The Smart Way to Socially Responsible Luxury

Images by Raju Patil for Forbes India

Social entrepreneurship and bespoke tailoring skills are brought together by Suresh and Mahesh Ramakrishnan, who with their Savile Row tailoring outfit Whitcomb and Shaftesbury, are showing that luxury can find new ways of bringing together the finest things (in this case smart bespoke suits) with socially responsible business.

Savile Row is a wellspring of creative energy stemming from its incredible heritage and the continuity of its tailoring traditions. But it is also under attack from fast fashion brands that are setting up shop on Savile Row, threatening to destroy its character. Tailors on the Row must also balance their unique heritage with the pressures of adapting to expanding markets globally.

How Savile Row rises to these challenges is a litmus test of what heritage really means, and how it can adapt to changing times in positive ways. The Ramakrishnan brothers are providing one example by doing something quite ground breaking. They are helping to preserve the continuity of bespoke tailoring skills whilst opening up the supply chain to the concept of socially responsible luxury- bringing together rehabilitation for Tsunami victims with high value added skills training. My story on their inspiring business can be seen in this month’s edition of Forbes India. CLICK…!

Red, White, Blue and a discount or two…

Jubilee madness appears to have hit Britain so this blog is bending to a little of the fervour with posts which cover important topics such as the Jubilee marketing strategy of UK fashion retailers plus Launer, the company who makes the Queen’s handbags, and what exactly is kept those handbags?

Whistles has 20% off a selection of dresses with the cheeky “One does love a discount”

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In general UK fashion retailers seem to be offering themed discounts but in terms of graphics few with the glee of Matches.com. Matches have gone to town with photoshop with all the determination of the village committee of a country fair getting out the bunting, creating some fun patriotic-esque imagery in the process. Of course, being to do with the Queen, it references punk Sex Pistols imagery and has fun with pasting some seriously bling jewellery on the corgis.

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Matches go to town with Jubilee fervour
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Corgis do bling

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It’s really great!

Selfridges have provided an edit worthy of the cheerfulness of a British seaside souvenir shop, but with luxury items such as Union Jack emblazoned Alexander McQueen clutches, Barbour Jackets and Launer handbags.

Reiss have tastefully made no reference or discounts in relation to the Jubilee- so they definitely wont be seen to be cashing in on their Royal association.

Jaeger has actually created a limited edition collection, based on an abstracted print of a Diamond which is really pretty and makes for an interesting play on the flower prints which have dominated collections the past couple of seasons

Jaeger takes the Diamond theme and runs with it

Abstract diamond print for Jaeger’s Ltd Editon Jubilee collection

Jaeger Diamond Jubilee Ltd ed scarf

…and where would the Jubilee collection be without a covetable headscarf?!

Beautiful simplicity

Aneeth Arora draws inspiration from local ways of dressing across India and the rich palette of regional Indian weaving traditions and crafts. Her designs and beguiling catwalk shows have drawn much attention from proponents of  “eco fashion” across the world, where her elegant take on traditional Indian textiles and crafts has struck a chord.

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Hidesign weighs in on the “It bag” stakes with eco luxury line

In 2007 there was a lot of media attention around Hidesign when French Luxury House Louis Vuitton reportedly bought a 26% stake in the Indian leather bags and accessories company, which differentiates itself though natural vegetable tanning and dying. This had the pink papers in a whirl of speculation asking the reasons behind a French luxury powerhouse investing in a relatively small leather goods manufacturer.

More eco minded pundits asked if it was LV making a strategic CSR investment to address concerns around sustainable luxury.

Others with an eye on Japan saw it as a bid to gain ground where brands such as US-based Coach were giving higher positioned brands a run for their money in Asian markets. Coach’s affordable luxury price positioning was dominating sales in department store spaces and soaking up a lucrative segment of aspirational luxury consumers. Analysts such as ESSEC’s Professor of Management Ashok Som  interpreted investment in Hidesign as a move by LV to create a brand with style and pricing that could compete with competitors like Coach in the so-called aspirational consumer market across Asia, especially in Japan.

After that not much more was heard of this investment and motives for LV’s investment in Hidesign.

When last week, almost five years on from the reported PE investment by LV, Hidesign launched its first line of designer luxury bags in Mumbai, the speculation about Hidesign being LV’s bid for a greater stake in Asian markets seemed much less tangible. Because in the meantime China became the big new luxury market for global brands and Coach ramped up its “price warrior” strategy accordingly, by 2011 gaining a reported 6% market share, raking in $300 mn in sales and expanding to 71 stores. It stayed strong in Japan with 17% market share of accessories. On the other hand Coach doesn’t have much of a presence or brand recognition in India.

For Hidesign, it now seems more relevant to talk about the importance of India as a luxury market, which is growing despite some serious infrastructural and regulatory obstacles.

Dipen Desai, brand manger at Hidesign stated that its market in India currently stands at 120 crore ($2.4 mn) annually, making up some 60% of its sales globally. Its doing well, but is keen to batten down the hatches, so to speak, with a ramped up range of luxury bags aimed at a key and growing market segment.

 

Hidesign has great brand recognition and is considered a homegrown Indian brand story.

Hidesign was founded by entrepreneur Dilip Kumar in 1978 and for more than two decades its sole market was international. It was only in 1999, that sensing the winds of change in liberalising India, Hidesign began expansion. By 2012 it was notching-up 60 stand-alone stores and almost 200 outlets across India. Hidesign differentiates itself on quality craftsmanship, natural tanning and dying processes. Designs often look “handmade”, with detailing such as wooden beads and laced leather seams, although its evident over collections in the past few years Hidesign is experimenting with more trend-led styling and branding.

For many women Hidesign, did and still does represent a loyal friend, symbolising the assurance of quality and the mark of middle class respectability, and most importantly it’s not too flashy therefore hitting the mark with the famous Indian middle class sensibility of thrift and inconspicuous consumption.

Brand repositioning

Yet in India, as global brand exposure is increasing and spending power rising, balance between affordable, premium and high luxury market segments has shifted enormously. Women with purchasing power to buy luxury bags are pairing Damier check Vuittons and logo patterned Fendis with salwar kameez and saris. There’s also a younger generation of brand aware consumers who brands are eyeing keenly.

In India, global luxury brands have not fared so well with apparel, which tends to be dominated by ethnic wear when it comes to big spending. Shoes and handbags however are emerging as new areas of luxury consumption for women, and many international luxury brands have stepped in with limited edition designs especially for the Indian market such as Bottega Veneta’s gold knot clutch, which retails at around 4 lakh ($8000).

Hidesign’s rationale for its new luxury range is because the Indian market is growing so rapidly, a crucial premium segment has opened up in-between the Rs 8000 ($160) average of its current lines, and the starting point of around Rs 40,000 ($800) for brands like LV and Gucci. The new premium Hidesign range is priced from Rs 8, 000 ($160) to 25, 000 ($500).

A flirtatious but classic design from the range

Its named after the Italian designer Alberto Ciaschini, who has worked for Hidesign since 2004. However this is the first time that a line has been aimed specifically at the luxury market and the first time Alberto Ciaschini name has been used in association with its branding.

Hidesign is aggressively going for the heritage stakes in a product offering which trumpets Indian craftsmanship yet uses the name of it’s Italian designer to brand it.

This may seem like a mixed message, leveraging  two different things at once. But this fits into the rather complex “mindset” of the Indian consumer. Where European brands have such cachet in India, it would seem that to compete, Hidesign are playing very safe in couching Indian craftsmanship in terms of Italian design.

The Ciaschini range is finished well with rich detailing. Bags fall into two distinct lines- firstly embroidered and beaded bags suitable for the all important Indian wedding and social events, pretty much hitting the ethnic-bling nail on the head. Secondly, day bags with detailing inspired by leaves and flowers. It would have been good to have formal options in workbags (I await the next collection)! Hidesign have undoubtedly created designs which have excellent craftsmanship and quality, especially when compared to some competitors, who offer logo printed nylon or canvas for the same price point.

Hidesign is in tune with the times, where many global luxury brands speak of a “return to values” in terms of craftsmanship, quality and less emphasis on logos after decades of mass diffusion. But Hidesign faces fierce competition from some of its international competitors, who leverage multi million dollar advertising budgets.

Hidesign will need to build on what it does best. Carving out its niche as the homegrown brand offering eco luxury bags will be a good move in the luxury bag market.

Manish Arora India Design Forum 2012

Manish Arora talks the business of fashion at India design forum 2012:

“I had to grab attention before, I had to put myself into everyones minds internationally, it’s not easy. My being the only Indian fashion designer to consecutively show 14 shows In Paris, yet I’m from a country of 1.3 billion. For me it’s very important to take India and show it to the world, the world doesn’t need another Western designer, what they need is a modern Indian designer”

 “You cannot think you can appear on page 3 and then you become a designer. Fashion is a business”. Manish Arora, India Design Forum, March 2012

Manish Arora AW12 Photo credit Pierrick Prigent for DFS

Manish Arora AW12-13

Graffiti gets the fashion treatment- Manish Arora Paris AW/12 Photo credit: Pierrick Prigent for DFS

Manish Arora AW12-13

The one white dress in the collection, with needlework bricks from which drip rich gobs of embroidery inspired by Judith Supine's mysterious street art imagery. Photo credit Pierrick Prigent for DFS

eyes without a face (1960)

Judith Supine "Eyes Without a Face"

A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork:

Judith Supine's A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork: That's the way we spell New York

Manish Arora AW12-13

Manish Arora AW12-13

Manish Arora AW12-13

Hot graffiti prints Photo credit: Pierrick Prigent for DFS

When I arrived at Le Meridien Hotel in Delhi for the phenomenal Indian Design Forum, I met Manish Arora taking a few moments outside in the sunshine before his talk. He was wearing a smart black cotton bandgala buttoned over a metallic knit jumper in a vibrant mustard colour. He commented that he has toned down the colours he wears but ramped up the metallics- it looked great.

He had just finished two shows within the space of five days in Paris. One for his own label and one for Paco Rabanne where he has been Creative Director since early 2011.

For his own label Manish Arora Paris, the show was held on the banks of the Seine. A team of graffiti artists sprayed letters on a white wall as the models walked along a catwalk in front. As the guys with spray cans worked furiously, the final line up of models was made- each one stood in front of a letter which spelled out “Life is Beautiful”. This was synchronised both in time and colour, so what each model wore synchronised with the colours and graphics of the letter they stood in front of.

For AW/12 Arora’s signature use of acid brights in vivid contrasts was given a delicious twist by his collaboration with Brooklyn based street artist Judith Supine. Supine’s grammar of ethereal urban mythological creatures often have a feminist and environmental message and were transposed to Arora’s design using embroidery or prints, lush with the richness of couture detailing.

Some embroidered pieces had a background of black velvet bricks on a black satin background creating a richly monochromatic canvas on which embroidered gobs of colour emulated the drips and smears of paint that give graffiti its visual punch. It reinforced a different direction from Arora’s previous work, much more wearable and integrating diverse influences.

The silhouettes echoed those of his own label SS/12 collection where structured lady like cuts seemed to draw inspiration from the prim elegance of classic 1950s Dior. Cocoon shaped pencil skirts and demure boleros in black were the foil for bursts of energetic colour and  texture. Because the collection was split into two distinct looks, the graffiti prints and the prints and embroideries inspired by Judith Supine’s mysterious street art, the silhouettes gave the collection as a whole an underlying unity.

At the IDF talk, which was just a few days after the show, Arora commented that his work as Creative Director for Paco Rabanne is a balance between showmanship and commerciality. This is also true of his own line. He’s grabbed attention on the international stage as the “Indian” designer; defined by exotic perceptions surrounding his country of origin- leveraging that very successfully. If you want Indian kitsch that’s what I’ll give you many of his collections seemed to shout. That has served him well, but now he has reached a level of success where paradoxically he can be far more interesting artistically by being far more commercial. The AW/12 catwalk collection showed clothes for women with an eye for the unusual rather than simply show clothes for Lady Gaga or Katy Perry.

Over at Paco Rabanne his second show as Creative Director didn’t have the wow factor of his first show, it wasnt meant to. The outré sculptural pieces which announced his arrival for the first collection, had evolved into clothes deliberately muted. As much as the first collection had been impractical this one was going for wearability and saleability. See the interview below for what he has to say on this. The design heritage of hard materials was referenced through boxy cuts but in soft leather and metallic fabrics rather than chain mail. It will be indeed be interesting to see what transpires in his third collection for the brand.

Before a packed audience at the India Design Forum in Delhi, Arora was in conversation with Priya Paul, presenting highlights of his career. Having done so much in terms of collaborations with brands ranging from Reebok to Nescafe there was plenty to discuss, as well as some of the process of being Creative Director for a famed French design house.

Highlights from the talk

PP: So what does it take to be Creative Director of Paco Rabanne?

MA: Being Creative Director means also being convincing to the team at my office! Being creative is one thing, but being Creative Director is another. That’s the difference. Creativity is there, but it’s about how you apply your creativity, and still convince everybody that you’re the right person at this point to be there

PP: Is that a difficult transition to be answerable?

It is, because I run two brands. I run two shows in Paris over five days, no other designer does that. But at the same time, it’s so enriching every day because you learn so much, and it puts you in your place.

…and in my own brand I have such freedom that sometimes it’s not right, but there I have five bosses on top of me, and I have to convince each one, in my own way, and still accomplish what I want for the show.

How do you keep these things separate, Manish Arora Brand, Fish Fry and Paco Rabanne, How do you manage to switch between these and make this happen?

It’s very simple, I live really two lives, it’s complicated, but it’s about planning well. They [the brands] are separate things and the only common person is me.

How do you transition between the two?

I finish my own show in the evening and the next morning I am in the office at Paco Rabanne.

So the reputation you have as a wild child, is not really true?

No discipline is very important. Being on time for a meeting is what makes you who you are, it’s about being disciplined.

The place, and the way the AW/ 12 show was done, seemed very casual, but you will see towards the end, the graffiti is ready ON TIME, it takes a lot of planning to do this.

Do you think you’ve toned down your palette?

I haven’t toned down my palette but I’ve adapted it. Its one thing to have fun, but it’s about selling too. Its doing what I believe in and getting buyers as well. Its tough but I’m on my way!

Your designs are beautiful but not everyone could wear a circus dress so there’s the need to adapt for a wider audience?

I had to grab attention before, I had to put myself into everyones minds internationally, it’s not easy. My being the only Indian fashion designer to consecutively show 14 shows In Paris, yet I’m from a country of 1.3 billion. For me it’s very important to take India and show it to the world, the world doesn’t need another Western designer, what they need is a modern Indian designer.

So how do you achieve that?

I use Indian craftsmanship to my advantage, but my imagery it’s very modern, for me it’s about modernising India, not Westernising India.

I’m trying to make Paco Rabanne, for the first show it was all about making news, and we did it very well now second show was where I’ve made news, now lets sell! The collection was about selling!

The third show will express the right balance between both, that will be my aim for the next collection, between the experimental and the commercial. I cannot make something all in metal, I have to make clothes for the modern woman who needs clothes that can go from the office to after work.

Turning metal into fabric is the biggest challenge, either to change or to use the just the right amount, just that amount that it’s still believable. It’s very difficult to make it relevant for now, it’s a big challenge.

What do you think would be the lessons for Indian designers?

You have to believe in your own design identity, and then you have to stick to it! And keep on at it until people believe in you. Fashion sometimes is not a job, and it’s more about being a star, and for me it’s not that, fashion is a job like being a lawyer. You cannot think you can appear on page 3 and then you become a designer. Fashion is a business.

Burberry’s Art of the Trench shares the love in India

Celebs do street style


Burberry is styled as the quintessential British heritage brand, globally recognised and a phenomenal success in Asian markets such as Japan and China. It is also something of a phoenix, having risen from what many saw as the smouldering ashes of its appropriation by a British youth subculture in the nineties, and its latter association with WAGS. A recent article in The Economist claimed that none of this would have much cultural meaning for Asian consumers. I think that depends on how strong links are through networks of family in the UK or whether someone is a returned NRI from Britain, or how extensively someone might keep up with fashion history and the sartorial preferences of British soap stars. However, Burberry’s creative director Christopher Bailey has done such an incredible job of revamping Burberry from its checkered past (the Economist’s pun not mine), that that’s all besides the point anyway. What Burberry just excels at these days is reinventing the classic trench in a myriad of covetable ways, and doing inventive things with raffia and plaited leather. I still feel something like amazement when I look at the sophisticated mix of textures, beautiful materials and colours to be found in Burberry stores today.

The other thing that Burberry excels at these days is brand building through social media. In this vein, last Friday at the Oberoi hotel in Gurgaon, Burberry hosted a party as part of its ongoing Art of the Trench project. Large interactive screens allowed for party goers to like (as in Facebook) whilst sweeping hands (as in touch-phone mode), across the medley of individuals posing in a rainbow of Burberry trenches for Mumbai-based street fashion photographer Manou. The Hindustan times plug of the launch which included the line “street style Indian celeb images” perfectly captured the way in which Burberry has harnessed the do it yourself media aesthetic of street style photogrpahy to a celebrity fuelled advertising campaign.

It was all very fun, and through the haze of glam and champagne, there was prime celeb spotting opportunity in the form of the even-more-beautiful-in-real-life Neha Dhupia and the wonderfully pouty Jacqueline Fernandez, Dino Morea, Suneet Verma, Feroze Gujral who wore Burberry, and Subodh Gupta and a whole host of other famous people, sufficient to fill endless column inches on the page 3’s. The invite said curated by Christopher Bailey, although he wasn’t actually there, which was a little disappointing. However, Sanjay Kapoor, ED of Genesis Luxury who has the JV with Burberry India, was hosting the party, and looking the part to a tee in his Burberry Prorsum trench was the perfect host assuring his guests were replenished with copious quantities of champagne.

Sushma Reddy and Sanjay Kapoor

The idea of the Art of the Trench is grounded in personalization and experience two of the buzz words of today’s luxury industry.  It’s just one way in which Burberry has harnessed the interactive and community building propensities of new social media to promote its brand.

Having just opened its seventh store in India, Burberry is one of the most prominent luxury brands to expand across this as yet nascent market.

The Asia Pacific region represented 36% of Burberry’s market as a whole in 2011/12. China, of course, forms the bulk of that; but investing in underpenetrated markets is one of Burberry’s key long term strategies, and India is seen as a market with great untapped potential.

 At the Oberoi party Neha Dhupia wore a mustard green trench, which looked as though the cape had been customised with large crystal beads. This is an unusual style of embellishment for a Burberry trench, and sparkling beads are a familiar staple of many designers here. However, the trench is actually from a recent Burberry Prorsum collection. There’s the obvious point to be made that global brands are increasingly keen to woo ever-lucrative Asian markets, and the issue of customization, or limited edition products made especially for Indian consumers, has been one of the “hot topics” in debates on luxury in India. 

To what extent Burberry was influenced by the idea of targeting the Indian market in making the embellished trench worn by Dhupia, well it’s fun to speculate. In reality, what consumers of Burberry in India seem most attracted to is the aura of heritage surrounding its classic trenches as well as the status laden associations of its bags.

Burberry sees India as an “exciting market” and although  start up is costly in the near term (seven stores and counting), it confidently expects India to be one of the emerging markets which will contribute significantly to future profit growth.

Neha Dhupia in Burberry

Manish Arora- 1 in a million

Little attention has been paid to the reasons behind Manish Arora’s appointment as creative director of Paco Rabanne, a story that reveals, perhaps, the growing importance of India as a luxury market in its own right.

Manish Arora for Paco Rabanne SS/12

Indian by Manish Arora SS/12

 Almost a year ago Indian designer Manish Arora was appointed as creative director of Paco Rabanne. Where hitherto India has been internationally perceived as a sourcing hub for Western design, the appointment by a European luxury brand of an Indian designer attracted much attention, since this was considered a significant first. Little attention however, has been paid to the reasons behind this appointment, a story that reveals, perhaps, the growing importance of India as a luxury market in its own right.

 To recap, Paco Rabanne is the famous French design house, started by its eponymous Spanish designer in 1966. It produces a fragrance for men called 1 million, plus a version for women-Lady Million. The bottles these fragrances  come in, are simple statements of decadence, no added diamonds, crystals, elaborate stoppers or other such conspicuous markers. Instead, the packaging pays homage to the diverse and often difficult materials Rabanne became famous for using in his haute couture.

 Rabanne made dresses made of metal pieces joined together, uncompromising and visionary. His debut collection was called “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials” and has become a reference point for a golden era of modernist haute couture which saw designers such as Rabanne and Pierre Cardin create futuristic uniforms from unusual materials for a fantasy sci fi future. The Paco Rabanne fragrance packaging represents a small slice of this materials-oriented design heritage with packaging that looks like a gold bar, the simple tactile smoothness of the hard, smooth surface, weighty shape making a statement all of its own.

 Along with solid packaging come solid financial results: Paco Rabanne is owned by Spanish luxury group Puig, which also includes brands such as Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci in its brand portfolio. In 2011, Puig reported that its net revenues for 2010 were in excess of 1.2 Billion Euros. Operating profit had increased by 89%.

 Puig is especially well known for its ranges of fragrances and these are driving the enormous profitability of Puig. In 2010, Puig increased its market share to 7%, making it number seven within the global perfumery market. The phenomenal success of Paco Rabanne fragrances is significant to this growth pattern, especially its men’s fragrance 1 Million, which has remained in luxury fragrance bestseller lists since 2008. Lady Million is also a constant on best seller lists.

 And then into this mix comes Manish Arora, an Indian designer who has most successfully bridged the divide between the rarified nature of the catwalk and the hard commerce of branding.

 Arora has produced collaborations with brands such as Reebok, Swatch, Swarovski and Nespresso; these have given him wide exposure and provided the sponsorship necessary for the highly costly business of brand development and showing regularly at international events such as Paris Fashion week. He is especially known for his vivid reinterpretations of Indian craft skills such as embroidery and beading.

 In the business of fashion, creative genius needs to be matched with sound business sense, and Arora has the combination down to a tee. Despite his commercial successes, Arora has retained his reputation as a designer whose catwalk designs make forays into the more avant garde, experimental and challenging spectrum of haute couture. However, having made his name through hyperbolic representations of India in his couture, including a circus themed catwalk show in Paris, where monkeys swung off models with fun fair carousels forming skirts (Britney Spears later wore one of these creations for her “Circus”-themed tour), Arora has shown greater depth and a certain reserve in his most recent collections. In his own label Manish Arora Paris AW/11 collection (the first under his own name after having been appointed creative director of Paco Rabanne), his chromatic pop art sensibility was complimented by more sophisticated use of metallic leather, demonstrating the coming of age of a designer comfortable with the mastery of his craft.

Indian by Manish Arora AW/10

Indian by Manish Arora AW/11

It’s not surprising then, that Manish Arora, an Indian designer, should have been appointed by a famous French fashion house to design a prêt line. Firstly he is well known to Paris catwalks, having shown in Paris regularly since his debut there in 2007. Secondly, Manish Arora’s use of surface ornamentation in excessive and avant garde ways which create challenging silhouettes and textures has enormous continuity with the design heritage of Paco Rabanne whose design signature rests upon the use of unusual materials, which produced iconic products such as the L 69 chain-linked bag made from stainless steel pieces linked together, which retails for around R 80, 000.

L 69 Metallic chain link in "oil slick" finish

But lets cut to the chase. A luxury fashion brand without haute couture is in danger of losing its cachet (Paco Rabanne retired from the brand in 1999 in order to pursue other creative interests). Hence Puig has appointed Arora under the banner that this signifies the “rebirth” of the Paco Rabanne brand as a fashion label. Arora strikes the right balance between the artistic heights of haute couture and the ability to translate his esoteric creative vision into covetable ready to wear and accessories. Puig were unable to comment at this point in time, but speculation can be made as to the benefits to Puig of hiring a designer who is not only well-received on Paris catwalks, but who is also something of a national treasure on the Indian sub-continent. Here it can be noted that of Puig’s hefty net revenues, 75% come from International markets.

 If Arora is now a regular fixture at Paris fashion week, with his Indian line, its not unlikely that in time Manish Arora’s prêt line for Paco Rabanne might appear at Lakme or Wills fashion weeks, providing massive exposure for the Paco Rabanne brand in India. The potential for crossovers between French ateliers and Indian craft traditions is also an interesting one.

 One thing may be sure, these are turbulent economic times in Europe. Asian markets increasingly dominate the annual sales figures of luxury conglomerates. So, like a guruji leading his eager firangi disciples to Nirvana, Manish Arora is a one in a million designer who will no doubt help to sell more of a 1 million fragance line.

London Fashion Week SS/12…


Was fun and as always too much to see, too little time. Estethica look better than ever with 19 designers showcasing their ethical and sustainable brands, and will be publishing some articles on designers involved in the Estethica platform in various print/ digital places, which I will link to here once they are out/up. I also met some more inspiring fashion and jewellry designers whilst wandering the rooms of Somerset House, so more on these soon, once I’ve got some thesis writing commitments out of the way.

A little something from Christian Blanken’s presentation…

On any given day hundreds of events take place, from champagne meet the designer receptions to party like presentations on the terrace overlooking the river- the generous layout of Somerset House providing an impressive backdrop to the events. On day 4 of LFW, one of Somerset House elegant high ceiling rooms saw a presentation by London–based designer Christian Blanken. Magazine editors, buyers and bloggers gathered in initiate proximity to the models in a salon like atmosphere. Mirrors cut across the centre of the room, and models emerged and wove in and out of the mirrored panels, affording multiple views of the designs, and merging the audience into the show itself. At times the proximity was uncomfortable, the models looked resolutely ahead, but sometimes locked eyes with the audience, who raised cameras to take pictures of the models, only to find themselves reflected back by the mirrored backdrop. Yet it was essential to see the clothes up so close. Blanken’s use of clinical line with understated silks and gleaming nude metallics underscore what is described as Blanken’s “signature luxury sportswear ethos”. The beauty of his designs is in pared down detailing and the play of light on shimmering fabrics, as well as the occasional use of draping which stands out against the flat planes of his designs. In his SS/ 12 collection, the influence of men’s tailoring was evident in razor-sharp cut jackets and detailing such as inverted notched lapels. A graphic stingray print added exotic texture to some of the pieces and affirmed the understated luxe ethos of this designer.

Sartorial reflection on London riots

Kevin Braddock (a contributing editor to GQ Magazine) provided a thoughtful sartorial angle on the looting and violence in London over the past few days in yesterday’s Guardian. His piece touches upon the multiple meanings of the hoodie’s role in creating masks and social identity amongst sub cultures, linking this to the hoodie’s demonisation in the public eye, and even in some cases its role in the institutionalised criminialisation of people.

Its not flip to talk about the sartorial choices of young people in relation to riots. What Braddock’s piece points to more broadly, are the ways in which clothing can act as criminal mask or urban shield for disenfranchised youth. The hoodie and its multiple meanings as discussed by Braddock, also points to the enormous role that particular kinds of clothing can play in everyday prejudice, helping to fuel divisions both intentional or more complexly rooted in the need to fit in- even if that means fitting into a stereotype. One thing is for sure, after this weeks shocking images which flooded the media the hoodie will continue to serve as a short hand for urban disenfranchisment  and public fear for a while to come.

“Feared, derided, misunderstood and still resolutely un-hugged, the utilitarian, hugely popular sportswear garment, the hoodie, has staged a comeback against a backdrop of pyromania and rioting. Worn by millions every day: a generation’s default wardrobe choice was transformed into an instant criminal cloak for London’s looting youth. It may be more newsworthy now, but the hoodie and the folk devil it represents have been with us for a long time”.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/09/power-of-the-hoodie

Brewing up a storm with Masala Tee

…see my latest article in Financial Chronicle

http://www.mydigitalfc.com/fashion-and-style/piping-hot-masala-tee-731

No doubt as an academic what I’m supposed to now write is an ‘insightful’ analysis of how images of nationhood and femininity, refracted over the past few decades through the lens of Bollywood (and most recently in its craze for hyper nostalgic, retro-laden films) have been interpreted here on the tee’s… and how this kind of imagery is part of a rich and ongoing process of redefining traditional idioms of Indian-ness in terms of modern cultural identity. Well that’s one way to swing it…but equally important to talk about, is the energy Sheika and Noe bring to this small but beautifully formed socially responsible brand, based in Delhi. They face the challenges of any small ethical business; how to source consistently good organic cotton whilst ensuring the integrity of the supply chain, how to do a lot with small resources and whilst running the business themselves and how to market their concept. They do all of this rather well, and the brand is consistently attention grabbing, playful and inventive in its use of bold graphics (with the obvious visual references to both Warhol and Bollywood), as well as its honing of social media to market and create a global community around Masala Tee’s charitable work with children in Delhi, which is a central focus for Sheika and Noe.

http://www.masalateeboutique.com/

http://masalatee.wordpress.com/