by Sarah Mower
My induction to London Fashion Week took place sometime in 1986, at the hands of Lynne Franks. I say "hands" colloquially, but it was, more accurately, a full-body immersion. Lynne, London's superstar fashion PR of the "Designer Decade" (whose enthusiasms were only slightly exaggerated in Ab Fab's Edina), had decided that I, a rookie reporter who'd recently popped up on Fleet Street from Honey magazine, ought to be clued into what was going on at the first round of collections I was about to see. I accepted her invitation to lunch at the Sanctuary, an all-female urban spa in Covent Garden, but didn't realise it would literally be a naked one. Lynne was mid one of her health fads and had rolled the chore of meeting an upstart fashion editor into her latest regime of crudités and a lunchtime swim in the tiny pool (once used for a scene in The Stud). After nibbling a plate of carrots she threw off her towel and plunged in, keeping up a non-stop barrage of chat about Betty Jackson, Wendy Dagworthy, Katharine Hamnett, Jasper Conran and John Galliano, as I doggy-paddled along in her wake.
The reality of those days - the high 80s - when "the young London designer boom" was hitting its zenith, was at times beyond parody. Franks was, of course, the hype-mistress general, and it was all true about her changing six times a day to appear in her clients' latest looks while officiating at their shows. Back then it was touch-and-go as to whether you'd get into a Bodymap show, or whether your seat would turn out to be occupied by Boy George, in full frock and dreadlocks. One of my favourite shows was always Rifat Ozbek's. His gold-tasselled boleros and slinky pencil skirts gave us an exotic London parallel to Azzedine Alaia.
We, the attempting-to-be sophisticated young editors, would struggle through in our all-black uniforms - pencil skirts, opaque tights, flat lace-ups and removable shoulder pads Velcroed into black polo necks - trying to appear as soigne as Sade. Occasionally, after hours of vigorous note-taking about Vivienne Westwood's mini-crinis or Bruce Oldfield's cerise satin meringue ballgowns, a mysterious foam lump would emerge at your writing wrist, as a shoulderpad had worked itself free, presenting a dilemma about how to get it out without anyone noticing.
I haven't served quite the full 25 years of London Fashion Week under the organisation of the British Fashion Council, whose 1984 anniversary is about to be clocked up in the flurry of shows that commence on 18 September. I have been on the spot, though, when some of the most unforgettable fashion events of our times have been orchestrated - mind-blowing spectacles and searing social sub-commentaries magicked out of the kind of budgets international designers dedicate to sending flowers to celebrities. (Ratio-wise, there have been far more of the forgettable sort, of course, but a knack for editing out the duff bits is the first qualification for mental self-preservation in this game.)
London's collective genius has come in waves: Westwood-Hamnett-Galliano et al in the 80s; McQueen-Chalayan in the "Cool Britannia" 90s and, in the 00s, a new talent tsunami has surged, led by Christopher Kane, Marios Schwab and more. All of the ups and downs have been related to the peaks and troughs of the economy - as well as the convergence of competitive, often bolshie visionaries who've instigated changes in the way the whole world has wanted to dress. In the beginning, there was the combustion of "street style", documented by The Face and i-D, the appearance of a fashion-mad Princess of Wales, and the arrival in 1986 of the 37-year-old Anna Wintour in her first editorship at British Vogue (where she single-handedly brought in "short" by ordering her editors to cut skirt samples to 6in above the knee - a move that did not endear her to London's feminist rump of designers, who were thinking more "calf-length, tweed, Miss Marple" that season).
In the aftermath of the Black Monday stockmarket crash of 1987, things went quiet for fashion. But it was the British - more skint than anyone - who began to fire it all up again. Rave culture was stirring, creativity regenerating in squats, on zero money. Things were so down that, in 1992, London Fashion Week's exhibition was reduced to a few designers huddled together in rooms in the Ritz. It all seemed so hopeless till I was drawn along the corridor by the sound of squawking laughter. It was Isabella Blow, with a Philip Treacy feathered explosion on her head, corralling people towards a rack of razor-sharp tailoring, behind which was a bullet-craniumed cockney boy. It was Alexander McQueen and his first collection. The next "up" started there.
Three years on, McQueen was staging some of the most theatrical fashion events ever: Shalom Harlow spray-painted by machinery used for painting cars; a show on burning asphalt, another on ice. There was now an equally extraordinary showman in town, too. As the Bosnian war raged, Hussein Chalayan showed models stood in a sitting room clothed in furniture. When they exited, they left an empty home - like refugees. These experiences were the full goose-pimple deal; moments you knew you were privileged to experience. Was it a coincidence that Britart was also being born in the Royal Academy's "Sensation" show? Or that the Gallaghers and Damon Albarn were slugging it out for Britpop supremacy? It's hard to explain how these forces converged, but they did. Tony Blair tried to take ownership of it by inviting them all to Downing Street. McQueen went, reluctantly, but told me after, "Thought he was a tosser."
London wasn't all confrontational high-concept stuff in the 90s. We also had girly-boho, pretty cardigans and floral dresses set to become a world trend. There was Matthew Williamson, popping up in '97 with a brilliantly coloured first collection; Julien Macdonald's cobwebby designs, Clements Ribeiro pioneering what they called "clunky couture". It took another turn when Stella McCartney and Luella Bartley showed up with a fashion parallel to the Spice Girls' Girl Power. Their first "shows" were indistinguishable from drunken teen parties in their Notting Hill flats, where it was hard to make out if there were any clothes on offer.
Around the turn of the millennium there was another slump - the place was teeming with talent, and fashion conglomerates fought for acquisitions. McQueen and McCartney were signed by Gucci Group and started showing in Paris. Chalayan shifted there, too. Then history played its hand: 9/11 accelerated the drain of designers, as more decided that since Americans weren't travelling, they'd have to take their collections to New York. Luella, Matthew Williamson, Roland Mouret and Preen all went.
It was a wishy-washy phase I have trouble remembering. All I can be certain of is that it was in London that the first signs of confidence bubbled up again. In September 2006, on an outdoor catwalk in Holland Park, a kaleidoscope of bandage-and-synthetic lace dresses came streaming towards us with eye-popping conviction. Christopher Kane, who designed them, was hailed a star. I met him when he was still at Central Saint Martins, and discovered he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the work of Gianni Versace, gained watching satellite TV with his big sister Tammy as a child.
But Kane was far from the only talent in town. A new generation was in the offing, and one that was honed to produce clothes to professional standards that international stores recognised. "Body-con" was happening. A print revolution was taking place. Knitwear was taken into creative realms never seen before.
Erdem, Richard Nicoll, Louise Goldin, Meadham Kirchhoff, Mary Katrantzou, Mark Fast, Peter Pilotto. The names just kept coming. But why should such a flowering be taking place? The confidence of a cohort that has mostly been honed by Professor Louise Wilson's MA degree at Central Saint Martins, plus the cameraderie: they're all friends who help each other out. This never happened 10 years ago, when the aggro-chic generation circled each other with jealous suspicion (and it doesn't happen in other capitals - their peers in New York and Paris are incredulous that they're even on speaking terms).
I have all this recorded in drawings and scribblings in stacks of notebooks crammed into every shelf and cupboard in my office. Leafing through them now, I notice how orderly the early ones are: drawings of boxy Jasper Conran Chanel-esque jackets and gauzy Galliano directoire dresses, annotations on how "Patsy Kensit showed her bum!" at a Westwood show - compared to the squiggles that run headlong through my pages now. I was beginning to worry that this was the visible evidence of 20 years of degenerating brain function, till I opened March '88 and out dropped a schedule for the shows. I don't know how the BFC had the front to call it "Fashion Week", since it was just three days, beginning at 1.30pm on a Friday and finishing at 6.15pm on Sunday. There were 24 shows, 19 of which I covered. Now, though, I see why my writing's a mess, and getting worse: London's next round of shows runs for five days. There are 54 scheduled shows, 19 presentations and parallel programmes of shows running off-schedule. I'm planning to review at least 34 for style.com, as well as blogging about the Downing Street reception Sarah Brown and Alistair Darling's wife are throwing to welcome foreign press and buyers, Sir Philip Green and Kate Moss's 25th anniversary party at the Ivy and Alexandra Shulman's dinner for Nick Knight. Meanwhile, I'm also reporting on the decisions of Burberry, Jonathan Saunders, Matthew Willliamson, Clements Ribeiro, Pringle and Antonio Berardi to show here in support of the 25th celebrations.
Look back, and it also becomes clear that British beauty has extrordinary staying-power in the international scheme of things. The first time I saw Naomi Campbell she was 14 and so gauche she hardly made it to the end of the catwalk, but you could see the expression of triumph cross her face, and I knew this was a girl discovering her power. That she's been modelling for almost 25 years isn't that out of the ordinary in British terms, though. In the early days there were Yasmin Le Bon (an idol of chic now), Susie Bick (pale, fragile, still working) and the girl we called the "bob and gob" in the mid-80s, Jeny Howarth, whose look has now been reincarnated in Agyness Deyn. Kate Moss's star quality was obvious when she stole Matthew Williamson's first show. Our models' characters have given them the ability, in lots of cases, to improve with age. When Sophie Dahl and Karen Elson, in their first blush, modelled for knitwear designer Lainey Keogh, Dahl was the "fat" one and Elson, with her carrot hair, "Le Freak". Both are now poised women who you'd never believe were labelled abnormal. Ditto the extraordinary giraffes Erin O'Connor, Jade Parfitt and Jodie Kidd, all of whom personified late-90s London edge, but a decade later have metamorphosed into English elegants de nos jours. This ability to gain magnetism over the long haul is something to be predicted of, say, Lily Cole and Jourdan Dunn, whose first turn at Issa almost had that early-Naomi frisson.
London's in an inconceivably, faster, slicker situation than it was 25 years ago. Psychologically and creatively, we're up again, while everyone else is down. Compared to the beginnings of fashion week - which took place in the dreary trade halls of Olympia - the new venue of Somerset House, just about to be inaugurated, is unimaginably classy. A web of support for young designers (the envy of Italy, which has suddenly realised that it has neglected to nurture any homegrown talent) has grown organically in the city and means they actively want to show here. London's fashion culture now thrives on a mix of a dozen nationalities who live and work here - Greek, Canadian, Turkish, Belgian, Indian, Serbian, French, American, tonnes of Scots. Amazingly they are also now beginning to work with British factories who are producing exquisite stuff: Kane's chiffon plissé dresses, Erdem's silk and lace gowns.
It's dangerous, of course, to speak too soon, or break the British mental block and stop thinking of ourselves as the fashion underdog. Eyes open, hand on heart, from what I see, London no longer deserves the old labels of amateurism, poor quality, unwearable experimentalism, cancelled deliveries and up-yours attitude. In 25 years we've actually cured all that. Of course, we are deep in a terrible recession which threatens all businesses, and surviving as a designer is every bit as precarious as it's ever been. But this generation is also the most resilient, resourceful, optimistic and collaborative this country has produced. That's unique. Just for once, this fashion week, perhaps London should allow itself a pat on the back for that.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Friday, 28 August 2009
Most of the time when we look at editorials we are seeing clothes and outfits that are completely fantastical and totally unsuited to our regular lives. Even though I am a rather elaborate dresser I have to admit this, however much I'd like to pretend I live in a world of pure glamour. It is so rare and totally unheard of to me to see an editorial that actually shows the way I dress on a day-to-day basis. This editorial in the latest Vogue Paris by Mert & Marcus basically shows my day to day wardrobe every Fall and Winter- I honestly feel like Carine Roitfeld followed me around last year. Just seeing this, along with the cooler weather we had yesterday, has made me incredibly impatient for fall. Nothing is prettier than lots of white lace paired with autumn shades of russet, tan and chocolate- and this might be the first time ever that I've thought about taking my hair darker...
Like many women with a sentimental side, I have a certain deep love for overly romantic Gothic novels. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has imagined myself as Emily St. Aubert (well, I know Catherine Morland did), and these photos from Taki Bibelas' "Paris Nouvelle Vague" editorial from the September Marie Clair Italy appealed to this hidden desire of my soul. Ghostly with other-worldly swirls of light enveloping the model, it is as if a Gothic heroine has been sucked up in a tornado and deposited in a palladium-toned version of our world. The other photos in this editorial are equally beautiful, but are much more in keeping with the 'Nouvelle Vague' theme- arty disenchantment and disillusionment in Paris. The two that I've shown here stand out from the others due to their unmistakable sense of melancholy and of history, and make me eager to see what this photographer could do when let wild on Strawberry Hill.
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
First, my brother is rather amazing dance dj, and while he no longer djs out that often, he makes these mixes which he posts up on his blog, Sonic Rampage. He asked me recently if he could use an image of mine that I took several years ago in Blackpool. Of course I agreed, so you can now see the final product, and download his mix, here.
Second, did anyone else see the photos from Milla Jovovich's wedding? The few photos I've seen are spellbindingly gorgeous- and could there possibly be a prettier bride? Derek Blasberg wrote a little something for his Style.com blog (after he tweeted through most of the day), and the whole thing seems heavenly- her choice of the 30s style Temperley gown and her self designed 60s inspired mini work perfectly with her personal style and show off her innate beauty.
Lastly, Jaja, who runs one of my favourite blogs, July Stars, posted a video on her twitter of the fashion stylist Catherine Baba at the world-reknowned Joyce in Hong Kong. Catherine Baba is pretty much the only person at the moment who's style inspires me- I generally look to pictures from the past for how I would like to dress, but her style is the perfect melange of decades and inpspirations. It's wonderful to see her swanning around in this video, dressing people up- I only wish they showed more of the Q & A with her.
This led me to this interview with her by Diane Pernet.
And just a little more Catherine Baba...
I have several editorials to post, but that will have to wait at least till the morning...
Sunday, 23 August 2009
Everyone loves some Brigitte Bardot, so what's not to love in this BB themed editorial in the new Vogue Paris? Mario Sorrenti shoots a sexed-up Natasha Poly prowling around in a field in a series of leather, leopard and black outfits- Emmanuelle Alt even puts her in a very BB-esque Breton top. This reminds me that I need to do a Bardot style icon post soon...
Thursday, 20 August 2009
I've shot my grandfather's house in Rome, Georgia before, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to shoot the second floor. I re-shot the ground floor also, but I tried to shoot the rooms from different angles and with a slightly different eye.
After spending a few days in Rome and then two in Atlanta, we drove up to the Smoky Mountains to my family's farm near Franklin, North Carolina.
I hadn't been back to the farm for seventeen years, but it was still the most beautiful place in the world. The outside of my great-grandmother's cottage is falling apart as it hasn't been lived in for over ten years, but the inside is still in pretty perfect condition. This hundred year old house has pine paneling in every room, and would be the perfect place to escape. Hopefully we can get the outside fixed up and water restored so I can spend more time down there, as I found everything about it so inspiring.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
It feels like an eternity since I have posted, but it hasn't been from a lack of desire on my part. The keyboard and mouse on my laptop went kaput, and then, sadly, my grandfather passed away so I've been down in Georgia for the last week, doing family things. It's obviously been an overwhelmingly sad week, only made better by seeing my family who I love so much. I was already planning to be down here, to visit him, so I didn't need to change my travel plans much but it was definitely quite saddening to be coming out for a funeral instead of a little visit. I do adore coming down here, though, and luckily for me my step-grandmother never threw anything away so the three houses they own on their block are stuffed to gills with the most amazing things. Every time I go I end up having to send huge boxes back to New York- one time I sent 45 'Fifties hats, another time 15 rolls of 1940s wallpaper, another 40 cookbooks from the 40s and 50s. This time, for the first time ever, I got to go up to the attic in the main house, which was heaven for a scavenger like me. I went through hundreds of original dress boxes, finding all kinds of beauties, and as the temperature had soared to over 100 degrees in there I wasn't able to try any of them on- so I sent them all, all 38 lbs of them. When I get back to New York later this week and receive the box I will post some pictures- gorgeous lace, velvets, silks and beads- such heaven!
I want to say hello to anyone who's arrived here from Shrimpton Couture- the beautiful Cherri wrote a very nice blog post about me and, as she said, I will be writing some guest posts for her. I should have the first one up there within the week (if my computer gets itself together) and should have some more posts upon here then too- I have so much to write!
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
I've been meaning to write this post for awhile- I started it several months ago, but had trouble finishing it when I heard Sable Starr had died of cancer in April. Somehow it seemed distasteful to discuss someone who had just passed solely in terms of the clothes they had worn as a teenager. This post is going to be longer than what I had originally planned, but I feel that she deserves some greater detail.
Lori Maddox, Dave Hill from Slade and Sable Starr in 1973.
For those who don't know, Sable Starr was pretty much the Super Groupie of the 1970s LA scene. Pamela Des Barres and Bebe Buell might be more famous, but Sable was the real deal. Born Sable Shields in Palos Verdes in 1958, she started going out on the scene as a 12 year old and lost her virginity to Iggy Pop at 13. Sable instantly became the queen of the new scene that sprang out of Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco and the Whiskey A Go Go with every visiting rock star eager to meet her. She had affairs with everyone- Led Zeppelin, T-Rex, David Bowie and many more.
Queenie, Shray Mecham ('Star Magazine' model) and Sable at Rodney's 'English Disco', from "Star" Magazine last issue, July 1973.
When she learned that the New York Dolls were coming to town in 1973 Sable got all of her friends together to buy them gifts to surprise them. She bought Johnny Thunders Frederick's of Hollywood silver lingerie, and when they met they quickly fell in love. Renouncing her groupiedom (at 15!), she moved to New York to be with him and they got an apartment together. Their happiness did not last too long due to his jealous rages and increasing heroin use. His psychotic moods led Sable to slit her wrists, but was found in time and then sent back to her parents. Thunders and Starr continued their dysfunctional relationship, causing her to run away to Atlanta where she met Keith Richards. Johnny continued to pursue her so she went back to live with him in New York until their relationship ended in 1974. Of him, she said, "We didn't work it out, but we planned to marry. I even got pregnant, but had an abortion. He wanted to change me: Johnny is Italian, he wanted me to stay at home all the time. He made me feel bad, 'cause I was a hot girl and suddenly I was the lady of the house".
After this she began to split her time between LA, living with her parents or her sister (who was dating Iggy), and NY, where she stayed with Debbie Harry or Nancy Spungen (her best friend and a notorious Sable-wannabe). Sable stayed friends with Johnny, who introduced her to his band mate Richard Hell- the two fell in love and she moved full time to New York. After they broke up she moved home and gave up the scene forever, at age 17. For the last few years she has lived in Nevada as a croupier with her two kids, until she succumbed to brain cancer this spring.
Debbie Harry and Sable at the Whisky A Go Go in 1980.
Her story is quite something when you consider that it all happened over such a short time period and to someone so young. From the later interviews I read with her she came out remarkably well-adjusted, and from what I know of her at the time Sable was like a ray of sunshine in the scene. In all of the photos of her she glows with youth and excitement, all the time wearing amazing outfits. Fashion for her was all about attention grabbing outfits, lots of glamour so she wore tons of bootie shorts, sequins, 1940s furs and hats, metallic platforms and leotards all topped off with her mane of blonde curls.
"The crowd at the club ranged in age from twelve to fifteen... nymphet groupies were stars in their tight little world. Some dressed like shirley temple; others wore dominatrix outfits or 'hollywood underwear,' a knee-length shirt, nylon stockings, and garter belts. These stargirls streaked their hair chartreuse and like to lift their skirts to display their bare crotches." David Bowie
Sable and Lori Maddox in 1973.
Johnny Thunders and Sable in 1973.
Sable and Iggy Pop in 1973.
Sable at John Bonham's 24th birthday with Lori Maddox, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Morgana Welch, Tyla, Rodney Binghenheimer, Peter Grant and Queenie Glam at Rodney's "Rainbow Bar and Grill" in April 1972.
Sable and Johnny at the Whisky in 1973.
I have many more pictures- it was hard just to choose a few!