Black is a wonderful way of combining rich textures and an endless source of inspiration to designers.

John Galliano’s Autumn-Winter 94-95 show was made up from a single roll of black satin, shown in a ghostly Paris mansion.  It evoked a jazz age glamour and it marked the turning point in his career: two years later he was appointed to Givenchy and then Dior. (Read more here.)

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Autumn-Winter 2010-11 collection for Hermes used black extensively to highlight texture.  Tuxedos, slinky satin columns, bowler hats and toppers all showed off a range of sleek black leathers offset by silver and gold hardware.

Paris Vogue’s September 2012 issue was entirely devoted to black, showing it styled in seductive lace and leather as well as in blown-out, abstract shapes reminiscent of the late eighties Japanese fashion of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto.

Marc Jacobs’s last collection for Louis Vuitton, for Spring-Summer 2014 was entirely black, featuring beautiful gothic-style beaded jackets, ostrich feather showgirl head-dresses, biker jackets.  It got a standing ovation.

This season, J Smith Esquire’s beautiful millinery is offering more black gorgeousness.  His bespoke goat nappa and silk Opera top hat was recently featured in Damien Foxe’s always inspirational styling for the Financial Times (here) and there is more on his website here.

No shade is more versatile, more chic, more enduring.  Just don’t form a dangerous addiction.

Philip Treacy, milliner extraordinaire and the allure of concealment


The publishers, Rizzoli are continuing their run of pre-Christmas releases of gorgeousness with a new book about the milliner, Philip Treacy.  It is a truly beautiful tome and last week Treacy appeared in person at the London bookshop Foyles to talk about his techniques, inspirations and clients with Alex Fury.

20151020_193314 Treacy is a marvellous story-teller and highly articulate about design and the relationship between millinery, craft, art and fashion – a relationship taken to its extremes in some of his creations, from ram’s horns to Roswell.  He sees millinery as an artisan craft, much more associated with hands-on sculpting than 2D design.  Though a very modern milliner, he still uses traditional, handcrafting techniques to make his hats, even when using innovative processes like 3D printing.  He starts by folding and draping on a doll in his atelier, before developing a model to be sent to a specialist in Paris to be turned into a mold around which the finished article is shaped (see picture, above).

Where does the inspiration come from?

“Every hat I have ever made has begun in my mind as a photograph.  I can see it on the model, at the right angle, before I even begin.”

Treacy talked with passionate enthusiasm about the photographers and models who have inspired his designs, notably Christy Turlington, who supported him in staging his first couture millinery show in Paris in 1994, and Linda Evanglista, whose portrait appears on the book’s cover.  He also draws inspiration from the things around him: objects or news stories.  He has designed hats inspired by Warhol’s soup cans, orchids, even the Roswell incident but one of the themes that he consistently returns to is the mask or veil, drawing on old movies or ethic headdress.

“Concealment can create allure.”

20151020_195728It surely can and it was interesting to hear Treacy talk about his approach to customers.  These have included famous and very flamboyant hat-wearers – Isabella Blow, Grace Jones, Daphne Guinness, Lady Gaga.  His relationship with each helps him to design pieces that project their personality as well as flattering their looks.  In fact he approaches millinery as problem-solving for his client.  Customers come to him unsure of what they want or unsure about whether they can carry-off a hat.  His task is to help, re-assure and boost confidence in his clients.  This is something we’ve heard from other highly successful designers from Yohji Yamamoto to Yves Saint Laurent: their desire to use their product to help the customer reach their potential is the root of their success.  (Incidentally it is also a sentiment that comes across clearly in Betty Halbreich’s fantastic fashion memoir, “I’ll Drink to That”, about her legendary career as Bergdorf Goodman’s Personal Shopper).

We were also treated to some fascinating anecdotes about PT’s clients – the hat he made for Isabella Blow with a brim so vast she only just managed to manoeuvre her way into an event; the gory origins of the ram’s horns used in his first collaboration with Alexander McQueen at his AW 1996 Dante show, sourced from Isabella’s prize-winning Soay herd; or his introduction to Karl Lagerfeld’s atelier, faced not only with the legendary Couturier but a bevy of super-models and equally super photographers (Meisel, Newton, Ritts….).  No surprise then that when asked what he’d do differently if given his time again, he couldn’t think of a thing.

He is an inspiration on many fronts: his creativity and modern approach to millinery; his ability to build and maintain relationships with clients and colleagues; and his confidence in preserving traditional craftsmanship alongside innovative techniques.   Most impressive of all though, are his extraordinary services to the craft of millinery itself.  Alongside his forbear, Stephen Jones and their mentor Sheila Hix, they have resurrected hat-wearing, made the world a more interesting and colourful place and made their clients feel ready to conquer the world.  That’s quite an achievement.

Loving Liberty


Let’s start with a pretty amazing fact: Liberty has 43,000 prints in its archive.  Luckily they are not all on show at the London Fashion and Textile Museum’s new show, Liberty in Fashion but there is an inspiring selection highlighting the trends that Liberty fabrics have inspired since Arthur Lasenby Liberty founded the business 140 years ago.  Liberty’s current Managing Director, Ed Burstell, points to this fact to demonstrate the power of a consistent vision. Promoted to his position after private equity firm, Blue Gem Capital bought Liberty in 2010, he is acutely conscious of the commercial value of its heritage but equally firm in his resolve to remain authentic to the brand and somewhat eccentric reputation of the store.

20151022_180224He has initiated a series of wildly successful collaborations that have put Liberty prints onto Hermes scarves, Doc Martens boots, Nike trainers, Levis jeans and Terry de Havilland platforms and, at a recent appearance in conversation with FTM’s Celia Joicey, hinted that another was to come next spring with a big high street retailer beginning with “U”.

Mr Burstell has just published his memoirs, At Liberty, and they are a great read because he is a rather amazing character.  In person he is charismatic, but with the suggestion that there is much more going on behind his piercing gaze than he might say.  He is the most unlikely accountant you may ever meet but retail is his passion and he is extremely good at it.  He came to Liberty in 2008 as Buying Director after already working in many of the glitziest names in New York stores: Bloomingdales, Henri Bendel, Bonwit Teller and ultimately Bergdorf Goodman.  He says he was attracted to Liberty because his skill is in building or re-building businesses.

20150815_100135 He has certainly transformed Liberty, re-opening the scarf hall, front and centre on the Ground Floor; devoting an entire floor to the famous fabrics, and introducing a new generation of customers to its delights through the UK TV documentary series and through the brand collaborations.  He still isn’t finished: he wants to develop the roof space into something beautiful – a garden, a club, a restaurant?  He wants to sell the fabrics to other international department stores.  He would love to collaborate with Lanvin or Marc Jacobs.  As he talks about these ideas he becomes more and more animated, exuding verve and excitement.  When asked why he doesn’t start his own business he seems genuinely surprised by the question and it is clear that Liberty is still capturing his imagination.

He is also admirably committed to identifying and supporting design and artisan talent with Liberty’s Best of British Open Call.  Since 2009, this annual event has given designers and craftworkers the opportunity to pitch their products to have them showcased on Liberty’s shelves. Some have gone on to become best-selling brands for the store, including Alexandra Mann printed washbags, Silken Favours’s gorgeously kitsch silk prints and True Rocks jewellery.  So clearly, the benefits are felt as much by Liberty as by the artisans.  What is his advice to young designers, emerging from college?  The retail sector is a tough environment: don’t rush to start your own label but take your time, serve an apprenticeship with an established brand and learn as much as you can about the commercial side of fashion.  It is advice that comes from a retailer that helped to support designers like Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto and Alice Temperley but also from hard experience in the rapidly evolving retail environment.

So what is the secret of Mr Burstell’s success?  “Continue to be curious about life.”  It is a sentiment at the heart of Liberty’s culture too, selling vintage and ethnic objects alongside avant guard and emerging designers.  In Mr Burstell it has found its ideal champion.

20151022_175657Liberty in Fashion is at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum until 28 February 2016.  It features some wonderful clothing: a gorgeous blue velvet opera coat; an array of 1940s print tea dresses like a magnificent bouquet; punchy 1960s floral prints;20151022_175737 soft-focus 1970s bohemian dresses; and a pair of seriously lovely Jimmy Choo heels.  There is also a room dedicated to the Liberty fabric designers, Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell, responsible for some of the most iconic prints.

Chanel’s Metiers d’Art: Lemarie, artisans of the camellia


Though it was founded in 1880, it is doubtful that any of us would have heard of Lemarie unless Chanel had acquired it in 1996 and promoted its extraordinary craftsmanship, most notably via their annual order of around 40,000 Chanel camellias.

Mademoiselle Prive at London’s Saatchi Gallery gives us a craftsman’s eye view of Lemarie’s work and even enables those lucky enough to book a workshop, to try their hand at it.

20151017_105911Lemarie started as a supplier of feathery confections to belle epoque hats, one of over 300 similar suppliers in Paris alone.  Fashions changed and by 1946, they had diversified into a range of fabric manipulations, including flower-making, ruching, pleating and smocking.  Their association with Chanel began in the 1960s, when they were commissioned to make their first Chanel camellia and the rest is history.

20151017_110030Today, from their Pantin atelier on the outskirts of Paris, they produce 30-40 flower samples for Chanel each season and then produce the 10-20 styles that are chosen for the collections.  All their work is done by hand – each camellia is made up of a minimum of 16 petals and a basic version takes around an hour to make. The petals are cut and shaped using a technique unchanged since the 19th century.  Then the flower is assembled with each petal overlapping its neighbours and attached with brass wire to its stem.  Most complicated of all are the frayed tweed camellias that can feature multiple layers of frayed and fringed tweed, attached individually to the petals of the flower.20151017_110125

Why a camellia?  It was Coco Chanel’s favourite flower.  An early 1913 photograph shows her with one pinned to the belt of one of her innovative jersey suits and it is possible to see the camellia’s shape reflected in Chanel’s designs from the early 1920s.  Chanel also drew design inspiration from masculine dress codes, in this case adopting the buttonhole flower.  The camellia’s simple, white, geometric shape also, of course contrasted beautifully with a little black dress.

Today that simple design provides the template for the exceptional artistry of Lemarie – every flower a handcrafted artwork in its own right.

See them before 1 November at Mademoiselle Prive at London’s Saatchi Gallery and online here.

Chanel’s Metiers d’Art: Lesage, Haute Couture embroiderers


Chanel’s Mademoiselle Prive exhibition showcases the work of two of its Metiers d’Art ateliers, Lesage and Lemarie.  Since 1985, Chanel has been acquiring the artisan workshops* that supply the crucial ingredients for its Haute Couture, to preserve their skills and keep them close to the Chanel atelier.  Housed today in a modern industrial complex in Pantin in the Paris suburbs, the artisans remain free to work with other clients but benefit from the investment, support and promotion that Chanel brings them.

Lesage was founded in 1924 when Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage bought a small embroidery workshop.  They have worked with legendary couturiers: Vionnet, Worth, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix.  Chanel had established an in-house team of embroiderers in 1921 to supply the Russian-inspired work for her collections at the time and, no doubt, to emulate Jeanne Lanvin, a fellow female couturier in Paris, renowned for the exquisite embroidery of her dresses (recently shown to magnificent effect by the Palais Galliera, read more here).  It was Lesage’s association with Elsa Schiaparelli, however that also prevented Coco Chanel herself from working with them, such was the intensity of her rivalry with the Italian surrealist designer.

20151017_105439Today, Lesage collaborates closely with Karl Lagerfeld as he develops Chanel’s Haute Couture and Metiers d’Art collections.  Given the theme for each collection, they produce sample swatches and then the chosen products, working on communal worktables.  They draw inspiration from an archive boasting over 75,000 items of embroidery and since 1992, Lesage has operated an embroidery school to ensure a continuous feed of skilled workers to keep their art alive.

20151017_105536For a lucky few, Mademoiselle Prive offers the chance to experience a Lesage worker’s art by attending a workshop session.  For those of us unlucky in the workshop lottery, there is still the wonder of experiencing examples of their extraordinary embroidery at close quarters and marvelling at the sheer skill and endurance required to produce this exceptional artistry.

See it at Mademoiselle Prive at London’s Saatchi Gallery before 1 November – see more online here.  Next to come, Lemarie’s artistry of the camellia.

* The list includes: Desrues (buttons and costume jewellery, acquired 1985); Lemarie (feathers and flowers, acquired 1996); Maison Michel (hats, acquired 1996); Lesage (embroidery, acquired 2002); Massaro (shoes, acquired 2002); Goossens (fine jewellery, acquired 2005); Guillet (flowers, acquired 2006); Montex (embroidery, acquired 2011); Barrie (cashmere, acquired 2012).

Mademoiselle Prive – behind the gilded facade


Chanel’s Mademoiselle Prive exhibition, currently at London’s Saatchi Gallery (until 1 November) is a total Chanel immersion. Those who are already fans will revel in it but there’s also something here for the uninitiated.  This show gives us the woman behind the brand.  Though never explicitly shown, the orphanage of Obazine lurks in every gilded room.  Chanel created herself and she created a myth, driven by the extreme hardship of her childhood.  Her defiance, her uncompromising vision and her appreciation of art and artisans come across in every room.

The show also highlights the work of two of Chanel’s Metiers d’Art artisans – Lesage the embroiderer and Lemarie, provider of feathers and flowers.  Two more posts will follow, focusing on their extraordinary work.

20151017_103116The whole show has been beautifully staged.  You enter by a small hallway whose walls depict Chanel’s Coromandel screens – the lacquered black and gold opulence with which she surrounded herself in her Ritz apartment.

20151017_102023From there you move into the brilliant light of her mirrored stairway from the 31 Rue Cambon showroom.  Chanel would perch, unseen, at the top, watching the shows and clients down below.

20151017_102255We are reminded that, like her fellow female couturier Jeanne Lanvin, Chanel started as a milliner.  This was tantamount to being an all-round stylist in today’s terms.  In the early twentieth century hats were an essential item, around which one built an outfit, as well as being a status item rather like handbags today.

After hats, came the clothes and the famous jersey suits and little black dresses.  Then on 1 November 1932, Chanel presented her first (and only) fine jewellery collection in her own apartment.  The diamond-encrusted ‘afternoon’ jewellery was shown on wax models and pinned on berets, fur hats and capes.  Over the course of the month, 30,000 visitors came and went, mesmerised and somewhat scandalised by the glitz and the total estimated value of 93 million francs.

The stones had come from the International Diamond Guild, keen to promote sales.  Chanel had worked on the designs with the illustrator Paul Irbe (her lover as well as design collaborator) and had drawn inspiration from the night skies and her own world of couture: star-bursts, comets, bows, feathers.


Re-created by Chanel’s modern-day fine jewellery artisans, we see them here, tantalisingly close.  Mannequins in Haute Couture wear the jewels and stand on a raised podium, protected by an elaborate alarm system and an array of black-clad men that emerge from the shadows if it is set off (and it is – no one can resist moving in for a close-up photo).

The Haute Couture is displayed to magnificent effect.  Translucent lace dresses on crystal mannequins lit from within show us inside and outside simultaneously.  Don’t they say that an Haute Couture garment is as beautiful on the inside as on the outside?  Here is the chance to see for ourselves.  These dresses seem to hover in mid-air like supernatural beings, a breed apart from the mortal visitors surrounding them.  Black lace, tulle, gold chains, embroidered and embellished surfaces combine to exceptional effect.20151017_104731

This is a breath-taking show, not to be missed so if you are in London, be sure to see it at the Saatchi Gallery before 1 November.  If not, you can still catch some of the sense of it online here.

Coming next – posts on Lesage, supplier of Chanel embroidery, and Lemarie, creator of feathers and the famous Chanel camellias.  What is it like to work behind the scenes creating Haute Couture and how do they survive in the 21st century?

India and the joy of colour


Colour has meaning in India.

A friend of mine, born in Rajasthan, tells me that each community has adopted a different colour and pattern for men’s turbans, to serve as a visual identifier for that community. A Hindu bride is identified by the red coloured Bandhani (tie-dye) print of her sari, whilst a yellow bandhani print indicates that its wearer is a mother. A widow wears a black garment (a Jimi) with designs only around the borders.

In India, colour assaults you on all sides – on trucks, buildings, shops and above all, on saris, turbans and all forms of clothing. It is a visual feast. It is a great pity that London’s Victoria and Albert Museum’s new Fabric of India show fails to convey this. It is a scholarly exhibition covering the history and techniques of fabric production in India. There are some beautiful garments lurking in semi-darkened rooms, confined to glass boxes, watched over by an army of security guards that threatened to outnumber visitors on the day I was there. The whole atmosphere is of subdued restraint – almost the complete opposite of the sense one actually gets from visiting India itself.

Luckily, Selfridges is supplying a far more imaginative and vibrant way of experiencing India’s love of colour, fabric and fashion at its Selfridges Loves India event, including its pop-up for cult Mumbai boutique, Bombay Electric. 20151012_123020Selfridges’ focus is firmly on the future, featuring young Indian and British designers. From the Brits, there is a series of limited edition saris made by Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto, Roksanda Illincic, Nicholas Kirkwood and Mawi (see right).

Indian design talent includes labels like Morphe, Miuniku and Rashmi Varma. There is also a dazzling display of accessories, handmade in India and a spectacular scarf wall featuring pashminas, silk and Khadi (handcrafted) cotton scarves hanging from “hands” protruding from the wall in the 8 mudras or hand gestures for meditation.  It is a really creative and thoughtfully-presented display.

The young Indian designers on show here are the most impressive feature by far, though.

Miuniku is designed by sisters Tina and Nikita, born and still based in Mumbai. Since graduating from London College of Fashion in 2013, where they won the Fashion Innovation Award, they were semi- finalists of the H&M Design Awards 2014 and won the Special Jury Prize at the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers 2014. It is hard to believe that they have only produced two collections when you look at their designs. I immediately fell in love with a lilac wool coat with blocks of colour and glitter applique and an extremely flattering shift dress in colour-blocked style, embellished with beads and with a trompe d’oeuil tie at the hips. Both beautifully flattering designs, in eye-catching colours, but easy to wear – the kind of stand-out pieces one can imagine wearing and cherishing for years.

Also launched in 2013, Rashmi Varma’s label draws on India’s traditional artisan crafts to create strikingly modern designs. She works with craft organisations and directly with artisans on beautiful garments that show off India’s handwoven cottons & silks, hand dying, embroidery and sari-style pleating and draping. At Selfridges you can see her Bihar sari dress.  Sewn in sari style, it is fitted but super-flattering with a high waist and draped skirt ending in a long frontal train that loops back around the body and over the shoulder. It is a genius hybrid of style – flattering, slinky, modest but with a very sinuous line.

Morphe, designed by Central St Martins graduate Shenali Sema, is a highly contemporary collection that produces designs that play with silhouettes and fabrics. Their collection at Selfridges includes blue culottes in a super-soft neoprene with a matching baseball-style jacket or, more classically pretty, blouses and tops in semi-translucent fabrics in the style of the choli, the traditional Indian bodice worn under the sari. For a more dramatic entrance, there were dresses and tops in magnificent gold brocaded prints.

20151012_123059Selfridges loves India and it really shows. It continues, online and in store until December. For the sheer exuberance of contemporary Indian design and pure colour energy it is the closest you can get to India without actually leaving London.

So what will we be wearing in 2016?

sissinghurst 10 april 2011 016

And will it be Tudor-inspired?  More of that later.

Fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris have just showcased designers’ collections for Spring-Summer 2016.  Buyers have committed their budgets, journalists are determining the trends they will highlight, and designers are considering where they go from here to Autumn-Winter 2016-17.  So what will we see in Vogue’s March 2016 issue, and even more interesting, what might be the trends that emerge and persist into Autumn next year?

New York designers know their customer.  A rich tradition of trunk shows and a strong commercial vein leave little room for wild experimentation.  Jo Ellison at London’s Financial Times highlighted the prettiness of collections from Givenchy, showing silk and lace slips; richly embellished fabrics at Proenza Schouler; 70s Stevie Nicks inspiration at Rodarte; a rose-themed collection from Carolina Herrera, and a Spanish feel at Oscar de la Renta.  Crisp shirts and simple shapes were mixed with a richness and embellishment as this season’s romantic theme continues.  Marc Jacobs first collection since consolidating his label’s main and subsidiary lines will get heavy exposure, especially in the US press – it was a joyous celebration of US culture and a riot of beautiful fabrics and colour.

London had its share of glitter and glamour too.  Gareth Pugh’s show featured showgirls and a Cabaret-esque 1930s glitz; there were beautiful floral printed and embellished romantic dresses from Erdem and Marques Almeida but there was also graphic and modernist colour from Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane.  Stylist magazine loved the variety of textiles: plastic and lace from Christopher Kane; Faustine Steinmetz’s glorious embellished denim (see more here); and Erdem’s feather-like frayed chiffons. The London Daily Telegraph liked Preen by Thornton Bregazzi’s ballet-inspired collection and Emilia Wickstead’s “playful and daring” clashing colours and prints.  One of the most-admired pieces was Giles’s astonishing fan-vaulted gowns in a collection that seemed to have been inspired by Tudor and Stuart court dress.  They were simply stunning, in construction as well as visual effect.

Fendi in Milan picked up a similar theme, showing dramatically ballooning sleeves, lavish collars and leather like armour: “an ode to the tudor rose” in Vogue’s Suzy Menkes’s words. Opinions were divided on Prada’s show.  London’s Financial Times and Daily Telegraph gave it a cool reception but Stylist pronounced the boxy 60s skirt suits “the hit of 2016”. It was certainly an eclectic collection, featuring flapper-styles as well as 50s and 60s shapes and some 70s wallpaper prints.  Gucci delivered another eclectic, colour and print packed show and its probably safe to say that both Prada and Gucci’s eclecticism will feature strongly in Spring’s trends: vintage-chic continues to run as a trend.

Paris gave us everything.  The more conceptual labels offered blue witches at Comme des Garcons, more wonderful 3D sculpting at Sacai and a theme of reclamation and utility at Maison Margiela.  Dries van Noten, Lanvin, Yohji Yamamoto and McQueen were all praised by Vogue’s Suzy Menkes for the sheer beauty of their collections, featuring respectively lavishly embellished fabric clashes, simply elegant black, frilled lingerie-inspired clothes, and frills, flowers and translucence.

So Autumn’s romantic trends look set to persist into next spring, though perhaps with stronger colour and more bold print clashing and eclecticism.  The magazines might also pick up on some of the ballet-themed collections to showcase frilled, translucent, lingerie-inspired gowns.  There will probably continue to be a vintage focus, perhaps especially with a more historical feel.  Grunge will also feature, echoing new label Vetements’s collection – influential now that its lead designer, Demna Gvasalina has been recruited to Balenciaga.

Continuity is only part of the story though.  One of the most interesting new ideas featured in this round of shows was the tudor influence at Giles and Fendi.  As innovative fabrics and technologies like 3D printing enable more architectural shapes, like the amazing Giles fan-vaulted gowns, I wonder whether we will see more in this vein.  I would never have expected to find myself yearning to wear a gown inspired by a ceiling support but fashion at its best inspires us with the unexpected, the innovative, the dramatically desirable.

La Mode aime le Jardin du Palais Royal

20151003_145227I want Paris to vibrate to the rhythm of fashion week

These were the words with which Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo launched the “La Mode aime Paris” campaign, a €60m campaign to highlight Paris Fashion Week but also to deliver longer term support to design schools and the renovation of the Palais Galliera, Paris’s preeminent Fashion museum.

On a gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon during PFW, it certainly did feel as if the city’s fashion heartbeat was pounding with a new intensity. Paris fashion has been accused of a certain fustiness – a little aloof, a little conservative, a little formal or stuck in the past. If that were ever justified, things seem to be changing.

The Jardin du Palais Royal, opposite the Louvre Museum, is a beautiful courtyard colonnaded on four sides by rows of picturesque shop fronts. It is undergoing renovations and an aura of dust gives the place a soft focus look, helping to obscure some of the construction machinery and gutted interiors. I had come on a pilgrimage to the legendary Parisian vintage boutique, Didier Ludot. 20151003_143405It is an extraordinary place – tiny interiors absolutely crammed full of fashion treasure – a patchwork YSL cape, jewel-encrusted 1960s gowns, pastel Courreges modernist suits (ancestors of Prada’s beautiful Autumn-Winter collection), Hermes handbags, Chanel camellias, Dior jewellery. The place has a slight Grimm Brothers feel – a fairy godmother might appear at any moment, bearing a Dior New Look original.

Emerging from this heady atmosphere, I continued walking around the edges of the courtyard and found it populated with a series of pop-up shops. From trendy coffee bars, to Scandinavian embroidered tunic dresses, to Japanese fashion, to footwear and other accessories, the courtyard was filled with small, independent shops and businesses. It was a diverse, vibrant and inspiring scene. 20151003_145603Entering one of the boutiques, P.A.R.O.S.H., drawn in by a gorgeous silk tartan dress in the window, I overheard them telling another customer that they had only been open for a week, but were clearly already attracting lots of interest and attention.

If I lived in Paris, this is a place I would be drawn back to repeatedly: a historic courtyard garden; a welcoming public space for people to sit or walk and chat; intriguing and diverse shops and cafes. It may be that the location has been offered as a pop-up venue just for the duration of its renovation but I hope not. Initiatives like this bring benefits on all sides – small businesses gain exposure and feedback, customers are drawn in to find the new and unusual, retailers network and learn from each other and exchange visitor feedback.

If this is the immediate effect of “La Mode aime Paris” then bravo Madame Hidalgo! Take courage from this inspiring insight into one of the many ways that supporting innovation and new entrants can breathe new life into Paris’s historic heart and traditions.

Looking for couture detailing with a commercial edge? Welcome to the London Show Rooms


Whether it is New York, London, Milan or Paris, every Fashion Week has its own character but ask any industry insider which is the most important, the answer will be “Paris”. Coming at the end of the cycle of shows and presentations, Paris is where the store buyers make their decisions. That is why the British Fashion Council’s London Show Rooms is so valuable to the 20 or so participating designers. For the duration of Paris Fashion Week, they present their collections to buyers from all over the world, talking through their concepts and hoping they attract orders from some of the greatest stores and boutiques around the world.

When I dropped in last Saturday it was a hub of activity and the designers were reporting strong interest, especially from US and Asian buyers. This is not surprising given the sheer impact these clothes and accessories make when you come face-to-face with them. It underlined for me the importance of omni-channel selling for these goods: it is great to send high quality images to buyers but this will never convey the workmanship, beauty and artistry that these clothes transmit.

Faustine Steinmetz recycles20151003_112346 denim. This sounds unexciting until you see what she does with it. A pleated halterneck caresses the body’s curves; pleated and treated denim is made into a capacious “hammock”-style shoulder bag; a simple white t-shirt is sprinkled with hand-embroidered flowers; an extraordinary ivy-wreath writhes down one side of a jacket. The ivy-wreath took a month to “grow” leaf by leaf, thread by thread, woven and embroidered around wire. It may not have the formal appellation of Haute Couture but these are couture skills on show.

Mary Benson has produced one of the prettiest collections that hides a dark secret, inspired by the break-up of a relationship. Pink and mauve hearts literally flutter, attached to a red jacket; dresses and jackets bear shimmering vinyl manuscript detailing heartbreak; a layered tulle skirt reveals roses at its base. These are the kind of clothes that could create frenzied scenes amongst a “Lolita” fashion crowd but they are also absolutely attuned to current trends for romantic, Victorian-inspired gowns.

Before my visit I’d read reports of Molly Goddard’s show. Instead of striding down a catwalk, the models made sandwiches. It is certainly one way of conveying the source of inspiration: nostalgia for childhood clothes and comforts. My eye was immediately drawn to a smocked tartan dress that took me straight back to a childhood Christmas. It is a brilliant concept: artistic, nostalgic, instantly appealing to customers and very commercial. And I have to get that dress….

Seeing Marta Jakubowski’s collection in pictures conveys its minimalist lines but does not suggest any of the beauty of its draping. Her theme was “connection” and the clothes all feature splits and draping that play on this theme. It had Hollywood glamour, East Coast languor, New York edge and if I were a States-sider, I’d be stocking my entire wardrobe with it.

As if this were not enough, there are accessories: Fleet Ilya’s highly eye-catching leather bags and belts and Piers Atkinson’s exuberant headgear. I’m an unashamed hat addict and could hardly drag myself away but what I loved about this label was the emphasis on fun. This really is how to encourage more people to wear hats. Whether you want a seriously seductive cat-eared lace veil for a masked ball, or a My Little Pony headpiece for a girls’ night, these hats are all conversation-starters.

Experiencing all these pieces in glorious 3D, touching them, hearing their designers talk so passionately about the care spent in crafting them leaves an indelible memory. The London Show Rooms provide an exceptional opportunity for buyers as much as designers: closer and more personal than a catwalk, couture-like techniques on show, direct dialogue with designers and a single source of wide-ranging talents and design maturities.

If there are any buyers that haven’t discovered the London Show Rooms yet, they are doing grave disservice to their customers. Get down to Le Loft immediately.