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Queue

Yesterday, I was out BoBbing for the Best of British at Liberty Open Call.  Some of you may have caught Liberty's first Best of British Open Call on the BBC2 show Britain's Next Big Thing, a show that has made a success out of Richard Weston and his mineral scans on scarves.  The second open call also unearthed print dress designers like Modern Love.  Both are now selling at Liberty so the result is a pretty conclusive and concrete one.  It's actually an incredible opportunity for both Liberty and for the designers.  Liberty gets to lay claim to being the only department store in Britain to hold an open day, set out like a sort of Antique's Roadshow where designers from up and down the country can come to see buyers in the respective areas (fashion accessories, womenswear, menswear, beauty, furniture, stationery).  Designers have the chance (with a bit of persistent queuing) to get in front of buyers who might not otherwise get meetings, in these times of flooded inboxes and lack of face-to-face time.  In most cases, if the product isn't right, there's critical feedback too.  

I was very chuffed to be part of the panel, sitting with Olivia Richardson, head of fashion and accesories.  The breadth of designers was exactly how I pictured it – from all over the country and from all backgrounds – a real demonstration that people are willing to indulge in passions even if for now, it's a crafty hobby.  A lot of the people we saw were working on their jewellery/accessories lines part time and the encouraging thing was that even if they were working on a tiny commission-basis, they weren't prepared to outsource production and take away that hand-made artisanal approach that they loved indulging in.  

This of course throws up a few quandries as to how these designers can actually make it to Liberty.  So often we saw products that were pretty or beautiful but not exactly viable to be produced.  There were also products that were aesthetically not right for Liberty but in a different context and environment could flourish and prosper.  The point was that Liberty's buyers were on hand to give the designers an encouraging and guiding hand even if the result was that no actual buying was done.  

There were very few out of the masses that came that made it through to the 2nd round.  Oliva and I actually only handed out ONE singular 2nd round card as the product that we saw had to be ready to hit the shop floor.  However, there was quite a long list of designers to follow-up with proving that buyers are ready to work with designers in order to get the product right and take that risk of buy.  I was incredibly impressed by the buyers' dedication to taking the time out to explain to designers what was right and what was wrong.  There were of course a few awkward moments of designers looking crushed but this industry could do with a bit more helpful critiquing rather than friendly fawning and it was definitely day for the former.

I of course added my own two cents bearing in mind what is right for Liberty.  This wasn't afterall some sort of a charity venture to get as many struggling British designers into the store.  This was about finding the right British designers, ones with a unique design voice that Liberty can champion and publicise that discovery to the advantage of both store and customer.  

I have listed out my top four finds from the day here along with a few others that needed some tweaking or further development.  There'll be follow-ups and who knows – perhaps they will make it into Liberty…

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Alexandra Mann was our one and only solid 2nd rounder of the day.  It wasn't an immediately obvious one either.  Her fabric washbags lined with laundry bag plastic were immediately eye-catching but we had to get the eye of the beauty buyer to see whether people would fork out ¬£70 for a large washbag.  I love her choice of fabrics as well as the way she has inversely appliqued different patterns onto the bags.  Selfishly I encouraged Alexandra to go into accessories by lining her bags with something slightly heavier to make them into squeeshy clutches.  I'm tempted just to tote one of the washbags around as they are.  A quick browse through this eccentric costume designer's website reveals just how far her creativity can be channelled in other areas – she's given me a great idea of sewing square scarves together to make curtains.      

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Emma Shipley blew all the buyers and staff away as soon as she pulled out her amazing pencil drawings.  An RCA textiles graduate from this year, she's already collected a few accolades for her beautiful designs that she has transferred to silk scarves.  For a while, I had to zoom in and out of her drawings just to check they weren't digitally enhanced prints.  Nope – they were ultrafine drawings that shows Shipley to be a draughtswoman of a very traditional sort.  Except look closely at her designs and you'll find embedded amongst all the flora and fauna many subversive quirks.  Transfer that to a beautiful silk scarf or a jacquard shawl and you have something pretty much ripe and ready to go into Liberty's famous scarf room.  It was however a shame that she has already signed up to go exclusive with another store this season.  However, me thinks Shipley will make it into Liberty eventually and hopefully accompanied by her wonderful original drawings…     

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Liam, one half of woodworking accessories duo The Eye of the World came in at a time when we were feeling the mid-afternoon lull.  After a few not very exciting designers, we got these amazingly crafted wooden belt pieces created, incidentally for my favourite science-meets-fashion knitwear designer Brooke Roberts for her A/W 11-12 collection.  Liam is a primary school teacher but works part-time on wood working in Peckham, using a lot of reclaimed wood to create these structures that I can only describe as waist jewellery.  His business partner Hope is a stylist who has paired up with Brooke to create this belt and wooden hat collection that is co-branded but in effect The Eye of the World can take this signature of wooden accessories and expand into many verticles – wooden bags, belts, hats… 

It goes without saying that I love Brooke Robert's knitwear collection immensely but the helping hand from Eye of the World most definitely makes for an interesting partnership where hardware meets soft textiles in an innovative way.  The thing about Eye of the World's pieces is the finish which is pretty immaculate – smooth edges, perfectly sanded down and aligned with perspex – they're also fastidious about presentation creating their own boxes and neoprene soft covers.  The base PVC belt I think perhaps needs a bit of work to go with the belt buckles but the mind boggles as to in what direction they can take their woodworking skills….   

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There's a lovely visual appeal about Emma Calvert's ribbon jewellery that is actually stupendously simple.  There were some finishing issues but I love the combination of colours and the way some of the velvet ribbon had been hand dyed.  I would say Calvert could start off in Etsy to see how her designs fare but there's definite potential here for developing the idea further… 

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It was good to see a few familiar faces – well names actually as I've written about so many people I've never met in person with Jade Mellor being one of them.  I love her resin rings made to look like found minerals as well as a new plaster cast collar idea that she is at present developing.  Olivia said the rings perhaps needed to be refined in shape so as to not be as chunky but I guess I'm the sort of person that doesn't mind a few organic-looking rock formations on my fingers.  

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I was so surprised I hadn't seen Retrouve's work considering the designer takes a lot of the vintage jewellery at Bang Bang, one of my favourite vintage/designer concession store in London, and gels it all together.  Yes, there's a lot of refound jewellery stuff but I haven't seen anyone that does it in such an emboldened way as designer Jo Whelan does.  It sort of looks like jewellery has been entangled up in a box but there's definitely rhyme and reason in how the colours and shapes go together….  

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Rosie Jacobs has come up with a scarf that supposedly doubles up as a bag with its hidden pockets and leather fixtures at the bottom that weights the scarf down.  I didn't think much of them as they were laid flat on the table but once on, I love the styling potential with them.  I'm never really into things with double functionality and I'd probably wear it more as a scarf than use it as a legitimate bag to hold stuff in (considering my clumsy ways with losing stuff).  

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A Few Fine Things are fairly established in Manchester and get many custom commissions for sturdily made, British leather bags.  The problem is of course pricing that starts to compete with more well-established high-end brands.  I did love this satchel design though which features a push button snapper fixture at the front, something I've never seen before on bags…   

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I've not been able to google Armitage scarf designs so I can't tell you too much about it other than the designer lives in Penzance and creates designs that fuse illustrations of buildings with florals.  There's something quite eye-catching about the designers but as with a lot of scarf designers on the day, there seemed to be an issue of print quality not being saturated enough to come through on the other side of the silk, something I never considered as a stumbling block.  

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Comments (16)

  1. Kb says:

    Wow so much creativity in this post, I love the ribbon jewellery. This is such a great initiative, going to try and get some graduate friends to go for this next time.

  2. Kit says:

    I love Emma Calvert’s ribbon jewellery, the texture and colour combo….quite similiar to Jennifer Loiselle’s pieces though.

  3. Wow!! Love Emma Shipley and A Few Fine Things. Great post!

  4. Vani says:

    It’s always a pleasure reading your blog and discovering posts like this!
    xoxo
    http://www.thedressingbooth.blogspot.com

  5. I love your blog because you write the things as they are, and you don’t favor any brands. A blog that I trust a lot. Thanks for being you.
    With love from Bangkok!
    xxx
    Hang

  6. wow! all so amazing, i really wanted to go to this but i wasn’t fast enough and boy, were people fast!! So ready for it next time >;)

  7. Sarah says:

    I think I have died and gone to Liberty textile heaven!!! XD Awesome photos style bubble!
    xx Sarah
    http://gingerdolldreams.blogspot.com

  8. Steph IL2L says:

    Emma Shipley has to be my favourite! Those silk scarves are STUNNING! Another lovely blog post also :)

  9. Emma fox says:

    I was there too, so it nice too actually see some of the other people’s work, as you only really get to see things that people show you in the queue. By the way the clothes some of the staff were wearing were lovely….the girl with the peacock dress, was my favourite. And all those amazing high heals.

  10. XIronman says:

    I love everything in your blog

  11. Olive says:

    I just in love with the bag, the necklaces and the rings are to die for!

  12. simply awesome awesome collection can’t say anything

  13. Jo Ann L. says:

    the ribbon jewellery reminds me of the time when I used to do it so much in primary school….
    It’s such a creative idea to do it into jewellery…I used to do it into a key chain

  14. Rakhi says:

    What a unique collection my god.I am in love with jeweleries.

  15. XIronman says:

    patchwork style comes back again

  16. Marcia says:

    Love you article…I know it’s a late comment. But I’ve just come across it whilst doing some research. The bag from a ‘Few Fine Things’ is gorgeous!

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