Why do so many designers love the lotus?


This Autumn, many designers have adopted flower prints and, along with the perennial popularity of the rose, we are also seeing the lotus.  It has appeared on some stunningly beautiful dresses made by Burberry Prorsum, Anna Sui, Chloe, Valentino, Joie and Sandro.  I’ve seen it frequently on items at vintage fairs and often on kimonos (Fuji Kimono usually has some gorgeous ones) but this season it seems to have hit the runways in a big way.

As with other traditional textile motifs, the flower’s significance was originally religious. The lotus has featured in ancient Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese and other traditions with surprisingly similar associations. In Ancient Egypt the lotus represented the Sun, creation and rebirth. Frequently represented in funerary art, there was an Egyptian spell that claimed to transform the dead into a lotus to allow them to be resurrected. In Hinduism it is associated with beauty, fertility, prosperity, spirituality and eternity. It holds associations with the Hindu gods, for example with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity and Brahma, the god of creation. In Buddhism the lotus is associated with purity, spirituality and faithfulness. It is a sacred flower in Tibet.

So whether your taste is for Valentino or vintage, there is a lotus out there for you.  Even, apparently, for Mr Nellvoyager too.  He knew immediately what the lotus meant to him: a 2009 Prince album.  But of course.

Feeling lonely? Get a floral print


It all started at the car boot sale. I spotted the jacket hanging on the side of a van. Within moments of slipping it on, I was surrounded by a small group telling me I HAD to buy it and that it looked AMAZING with my cut-off 501s. Since then, I’ve worn it fairly constantly and, on almost every occasion, people have come up to me to talk about it.

It got me thinking: what is it about this jacket that attracts people? It is certainly colourful and unusual but the pattern of flowers and branches is what draws people to it. The tree of life is a traditional design that continues to be popular today.  Most world religions feature a tree somehow: symbolizing life or knowledge; or representing the connection between humans, heaven and the underworld.  Some trees have gained specific associations – the world ash in Scandinavian myth, the Celtic oak or the Greek laurel. There is a wonderful article from the Times of India on this by textile historian, Jasleen Dhamija.

Local consensus seems to be that my car boot sale trophy is an example of Kashmiri embroidery. On a visit to Delhi a few years ago, I saw similar designs of curlicued plants and flowers in Mughal design and architecture.  It is beautiful as an object in its own right but I’ve also been having a lot of fun pairing the jacket up with different combinations.  I started out playing safe with khaki or black trousers and jeans.  Then, inspired by British Vogue’s star stylist, Lucinda Chambers in this September’s issue, I tried it with brocades and then a vintage Lanvin psychedelic print top.  When temperatures cool, I’m planning to try it with some Isabel Marant leathers or with a pair of tan suede over-the-knee boots.  The connections could be endless but probably conversational.

The paisley teardrop: eternally chic



On the AW15/16 runways it featured prominently in Burberry Prorsum print dresses, on a wonderful Mary Katrantzou purple kick-flare skirt and also appears on Masscob’s print dresses and Rockins scarves.  It turns up regularly translated into lush brocades but works just as well in a “prairie-style” cotton sundress.  The ancient Persian word was Boteh, meaning a bush, the Brits call it “Paisley”, after the town where textiles were woven, others call it a teardrop or pear-shape print.  It has become a classic, used repeatedly by designers, not least because a gorgeous Kashmiri stole is a great way to liven things up in the dead of winter and the print clashes beautifully with tweeds, brocades and flower prints (just keep colours tonal so that things don’t look too randomly selected).

So where does it come from? The motif features in ancient Persian art and might represent the Zoroastrian tree of life and eternity. Other theories are that it might represent a flame, blossom or a cut-open fig.  IMG_1564After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the design was adopted as a regal motif, eventually becoming a popular motif of the Mughal empire on everything from jewellery to interior design.

What do we find so compelling about this motif that has inspired ancient priests and empire builders and continues to inspire global design movements today? Whatever it is and whether I’m mixing it with my tweeds, my leather jacket, or clashing it with flower or animal prints, I like the idea that the Zoroastrian tree of eternity continues to inspire designers and artists today.   If it was good enough for Hendrix’s hippy-military chic or as the name for Prince’s recording studio, then that’s a regal enough heritage for me.

Fall colour


20150809_161436If we are to believe the September issues of the big fashion magazines, currently thumping their way into our homes, the hot items to have this autumn will include a romantic print dress and a pair of high boots. After a period of quite dressed-down and minimalist fashion, it feels quite refreshing to see some of the very beautiful and highly decorative autumn collections. Already my thoughts are turning to the potential combinations with shearling chubby, hats, and with strappy shoes and sheer tights for some YSL glamour instead of the boots.

Lanvin, Gucci, Valentino have all adopted this theme in different ways: tasselled and glittering at Lanvin; bookish and bohemian at Gucci; and streamlined to let the pattern say it all at Valentino. Then there is Dries van Noten and Etro, the labels that inhabit this space all the time, continuing to produce beautiful prints and brocades just begging to be mixed and matched.

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute has already been inspiring this more opulent style with its China through the looking glass exhibition. If, like me you are frustrated at not being able to see it in person, then I highly recommend a dose of Wong Kar Wai’s exquisite In the Mood for Love for a scarlet-tinged fix of high glamour.

20150809_154956 London may not have the Met’s China blockbuster but it will be hosting some equally inspiring exhibitions this Autumn, with two promising to open our eyes to an array of lush textiles and prints. First to open on 3 October will be the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Fabric of India, staged as part of its Festival of India. Then, complementing it beautifully will be the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Liberty in Fashion starting on 9 October.

So, by way of warm-up for these momentous events, there will be a short series of posts on textiles and prints, starting with the, somewhat surprising, origins of the teardrop print motif known in England as “paisley” and elsewhere as “boteh” or “buta”.

Is this the perfect parisienne’s beret?


This, for me is the perfectly Parisienne black beret.  It also seems the perfect embodiment of the Autumn trend for bookish romanticism in the spirit of Alessandro Michele’s new Gucci, Valentino’s flowing print dresses, Sacai’s beautifully deconstructed tweeds (my imagination or somewhat reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s “bookseller” costume from Funny Face?) and Miu Miu’s eclectic combinations. I love the concept of taking the familiar basic item, glamourizing it, and adding a touch of humour.

It made me curious about the designer behind it, Benoit Missolin.  All became clear when I read on his website that he was born in Provence; is inspired by colour, print and embroidery; and he started his fashion career with Christian Lacroix.  There is a certain irrepressible joy about his designs that seems very close to the spirit of Lacroix’s fashion.  After completing his studies at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and apprenticeships with Lacroix and Mugler, among others, he eventually found his own design niche in millinery. I, for one, am glad he did.

Now, his designs are stocked in some very prestigious shops worldwide, and seem especially well-represented in Asia where I expect they provide a perfect counterpoint to a very petite figure. In London you can find his headpieces at Liberty, Viola and Browns Bride.  In Paris he is represented on both Rive Gauche and Rive Droite at Bon Marche in the 7eme and Les Suites in the 8eme.  He has collaborated with the legendary photographer, Jean Paul Goude, and is about to feature in Carine Roitfeld’s next CR Book.

So I confess to having been completely captivated by this little dose of Parisienne pzzazz.  I saw it.  I adored it.  I bought it.  And I’m going to have a lot of fun wearing it.

Audrey Hepburn: much more than an icon


London’s National Portrait Gallery is currently celebrating the extraordinary beauty of Audrey Hepburn with a small show of some of her most famous portraits by photographers like Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn.  The images are gorgeous and very familiar but even so, I think my preference remains for the more informal pictures taken of Hepburn.

20150815_141708I recently found a wonderful book, Audrey in Rome, edited by her son, Luca Dotti and Ludovica Damiani.  It covers her time spent in the city from her early years filming for Roman Holiday and War and Peace to her time living there from 1969 onwards after her marriage to Andrea Dotti.  It is the photographs taken of her by the paparazzi during the 1970s that I really love.

20150815_141814Even in every day life, walking her dog or shopping, her style appears as innate as her beautiful posture and self-possession.  I find this much more inspiring than a staged studio shot.  I also think that she became significantly more beautiful as her face assumed the contours of age.  Her incredible beauty comes through in these photographs because they show the real woman not the icon.

You can catch the National Portrait Gallery show before 18 October, or better still, get the book.

(photographs from Reporters Associati, published in Audrey in Rome, ed Ludovica Damiani, Luca Dotti; Harper Collins 2013)

Comme des Garcons AW 15-16: sentiment beyond words


As the Autumn-Winter collections arrive in the London boutiques, I’m reminded of the reviews of the shows back in March and particularly the warm welcome for the opulence of fabric and design in contrast to recent seasons in which minimalism has been the prevalent trend.  Brocades, velvets, sequins, lurex, prints of all kinds (often combined), rich tweeds, embroidery – bring it on in spades!

The Dover Street Market has put three beautiful lace Comme des Garcons pieces in its window and seeing them there made me go back to Vogue’s review of the catwalk show in Paris in March.  What was it all about?  Well, I’m not sure that Vogue quite knew.  The models were so encumbered by exquisite explosions of lace and bows that they had to manoeuvre slowly around each other.  It seemed to be a comment on emotion and on our individual need to accommodate others; to exercise and relinquish control.

20150811_174453Perhaps it was also about the role that our clothing plays in simultaneously hiding us and displaying our feelings.  One of the pieces in the Dover Street window display is this incredible black lace, bow-strewn cocoon.  It seems to evoke baroque religious traditions of Europe – the black lace mantilla covering the female head in church or the heavily embellished skeletal relics of saints.  At the same time, its oversized proportions make the wearer seem childlike.

What is it saying?  Perhaps the true genius of these clothes is that we cannot know what they are expressing until the owner wears them and gives them their meaning.

Iris: rainbow goddess of fashion


Iris Apfel, New York’s icon of street style, was recently in London for the opening of Albert Maysles’s new documentary about her.  Portobello’s opulent Electric Cinema – all lush red velvet, chaise longue seats and gratuitous gilding – was the perfect place to see the film but with the added bonus of  an appearance from Iris herself. In person she is tiny but radiates energy and vitality. Perhaps unusually, she was quite soberly dressed in black, albeit still wearing a pair of leather trousers, but with a bolt of colour and ethnic vibe from a brightly embroidered tote bag.

Guardian journalist, Hadley Freeman led the live discussion and managed to bring out, as the film does too, Iris’s appetite for life and her curiosity to seek interest and joy wherever she is.   While her distinctive style may be the outward demonstration of her personality, it is these qualities that really set her apart, not only as a fashion icon but as an individual comfortable in her own skin and in the knowledge of who she really is.  She is eminently quotable and so here are some pointers to the Iris philosophy, in her own, no-nonsense, terms.

“I like individuality….[if] everything is homogenised I hate it”. 20150321_114641Iris credits her mother, a fervent accessorizer, and her husband Carl, as the only people who have influenced her wardrobe choices.   Her exceptional style seems to have been recognised at an early age with a comment that she would never be pretty but did have great style. If that seems somewhat cruel, she has certainly had the last laugh. The film depicts very well the extraordinarily broad style ‘repertoire’ she commands. There are pictures of Iris in the 60s in psychedelic prints; in store appearances in Manhattan in chic black and white; we see her haggling for ethnic clothes and textiles; and there is even a shot of one of the church vestments from her collection. On her tiny frame, she carries off these varied styles through sheer force of personality married with an artists’ eye for proportion.

“Everything I have I go out and find: its not easy”. market in provence 2009She could have added, “…but its so much fun!” because her joy in market browsing and the thrill of the chase for a bargain are apparent, from a childhood experience of haggling for a 65c brooch to globe-trotting the world’s markets. During the Q&A discussion, she admitted that the best things she’s ever bought were either “dirt cheap or violently expensive”, which suggests she draws a double joy from clothes – the thrill of the bargain hunt as well as the heart-stopping moment of desire for the extravagance that cannot be denied. So next time I am undecided over a purchase, I’ll be subjecting it to the “Iris test”.

“[Carl’s] given me lots of space, except where its important: in the closet”. 20150803_191458The shots taken in Iris’s home seem to indicate that her wardrobe is co-existent with the living space. Trays of accessories sit on all surfaces and there are racks of clothes in garment bags. It is the polar opposite of minimalist but, as an expression of its owners’ personality, it is spot-on – a baroque-ethnic-disney-christmas fantasy land. Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, turned to Iris when an exhibition he’d been planning fell through at the last minute. The public response to the resulting show of Iris’s wardrobe and accessories, ‘Rare Bird of Fashion’, surprised him as visitors appreciated Iris’s sense of fun and joy expressed through her clothes. The show also produced a long-term relationship with Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum that now houses a growing collection of Iris’s clothes: in her own words, “you don’t own anything, you just rent”.

“Colour can raise the dead”. We’ve all experienced the transformative effect of a zingy shade but this is also a reminder to lighten up in all senses. In the film, photographer Bruce Weber describes Iris’s home as the perfect place for two children, crowded with toys and gadgets and decorated for Christmas for half of the year.   Iris herself reckons that her curiosity and sense of humour are the best gifts she has and wryly observes, “if you’re going to do the same damn thing every day, you might as well jump into the box yourself.”

Iris, rainbow goddess of fashion, we love you.