Friday, 31 July 2009

Curious colours of nature in fashion

Earlier this year, I attended a talk by Abigail Ingram on the subject of ‘structural colours in nature’. She asked important questions like ‘why are some animals and plants brighter than others?’ She also mentioned a few naturally colourful species in passing: the dragonfly, the lavender beetle, the chalk blue butterfly, the shoal fish and the peacock (or at least its feathers).

Apparently, it was Newton (in the 1700s), who first linked the diffraction of light with the structure of peacock feathers. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that physicists became fully aware of structural colour.

It’s interesting how in some insects, like butterflies, the dorsal side of the wings is pure colour, but the other side is camouflaged. The males are often very brightly coloured, apparently to ward off others from their territories and not, as Darwin thought, to attract females. Butterfly wings are actually like a multi-layer reflection of colour – of the sort you might see in an oil slick or an opal stone. The morpho butterfly, left, is the perfect example of this – in fact morpho butterfly structures are applied to products such as makeup and there's even a ‘morpho tex fabric’.

As Kate Fletcher explains in her book, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: “Developed by Teijin, Japan, and inspired by the iridescent morpho butterfly of South America, Morphotex achieves its colour by causing light to diffract and interfere with the fibre in ways that can amplify certain wavelengths. This creates brilliant colours to the viewer through the use of physical structure rather than with pigment or dye...

In effect, the surface layers play with light and reproduce a coloured fabric without the energy and resource impacts associated with dyeing and printing. The Morphotex fibre has a multilayer stack structure made up of 61 layers of polyester and nylon, each with different refractive indexes. By controlling the thickness of the layers, it shows variations in the four primary colours: red, blue, green and yellow, according to the angle and intensity of light"

By using nano-scale structures, it's possible to create new paints, fabrics and cosmetics – what’s more they’re free of toxins and require less energy to manufacture. Modern technology also draws upon this phenomenon in nature to create holograms – useful in anti-counterfeiting measures for credit cards. Using a similar technique, brightly coloured sea creatures, called Aphrodite, right, can also be used for optical purposes. Biomimicry is probably the ultimate eco-friendly activity, since it's all about using nature and natural ecosystems as a model for innovative solutions to our own design requirements.

Hopefully, I've got all these facts right ... I'm not an expert on matters of science. In fact, generally speaking, men seem to be much more absorbed by the wonders of modern technology than women. However, biomimetrics is an area where modern technology, practical design and colour coincide - as in the case of these curiously colourful and stylish phone cases by Jack Spade, currently on sale at ShopCurious.

They're rather unique and could be perfect if you're looking for a useful, but unusual gift for any man (or woman) who owns a Blackberry or an iPhone - and who also likes to stand out from the crowd.

Are you?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Sao Paulo - city of colour

If you love colourful places, you’re bound to be attracted to the bright lights of Brazil. I was totally wowed by the wonderful colours of Sao Paulo, when I stayed at the Hotel Unique earlier this year.

The hotel has been described as “an urban work of art”, “an architectural landmark” and a “reference in global hotel design”. The Unique was designed by Brazilian architect, Ruy Ohtake – and the unusual apartment style rooms were decorated by Joao Armentano.

Key features are the round porthole style windows (left), Brazilian wood floors in the rooms - and an incredible rooftop terrace, where you’ll find the most amazing crimson coloured swimming pool (right). The hotel is also very eco-friendly, with self-sufficient energy and a private supply of pure water.

The restaurant and bar are colourful by day, but at night, they come into their own as a showcase for the city’s beautifully illuminated skyline.

I asked Brazilian jewellery designer Marcelle Lawson-Smith to recommend some fashionable places to visit and soon discovered that colour abounds in other parts of Sao Paulo too. The popular Jardins area houses some stunning shops and restaurants, including Galeria Melissa – famed for its quirky plastic shoes, here displayed in futuristic plastic bubbles set against an African inspired backdrop – complete with life size models and photograhs of big game animals.

Brazilian style green foliage even extends indoors, with many restaurants housing a plethora of plant life. These include the romantic Figueira Rubaiyat, with its ancient, gigantic central fig tree and the modern Arthur Casas designed restaurant, Kaa, where tropical vegetation even grows on the walls.

If you’re big on design art then Sao Paulo’s also the city for floor to ceiling cocktail bars and amazing oversized handmade wooden furniture.

The old part of town is just as colour-infused – like the bustling municipal food market, with its exotic fruits and magnificent, huge stained glass windows.

Emerging areas, like the Italian suburb of Vila Madalena, (a bit like London's Notting Hill before it became world famous), have amazing character and curiously cool graffiti that would put even Banksy to shame.

This is the place to find great home furnishings, retro accessories and colourful clothing - like Farm’s Brazilian beach and casual wear (unfortunately no photos allowed). The outside of this hippy-chic boutique is also swathed in greenery, and there's a rather magical butterfly tree in the courtyard.

Food in Sao Paulo is as vibrantly vivid as the rest of the surroundings. The sushi at the Hotel Unique is highly recommended, as is the seafood at the Figueira restaurant. By the way, did you know that Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan?

Finally, an enormous, brightly painted statue of St George and the Dragon takes pride of place at the Unique hotel entrance. I discovered that it’s probably not just beacause Saint George is the patron saint of Portugal – he also happens to be the patron saint of the Corinthians of Sao Paulo football team (in fact their ground is called St George’s Park).

So, if you’re into delicious food, stylish fashion, design art, football and fun, ShopCurious highly recommends a visit to this city of many colours.

Will you?

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The fashion for pop art

The term ‘pop art’ was first coined in 1950s Britain, but has become synonymous with American art that draws upon the popular consumerist culture of advertising and comic books. Pop art often portrays mass market iconic images of the 1950s and ‘60s and offers a bold, bright and outspoken alternative to traditional and abstract art.

Pop art also draws heavily upon fashion and style, from household branded goods to celebrity icons. We’ve turned this on its head by creating colourful fashion accessories with a pop art theme. Designed by the Maggio sisters and based on retro comic strip art, each of the handmade pieces available at ShopCurious offers a snapshot of its own unique cartoon style plot.

Wear one of these hand painted belts or necklaces and you’ll find that people are suddenly very curious to read the captions – so you’d better have a good storyline ready to tell them...

Do you?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Zandra Rhodes and the art of colour

I’ve been doing some research on Zandra Rhodes to try and find out more about a rather remarkable vintage bag that’s available at ShopCurious. The shoulder bag in question features what, in my opinion, is the most extraordinarily beautiful design of a woman’s face, (shown right) – surely this is one of those iconic images in fashion?

The colour that most people would associate with Ms Rhodes is probably the shocking pink shade of her hair. However, her incredibly arty textiles often display a riot of garish colours in surprisingly unexpected combinations. Zandra Rhodes isn’t just a fashion designer, she’s an artist, using cloth as her canvas - and every piece she creates is a unique and timeless work of art.

I found these photos of garments featuring Zandra’s famous ‘Chevron Shawl’ print in a highly recommended book – Zandra Rhodes: a lifelong love affair with textiles. Click on the pics to enlarge.

I’m sure this must be the same print that appears on the ‘painted lady bag’, suggesting that it was designed around 1970 and that it’s highly collectable.

By the way, I think Zandra Rhodes is a creative genius and a living legend.

Do you?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Graduating in colour

Thought you might like to see some of the curiously colourful textiles designed by up and coming graduates at the New Designers exhibition in London. We’re so lucky to have such incredible talent in this country – it’s totally awe-inspiring!

Here are some more of my favourites:

Believe it or not what looks like a photo of an amazing abstract painting (left) is actually a fabric - with an ice cube as its photographic subject. The print on the right reminds me of 'harvest festival' - very fecund in a DH Lawrence meets arts and crafts sort of way.

There were plenty of retro influences for wall adornment in the form of 'keep the British flag flying' seaside wallpaper (left), and a wonderfully bold bright collage of multi-coloured Victorian medals and commendations., (right).

Watch out, Mr Peacock, there’s some serious competition on the left: I picked out this fabulous peacock blue embroidered silk with you in mind! I have a feeling you'll like the glam-rock gold and glitter design on the right too?

You can see how some of the designs would work on garments - some are divine as art, but possbily a little less delectable as dress. Personally, I think these fabrics are great, though they could be a little too busy for clothing. What do you think?

By the way, if you’re a fan of graduations in colour and everything unique then you’re bound to like the arty Murano glass rings at ShopCurious.

You might also like to take a look at some of the trends in graduate fashion – I loved these quirky coloured faux dreadlocks, right – and how about these for a wacky pair of shoes? (see below)

Actually, these were an exhibit, curiously called ‘Shoes for housewives’... They have a certain distinctive style, but not sure they'd be so comfortable for running around the back yard with a broom. Any housewife out there brave enough to try them for size?

Are you?