A Passion for Fashion – Kerry Taylor vintage fashion auction offers delights and a few surprises

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On 14 June, the specialist vintage fashion auctioneer,  Kerry Taylor, delivered another Passion for Fashion sale with a wonderful selection of classic and not so classic couture.  Assessing the results (available here) some interesting headlines emerged.

Royal tartan, however ugly, sells.  Pea-green tartan ensembles one worn by Princess Diana, the other worn by the Duke of Windsor both sold for spectacular amounts – £9,000 and £7,000 respectively.  This can be explicable only by their royal provenance – there was little else to recommend them.

Royal sequins sell even better. Princess Diana’s Catherine Walker sea-green sequinned evening gown sold for £80,000.  It came with the provenance of having been worn during a State visit to Austria in 1986 and it was really a super-heroine of a dress.

Yves Saint Laurent – both couture and pret-a-porter – continues to attract high prices.  A complete ‘Ballets Russes’ ensemble from the celebrated AW 1976-77 collection, including chiffon blouse, taffeta skirt, velvet belt and turban and silk stole, fetched £26,000.  An iconic lipstick print dress from 1971 was classic YSL and sold for £3,800.

John Galliano’s genius was reflected in the value attached to his earliest work.  The sale included 14 designs, spanning 17 years of the designer’s career from degree show to his first foray into haute couture for Givenchy and his later work for Christian Dior. The selection was particularly interesting because it was so rich in designs from his early career – 11 of the 14 ensembles pre-dated his 1996 move to Givenchy.  Topping the lot was an ‘Incroyables’ coat from Galliano’s degree show collection of July 1984, selling for £36,000. The rarity of a find like this is hard to over-state.  Few degree show pieces survive this long but the auction catalogue sets the context well.

Galliano’s degree show, ‘Les Incroyables & Les Merveilleuses’, was something of a ‘fashion moment’, which launched his career. The clothes were inspired by post French revolutionary dress, which Galliano had researched at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He said of this collection: ‘I was looking like this down-and-out French tramp. Living it, breathing it. Drawing by candlelight. Producing parchment paper stained with tea. Drawing with a calligraphy pen and sepia ink. I could just imagine these fantastic creatures marching, running across the wet shiny cobblestones of Paris….My show was very styled up when everyone else was being very minimalist – very Armani. The idea of these wonderful terrors tearing down aristocratic curtains and turning them into waistcoats and coats, inspired by the French Romantics’. The show took place at Jubilee Hall in Covent Garden. Each of the students showed half a dozen or so pieces each, and Galliano was selected by the lecturers as the grand finale. Joan Burnstein of leading London retailer Browns was watching in the audience. She recalled: ‘The atmosphere was so exciting. Some (of the 24 or so student collections) were pretty bad. Then, all of a sudden, these wonderful pieces came out.’ Galliano’s rebels strode out with white eye-shadow, frizzed and disheveled hair, held in place by knitted cotton headbands with revolutionary cockades and matching waist sashes. The frilly oversized shirts were worn under patterned waistcoats with pennies used as buttons, combined with giant frock coats, riding boots or flat leather shoes with large tongues and bows. Mrs Burnstein approached Galliano after the show, offering to buy the whole collection and giving over to him the Brown’s front windows. Occasionally waistcoats from this collection appear on the market (which were more easily combined into an everyday 1980s wardrobe) but very few of these swashbuckling coats seem to have been made and only two others are known to have survived – one of which was purchased at Browns by the singer Diana Ross.

There was also an oversized shirt from ‘The Ludic Game’ A/W 1985-86 that fetched £4,700 and two ensembles from the ‘Blanche Dubois’ collection for S/S 1988, a skirt and shirt that sold for £2,400 and a dress for £7,000. Another rare piece – a couture silk ballgown from Galliano’s brief period designing for Givenchy – sold for £17,000.  From his ‘Princess and the Pea’ collection for SS 1996, it was one of his first haute couture pieces.

Away from the headlines there were some beautiful vintage pieces

20160613_124039Visiting the auction rooms for a pre-sale viewing, I was struck by two items that I had failed to notice in the catalogue and one that I definitely had. I would not normally have picked out an Elizabeth Arden piece but the embroidered, late 50s cocktail dress stopped me in my tracks (see left and top).  Silver-grey organza covered with bugle beads and sequin flowerheads spread like the petals of a flower from a tiny 22 inch waist.  Amazingly it sold for £700, at the low end of its estimate of £700 – £1000.  Perhaps there were few small enough to fit into it.

Standing next to the Elizabeth Arden was another stunner: a Pierre Balmain couture evening gown, ‘Oriane’, from the AW 1954-55 collection (see right). Made of ivory and ice-blue satin,20160613_124106 with Lesage embroidery including bugle and pearl beads, small sea-shells and glass droplets it combined a classically elegant silhouette with some serious bling.  There is a similar dress in New York’s Metropolitan Museum collection, so it was no surprise that it exceeded its £800-£1,200 estimate to sell for £1,600.

A black Balenciaga couture Chantilly lace evening dress that I had on my wish list was even more beautiful in reality than the catalogue suggested and as eminently wearable and stunning today as it would have been in 1964. It sold for £1,700 against a £600-900 estimate. Also highly desirable were the 22 Christian Dior pieces, some haute couture, selling for four or five figure sums.  Chief among them was the beautiful black silk faille ball gown from the ‘Ailée’ (winged) line, A/W 1948 that sold for £15,000.

There were some surprises and some bargains

Lauren Bacall’s black satin dinner dress worn in the 1956 film, `Written on the Wind’ failed to find a buyer and overall it looks as if mid-century US designers were not popular – pieces by Maggie Rouff and Claire McCardell also failed to sell, despite being very wearable and classic designs. Were they overshadowed by the wealth of classic French couture on offer?

As I had predicted Chanel handbags were strong but reasonable buys – you could have picked up a Chanel handbag for £200! There was also a good selection of Chanel clothing, including a stunner of a bargain: a classic 1960 couture pale blue and black tweed coat for £400.  The sale also included several Hermes Kelly bags, some selling for less than £1,000.

There were two hats in the sale and it is always intriguing to see how these sell. A 1930s Jeanne Lanvin conical hat would have been my choice.  It sold for £180, below its £200-300 estimate.  There was also an eye-catching butterfly covered couture hat by Philip Treacy that reached £2,200.  I do wonder whether it was bought just in time for Ladies Day at Royal Ascot.

Kerry Taylor: a Passion for Fashion 14 June

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On 31 May at Christies’s Hong Kong bureau, a Himalaya Birkin bag broke records by selling for $300,000.  This is not just any second hand handbag and though not all vintage fashion items will attract such interest or financial value, it is a reminder that vintage fashion is big business, especially for items possessing a rarity and exceptional artisanship.

In London on 14 June, Kerry Taylor auctions will hold one of their Passion for Fashion auctions (view the catalogue here).  Headlines will be grabbed by memorabilia from the Duke & Duchess of Windsor (including a lovely brown alligator handbag), Madonna (an iconic Jean Paul Gaultier corset, and Bjork.  For me though, the jewels are always the couture pieces and the wonderful flapper dresses and evening coats.  Here are some of the treats to come this time around.

Top jewel has to be an extraordinary collection of 22 Dior ensembles of which 15 are haute couture, including a black silk faille ball gown, probably from the ‘Ailée’ collection of A/W 1948 (lot 99).  There are also haute couture pieces by Balenciaga, Balmain, Chanel, Callot Soeurs, Courrèges, Cardin, Charles James, Dessès, Galanos, Gernreich, Givenchy, Griffe, Lucile, Lanvin, Patou, Poiret, Piguet, Jenny, Madeleine de Rauch. It is truly a tour de force of couture.

There are also one or two true icons of twentieth century fashion.  There is a whole ensemble from Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Ballets Russes’ collection, A/W 1976-77 (lot 226).  There is also a rare ‘Incroyables’ coat from John Galliano’s degree show collection of July 1984, crowning an impressive range of his other work including pieces from ‘The Ludic Game’ A/W 1985-86, his A/W 1987-88 collection and ‘Blanche Dubois’ S/S 1988.

As usual there is also a great showing of Japanese designers including de-constructed examples from Rei Kawakubo’s S/S 1983, A/W 1983-84 and A/W 1984-85 collections.

My choices?  I’m longing for the YSL lipstick print dress from 1971 (lot 211), a Lesage embroidered bodice for Dior(?) from the late 50s/early 60s (lot 133), a Balenciaga couture black Chantilly lace evening dress c1964 (lot 151), a Comme des Garcons grey flecked tweed suit AW 1986 (lot 299) and a 1930s Jeanne Lanvin conical hat (lot 96).

Aside from these, I’ll be watching the Chanel items, especially those currently less on-trend, as in the past these have gone for very competitive prices.  I will also be fascinated to see what price is fetched by an incredible Philip Treacy couture hat.  I expect it will be an object of heated bidding.  Though perhaps the record will rest with the Hermes Birkin a little longer.

Hermes at full gallop

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Hermes, maker of some of the loveliest handbags on the planet, has announced that its annual theme this year is ‘nature at full gallop’ – a celebration of the energy and inspiration of nature.  Hermes itself also seems to be at full gallop – their 2015 annual results just released show an 18% rise in revenue.  The leather goods and saddlery product lines showed the strongest growth (13%), not only because those gorgeous handbags continue to be in hot demand but also thanks to two new workshops and a third on the way that will help to meet it.  Great news for all those languishing on the waiting lists.  Growth of 8% in their ready-to-wear and accessories lines also confirms the success of new womenswear designer, Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski and of Pierre Hardy, long-standing shoe designer, now also designing jewellery.

Why do people love this brand?  Certainly it evokes all the cultural power and sophistication of France as well as the full-beam glamour of the highest of high luxury.  Today’s customer demands more than this though.  We know when we’re being marketed to.  We know when a company just wants our dollars and then wants us out of the door.  Hermes maintains the loyalty of its customers because it is authentic and it is entertaining.  From their playful website animations to their highly creative, sometimes surreal window displays and their twice-yearly Monde d’Hermes manifesto that features arts and sustainability as much as products, it is a luxury brand with values, personality, and a certain friendliness.  Who else would bring us a furry motorcycle helmet?

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They stay close to their roots.  This month they sponsored the Saut Hermes showjumping event held at Paris’s Grand Palais – grand luxe and high style combined with equestrianism. As they observe themselves, the horse was their first customer (Thierry Hermes was a harness-maker when he started his company in 1837) but there has always been a certain glamour associated with equestrian sporting clothing and equipment.

Many of Hermes’s most sought-after handbags have a close link to saddlery. The Kelly and Birkin bags are both descended from hunting kit bags.  The Picotin is based on a nosebag and the Trim on a hay bag, the closure clip modelled on its hanging hook.  The Evelyne is based on a groom’s satchel.

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The testament to the quality of these designs is that these products, though luxurious, are designed before all else to be functional.  The beauty of the design lies in the clean lines, uncluttered by unnecessary decoration or detail.  The beauty of their function lies in their practicality but also in the extremely high standard of workmanship that means that they not only withstand regular use but look better as they age.  This is also what makes them so special when they are passed on between users.  Whether you inherit one from a relative or come by one second hand, like antique jewels a big part of their interest lies in the object’s own history. You can watch a pochette bag being made here.

A luxury business model based on artisanship, sustainability, artistry, practicality and a strict adherence to its roots and values is a rare thing today.  Perhaps these stellar commercial results will persuade more brands to adopt a similar profile.  If nature is to continue at full gallop, we must all hope so.

A vintage Chanel jacket for £220? Who needs the high street?

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Vintage fashion auctions can be fascinating events, highlighting current and new trends and always delivering surprises. Much can be explained by the participants and dynamics in the auction room itself and I’d be willing to bet that last week’s Kerry Taylor action of Antique and Vintage Fashion and Textiles was conducted in a room packed with vintage dealers, collectors, enthusiasts and period drama costumers.  On this occasion though, the ordinary consumer would have been the winner too with some highly desirable items going for extremely competitive prices – the vintage Chanel jacket in the title being a case in point.

There was a lot of “true” vintage in this sale with clothing and accessories from the early to mid-twentieth century. These lots all seemed to sell steadily, despite some being challenging to work into a modern wardrobe. There was also a strong contingent of pieces by Japanese designers – Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto – most of which fetched prices at the upper end of their estimates, suggesting buyers that appreciated them as important elements of fashion history. By contrast, an array of dresses by Bill Gibb and Ossie Clark fetched lower prices or even failed to sell, suggesting that the recent hot trending of these designers may be fading.

The driver for many of the sales seemed to be a desire to acquire important or landmark pieces. So if you had gone along, attracted by the pre-sale estimate of £400-600 for an original McQueen dress from the controversial AW 2006 Widows of Culloden collection, you might have been disappointed to see it sell for £1,300 (though still, to my mind, a bargain for an original McQueen). Similarly a number of Dior gowns from the 60s fetched four-figure prices. Though not landmarks, they were still beautiful and highly wearable.

Some of the biggest surprises in the sale were more modern pieces from Chanel, Hermes and YSL. If you were a bargain-hunter there were some incredible buys here. A beautiful ice blue and black Chanel jacket sold for £220; a YSL gold lame evening column for £380; an Hermes collier de chien belt in white ostrich for £200 and a printed silk shirt for £150. At these prices, why buy a mass manufactured high street item of inferior quality and design?

It was not only a sale to please the collector and the bargain-hunter. There were also some wonderful pieces for prospective brides or those looking for interesting eveningwear. Wonderful 1920s flapper dresses and slinky 1930s columns sold for prices comparable with the high street. These were exceptional, unique works of artisanship but surprisingly accessible prices.

So what would I have chosen? Pre-sale, I would have gone for the spectacular YSL gold lame evening column – an absolute classic of the designer’s style and a perennial stunner. It exceeded its £200-300 estimate to go for £380 but was still a great buy at that price. In retrospect, I would definitely have tried to acquire a marvellous Margiela deconstructued tuxedo trouser suit that failed to sell, or perhaps one of the very beautiful 1920s flapper dresses.

So if you are tempted to try your luck next time, the next sale will be a “Passion for Fashion” on 14 June. Look out for updates and early catalogue viewing on the Kerry Taylor website.

And if, like me, you are perpetually enchanted by 1920s flapper elegance, you’ll be delighted to learn that this Autumn’s big exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum will be dedicated to this particular period of fashion history. I’m already dusting off my cloche hat in expectation of a treat.

London Flaneuse (3): Mayfair

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Where Marylebone might boast an understated, genteel elegance, Mayfair is just full-beam glamour.  Start at its northern borders where Oxford Street turns into South Molton Street next to Bond Street underground station. South Molton street offers the legendary Browns boutique, founded in 1970 by Joan Burstein, famed for her expert eye for fashion and her uncanny ability to spot a promising new comer – she bought John Galliano’s entire graduation collection and put it in the shop window.

At the end of the street where it meets Brook street, look for a tiny alleyway almost directly opposite you.  Here you will find the Paul Smith Sale shop and it is always worth a browse.  The stock is mostly menswear, though there are usually some women’s accessories too.

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Heading back towards Bond street, you will be assailed with an array of luxury labels: Hermes, Smythson, Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton.  A brief diversion, turning left into Conduit street also offers Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood and Connolly (for luxurious leathergoods and meanswear).

The further south you go, the more the luxury quotient seems to rise, until you finally hit the jewels: Cartier, De Grisogno, Boodles, Tiffany, all arrayed around the Ralph Lauren flagship store.  I can never resist this one – even if only to soak up some of its atmosphere, redolent of one of Jay Gatsby’s parties.

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It is about time for some culture, so continue south to Piccadilly, via the jewel encrusted Burlington Arcade if your wallet can stand it, to the Royal Academy.  The Summer Exhibition is particularly exceptional as it shows hundreds of works from both amateur and professional artists together. It is truly a source of the unexpected and the eclectic and most of the works are for sale too.

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Finally, when you are in need of re-fuelling, turn your steps back up Berkeley street, past the legendary square and on to Brook street to find Claridges, the Art Deco gem of London hotels.  Afternoon tea is always popular, but my stilettos are pre-programmed to carry me to the Fumoir bar, possibly the only London bar with an artist-in-residence, acclaimed fashion illustrator, David Downton.  That sounds pretty much like a dream job to me.

Vintage Fashion Gold Standard

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On a recent trip to New York I discovered New York Vintage, deep in the heart of Chelsea and Manhattan’s garment district, steps away from the 26th St/6th Avenue fleamarket where I had been happily browsing for $5 vintage hats.  This is a revelation in vintage fashion: an extensive collection of museum quality pieces, available for direct purchase (or in some cases rental), presented in a high-end but chic boutique environment.  It is probably the best vintage fashion boutique I have encountered – scroll to the end to see my top 10.

When vintage clothing of this quality and preservation is available, why settle for a mass-manufactured high street buy of dubious quality and origins? Even better, what if that piece came with a story and a few mysteries of its own?  High street stores have become adept at using celebrity branding to hype and sell limited edition products.  Shoppers seem willing to overlook the discomfort of a long queue in the rain for a chance to surge through the shop doors in a crowd and take their chances in grabbing a piece of celebrity magic at a bargain price.

The vintage clothing market is a world away from this.  Recently, when I admired a stunning leopard print coat on a very glamorous lady, she told me she had acquired it long ago from a vintage dealer she visited regularly and who briefed her on the age and background of the pieces she bought.  She had no plans ever to relinquish her hold on this coat – it was a highly valued piece of her wardrobe, as much for its story and uniqueness as for its look.

So does provenance matter?  A resounding “yes” according to no less authority than the Musee Galliera: “…Fashion is not just a matter of clothes as such: knowledge of their provenance or of when they were worn is often essential to true appreciation” they declare on their website20150614_155523Provenance is also an essential element considered by auctioneers – Didier Ludot’s Couture auction with Sotheby’s in July included a number of items owned by luminaries like Lou Lou de la Falaise and Barbara Hutton.  In London, Kerry Taylor’s specialist fashion and textile auctions regularly feature items with interesting provenance.  At their October auction, a 1950s Christian Dior grey satin and tulle dress once worn by Scarlett Johansson sold for £7,500.  Provenance need not always mean celebrity connections: at the same sale a 1940s Utility suit reached a world record price of £1700, bought by a museum, keen to acquire a pristine example, unworn and with the original shop tag.

20130622_102304_1If we all started buying vintage what is the role for costume museums?  Already the most adventurous costume institutes and museums are changing the way they operate, prioritising their collections to seek specific items but also using their holdings to educate the public about the value of Haute Couture and artisan workmanship.  The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Museum in New York even publishes a wish list of the things it hopes to acquire that includes 1930s couture as well as work by Azzedine Alaia; Alber Elbaz for Lanvin; Bouchra Jarrar; Nicholas Ghesquire for Balenciaga; Alexander McQueen; Givenchy; Haider Ackermann; Jun Takahashi for Undercover; Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons; and Proenza Schouler.

Now we hear that the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris will collaborate with H&M next year on clothing and accessories inspired by their archive.  The collection will launch next spring as the museum opens a new exhibition: Fashion forward – Three centuries of fashion.

So does this bring us full circle?  Vintage fashion moves higher up the value chain into curated collections with museum quality garments, museums move into the mass market attempting to attract young fashion enthusiasts through their doors.  If it drives interest in the skills, artisanship and sheer hard work that has produced extraordinary examples of dress over the centuries then that has to be a good thing.

So which are the best vintage boutiques?  Here’s my list but what do you think?

  1. New York Vintage, 117 W 25th St, New York – crème de la crème in my view, top quality and incredible stock. Paradise.
  2. 20151121_112904The Gathering Goddess, by appointment in W London or online – a beautiful and varied collection including mid-twentieth century US designers less well-known in the UK alongside beautiful 70s pieces from YSL, Chloe, Lanvin and others.
  3. Pandora, Cheval Place, Knightsbridge, London – really a designer resale shop and great for clothes from the last few years, especially Chanel and Hermes.
  4. Les 3 Marches de Catherine B, 1 rue Guisarde, Paris – No true fan of Chanel and Hermes should miss this place, the ultimate place for bags and accessories.
  5. La Boutique, 1045 Madison Avenue, New York – great range of stock from recent resale to real vintage and a broad range of designers. I’ve found wonderful Rochas (Olivier Theyskens) pieces here as well as a good selection of costume jewellery
  6. A Second Chance, 1111 Lexington Avenue, New York – specialising in Chanel and Hermes, a great selection of high quality stock, including some beautiful camellia brooches last time I visited.
  7. Michael’s 1041 Madison Avenue, New York – stock includes some real treasures – landmark Mugler jackets from the 1980s, a good selection of Comme des Garcons and some stunning shoes.
  8. Fara, 6 Upper Tachbrook st, London – in fact a charity shop but with Chanel, Hermes, Dior and YSL originals nestling alongside the 70s psychedelia. Great for a curious rummage.
  9. Bang Bang, Goodge st and Drury lane, London – good for pieces from the last 2-3 decades including the more conceptual labels – Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons.
  10. La Double J, online – truly inspirational website showing vintage clothes styled with flair and imagination. Gorgeous and never fails to lift the spirits.

And the markets….

  1. 26th Street & 6th Avenue in New York – a double whammy here with an outdoor fleamarket at weekends opposite a covered market with dealers housed in their own space selling high end vintage. While there I spotted some amazing Chanel and Schiaparelli jewellery.
  2. Puces de Vanves and Puces de Clignancourt, Paris – Vanves better for a bargain but as ever, arrive early.
  3. Portobello road, London best on a Friday early as possible.
  4. Hammersmith Vintage Fair, first Sunday every month at Hammersmith Town Hall. Divine.
  5. Aix-en-Provence, go for antique clothing and textiles, crafts, antique watches. Best on a Thursday from early morning to dejeuner.

Noir

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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.

Loving Liberty

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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.

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.