>> I couldn't make it to the launch of the new British Designers Collective at Bicester Village last week so I went on a spare Sunday to do right by my inner journalistic purpose and cover what is in fact a great initiative in the scheme of discount fashion shopping.  It's got NOTHING to do with the fact that I love a good outlet mall, especially one that has a Le Creuset shop or the fact that I wanted to go and stalk Prada to see if there's still any S/S 10 postcard print stuff.  No, not at all… *cough*

If I did make the British Designers Collective store my primary motive for heading up to Bicester, that wouldn't be too shabby at all.  The shop fit this time round is more ambitious and in the stretch of outlet stores really stands out with its astro-turfed exterior and pop-baroque aesthetic.  





The offerings from the previous two British Designers Collective store have been expanded upon and now there are more designers taking part, covering shoes, accessories as well as clothes.  If you're not in London, fiendishly hawk-eyeing all the sample sales and you're visiting the country, you could do a lot worse than bagging a few past season pieces from the British Designers Collective at up to 60% off with the bonus of being able to try them on (unlike say TheOutnet.com or Yoox.com).  Just a quick perusal yields the following…

…Nicholas Kirkwood shoes (not the boring styles either)… 



Jonathan Saunders' deliciously juicy knitwear // Lulu & Co. pieces including this Louise Gray MA collection dress that is my go-to party frock

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Peter Pilotto's S/S 11 shattered prism prints // Holly Fulton bling/fun jewellery 

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Other jewellery notable mentions include this Erickson Beamon ring that looks like it's glowing in daylight… 


… and quite a few Mawi pieces that are recognisable by a mile away… 


Holly Fulton's smoky deco prints are also up for grabs… 


…as well as Marios Schwab's pearl-encrusted frocks… 


… and Emma Cook's animal-inspired prints in muted shades.  


The biggest surprise were these Osman pieces from his A/W 11-12 collection which feature a really beautiful stitched matelass√© in vibrant shades of orange and red.  I was particularly taken with the wide legged trousers that would work nicely with my fixation with this pic of the Brady Bunch, circa 1977.  

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Another new face to the Bicester scene is Charlotte Olympia popping up with its own outlet store.  Fruit pumps at 50% off which is still isn't cheap but we are talking about a fruit bowl incarnated in shoe form. 



In other Bicester news: Prada S/S 11 faux fur stole in Muppets orange and turquoise SPOTTED for ¬£120, Celine's S/S 11 scarf print pieces are in stock and in abundance but still hideously expensive, Marni outlet store punching its weight above the rest in terms of prices, Church's outlet store is about to open and it looks like I'm going to be spending a lot of money at Bon Point, with friends and family members having buns in their ovens.  Bicester report over and out.  

>> The newly changed British summer time brings out the cliches in me.  "The best things come in small packages", "Enjoy the little things in life", ""Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."  The best things in life aren't necessarily all small but a collation of these dinky sized objects does make for a lazy Sunday post.  I'm more diligent normally on the weekends but like I said, it's the sunshine that is causing all kinds of nauseatingly cliched behaviour.  I'm too busy walking with a 'spring in my step; and blowing dandelions in the fields.

Ring-A-Ding Ding (From left to right: Jogema hand ring, Whistles 'Tiffany' bow ring, Elke Kramer treasure chest ring) – I have a tendency to take off rings mid-meal and leave them on the table which makes wearing jewellery a bit of a liability.  These ones are somewhat conspicuous and definitely make their presence felt, when they're on the hand, especially the Elke Kramer one.  It's also a handy place for a paracetamol stash.




Smythson Valentine's Trinket Box – The word 'trinket' makes me think of playtime jewellery – plastic gem stones and rubber necklaces for your doll.  This box should really be holding proper grown-up 'jewellery' but instead, it's become the perfect home for dead/dying SD cards.



Whistles A/W 12-3 Press Day Tamagotchi – Whistles have always put in a lot of effort into their press day invitations and this season it's no exception with this branded tamgotchi.  I'm not sure whether that's an indication that the clothes are going to be like they were back in 1996-7 but who cares when you have 99 pets to choose from and have a plethora of activities to help it survive.  I doubt I'll be able to keep mine alive beyond A/W 12-3 though‚Ķ



Bulgari Snake Leather Bracelet – This leather  thing-a-ma-jig was a freebie at their event in Milan, which I happen to really love (not often the case with event goodie bags).  You have to slap yourself back down to reality, when you're going to parties where they give away $300+ worth of gifts.


Maria Francesca Pepe Collar Clip – The emphasis on the buttoned up shirt collar seems fervent when there are now so many stand alone shirt collars available.  Now we get to adorn the tips of the collars too with jewellery and this MFP chain is a good example with its more abstract take on the snake head. 



Monki Playbutton – Dinky sized fashion-related electronics seem to be a theme here.  This pin badge slash MP3 player has 10 tracks on it and is activated when you plug in your headphones.  It helps that the tracks they included on it include ones by Slow Club and Summer Camp.



Cornelia Webb Chain Clip – i've taken to wearing my hair loose but swept to the side a lot, usually secured with about fifty kirby grips at the back to stop my wiggy hair from breaking free from its wiggy place.  This Cornelia Webb clip with its dangling chains should also hold back the tide of hair as well as being decorative in its own right.




Proef Tights - Product designer Manami Saito and Katsuhiro Igarashi came together to form a design label that for now has been successful in its establishment of geometric printed tights.  It's a simple idea well executed as graphic squares and triangles grace Japanese-made nude tights (the only acceptable pair of flesh coloured tights I own‚Ķ) and add a different spin to the saturated category of novelty tights.




I've returned from Barcelona/Madrid and have headed straight into a back to back funeral and wedding combo, which has resulted in a mini absence on the blog.  I'm breaking up this little Richard Curtis passage of faux drama in my life with a mammoth blog post, one that is long overdue seeing as I should have crowed earlier, about how CHUFFED I was to be featured on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour during London Fashion Week.  I was followed by some friendly BBC people for the duration of the Central Saint Martins MA show on the first day of LFW, where they gently probed me about the blog, young designers and the like, and so I have thus ticked off one of life's ambitions.  Once I've been on Desert Island Discs, I'll know I've done good.  Sorry if all of this BBC Radio 4 chat is going over your head.  Seeing as BBC radio is open to the whole world though, I highly recommend an afternoon or two spent pottering around the house with Radio 4 in the background.  The world will feel right again after about twenty minutes or so.

Back to the main subject at hand, which is this year's crop of  Central Saint Martins MA grads.  A season isn't complete really without a stellar quote from the MA course director, the part-feared, wholly-loved-and-respected Louise Wilson, and this one comes courtesy of last week's Observer.  When asked about how fashion works, she busted out with the big guns.  "There aren't 10 easy fucking rules, OK?  You wouldn't ask Freud: 'Can you show me how to make a painting?', would you? You wouldn't dream of asking an F1 driver to show you quickly how to build a car.  How does it work? How do you lick a cock!  Listen, it's a life experience.  It's about skills, education. Sorry, mate, not everyone can be in the club."  Loaded questions yield loaded answers, you might say. 

You get a vaguely more positive quote from Wilson when asked about this year's graduates: "We took them on a journey. Some didn‚Äôt know where they were going, some did, but they got there in the end.  Some drove past the destination.‚Äù

If going past the destination means producing a memorable group of twenty designers, whose work is full of verve and original thought, then I'd say that's a well-travelled journey.  Central Saint Martins obviously has a bastion of reputation to uphold and its status as being the sole show to be reviewed on Style.com makes it all to easy to bring it down a peg and scoff a little.  Even with the shrewdest of eyes, it was difficult not to be enamoured with this year's class of graduates. 

The fact that I was furiously folding down pages of the catalogue and making mental gold stars next to people's names during the show was testament to what a fruitful show it was.  At any student show, if you take away one or two names to remember, that's the mark of some success.  Here, I've picked out eight.  Though it could easily have been fifteen.  A post containing nearly hundred pictures is just plain indulgent.  Therefore I'll leave you with a smattering of names whose journey in fashion has just begun – some will go into houses into design teams, some may strike out on their own, some may end up on paths that don't lead to fashion design.  Wilson's declaration that "Not everyone can be in the club" has never rung so true when making it as a jobbing/earning fashion designer is so difficult in the current financial climate.  


Luke Brooks – If ever there was an intelligent spin on Zoolander's "Derelict" collection, Luke Brooks' MA collection would be it.  Brooks pushed his knitwear degree title to the edge with a collection that made comment on waste in today's society and on the maligned beauty of the decrepit.  It's easy to make a passing derisive comment on a smock encrusted with paint smears but I promise you that in person, the close-up view of these pieces really shows you what a craft-based feat this collection is.  Craft underlined a lot of the CSM MA collections but it was never expressed in any cliched or well-trodden aesthetics and Brooks definitely didn't play any safe cards.  He pushed the knitwear medium's boundaries, playing with texture and using techniques to express his take on trash-to-treasure.  It was no surprise therefore that Brooks was one of the joint winners of the L'Oreal Award.












Charlotte Helyar – Collision of the traditional and the unexpected continued in textiles designer Charlotte Helyar's collection where blown up dots from CMYK printing is used to depict fragments of 18th century florid portraits.  Glimpses of extravagant mantua dresses can be vaguely made out on the clinical white cotton tunics and are punctuated by the familiar printer codes of cyan, magenta, yellow and black squares just to remind you that modern day printed imagery comes to us through four colours of inks as opposed to tubes of oil paint or dainty watercolours.  Helyar's use of imagery and print positioning was thoroughly effective and felt like they could make an immediate transition to a real produceable collection.  Not that, that is the end ultimate end goal of an MA collection but it doesn't hurt in this instance. 








Erna Einarsdottir – Knitwear of the slightly more conventional sort could be found in Erna Einarsdottir' muted but impactful collection.  Judging by the number of samples and swatches that she had produced, Einarsdottir had carefully perfected her technique of running wool stitches into panels on silver leather, which contrasted beautifully with the grey knit sweaters that bristled at the shoulders in contrasting shades of grey.  Again, this is all the sort of stuff that can be easily imagined on bodies straight away, and the pool sandals with those knit stitches conveniently fall in line with S/S 12's ornate take on the pool sandal. 











Helen Lawrence – Making craftsmanship look naive and almost like childsplay was what Helen Lawrence seemed to be going for.  Abstract scribbles as well as protective uniforms like hospital scrubs came together to inform this textural combustion of black thread, wool felt and clear PVC.  The jagged edge stitches and deliberately haphazard colour blocked formations all evoked a child going over the edges in his or her colouring in book.  Lawrence avoided neat edges and it paid off, especially when you saw the glint of PVC showing through the gaps in between the swatches of felt. 










Hellen van Rees – "Chanel meets Tetris" was the first thought that popped into my mind when I saw Hellen van Rees' collection.  That may not have been the intention seeing as the collection is actually called "Square One: The Miracle of the Space Age" but the use of the yarn-rich tweed to cover cubes that fell gracefully on jackets and past-the-knee dresses seemed to me like a forward push on classic codes of Chanel.  Imagine if someone had the balls at Chanel to come up with something like this, eh?  Looking at van Rees' inspiration image, it was actually road obstructions, yellow marked pavements and bleak 70s architecture that inspired the texture and shapes.  The rectangular blocks could have looked cumbersome but it was down to van Rees experimenting properly with the fabric covered plastic cuboids, that made this collection work.  











Estefania Cortes-Harker – Looking through Estefania Cortes-Harker's inspiration imagery gave one indication as to the full-on weirdness that comes as a result from surfing the internet, stumbling from one odd Tumblr page to another.  Not that Cortes-Harker is an exception as many design students now trawl the internet for inspiration.  It just struck me that fifteen years ago, a student in London might not have so easily stumbled upon creepy images of American child beauty pageants, the source of Cortes-Harker's sparkle-filled riot of a collection.  From the veneer of sequins, kitsch and glitz, Cortes-Harker cleverly constructed glitter covered dresses that jutted out at times with graphic shapes (some removable) and contrasted with the unexpected lining of Liberty print florals.  It's testament to how much visual impact Cortes-Harker has created with her collection as most of it was on loan to press, when I went to see the CSM exhibition.  Beyond being editorial-friendly though, Cortes-Harker's collection gets me excited to see what she'll end up doing in the future. 












Mei-Lim Cooper – If paint smears, glitter and tweed covered blocks aren't your thing, then the pared-back knitwear of Mei-Lim Cooper might be just the thing.  Her collection was a technical feat of patterncutting where a series of flat form knits, transform instantly once on the body.  The placement of arm holes and slots as well as flashes of colour are calculated with precision.  Cooper's knitwear is deceptive and instantly covetable from the point of view of wanting to "slip" into a garment.  It's difficult to define what these "tops" are.  Capes?  Sweaters?  Cardigans?  Tabards?  Tunics?  She's almost trying to create a new category that belongs exclusively to her knits.  Cooper has a collaboration with Bally coming up.  Here's hoping it will yield something that goes straight to the rail. 












Kenji Kawasumi – Finally, we have another knitwear-boundary pusher.  Kenji Kawasumi painstakingly carved into foam and painted flecks of colour on to create these pieces, giving the illusion of a cable knit in some cases.  Kawasumi wanted to replicate the feel of a curved wooden doll, hence why the shapes look like they stand away from the body in a cartoonish manner.  The pastel palette and paint texture evoke Impressionist paintings as well as echoing the recycled nature of foam.  The intricacy of the carving is yet another ode to highly skilled craft.  Louise Wilson scorned the "neck-to-knee decorated lady-dress" and talked about wanting to push her students to do something that "doesn't come out of a computer."  She should be proud of Kawasumi and his deft demonstration of skilled handiwork. 



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Suuuuuuuny Spain?  Not a chance.  It is pissing down with rain in Barcelona and decidedly grey in Madrid but I'm happy as larry as I'm here in Spain to experience Loewe in its birthplace of Madrid as well to see the opening of its newly renovated store on Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona and the accompanying Galleria Loewe, just down the road.  That's a lot to take in from that one sentence and the bombarding onslaught of detailed picture posts are yet to come but for now, I had to pick out this one nugget of beauty for its sheer awe-inspiring prettiness.



At the Loewe Barcelona store opening last night, in addition to marvelling at the wonderfully designed (courtesy of Peter Marino) store on Paseo de Gracia, they had set up a demonstration of a traditional skilled embroiderer from Andalucia, sewing away at what can only be described as THE mantón de Manila to end all mantónes de Manila.




The mant√≥n de Manila (literally translated, "shawl of Manila') is of course an iconic Spanish symbol, relating to the flamenco traditions of southern Spain and has inspired Loewe's silk scarves for generations.  In a strange East-West connection that parallels the growing success of Loewe in Asia right now, the manton actually dates back to the 16th century, where silk scarves embroidered with Taoist symbols were imported from China to Seville via Manila in the Philippines, which was then a Spanish colony.  The Chinese shawls were then adapted by Spanish craftsmen, where dragons and lotus flowers became local species of birds and flora such as roses, daisies and irises.




This is a special made to order embroidered piece that will translate to more accessible silk mant√≥n de Manila inspired prints but as an ode to the artistry of embroidery, the shawl really is quite impressive.  Four women will take up to three months to complete this stupendous shawl.  I know, I know – yet another stat to clock up the "We value craftsmanship" campaign that high end brands with a veritable heritage and history love to spout out.  I'm a sucker for the sentiment though, especially when you see it in action here with needle and thread coming together to make something as special as this shawl.  I was mesmerised to the point where I stood there gawping at the woman for about five minutes.




The colours of the floral design are loosely related to the silk prints that Spanish artist Antonio Ballester Moreno has designed for Loewe, that were displayed at an after party event last night.  Moreno has reinterpreted the more traditional mant√≥n de Manila designs with a slightly naive and upbeat spin that feels right for Loewe's foray into a "younger" brand image, in lieu of what creative director Stuart Vevers is doing at the house.




Designs by Antonio Ballester Moreno for Loewe that will be launching in May.

The more traditional mantón-inspired designs by Loewe

Still, the lasting impression of the hand-embroidered silk shawl is palpable – and certainly is about as aspirational as it gets in craftsmanship.  To own something like this would be the surefire answer to the ubiquitous "What would you save from your closet if your house was on fire?"


>> It's no secret that I like sponging  beauty tips off make-up artists and hair stylists, during any shoots that I do.  Whether I make use of those tips or not after I'm out of the safety net of having a skilled expert around you is besides the point.  If I can retain that nary bit of information about say, how to apply lipstick properly without looking like the local bag lady who hangs around with pigeons and eats only from Greggs, then it will all be worthwhile.

The day after Paris Fashion Week ended, I stayed behind for a shoot where I got ma hair did.  And I mean seriously diiiiid.  The hair stylists took one look at my own shonky DIY top knot and declared they loved it and so then proceeded to upgrade it up to top knot beta version 3.0 with the power of Elnett hairspray, about a gazillion bobby pins and the surprising introduction of a hair net.  Now, i know some readers every so often request a video tutorial of how I do my own version of the top knot.  It's just not going to happen because it's so ludicrously simple that there it's not even worth the video upload space.  I basically bend down and flip my hair down, until I start to feel head rush and grab all my hair together, brushing furiously, stick it into a high ponytail and then twist it until it twists back on itself and bung a few pins in to secure.   It's admittedly a bit bumpy with a ton of fly aways but it gets the hair out of the way, which is the primary goal. 

The dream team duo of hair stylists at the shoot basically did the same thing but with ten times more precision, up to the point of the high ponytail.  They then proceeded to wrap it up in a hair net and then twist it into what looks like a pain au raisin shape and then stuck a load of pins in.  Or to use a less pedestrian reference, it could also be an Anish Kapoor sculpture.  Whatever.  I'm easy.  Pastry or sculpture, I was chuffed with the result, which lasted for two days until I had to break free of it.  I doubt it can ever be replicated at home but my friend who was with me, is confident that armed with a can of Elnett and a hair net, she could possibly make more Danish pastry magic happen.