I've finally found a place where I WASN'T desperate to get wifi 24/7 (well I did have one particular panic moment when I was waving my phone around trying to get a 3G signal to get online to find out what happened to Amy Winehouse…). Port Eliot Festival has been and gone and with that, a weekend where this blog has gotten slightly dusty from not posting.
As soon as I stepped through the gates of Port Eliot's beautiful and lush 6,000 acre estate, my laptop became a burden that I was almost tempted to chuck into the muddy banks of the Tamer estuary that runs alongside. An exaggeration perhaps. The point is that it was exactly the sort of escape packed with mind food, that I had been itching for with the added bonus that I can come back bearing another type of food to feed the blog from hunger. I won't review the festival as a whole and its many many delights because then I might start waxing lyrical about how charming a singer wielding a wind-up box sounds by the river or how pretty the light looks at dusk when it filters down through trees in a forest. It might end up sounding like a description of an Enya video if I'm not careful. Therefore I'll resist. Let it be known though that I didn't JUST hang out in the fash pack area getting some slap on and wearing flower headdresses. Like I said, my brain feels somewhat replenished.
Instead, I'll concentrate on the relevant bits. British Fashion Council, fronted by Sarah Mower with all its magical helpers led quite the brigade of people and talent down this time round to invade the Wardrobe Department space within the walled gardens. Meadham Kirchhoff, Nazir Mazhar, Louise Gray and Mary Katrantzou all added a bit of something something to Port Eliot that delighted the crowd. Other fashionable Port Eliot veterans like Luella Bartley, Anna Sui and Barbara Hulanicki were also leading the proceedings. Better yet, we were all prompted to THINK a bit (gosh, how novel!) as people such as Louise Wilson came out with a whole slew of home truths and Anna-Marie and Phoebe of the zine/website/salon Pamflet were also present to enthusiastically fuse feminism with fashion.
Branding at festivals can be extremely naff and eye-ballingly obvious. Hermès are of course neither and for the second year they return to Port Eliot (the only festival they do incidentally) with their horsebox along with stylists ready to tie up a storm of scarves on you and gift you a picky souvenir to take away. No selling of Hermès scarves though, which makes their haystack caravan corner even more admirable. A dash of bubblegum pink on my head and on my top set the pink scarves tumbling over my torso and floating on my head. Steve got a simpler treatment with plain scarves knotted together.
I've never EVER had my face painted (my mother thought the paint would make my skin flare up… troublesome child that I was…) so Louise Gray upgraded that first time experience with her trademark dabs of eye make-up, provided for by Topshop. The draw of Topshop and the vibrance of Gray's Meadham Kirchhoff yellow dress were all too alluring as she had all her appointments for make-up sessions booked up. Her painterly eyes seemingly look haphazard but like her clothes, the application of colour and glitter definitely has rhyme and reason behind it. In her tipi festooned with Louise Gray custom-bunting, I got my pretty pretty eyes on and was tempted to sleep in it until Mamma Lau scolded me in my head.
Then it was on to Ben Meadham and Edward Kirchhoff's tent next door for my crowning. A ship sailed for my head along with the fresh blooms that the Meadham Kirchhoff boys must be loving what with their recent flower fest for Topshop's secret shop. Along with broken bits of jumble sale bric-a-brac and pound shop finds, they made headdresses to give away to the crowd, again with plenty of people banging on their tent flaps. I'm drying mine out to give it some longevity...
Luella, Anna Sui and Barbara Hulanicki tent of clothes customising was a huge hit with the kids but sadly not with my camera with its yellow tinge...
The Rubbish team were also there to give puppet shows with their knitted editors, designers and politicians (play guess who with the lineup) as well as asking the crowd to do a spot of blindfolded styling. I fared pretty badly. I think I'll let the kids show me how it's done… somehow a child managed to make what looks like an Aston Villa shirt work on her….
An unlikely trio of Anna Sui, Stephen Jones and err…. Christopher Biggins all commented on how festive/nice I looked in my vintage tropicana pink and Meadham Kirchhoff for Topshop tinsel as well as my Wardrobe Department make-up/get-up. That's not a big me up. Just got a bit excited by the idea of Christopher Biggins saying anything to me and it had to be worked into a blog post. That's all. Oh, and I cleverly themed my sunglasses with my surroundings. Prada wooden sunglasses? Thousand year old trees? See the connection?
Luella Bartley did some 'bird' spotting (as in British term for girl, not actual birds…) to illustrate the points she makes in her book Guide to English Style. I'm not really one for national style generalisations especially in a country so diverse in backgrounds. I find her book slightly problematic if taken seriously but as a light read, wholly harmless. Still, she did spot some proper nice birds in the form of the band The Half Sisters, who did have on the most amazing outfits all weekend and had me wondering what glamped up sort of a tent were they staying in.
Louise Wilson gave some proper food for thought. She'll hate me for reeling off some of the books that are personal and influential for her because she's not a fan of prescribing taste or education for that matter. The famed head of Central Saint Martins' rigorous MA course is a believer in learning, thinking and discovering for yourself, something she says today's students lack. Still, I hope she forgives me for letting slip that her list of inspirational fodder includes Helmut Newton's Sleepless Nights, Sam Haskins' Cowboy Kate & Other Stories and Jean Paul Goude's Jungle Fever - some I've read, some I hope now to read even if that wasn't Wilson's intention. In amongst her printed material recommendations, she also pointed out a host of deficiencies in today's fashion industry - "The problem is that fashion became fashionable," she booms. The excess of everything has led to fashion students barely scratching the surface and not really going deeper to become knowledgeable enough and in the end not having the intuition to bring enough of themselves to the table. This is of course indicative of education on a level beyond fashion degrees - formulaic, grade-based and perhaps not as enriching as it could be. That's a whole other topic that will have me going out of my depth. All I can say is that I found myself nodding along in complete agreement. And for the young hopefuls looking to get into the fashion design world? "Draw, look, learn, make, enjoy!"
I wish I could have spent more time with the Pamflet girls. I walked in at one point and they were talking about about why Agatha Christie is a feminist fashion icon. Hurrah for primly-dressed heroines. In an earlier talk, the brilliant writer and journalist Caitlin Moran pointed out that at some point, there needed to be a new word for feminist/feminism. She expounded the theory of the need for women to be 'one of the guys' - not in the sense of being a layette and acting like a man, but that issues of being a woman needn't be such a bloody burden all the time. The Pamflet ethos have an approach towards feminism that isn't a strict school of thought or hardcore to the point which follows the pedantic tendencies of feminist tribes. Yes you can love Miu Miu and be a feminist is what they say. Further to that, I personally say we need to really tackle rather than just repeatedly talk about specific issues that create inequality between men and women. Stop moaning. Get something done. In the process, you can also love Miu Miu without shame.
None of this festival would have been at all possible of course if the current owners Lord Peregrine and Lady Catherine St Germans, were not kind enough to let all of this activity take place on their land and estate. Inside the Port Eliot house, their love of the arts was clearly evident and so designer Mary Katrantzou took inspiration from the house to make this triptych of Port Eliot printed dresses in a similar way to the S/S 11 'Rooms' collection. The Port Eliot house proves sumptuous enough to grace her jewel-like print dresses and to see them suspended from a flower-twined chandelier was the perfect final visual stimulant of the weekend.