The Vogue Festival: Paul Smith ‘Fashion and Personality’ with Alexa Chung

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

It was with the above message that Sir Paul Smith took to the stage at the Vogue Festival. ‘This bit is quite serious,’ he said. ‘A lot of you out there are in the creative industries. And please don’t take what I’m about to say negatively. There are a lot of designers out there,’ he mused. ‘We don’t need any more designers, so you’ve got to have something that makes you stand out. You’ve got to have a point of view. You can find inspiration in everything and if you can’t you’re not looking properly. Look and see – don’t just look.’

And in one magical hour last weekend, he showed us how to see as well as look. Beginning the talk with a mini lecture offered an intriguing insight into his own methods and the hot topic of the day – inspirations. ‘Think laterally and have a point of view – look at other brands or magazines, at what’s already going on. That’s like buying yesterday’s newspaper.’

The audience hung on his every word – what’s his secret? Where does he store this mythical pot of inspiration and how can we all get a bit? Of course, he had already given the answer – everywhere. ‘All sorts of things can bring inspiration. Art, architecture, travel, humour… Don’t just keep looking at those screens all the time because you’re not observing life on the street’.

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

After more than 40 years at the forefront of fashion – a career that was itself a lucky accident – his passion for design and love of life is infectious. The two are very much connected for him I feel. Rather appropriately the talk was entitled ‘Fashion and Personality’, an adjective that sums up Paul Smith, man and brand. The word ‘brand’ always sounds like ugly marketing speak, but in this case I feel the clothes are the man personified. His boundless energy, sense of fun, joie de vivre and colourful character shine through in every garment, and have earned him the title of ‘one of the country’s most successful designers’, as he was described in Vogue Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman’s introduction.

Sir Paul’s interviewer was another of fashion’s big personalities, much to the audience’s palpable excitement – broadcaster and style icon Alexa Chung. They proved the perfect duo, bouncing off one another as Chung quizzed the designer on what it takes to reach the forefront of fashion – and stay there. Sir Paul’s articulate responses to her questions made it clear why, demonstrating most significantly his deep understanding of the role of the designer, which I think definitely anticipated the now multi-faceted nature of the contemporary role. ‘It’s about many things, not just designing’ he explained. ‘Communication – talking to people, spreading the word. Individualism is vital; every street in the world now is looking the same. Personality, of course, and quality, never underestimate the quality of your work.’

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

It would be easy to see how such a positive, spirited character might become jaded by a notoriously critical industry or wearied by its relentless pace. Not Sir Paul – who remains level-headed and diplomatic as ever. ‘It’s very much about life, being successful in creative industries. It’s about understanding that the river flows in a different direction all the time. Fashion’s about today and tomorrow. Nobody cares how good you used to be.’

The way that Sir Paul looks and sees has developed a unique vision, without pandering to the whims of fashion. This clarity and true understanding of the world around him has ensured his longevity and will continue to do so.

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

Quizzed about becoming a Sir (‘It’s a bit weird’), being put on the spot about his successor (‘I’m far too young to even start thinking about it!’), talking lovingly about his wife, Pauline (‘She’s always been very inspirational.’) and being upfront about the bitchiness of the fashion industry (‘Theres a lot of bad behaviour in this industry. People have got to realise we’re all on the earth and we’re all equal. They need a good slap round the head a lot of those people!’) – I fell for his charm. He’s just a lovely, refreshingly normal man with a cracking sense of humour and an attitude to life we could all learn from.

Vogue Festival Paul Smith and Alexa Chung

The Vogue Festival: So You Think You Want To Be A Designer?

The Vogue Festival 2013: So You Think You Want To Be A Designer?

As part of my job, I’ve been lucky enough to attend some amazing events in the last year – the most recent of which being the Vogue Festival, in association with Vertu, where I was reporting on behalf of the sponsor.

One of the hottest ticket talks of the weekend was also the first of the festival, ‘So You Think You Want To Be A Designer?’ where Vogue Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman led a discussion between Jonathan Saunders, JW Anderson, Mary Katrantzou and Erdem Moralioglu. It was a crash course on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a young designer, covering all areas from inspirations and influences to the realities of running a business.

The Vogue Festival 2013: So You Think You Want To Be A Designer?

It was fascinating to hear about the designers’ diverse backgrounds and differing routes into the industry. Erdem wanted to be a fashion designer from a young age – he even recalled being inspired by the Nutcracker as a child when he was just six years old. On the other hand, JW Anderson initially wanted to be an actor. ‘It was an organic process of rejection – I ended up landing in the costume department and then fell in love with it, with the idea of duplication. I became obsessed by it.’

Discussion quickly turned to the designers’ adopted home of London and how the status of the city as a fashion capital, with a growing reputation for its creativity and innovation, is impacting on their work. ‘I think there’s so many eyes looking to London now,’ explained Erdem. ‘When Burberry started to show here so many things changed, the press and buyers that would come, and with this comes a certain amount of pressure. I think after every season all of us feel that more. It’s like trial by fire, you learn as you go along.’

The Vogue Festival 2013: So You Think You Want To Be A Designer?

There was certainly an obvious camaraderie between the designers. ‘The wonderful thing about London is that you can start a business without a structure, we started from our bedrooms, you’re able to start a brand from nothing here,’ said Saunders. ‘You’re suddenly put out there, you start the business when you have no business skills and have to learn very fast. It’s wonderful to have the support network from press and stores but you quickly have to fit into an existing infrastructure.’

JW Anderson spoke articulately about the allure of London and the creative spirit it embodies. ‘In London, there’s a risk element, it’s not dictated by a trend book. London has never been out to please. For young designers and growing companies it’s the best platform in the world. Creativity will always win.’ Erdem agreed that the calibre of teaching in the UK nurtures this creativity, and Katrantzou spoke about the appeal of Central Saint Martins’ Professor Louise Wilson. ‘She was the one that helped me find my own style,’ she said of the influential fashion figure.

The Vogue Festival 2013: So You Think You Want To Be A Designer?

The balance between creativity and commerce seemed to be a bit of a theme of the weekend (more on that later) and all four designers are at an interesting crossroads in this respect. As Alex Shulman interestingly added in her introduction, the major fashion conglomerates are now looking for their very own Christopher Kane. The four designers discussed the topic of expansion, and working within a growing team. ‘You reach a point where you’re forced to delegate, whether you want to or not, because of the way your business grows,’ said Katrantzou. ‘I hate letting go but as you get more you find the right people who can see your viewpoint and make it easier’ added Anderson.

It was certainly clear that while talent, hard work, geography and sometimes sheer luck play a part in success as a fashion designer (however you want to measure that is another post in itself), the designers’ unwavering commitment to their vision and true understanding of the people they design for really shone through. ‘I think for me print and especially coming out of London, where so many designers work with print really successfully, has really helped me push the boundaries of print,’ Katrantzou said of her hyperrealistic aesthetic. ‘I think women buy print for more than its properties, they make an aesthetic choice and a design decision.’

UNIQLO x Celia Birtwell #StyledinCelia

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

The continuing vogue for high street collaborations shows no signs of abating – which is lucky for those of us whose pennies don’t stretch to designer drapery, or just want to liven our wardrobes with something a bit different from the usual high street fare. When I heard that British textile designer Celia Birtwell was collaborating with UNIQLO, I couldn’t wait to see the results.

Famed for her prints that defined an era, as well as her role as David Hockney’s muse, Birtwell is best known for her collaborative work with Ossie Clark; together they contributed so much to sixties and seventies fashion. Her precise yet random prints are now iconic, and have clothed models, celebrities and even interiors. Her juxtaposition of colours, close attention to detail and above all, a sense of fun encapsulates the designer’s timeless style.

UNIQLO is no stranger to a print-based collaboration – I blogged about their cute-as-a-button collection with Laura Ashley last year – and their high quality basics are the perfect foil for Birtwell’s bold patterns. Her archive prints have been re-imagined in new colours and sizes, adorning T-shirts, shirts, leggings, pyjama trousers, culottes, dresses and stoles.

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

Uniqlo x Celia Birtwell

The collection launched last Thursday online and in store – when I last checked most of it was sold out online! I popped along to the launch at the flagship store after work last week, where staff were clad head-to-toe in the collection and Birtwell came along to meet shoppers. You can always rely on UNIQLO for quality and the collection is very reasonably priced. I picked up a few pieces, including this beautiful star print dress. I just love the print, it’s so unlike anything I’ve seen recently, and the relaxed style of the dress is so flattering and versatile.

UNIQLO has invited shoppers to show how they style the pieces with the hashtag #StyledinCelia, so here’s mine! It snowed today, which was quite appropriate as the printed stars almost resemble stylised snowflakes. To ramp up the sixties style (as well as add much-needed warmth on a day like today), I wore a peter pan collar blouse underneath the dress and fastened it up to the neck. My trusty Cambridge Satchel and red pout enhanced the retro vibe, and my Next Crombie coat and chunky Clarks boots added a bit of a masculine touch. Roll on summer though, I’d wear it sans tights with pastel-colour sandals, retro sunglasses and a straw boater.

My UNIQLO x Celia Birtwell frock had it’s first outing on a little day trip to Bicester Village. The designer outlet is a short train ride from London in nearby Oxfordshire, and is home to some of the biggest names in fashion – from high end (Céline) to high street (Cath Kidston). In the near-blizzard conditions, the kitsch village looked quite otherworldly to say the least – here’s a few Instagram pics I snapped.

Bicester Village

Bicester Village

Bicester Village

Bicester Village Valentino

Bicester Village Céline

Bicester Village Anya Hindmarch

Bicester Village Smythson

Bicester Village Villandry

Bicester Village thoroughfare, the pretty Lulu Guinness outlet shop, our shopping plan of attack, Valentino windows, Céline dreaminess, Anya Hindmarch strawberry clutch (good enough to eat!), sending a message with a beautiful Smythson notepad, shopping pitstop at Villandry.

I was impressed by the selection – end of line and past season designs (lots from last spring/summer’s collections) as well as seconds/ slightly imperfect stock. With some editing, there were some real gems at amazing prices. I came away with this gorgeous bird pin from Mulberry (SS12 I think) for just £10. I loved it when I saw the collection originally, and while a brooch isn’t something I would usually splash out on, at the outlet price I couldn’t resist! I’m going to wear it to add a pretty touch to cardigans and jackets. I also picked up a few cute polka dot kitchen bits from Cath Kidston and a little something from Paul Smith for Al’s birthday (shh!) – all in all a good day of bargain hunting!

Bicester Village Mulberry

Bicester Village Cath Kidston

The Cambridge Satchel Company: Oxblood 14-inch Satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

Cambridge Satchel Company shop Covent Garden

When I heard that the Cambridge Satchel Company had plans to open a permanent shop in Covent Garden, after the success of their London pop-up at the end of last year, I was over the moon. I was lucky enough to interview the lovely Cambridge Satchel Company founder Julie Deane a few weeks ago (more on that soon!) and heard all about the plans just before the shop opened – excited doesn’t even cover it. Unfortunately, I missed the store’s grand opening as I was unwell, but I took time out between shows and presentations during London Fashion Week to pay a visit.

To think how far Julie has come from her kitchen table, where she founded the business just five years ago, is mind-boggling. The iconic satchels now have a global following and are stocked in 100 countries around the world with a vast fashion following and wealth of celebrity fans. But I won’t go on – I’ll let Julie do the talking about the company when I post the Q&A very soon.

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

Cambridge Satchel Company Covent Garden Shop

The new shop is in the Seven Dials area and is an absolute delight. It’s the perfect extension of a carefully-crafted and much-loved brand. The shop has a real boutique feel and the stock is beautifully displayed on simple bookcase-style shelves and antique tables with row upon row of satchels in almost every hue imaginable. It was like a grown-up version of a sweet shop, but with treats that will last much longer than a sugar – or a fast fashion – fix.

The staff were incredibly friendly and happy to help find your perfect satchel (or just let you admire them if you’re not looking to part with your pennies!) and I think the Blogger Lounge (though I am biased) is a brilliant idea. Now, I enjoy online shopping as much as the next person, but there was something so special about making my trip to the shop, browsing the satchels and picking out mine that beats clicking ‘add to bag’.

I thought the embossing station was a genius idea too – the in-store embosser is ready to emboss the lettering of your choice onto your satchel for a small fee. A beautiful personal touch that many shoppers (and there were many when I went!) decided upon, including me. Meet my new satchel…

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cambridge Satchel Company. I had a very similar satchel for school myself, so you could say this love stems from childish nostalgia – and I’m sure I’m not alone here. The bags are beautifully made – each is hand-crafted in Britain using traditional techniques, a real testament to British craftsmanship. Each is a labour of love, and the product of Deane’s singularity of vision, enviable business-mind and frankly commendable brand-building! A real piece of fashion history in years to come, I think.

I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a Cambridge Satchel since they first came onto my radar a few years ago, and decided to finally treat myself to the style I’ve been coveting for some time: the 14-inch satchel in oxblood. I was torn between the traditional muted colours and something more colourful, so this for me was a good balance between the two – richly hued but subdued enough to fit in with my everyday wardrobe, and not too ‘fashiony’. And you do know my love of burgundy and berry shades! I know I will wear it to death – and I’m sure it will only get better with age. I couldn’t resist getting my initials embossed in silver to match the buckles as a final flourish.

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Which colour would you go for? I’d have one in every shade if I could! What do you think about the Cambridge Satchel Company story?

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

We took these shots at the hidden gem that is our local nature reserve, Parkland Walk. Tucked away at the end of our street is the entrance to a leafy walkway that goes all the way from Highgate to Finsbury Park (Parkland Walk South) and on to Ally Pally (the North part). It was once going to be used as a railway line and there is even an abandoned station, known by locals as the ‘ghost station’ – spooky! The perfect spot for some blog-snapping, expect to see more of this leafy backdrop in future posts, as it’s become our go-to location for a Sunday stroll.

Cambridge Satchel Company Oxblood 14-inch satchel

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

One trend I’ve noticed gaining momentum recently is a return to separates. A designer who perfectly encapsulated this mood for autumn/winter was Joanna Sykes. Her debut collection for Nicole Farhi delicately balanced traditional tailoring with feminine softness.

Sykes was appointed Creative Director of the house last September and her first collection has been highly anticipated. With a background at Giorgio Armani, Alberta Ferretti and latterly as Creative Director at Aquascutum, I was keen to see what she would bring to the brand. On the Sunday of London Fashion Week I had the privilege of viewing her first offerings for Nicole Farhi up close at the brand’s Mayfair HQ.

Inspired by the label’s roots, Sykes presented a collection of separates that was strongly influenced by a menswear but most definitely cut for real women. ‘All of a sudden it’s about separates and flats, not dresses and heels,’ said Sykes. This was a starting point for the collection, focusing on outerwear and knitwear, especially what Sykes described as ‘great coats’. This was a real highlight for me. Tailoring was traditional and often quite mannish (even slightly oversized in places), which lent the collection an androgynous vibe. However, fabric and finish gave each piece a feminine edge: soft jersey (more on that later), leather and fur detailing.

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

According to Sykes, another key focus of the collection was texture. Knitwear displayed rich textures (just look at the close-ups below): graphic patchwork, contrasting burgundy and cream chevron stitches, oversized Mouliné and giant tweed jacquard. Chunky knitwear balanced silky separates and soft layers.

Sykes was keen to highlight the use of jersey throughout the collection; this was a nod to the houses’s heritage, synonymous with Nicole Farhi’s designs and with menswear more generally. The fabric enabled the designer to create soft, tonal tailoring, which she described as ‘sexy and flowing, not stiff’. The designs are elegant, with the added bonus of the comfortable qualities of a stretch fabric.

The designer also enjoyed playing with proportion, such as the longer sleeves seen on several looks, which further contributed to the mannish aesthetic. Shirts were crisp and oversized with crisp double cuffs, and the traditional cummerbund was deconstructed to create an exaggerated peplum silhouette.

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Dresses were cut as straight columns, and layered with almost architectural-style panelling and texture. Exaggerated leather cuffs added toughness. Skirts were also slouchy – shift-like and relaxed, and cut to the ankle. Shirts introduced an element of softness, hand-painted on silk crepe. Tuxedo stripe panels were inspired by traditional tailored waistbands – I just loved the silver style suit trousers with contrasting braid.

The tonal colour palette complemented the subdued mood of the collection with nude, charcoal, winter whites with highlights of deep burgundy, spruce green and soft lilac.

As Sykes talked me through the collection, I was struck by the sheer craftsmanship on display. This is luxury that doesn’t shout from the roof-tops – in fact, that word, with all its ostentatious connotations really doesn’t do this collection justice. You just have to look at the details and textures in the below shots to see that.

It’s an exciting time for the house and for Sykes to deliver such a strong collection at this initial ‘transitional’ stage, and staying true to the house’s signature style while making her own mark, is incredibly promising.

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

Nicole Farhi AW13

London Collections: Men AW13

This week saw London Fashion Week’s little brother London Collections: Men (LCM) take centre stage. The second ‘proper’ men’s fashion week* (rather than a few days tacked on the end of LFW) has had some great press – surely indicative of the growing profile and influence of British menswear (and I’m sure at least partly thanks to LCM ambassador David Gandy and co’s presence on the front row). Last season was perhaps a little tentative but LCM autumn/winter 2013 had a distinct buzz about it. Here are my highlights from the 60 or so shows and 30 presentations.

Hackett
Hackett perhaps won the prize for best venue – the stunning crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral. Their autumn/winter collection was fit for the most dapper of gents: three piece suits, silk pocket squares, bow ties, silk scarves and bowler hats. A rich palette of burnt orange, mustard, navy, moss green and burgundy offered new and exciting colour combinations.

Alexander McQueen
LCM marked the return of McQueen to London’s fashion calendar with a conceptual collection that had everyone talking. Oversized suits represented a reworking of traditional Savile Row style, chopping up chalk-stripes, polka dots and checks. The collection’s exaggerated style and gangster references were fun and sinister in equal measure.

Mr Start
Shoreditch boutique Mr Start offered stylish simplicity, a key menswear trend for next season. For autumn/winter 13, they evolved the tailoring for which they are best known with unexpected fabrics, such as an olive moleskin suit and midnight blue taffeta dinner jacket. Heavy belted coats in grey speckled wool or classic camel were paired with fine, autumnal-hued knitwear.

Richard James
It was all about coordination at Richard James: cable knit pom pom hats merged into thick scarves and jumpers in the same rich shades – burnt oranges, delicious caramels, moss greens and midnight blues. It was all about the finishing touches too – tiny floral pins adorned models’ lapels and smoking slippers were the shoe of choice.

Hardy Amies
Hardy Amies perfectly balanced tradition and modernity for autumn/winter 13. The collection’s motif was a pixelated, reportedly Bauhaus refashioning of tartan, and models donned thistle buttonholes. Jackets were cut tight and high, and trousers were well cropped, keeping things modern.

Richard Nicoll
Richard Nicoll’s second menswear collection took inspiration from Punks with low-slung jeans, skater chains, sloppy knits and biker jackets. Classic wool overcoats and pea coats, cut with a hint of slouch, gave things a sophisticated edge. The industrial colour palette was given a boost with pops of orange – which looks set to become the colour of the season.

Jonathan Saunders
Jonathan Saunders cited Danish artist Olafur Eliasson as the inspiration behind his collection, which featured two-tone slim cut suits teamed with T-shirts, and blanket stripe coats layered over bomber jackets. Fuzzy texture and the autumnal, graduated colour palette kept things laidback and modern.

E.Tautz
Designer Patrick Grant took inspiration from his Hebridean heritage, with his take on tartan checks which adorned oversized overcoats and ‘plus eight’ style breeches. Smart tailoring and double-breasted cuts featured heavily and autumnal orange was the signature hue.

Margaret Howell
Margaret Howell has created a niche for staple, unfussy menswear. For autumn/winter 13, boxy blazers, tactile jumpers and slightly cropped trousers were rendered in a muted colour palette of grey, navy and khaki. Howell’s bespectacled models also donned berets – clearly next season’s headwear of choice, also seen at YMC and Agi & Sam.

Shaun Samson
Shaun Samson has been hailed menswear’s one-to-watch – and its easy to see why. The Central Saint Martin’s graduate’s Nordic Native American-inspired streetwear felt fresh and new; think nods to urban subculture – such as graphic print and loose fitting trousers – mixed with oversized ponchos.

Oliver Spencer
It was all about the cuffs at Oliver Spencer – tailored trousers featured stylish contrasting cuffs. Jackets were boxy in cut, and the moustache was a key accessory. The autumnal colour palette and use of contrasting textures – tweed, suede, shearling and wool – made this a stand-out collection.

Chistopher Kane
Christopher Kane has made the humble black wool pea coat the most covetable cover-up for next season. The effortlessly stylish collection featured smart and simple knits and shirts with a dark, edgy Christopher Kane twist. Black, purple and blue featured heavily with flashes of leopard print and a kooky Frankenstein motif.

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* although J.W. Anderson’s men in skirts might beg to differ…