Thursday 9 May 2013

Saturday 23 March 2013

David Bowie Is: Living curiosity and fashion legend

Peter Frankopan, a Historian at Oxford University, writing for Huffpost Culture, compares Bowie to a living saint: “I'll be packing off my students to see it - if they can get tickets, that is,” he says, “as it is the perfect example for anyone wanting to understand medieval religion. The record-breaking crowds that will flock to see the show will be like pilgrims visiting a shrine of an important saint: here is the outfit Bowie wore when he sang Starman on Top of the Pops; there are the lyrics, written in his own hand, for Rebel Rebel. There is the printed itinerary of the train journey across the eastern US, with stop-offs to the end of the line before the rest of the trip was by car and van. They are like relics belonging to a holy man, objects to be admired.”

You have to be pretty saintly to stand in a queue for an hour to see an exhibition  - and that was just on the preview day.  But it’s well worth it to see the costumes alone – many of them designed or co-designed by Bowie himself.

The fashion legend and living curiosity that is David Bowie started out as plain old David Jones in London’s Brixton. He passed his 11+ but, instead of going to grammar school, attended Bromley Technical High School, where he specialized in music and art. He says that if he hadn’t become a singer, he would like to have been a writer. The V and A’s Bowie Is exhibition (in partnership with Gucci) is a testament to Bowie’s skill as a multi-disciplinarian - as a lyricist, musician, artist and fashion designer. Above all, it illustrates the extent of Bowie’s impact on style and culture – an influence spanning over five decades.

Many of Bowie’s 1970s costumes were inspired by the space travel that captured the popular imagination of the day – from Willy Brown’s late 1970s jumpsuit with le Corbusier-inspired line drawings that Bowie wore as Major Tom to the quilted two piece suit he performed Starman in (above), and set designer Mark Ravitz’s avant garde outfit for the Man Who Sold the World.

But the inspiration for Bowie’s dress came from a multitude of other sources too – including the film A Clockwork Orange, the glam rock genre, edgy Weimar Republic cabaret, Japanese kabuki, German expressionist films and Hindu style bindis (like the colourful third eye on the cover of Aladdin Sane).  

Standout items include a replica of the Ziggy Stardust bodysuit designed by Bowie and Freddie Burretti, and an appliqued satin cloak and platform boots by Kansai Yamamoto – not forgetting Yamamoto’s extraordinary Tokyo bodysuit at the show's entrance (above top). Yamamoto famously declared that his clothing suited Bowie because his designs could be worn by either sex. Curiously, the Japanese words on Yamomoto’s cloak spell out David Bowie, but translate as, ‘one who spits out his words in a fiery manner.’

Other famous costumiers include Thierry Mugler, and Natasha Korniloff - responsible for Bowie’s curious 1973 cobweb costume with fake hands. The cobweb costume originally had a third hand, which grasped at the crotch, but this was censored for an appearance on television - and gold leggings were added to preserve decency. Korniloff also created Bowie’s naval look (1978) and his famous Pierrot style costume (1980).

The late Ola Hudson, mother of Guns N Roses' Slash, was another regular contributor to what is now Bowie’s fashion archive (and reputedly his lover too). Alison Chitty’s design for Screaming Lord Byron (1984), Freddie Buretti’s Ice Blue Suit (below) for Life on Mars (1972) and Ravitz’s ‘skirt suit and poodle’ for an appearance by Bowie on Saturday Night Live are among the unique outfits. There’s a fab black suit with a frilled shirt by Georgio Armani from the 1990 Sound and Vision tour, a blue silk suit by Hedi Slimane – and accessories include a single dangly earring by Vivienne Westwood.

A wardrobe mood board (from 2003?) list Bowie’s school-boyishly svelte measurements: chest 34.5 inches, waist 26.5 inches and neck size 14. Being so trim may well have contributed to Bowie’s longevity as a performer and fashion icon.

From the mid ‘90s, Alexander McQueen was a significant contributor to the Bowie wardrobe too. It’s a shame you can’t see some of the fabrics more clearly, as parts of the exhibition space are presented like a dimly lit music venue, but McQueen’s designs include a number of frock coats, brocade jackets, a tyre-print suit and a Bowie’s famous Union Jack coat for the Earthling album cover (co-designed with Bowie in 1997).

Finally, ShopCurious has some tips for visiting the show: Leave longer than you anticipate for a visit to this exhibition – especially if your car is parked on a meter. The headphones supplied to all visitors take a little getting used to – if you find yourself stuck with Gilbert and George, just press the magnifying glass symbol (seemed to work for me, anyway). Oh, and be prepared to queue.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Fashion Designs of the Year

The Designs of the Year 2013 exhibition opens at London’s Design Museum tomorrow. Now in its 6th year, the show is considered to be the Oscars of the international design world. A panel, consisting of respected members of the design community from a variety of disciplines, including museum curators, journalists and architects is asked to nominate projects, which then make up the shortlist. The overall Design of the Year will be announced this Friday. 

At the press launch, some of the jury members - Nicholas Roope, Griff Rhys Jones and Johanna Agerman Ross - posed alongside a life-size model of Yayoi Kusama, whose curiously dotty designs for Louis Vuitton are on the shortlist. Others on the fashion shortlist include the vintage Balenciaga-inspired Anna Karenina costumes, designed by Jacqueline Durra; Giles Deacon’s A/W12 womenswear collection; Craig Green’s AW12 collection; Prada’s S/S12 RTW collection, Proenza Sshcouler’s A/W12 collection, Comme des Garcons RTW A/W12 range and two short films directed by Lisa Immordino and Elisha Smith-Leverock.

Categories encompass architecture, furniture, digtial, graphics, transport, product and fashion. With 90 or so nominations, including Heatherwick Studio’s celebrated Olympic Cauldron, The Shard and a 3D printer, it could prove challenging to judge table and chair designs, let alone fashion accessories and items of clothing. 

Recent Central St Martin’s graduate, Craig Green, has won accolades from the press for the curiously unique designs in his MA Fashion graduation project (see below).

In this collection he plays with ideas of utility and function. Inspired by trompe d’oeil imagery and oversized luggage, huge architectural structures and geometric shapes dwarf the models to create eye-catching abstract silhouettes. In his catwalk show, models looked like nomads laden down with their luggage. For each patterned outfit, there was an extact replica in black, which walked behind the main garment on the catwalk to create a live ‘shadow.’ The large wooden structures attached to some of the garments are designed to symbolize religious pilgrimage.

Miuccia Prada’s collection, drawing on the theme of ‘sweetness’ and past generations was influenced by the 1950s style popular style, including car designs such as the Chevrolet. 

Vintage automobile-inspired designs see exhaust-pipe flames bursting out of the heels of shoes. This theme was carried across the whole accessories range.  

For Proenza Schouler, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack Mc Collough experimented with padding and quilting for their ‘protection’ ‘themed collection. 

They took inspiration from the Samurai, from martial arts like Kendo and from fencing. Their aim was to achieve a structured toughness, integrating modes of protection via intricately woven leatherwork and armour-like grids on bomber jackets, layered capes, skirts and boots.

Giles Deacon combined ideas of death with the exuberance and decadence of life to inspire his flowing torn silk gowns. 

His collection featured a theatrical series of delicately burnt and water-stained gowns and blouses, infused with gothic influences and an atmosphere of decaying opulence. Deacon wanted to convey the idea of a fire at an English stately home – which pieces would someone save in that situation? Fabrics such as Victorian style ivory silk, black velvet and chiffon with copper embroidery were burned by hand to reveal the layers underneath. His collection featured corseted gowns, high club collars and split-tailed jackets. Milliner Stephen Jones designed the headpieces, handcrafted from porcupine and ostrich feathers.

ShopCurious would love to know which fashion design you think should be the winner…

Does fashion feed feminism?

If you've spotted that we've gone a bit quiet lately, it's because we're working on a brand new ShopCurious blog, which we'll be telling you more about shortly.

Meantime, I have a weekly Life of Style column over at The Dabbler, which the Curious Cognoscenti should definitely check out. This week's post covers the subjects of fashion, feminism and Vanessa Feltz - plus a review of social historian Carol Dyhouse's new book, Girl Trouble: Panic and Progess in the History of Young Women.

Do take a crafty peek.

Will you? 

Monday 4 March 2013

Head On at the London College of Fashion

The exhibition space at the London College of Fashion is somewhat limited in size, yet one room and adjacent cabinets are certainly used to maximise impact in the new millinery show: Head On.

"While contemporary society no longer dictates the daily use of hats, the appetite for millinery on the catwalk, in editorial and even on the high street, continues to flourish," says the preamble. Focusing on decorative millinery, the exhibition features mannequins styled to incorporate headwear as part of a total look. 
Dress by AF Vandervorst, hat by Stephen Jones

Dress by Giles Deacon, millinery by Stephen Jones
You would probably get very odd looks if you wore any of these outfits - and the curious headwear doesn't look to be very practical. However, ShopCurious drew attention to the emerging trend of promoting fashion as art some years ago.

Dress by Gareth Pugh, headwear by Philip Treacy

Dress by Yiqing, headpiece by Paul Stafford
The show runs until 23rd March, so do pop in to see the display if you are in the Oxford Street area. 

Valentino - a true master of couture

The stunning Valentino Couture exhibition at Somerset House was in its final week, so very busy (as you can see from the queues outside). Photographs were prohibited, so I am unable to illustrate this post with images of gorgeous gowns, but there are plenty of related resources available on the Internet.

ShopCurious was given a guided tour of the exhibition by curator, Alistair O’Neill. The show was dedicated purely to couture, and every one of the 138 gowns on display was made by hand. As well as being a celebration of Valentino Garavani’s 50 year career in fashion, the exhibition was also a tribute to the girls - le regazze - working in his atelier.

In addition to a catwalk of spectacular creations, with fantasy seating ‘placements,’ there was a section dedicated to the technical skills of the atelier. This included a pagine cape, made using a technique exclusive to Valentino, whereby silk pages, each taking a seamstress half an hour to make, are sewn together to create a fabric.

Every outfit in the show tells a tale. The bridal gown of Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece was six months in the making, using 12 varieties of lace. A specially designed motif on the veil casts the shadow of butterflies, thought to represent the soul in Greek mythology.

If you missed the exhibition, or are curious to discover more about the skilled work of a master couturier, a visit to the Valentino Garavani virtual museum is a must.

Monday 18 February 2013

Peacocks and power-dressers: Men at LFW

I couldn’t help but notice that there seem to be more male visitors at London Fashion Week this season too. A far cry from the dowdy image of the typical British male, every man ShopCurious saw was distinctively dressed and demonstrated a uniqueness of style.

Some were especially ‘chi-chi’  - like Daniel (I hope no one tried to hang their coat on his earrings). And a black and white colour scheme seemed to be popular with younger men.

While Grey Fox, a blogger specializing in fashion for the older man, looked smartly stylish in a country style tweed jacket, teamed up with jeans and brogues.