Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Man About Hong Kong: A stroll around Sheung Wan and respect paid to the temple of Lane Crawford

Above: In a city obsessed with signage, a few words that make sense

After a couple of weeks of total submersion in the new world order of Shanghai, Hong Kong provided a welcome dose of anarchy. It's not that this creativity comes from above: everywhere there are signs telling you what not to do, what to do and how to do it to a degree that's only matched by Singapore. Nonetheless, it seems in Hong Kong you can't keep a good thing down and there is still plenty of exciting movement surging up from the cracks between the newly paved streets.

Above: Culture Club Gallery
Below: The huge toy sculpture framing the window of Chocolate Rain

The hotbed of activity is centered around Sheung Wan, to the West of Soho on Hong Kong Island. After rolling down the forest path from Victoria Peak I followed the well-trodden path to the art galleries and antique shops of west Hollywood Road. But meandering off the beaten path just a little rewarded me well. I discovered a hive of independent boutiques and funky multi-use spaces brewing gourmet coffee while they chop your hair or serve you up fresh dose of Chinese art.

Above: Sample store Muchacha
Below: Fang Fong Projects

My favourite corner has to be around Peel and Staunton - a real one-stop shop to replenish your mind body and soul. Want European womenswear? Head to sample store Muchacha (24 Peel St) which is rammed full one-offs from labels like Karen Millen, Agnes B and Moschino. Fancy trying some local threads? Go to Fang Fong Projects boutique (69 Peel Street); it's their only store but they've got a very wide collection and helpful director Lai Fan Wu will make sure you find what you're after. If it's art you're after, check out the Culture Club Gallery. They specialise in affordable pieces by emerging artists. Just as well because you may have blown all your cash on the excellent coffee they stock including the world's rarest variety: Kopi Luwak, which is harvested from the droppings of Asian Palm Civet. And if you're a bit more broke you needn't lose out: I suggest grabbing some street food at Leaf Dessert on Elgin. Make sure you finish with their red bean sweet - it's surprisingly tasty...

Above: Dalston-Berlin-Hong Kong; that international symbol of cool rears it's hairy face again in the form of a very stylish menswear shop named simply 'Moustache'. What else?

Above: Delightful hand-customised Kegs at Moustache
Below: I bought one of these pastel shaded cotton 'map of HK' scarves by Moustache. apparently they're just what you need to wipe away the HK summer humidity. Am tempted to go back to try it out.

Moving further west along Hollywood Road away from Central, blokes on the hunt for some new ready-to-wear cloth should pop into the recently opened Moustache. Designed by ex-New Yorker Ellis Kreuger, their casual collection is understated and subtle yet on the money with international trends and wouldn't look out of place in Saville Row's B Store. For bigger label menswear in Sheung Wan I'd recommend a stroll up Sai Street. The anonymous hair salon at number 51 doubles as a stylist's sample shop. They had gear from Dior Homme and Comme des Garcons going cheap when I visited. If you've got a bit more time to get kitted out in Hong Kong but want to avoid the hawkers selling run-of-the-mill tailored suits from the streets of Kowloon, I suggest a visit to J A Daye on Hollywood Road. This was the initial enterprise by Ellis Kreuger and offers beautifully made-to-measure seasonal collections crafted by genuine old-school Hong Kong tailors in a two-week turnaround time. If you don't have that long but still fancy trying their service you can self-measure from home using their detailed online how-to videos and time your visit to HK for the fittings.

There are a ton of other cool joints to discover in between Soho and Hollywood Park. Spend a half day wondering around those streets and I guarantee you not to be disappointed...

Above: Hair salon/menswear sample sale at 51 Sai Street.

Lane Crawford

Finally, no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a pilgrimage to the fashion mecca which is Lane Crawford. With three designer emporiums spanning both sides of the harbor and fashion by Givenchy rubbing sharing racks with the most directional cuts from Cheap Monday, I couldn't help but be impressed with the icon of HK designer fashion. With as many LV and Cartier shops as there are Starbucks in London, I felt mildly overdosed on luxury more than once during my stay there. But I instantly fell in love with the presentation at Lane Crawford which was creative and inspiring, eschewing the borderline gratuity evident elsewhere. I particularly enjoyed a mannequin display combining current fashions with pieces from international tribes styled by the great Michael Costiff and a wonderful fantasy mens boutique curated by Judy Blame. I really felt LC is pushing our expectations of what a design department store should be offering. Since getting back I've heard my friends over at Bitching and Junkfood are also supplying my new favourite place. Proof if ever it was needed that Lane Crawford still has its finger well and truly on the pulse.

On the slate...Man About Vienna, Leipzig, Beijing and Shanghai

Monday, 1 March 2010

MAW at London Fashion Week: Autumn/Winter colour trend report

Amidst the familiar sea of black there were a few colour tendencies that shone out during the week. Metallics were big again but this year bronze, copper and brass are finally starting to push out the silver and gold as shown at Bryce Aime, Chrisian Blanken and my pick of Vauxhall fashion Scout: Iris Van Herpen.

Above: copper zippered bondage at Bryce Aime

Below: With her bronze leather slashing Iris van Herpen's show was a highlight of Vauxhall Fashion Scout

These warmer metals can be linked to a wider trend for natural autumnal shades which pretty much dominated anything outside the digital printing camp from Burberry Prorsum to Kinder Aggugini via Nicole Farhi and Rocksanda Illincic and on the main runways.

Aran knitwear from recyclers Goodone (above) and knitwear company North Circular

Perhaps inspired by the taste for vintage fabrics I detected the emergence of a trend in Aran knitwear too. Unsurprisingly this featured highly in the showrooms at Esthetica, the ethical designers space with brands like reclycers Goodone and knitting specialists The North Circular showing their own modern takes on the look. And when Julien Macdonald sent his models down the runway in oversized off-white cable knits, the trend seemed to solidify.

Above: Dark blue wide cord ruled James Long's catwalk

Below: Topman Design also favoured the blue hue

Finally, dark blue looks set to be huge next winter. If we got a feel for this during womens fashion week on catwalks from Jonathan Saunders and Louise Goldin, its future dominance was seemed certain during mens day in strong shows from the likes of Topman Design and James Long. I can't help thinking we've still got Alber Elbaz to thanks for all this. After all it was the elegance and aggressive red-carpet uptake of his collections a few years ago that first alerted us to the power of dark blue and black. What we're seeing now is yet more filtering down and experimentation of his aesthetic which at the time was really brave.

On the slate...

Sunday, 28 February 2010

MAW at London Fashion Week: Digital Printing goes 3D

Above: Chunky jewels take over on the Osman catwalk

This season will be looked back upon as he season that the huge digital printing finally matured. With so many British designers having made their name in this genre over recent seasons, there was a definite of sense of needing to move it up a gear in order to keep up a designer level and ahead of the high street. The solution was many of them picking up the needle and thread and adding embroidery and stitched and glued jewels onto their cocktail dresses. I lost count of how many of the highly influential young British designer pack including Christopher Kane and Erdem that added serious stitch work to their womenswear with lots of embroidery and in the case of Mary Katrantzou with quilting.

Above: Katrantzou's jeweled designs

Elsewhere, the Svarovskification of recent collections seemed to be giving way to an influx of bigger jewels in perspex and cut glass. I've been blogging jewellery specialist Holly Fulton's talent for this for a couple of seasons now but she was joined this time by the likes of Felder + Felder, Issa and Osman, both of whom plastered them all over their footwear.

Above: Holly Fulton shows her jewelry design pedigree with the embellishments on her symmetrical designs

Below: Mary Katrantzou's quilting

Since both of the developments of the printing trend – into embroidery and jewel embellishments - are about adding real texture to the surface, I suppose it's not surprising that the majority of designers in this camp are now opting for trompe l'oile designs for the clothes. Their moving away from the abstract florals and techno prints towards realistic photos of flowers and jewels on the items which work with the embroidery and embellishment.

If anyone could get away with sticking to digital printing without the need for more texture it would be Basso and Brooke, who made their name with so the groundbreaking way their pleated digital print designs fit together like puzzles when cut into dresses. But even on their runway their was the addition of a new layer of texture through their use of crafty patchwork inspired patterns.

The common theme between these three developments in digital printing is an increase in interest in traditional craft aesthetics. This can be traced back to the craze for all things crafty last year as part of the wider make-do-and-mend mania that seemed to sweep the UK. With these designers, many of whom have made their names in the high-tech world of digital prints, now taking on craft looks, you get an idea of how far-reaching this trend has become. Over recent months I've done a few interviews and written articles for trade magazine Craft Business on this very subject.

Above and below: Peter Pilotto's layered tube prints

But it also points to an increase of interest in 3 dimensionality amongst the digital printing clan. Whereas this Spring/Summer designers were happy with basing entire collections on extravagant flat prints based around one theme, now there's a definite sense of needing to offer more texture. Away from the craft aesthetic, Peter Pilotto added another dimension in his own creative way by rolling two pieces from tubes of fabric.

On the slate...colour report from London Fashion Week

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Alive and kicking in Buenos Aires: AY Not Dead

Above: send a balloon and make a wish at the AY Not Dead store launch party.

On a recent TV shoot in Buenos Aires I ended up filming at the launch party of the new AY Not Dead store in the Argentine capital's hottest area: Palermo Viejo. After three weeks trawling the BA streets in search of creative looks to snap I finally felt like I'd found my place...With the help of a few double espressos, the next afternoon I strong-armed the creative brains behind the operation, Noel Romero, into telling me the story so far.

For a designer of a label whose narratives scream proudly from their collection titles: 'Pray for Us', 'Les Fleurs du Mal', 'Le Freak c'est chic'...Noel Romero is surprisingly secretive about the origins of AY Not Dead's name: 'Some people think our name refers to a shady Argentine politician who got up to no good and is thought to have come to a sticky end after he disappeared...I prefer not too confirm or deny this stuff.' But as I chat with Noel in her neighbourhood coffee bar in Recoleta, it's not long before I realise that AY Not Dead's not short on romantic stories and, after all, when did a healthy dash of mystery not help the romance to blossom?

Above: AY Not Dead's Noel Romero in one of her own designs

Noel and a friend kicked off the label that became AY Not Dead under a different name on their return to Buenos Aires from Central St Martin's in 2001. Interested in creating prints, they discovered a batch of beat-up printing frames which they renovated and put to work producing commercial fabrics for more established Argentine designers to use. With the proceeds they gave birth to their first collection: 'Now I Love an Argentinian Girl' - an homage to the legendary Argentine rock band Sumo and an acknowledgment to their apprciation of being back on home turf after their training in London: 'We love London and still go back their nearly every year but that was a sign to everyone that for now we wanted to concentrate on Argentina'.

Above: a feel of London at the party and a selection of T-shirt prints from the AY Not Dead archive

It took a couple more years though until they started to really feel the love coming back to them. 'In 2003 we tried to get onto the Buenos Aires Fashion Week list but they turned us down'. Perhaps the elaborate stories they laced around their collections were too gothic for the taste of the fashion council at the time? Their early off-schedule presentations included titles like Rega por Nosotros (Pray for Us), a wry comment on religious fervour common in South America and the slightly macabre 'Fire in the Japanese Park'; neither particularly outlandish by European standards but perhaps a little acidic on the delicate stomach of the Argentine fashion establishment. Unperturbed they applied for fashion week once more, this time with the help of Noel's siblings. Their collection was a celebration of underground culture: 'Le Freak c'est Chic' and it went down a storm 'That's when we launched the label. We made a lot of noise at fashion week and finally got lots of attention from people'.

Above and below: AY not Dead's third store, now their sales outlet, Paradise Garage in Palermo Soho

Very soon Noel and co opened their first boutique in the venue of an infamous 90s rock club in the undiscovered barrio of Palermo. More outlets followed and by the time they were partying in the newest edition to their small chain the night before my interview, they had a lot more to celebrate: their womenswear collections are now available on the racks of Urban Outfitters and Selfridges in London and they have various movers and shakes from the states sniffing around too.

Above and below: looks at the launch party

So, what is it that's making the foreign buyers travel all the way to BA to knock at their door? At first glance their silhouettes and cuts don't stand out from a lot of commercial fashion that's available much closer to home. As Noel herself admits she's 'not so interested in the craft or the elegance of fashion'. For me, AY Not Dead's unique pulling power is the cultural depth of the designs and the fun with symbol-laden narratives season after season. In AY Not Dead's symbolic universe there's no distinction between high and low culture: everything's valid. This ethos has helped create Black Jesus, a fictictious band which released a real album for their collection 'Africa Meets Heavy metal' inspired by a poster of an African Jesus Noel dug out at Dalston market; a selection of jokey fake t-shirts of iconic European designers that don't sell their work in South America; and a collection of international tribal prints in Les Fleurs du Mal. It sounds like a cliche but the result is a line that could only come out of the long-term cultural crucible which is Buenos Aires, situated as it is so far from everywhere yet sometimes with it's back to the rest of the world and looking over it's shoulder. 'I'm much more interested in the social process of fashion. So I am always exploring that and the culture it sits in' Noel explains.

Above: Argentine designer and backer of AY Not Dead, Maria Cher

Towards the end of the interview I try to slip back to that mystery of the name, hoping by now I might have softened her resolve to keep things secret...'We were smoking a lot of pot at that time!' Noel confesses... I definitely don't make myself fully in charge of it!'. Fair enough...

Below: more partygoers at the AY Not Dead store launch

On the chalkboard: ManAboutWorld at fashion weeks...