be in very touristy areas, as everyone will be wearing them and you'd be mad to get stuck in trousers the entire time. Hotpants were pretty ubiquitous in the resorts I visited, especially Koh Pha Ngan, so there's no need to play it safe with city shorts unless you want to.
  • Sun cream. Whilst it is obviously available in Thailand, you'll be paying over the odds for anything beyond Factor 15, so save your money and pack a decent supply of cream in your case.
  • Supportive swimwear from La Senza and Bravissimo, if you're blessed with curves. Thai bikinis tend to flatter smaller chested girls, often lacking underwiring and only using minimal padding, but going to town on the embellishments and patterns instead.
  • Lipstains, tinted lipbalms or liquid lipstick. You do not want to be carrying normal waxy bullet lipsticks in a hot country, unless you enjoy dealing with a hot mess in your handbag. I took Rimmel's Apocalips and also a dark berry stain and found that they were really useful.
  • Blotting paper and mineral powder foundation for mopping up your face. Even the smallest movement can work up a sweat in the Thai heat!
  • Canvas trainers, simple sandals and the odd pair of flip flops. Heels aren't necessary, not even wedges, unless you're going somewhere really up-market. Most people wear flip flops in bars and clubs, though you can buy some more when you're out here if you want to stock up on particular colours or designs.
Vests with band logos and graphic prints near Chaweng Beach
Pop culture is alive and well in the markets of Koh Samui.

Fake designer purses and bags at Koh Samui market
 Take your pick, from 'Prada' purses to 'Chanel' handbags.

Chilling out at a waterfall in Thai harem pants
Elephant print harem pants being put through their paces on a waterfall.

Hit the shops for...

  • Harem pants in vibrant colours and patterns. They're ten a penny here and they honestly do fit all sizes, so you can just pick your favourites and get haggling. I got mine for 250 baht, which is about £5; the stallholder wanted 400 baht originally, so this was a pretty good deal. If I'd bought them beforehand on Ebay, they would have cost about £15.
  • Kaftans. Yes, I could have gone to Florence & Fred at Tesco before I left, but the Thai designs are livelier and the fabrics are more lightweight, which is what you really need on the beach.
  • Crochet string bikinis, if they're your thing - personally I'm not a fan, but they seemed to be in plentiful supply and were reasonably priced.
  • Edgy vest tops with pop culture logos and slogans, from Heineken Beer and Jack Daniel's to Run DMC and Rihanna, many of which can be seen in markets back home for about £10 each. I opted for those advertising Chang and Singha, two local beers, plus a Damien Hirst skull print, and paid about 150-180 baht per top.
  • Not quite legitimate designer bags and purses. Whilst I wouldn't normally advocate buying fakes, there are some really good imitations here, as well as some hilariously bad ones. When my H&M day bag broke in Koh Samui, I rushed out to buy something - anything - that was small, waterproof and stylish. I ended up with a tomato red 'Mulberry' bag, negotiated down from 1,800 baht to 1,100, which subsequently lasted a few days before the stitching started to unravel on one side of the strap. It's at the cobbler's as I type, so make of that what you will, but I hope to get some use out of it once it's fixed.
  • Last minute duty free bargains that you can make use of during the flight and on the trip; my choice was Lancome's Hydra Zen Neurocalm moisturiser (£32.50), which calms stressed skin, and the special edition Alber Elbaz for Lancome Hypnose Doll Eyes mascara (£19.50).
  • Something neon for the Half Moon or Full Moon Party, if you happen to be in Koh Pha Ngan at the right time. Whatever you wear will get wrecked, so don't rock up in your best clothes.
If you're lucky enough to go to Thailand, I hope these tips will help you to pack economically and save some space for the things that matter in your suitcase - both the staples from home and the souvenirs you bring back.
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