The best natural-toned beauty products and accessories for the season, inspired by the elements
Earrings, JADE MELLOR
Earrings, NOEMI KLEIN
Ring, LENIQUE LOUIS
Top, PEGGY HARTANTO
Absolutely in love with this new beauty editorial featuring my yellow fragment earrings!
Styled by Lola Marceau for Phoenix Magazine, I'm totally inspired by how they've layered them with silver branch earrings from Noemi Klein.
I may also have to treat myself to the gold NYX eye liner used for that metallic flick, as I'm more than partial to a touch of sunshine sparkle...
I was also really happy to see Michelle Lowe Holder's aqua tile earrings in the editorial, another of my faves known for experimenting with sustainable materials.
Photographer Piers Vernon-Kell
Beauty Editor Scarlett Burton using 3INA
Hair + Makeup Scarlett Burton and Ashley Lee using Wella Professional
Models Martha Rose at Select and Liza at Lenis
Stylists Amy Simmons, Anna Sproul, Georgina Andrews, Lola Marceau, Maria Martin Larrea, Manu Requejo, Sienna Rose, Nida Golten
See the rest of this gorgeous feature here.
Michelle's work has just joined my London Stockist; Gill Wing Jewellery, Islington where both our earrings seen in the shoot are currently available.
There is also the Pink & Orange version just added to my online shop.
They are all one-of-a-kind made by collecting and utilising every precious fragment of material created in the making process.
This one off statement piece of jewellery inspired by Molten Lava is now in my Online Shop
When making this ring I was imagining the hot liquid centre of the Earth and the swirling liquid rock that pours from volcanoes.
Pyrite means "0f Fire" and the glittering mineral was used in firearms for it's ability to make sparks to ignite gunpowder in a wheellock mechanism of a pistol developed in the 1500s. The Molten Lava ring commanded a huge specimen of pyrite for it's fiery origin. Fits most comfortably on a middle finger average size O-P.
Alexander Calder is famous for his sculptures and the impact his pioneering mobiles had on 20th century art. The Tate’s exhibition Performing Sculpture earlier this year showcased some of the mediums that Calder experimented with. From capturing a circus scene in a single strand of wire, to composing a universe in a few shapes to dance in our imagination;
"He took sculpture and liberated it, and set it in motion" - Dara O Briain
But what about his amazing jewellery?
It seems surprising that it has taken this long for a Calder jewellery exhibition to happen in London, but it was worth the wait...
The wearable pieces Calder produced are key to his practice and Louisa Guinness Gallery has curated the perfect showcase in this new exhibition: The Boldness of Calder.
"His dynamic works brought to life the avant-garde’s fascination with movement, and brought sculpture into the fourth dimension." - Performing Sculpture, Tate 2106
Calder's jewellery is so exciting because it allows the wearer to become a part of his kinetic art.
We know how emotive it can be to observe a piece of sculpture or a painting, but what about being a part of it? Wearing these pieces would certainly have an impact on how you felt and even how others behaved towards you. Some of the pieces are very armour-like.
Often in textured metal, but sometimes combining wood and textiles these are sculptures to fit around the body, en-robing, entwining and exaggerating the form with angular points or delicate fronds unfurling.
Calder's tribal influences can be clearly seen in his jewellery. The red velvet displays at The Boldness of Calder add to the feeling of ceremony as if the pieces hold their own ancient power to bestow on the wearer. White photography backdrops also hang in rolls from the ceiling as if we've walked into the middle of a shoot. This keeps a clean, minimal aesthetic and it is a simple yet fitting environment for the jewellery which itself seems simultaneously both ancient and new. These pieces were made by Calder in the 30s and 40s but are just as boldly unique, desirable and exciting as ever.
There are some beautiful photographs of famous women wearing Calder pieces through the decades; Georgia O'Keeffe, Anjelica Huston, Peggy Guggenheim and Brooke Shields. A chic combination of fashion and art; I also remember a golden cuff by Calder being name checked by the artist in Truffaut's 1968 cult film "The Bride Wore Black".
New photographs were commissioned for the exhibition, captured by Alexander English styled with fashion designer Elise Overland. The stunning images hark back to the clean elegance of mid 20th century photography with a contemporary, modern edge.
For more information on this great exhibition, you can get in touch with Louisa Guinness Gallery. This is a rare chance to see this work all together, especially so close up, I'm sure I will have to pay another visit soon!
A collection of my work is now on show in a fantastic gallery in France!
New exhibition "MADE IN LONDON" opens today at Galerie Bettina Flament. I am thrilled to be joining these talented jewellers; Alma Sophia, Ellis Mhairi Cameron, Emily Kidson, Kostadinos and Tania Clarke Hall showing our wide range of materials and styles, hand picked by Bettina Flament herself to share with jewellery lovers in Lille.
MADE IN LONDON
GALERIE BETTINA FLAMENT
7 Rue Bartholomé Masurel, 59000 Lille, France
27th Sept - 29th Oct 2016
My Concrete Objective ring is one of the pieces I am exhibiting in the London themed show. This ring is special to me as it connects me to a time in my life when I was visiting London regularly. My best friend had moved from our Northern hometown to the capital after university, and I came to visit her as often as I was able to share in her adventure and explore this rich resource of inspiration and opportunities with her.
One of the things that I noticed in London was the drive of people like my friend. As well as working a demanding full time job she spent every spare second on her own projects, working through the night to meet deadlines, often unpaid to establish herself and gain connections.
The Concrete Objective ring is a reminder of this focus, to put the time and energy into something which will lead you to your bigger goal. London is known for being a very challenging city to live in, the costs alone make it a daily struggle, but creative people continue to flock here for the possibility to make good things happen.
Every time I made my journey to my friends apartment I had to walk past this amazing sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi. Seeing this beautiful beast outside Euston Station on each arrival reminded me of the creativity everywhere in London. There is so much art here to enjoy for free, London really is a home for culture. The way the angular shapes were formed in solid metal for this mountainous piece demonstrated how with determination and time you could create your own mark in even the most hardest materials to create something great and long lasting.
Eduardo Paolozzi 1924 - 2005
Paolozzi was described as an evangelist for increasing access to art and sculpture, wanting it to be a part of our environment and enjoyed in our everyday lives. I feel the same was about jewellery as a way of sharing ideas, to add something interesting to engage with on a daily basis. I often notice my big rings getting curious glances when I'm on the tube...
"If it [sculpture] is out in a railway siding or it's stuck under your nose for the ordinary commuter who might not otherwise go to a sculpture park they can't miss it,"
- Eduardo Paolozzi
Taking a (Mary) Quant-um leap through history using a wardrobe as a time machine. Kind of.
It's the final day of LONDON FASHION WEEK, with PARIS FASHION WEEK following next Thursday. Beautiful clothing and beautiful people sharing their styles and giving a sneaky glimpse into the new collections influencing the trends next Spring 2017.
I felt the need to share my experience of the gorgeous garments I managed to see on my trip last month to the Capital of Chic.
Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris is one of my favourite Museums and their Summer exhibition Fashion Forward was a real showstopper. Celebrating 300 Years of Fashion, it showcased garments from as early as 1715 all the way through to 2015.
The garments were used as a snapshot into life in that time, following a timeline and explaining social aspects as well as snippets about the early evolution of the Fashion Industry.
Theatrical Tableaus gave us a feel for the original setting and lifestyle these people had, whilst modern projections in black and white showed the movement of the clothes flickering across walls with a graceful sweep featuring dancers of the Opéra de Paris.
The highlight for me was the room of breathtaking vintage gowns from my favourite designers, Schiaparelli, Chanel, Fortuny and Vionnet.
Still at the height of sophisticated elegance, showing that truly well made and thoughtfully designed clothing will stand the test of time.
It makes me ask, what will our own wardrobes look like in a few decades time? Will they still contain anything we have in them today?
Something I'll think of next time I'm browsing for some new items...
COLOUR AND VISION & THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
"Through The Eyes of Nature"
The Natural History Museum's new exhibition, "Colour & Vision" features many wonders of nature. To demonstrate how colour is often a warning they use the cinnabar moth as an example:
"Orange stripes, red spots and black mouths are all warning signs that an animal is dangerous. Poisonous and venomous animals often warn off potential predators with dramatic colours and markings." Colour and Vision
I first encountered a cinnabar moth when I was on my way to the studio in Manchester a few years ago. The bold black and red patterns of the little winged insect caught my eye so I took a photo of it and looked it up. The patterns are so striking it had a real impression on me. I wanted to try and capture it in a ring, so it really a "Moth Effect" rather than a "Butterfly Effect"!
The larvae of the cinnabar moth eats the leaves of the ragwort plant making themselves and the adult moths they become poisonous. The red colour warns predators not to eat them as doing so could be fatal.
Red = DANGER
The cinnabar moth is actually named after the bright red mineral cinnabar, which is also poisonous.
A form or mercury sulfide, this mineral is highly toxic.
When ground it is used to create the pigment "Vermillion". Treasured for its vivid hue, it is the only red pigment that was known to the ancients. Vermillion was revered by the ancient Romans. They even used it to paint the faces of their victorious commanders during the "Roman Triumph" Ceremony.
Because pure cinnabar was so rare, vermilion became immensely expensive and the price had to be fixed by the Roman government at 70 sesterces per pound - ten times the price of red ochre.
The image above shows a fragment of Ancient Roman Fresco recently unearthed in Southern France, the colours still vivid after spending 2000 years buried in the dark. The use of the expensive red pigment shows how wealthy the inhabitants of the villa were.
You can read more about the history of this red pigment with Windsor & Newton's "Spotlight on Vermillion".
Here's a very brief overview of some of the steps involved in the lost wax casting process. The Applied Arts course at North Wales School of Art & Design is really hands on with teaching and practising important processes like this. Their focus is "on the high quality craft skills needed to be a professional maker".
Taking your organic found objects or wax shapes you have made, you have to connect them to a wax tree with little wax branches called "Sprues" all pointing "Up" so that when turned upside down the metal flows down into the spaces left after the wax melts. You want the sprues to be as thin and delicate as possible when working on small scale castings as they will also be "transformed" into solid metal and you will have to cut them off where they are attached and clean up your castings. This makes "spruing up" quite fiddly and takes longer than you think! You need a steady hand and plenty of concentration when melting and applying the wax sprues.
When your tree is finished and all the parts are secure it is fitted inside a flask. Next is a crazy process which is all about precision and timing!
You have to mix up a bucket of special investment plaster, carefully weighing up the quantities, making sure everything is clean and uncontaminated. The plaster starts to harden very quickly so processes need to be followed really carefully and quickly, so just like a TV chef you need to know the "recipe" inside out and have all of your things weighed out and everything to hand. However, instead of putting your "mixture" in the shiny oven in your glamorous chef's kitchen, the flask of plaster goes into a vacuum chamber to get rid of the air and ensures crisply defined castings. After the specified time in the vacuum, the flask goes into the kiln overnight. This will burn away the wax and organic materials leaving the cavity to then fill with molten metal.
Now you can prepare your casting metals. These have to be weighed out depending on the weight of the flask and how big the castings are going to be. Accurate measurements are really important. If too little metal is melted then when it's poured in, it won't fill out the cavities, meaning your one-off castings will be sad and empty or partially missing spoiling your hard work from the previous day!
Casting grains of silver go into the crucible to melt ready to pour into the mould.
Lovely brass for brass castings.
Brass scrap in the crucible
You can see the chopped up "sprue-trees" leftover from a previous casting to be melted and reused in this casting.
Working with hot metal is dangerous, so safety equipment and the right tools are needed to protect yourself and those around. And maybe a nice cold drink for afterwards, as it does get VERY hot!
When ready (again, timing is everything so follow instructions and have accurate timers), the flask is plunged into a bucket of water. This causes the special plaster to fizz and bubble dramatically like a volcanic geyser so it's very exciting!
This reaction means that the plaster should dissolve and break away leaving the metal casting to be cleaned up.
It's like excavating your own fossils!
Silver casting of wax rings by my sister Julie Mellor.
Brass casting of plant stems collected by my sister Rozanne Mellor.
Now the castings can be sawn-off by hand, cleaned up and transformed into whatever you have planned for them! I hope this shows what an exciting and involved process casting is! For more information on the facilities, Open Days and courses at North Wales School of Art & Design at Glyndwr University check out their website or message them on Twitter: @NWSADAppliedArt .
Their jewellery and metal work department for applied arts is really hands on, with access to some fantastic techniques and equipment-a jeweller's dream!
This is one of the earliest forms of creating metal objects in civilisation, first used at Nahal Mishmar - “Cave of the Treasure!” This important hoard of early metal objects was only discovered in the 1960s when looking for the Dead Sea Scrolls!
Although an ancient method, it is a complex process creating very precise works to capture tiny details of organic material or finely crafted masters carved in wax or a substance that burns away to leave the cavity which becomes the mould.
This is what makes the creation of a mould for investment casting similar to how a natural Epimorph forms. In an Epimorph, the “mould” is a mineral, capturing the shape and texture of the original mineral it has grown around, which naturally dissolves away. In the lost wax casting process, the mould is made with special investment plaster around the desired object you wish to capture the form of.
Many commercial and contemporary jewellers use casting, but as the process requires so much specialist equipment and is such an involved process, it is usually sent away to a company such as Weston Beamor who've been producing high quality castings for over 60 years. By doing so you pay for a mould and can use for repeat castings which is more cost effective and consistent to reproduce.
The benefit of learning to perform this process yourself from start to finish teaches you an understanding about casting. This means if choose to send pieces to be cast by a company in the future you will appreciate the process and know how to get the best moulds and as a result best casts for your work.
Also, who wouldn't want the opportunity to cast their own treasures in the workshop!
It is a chance to feel like a real life alchemist as you see the original object go into the flask to then appear in the end "transformed" into precious metal!
Casting really is special.
I'll break down the process step by step in my next blog post! Many thanks to Glyndwr, North Wales School of Art & Design for their time during my visit. If you would like to know more about their Applied Art opportunities get in touch with them to find out about Open Days and course availability.
Robin is an award winning gemmologist, previously working with private collectors. I really valued Robin's expertise to unlock some of the secrets behind how these amazing specimens form.
One in particular really fascinated me, it was large and matt with cube shaped hollows all over the surface this was an Epimorph.
A HOLLOW CAST LEFT BY A MINERAL THAT HAD GROWN OVER AN INITIAL MINERAL WHICH HAS DISSOLVED AWAY.
There would have originally been a specimen of fluorite, formed from crisp angular cubes which this other mineral had grown around.
There is a beautiful and intriguing example of an Epimorph currently on display in “The Vault” at the Natural History Museum.
The mystery of this particular example is that the original inner mineral should have dissolved before the outer box, so we're not sure exactly what caused this epimorph to form.
What is particularly beautiful is how another mineral has started to grow inside the cavity left behind.
So now, to investigate this amazing process further and how it links to jewellery see my next post coming up where I visited Glyndwr University’s jewellery and metalwork department the same week for a demo on Investment Casting.
Loop is the New Exhibition launched on the 4th March at The Biscuit Factory as part of their Spring Exhibition. Loop is a showcase of spectacular rings by 16 leading contemporary jewellers, and I was thrilled to be a part of it!
"From designs that are simple and minimal, to more elaborate statement pieces - the collection will be a stunning range for lovers of rings. Set apart from our usual jewellery collection, the designs will be presented in the gallery as miniature artworks."
Alongside LOOP, The Biscuit Factory’s spring show also includes a diverse collection of contemporary paintings, prints, glass, sculpture and textiles, headlined by 2014 BP Portrait Award second prize winner, Richard Twose.
Gallery Curator, Lauren Baker, comments: “As jewellery curator, I am surrounded by some of the most creative and utterly wonderful jewellery the UK has to offer. While making plans for this year’s exhibitions, the uniting theme for many of the makers I approached was clear - they were all responsible for some exceptional rings; I wanted them all!
This giant Swarovski ring is one of my latest pieces, which is included in the exhibition on until 31st of May 2016
The work on show features artists who utilise all kinds of materials, often in larger scale installations. These included found objects, natural materials, textiles stitched in secret locations and even endless ropes of human hair.
I was most excited to see work by one of my favourite artists, Louise Nevelson, in this new exhibit!
This piece was gifted by Nevelson in 1965, titled "An American Tribute to the British People", Nevelson's her dealer said that the artist felt that it was appropriate for our monarchial country:
"Its cathedral-like aspect, which seems to present the viewer with an altar at which to kneel, perhaps to receive some royal blessing, and its gilded splendor … were considered peculiarly appropriate.’
Originally born in Czarist Russia, Nevelson lived most of her life in New York, and was heavily influenced by her surroundings. This glorious gold sculpture also reminds me of the iconic cities luxurious sky scrapers.
The display caption tells us that Nevelson worked on this assemblage over a number of years, continually recomposing the found objects within it. Close-up it reminds me of the stacks of old paintings in gilt frames in auctions and junk shops. The golden coating they share emphasises the sense of a treasured item from another time. Covered and gathered they display an inherent value despite being cast away when no longer valued individually.
I first found Nevelson's work when I was at school and instantly captivated by her impressive structures.
Growing up in a home where nothing was thrown away, I would scavenge interesting bits of wood from piles of timber and broken furniture in my dad's workshop and in Nevelson's sculptures I could identify the balustrades and chair legs amidst the hand sculpted pieces.
The way she used a single colour to envelope her carefully assembled finds into these impressive structures had a huge impact on me. Nevelson liked black paint because it conjured "totality, peace and greatness."
There is such sensitivity in her compositions.
As the New York was redeveloped in the 1950's Nevelson faced eviction from her home and studio. The partially demolished buildings left detritus left from everyday lives, and she found her materials in the debris.
Some of her arrangements like Black Wall, remind me of the different people living in apartments.
Harking back to the crowded cities like New York I can imagine these wooden boxes as a neighbourhood of personalities housed in different rooms.
A community is made up of individuals. Living next to each other, but separated by these divides they are shown that they are all one.
If you are one of those inside it you can only see yourself and the four walls around you. Only we can see they are all unified by being able to look at the whole thing from a wider perspective.
The new Material Worlds wing is free & on now at Tate Modern.
I was recently asked to transform a customer's own cube specimen of pyrite into a ring for a surprise gift for their partner.
The pyrite for their commission was more of a gunmetal colour than most gleaming "Fool's gold", and after discussing different colour options, we decided together that it would be a great contrast to use a pale pink for the ring.
The pyrite cube provided was gun-metal grey, metallic with hard edges.
Bringing together these opposites, a crisp cool metallic with something so soft and delicate seems unnatural, but we can find references in nature. Think of pink granite!
Granite is an igneous rock is formed from the crystallisation of magma below the Earth's surface. It's composition from many different minerals including quartz and feldspar give the colours white, pink and grey with dark flecks.
We encounter granite everywhere in our daily lives inside and outside our homes:
We run our hands over cool, smooth counter tops,
We are warned not to slip on floor tiles when it's raining,
We are impressed by the grandness of pillars, stairs and building fronts,
We carve in it the names of those we wish to remember
I love plundering the rich resource of rocks and minerals for less obvious uses of colour to evoke and appreciate them.
If it is found somewhere in nature there is still a harmony to be found.
I walked past this lamp-post everyday in Manchester and it was part of my inspiration for my Modern Ruin series.
Although man made, the bark like texture from the natural rust made this painted metal pillar pleasing to my eye, and I grew to love it in the same way I would instantly connect with a tree in the woods.
One of the leading PANTONE colours of 2016 is ROSE QUARTZ, one of the components of granite.
"A persuasive yet gentle tone that conveys compassion and a sense of composure. Like a serene sunset, flushed cheek or budding flower"
"Rose Quartz reminds us to reflect on our surroundings during the busy but light-hearted spring and summer months."
I hope this specially commissioned ring is able to also carry these properties to the new wearer it was made for!
If you have your own mineral or materials and you would like to know more about how it could be made into an object to keep or wear, just drop me an email.
I'm happy to answer your questions or have a chat about some ideas: email@example.com
I believe jewellery should feel like an extension of yourself-a little reminder of the amazing qualities you possess, and how you belong in the world around you.
That's why I love making bespoke pieces, especially in such diverse colours. The colours can be taken from nature, like a particular mineral or a treasured item of clothing or favourite object which reminds you of home.
My lovely friend Natalie Laura Ellen is a fabulous textiles designer, often influenced by plants and flowers. Her nurturing green fingers turned her Manchester City centre balcony into a jungle of thriving botanical beauties, encouraging happy ladybirds, buzzy bees and jazzy caterpillars. Here is Natalie wearing a ring I made for her, designed for the summer weddings and celebrations she was going to. Small yet instantly uplifting and full of bright and interesting things, I think it suits her perfectly!
"Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)" Henri Rousseau, 1891 is one of my favourites thanks to a huge mural in the school corridor accompanying WIlliam Blake's poem, "The Tyger". Seeing these luscious colours and those bright white teeth instantly reminds me of daydreaming about swinging through tall trees with monkeys in exotic jungles whilst queueing for morning assembly.
In the wild COLOUR is a whole language. For us, it can have an instant impact on our mood and conjure up emotions or memories in just one stroke.
The effects of making colourful jewellery are inescapable! My tools and workspace are often drenched in the palette of my current pieces.
Colourful Jewellery is a key to your interests and passions, condensed in a wearable format to communicate to others.
I love the freedom of expression I have by being able to work in colour, and create pieces inspired by the vibrancy and diversity of the natural world from bold and saturated, to delicate hues and marbled shades.
I'M REALLY EXCITED BY THE NEW PANTONE COLOURS FOR 2016 IN PARTICULAR, "ROSE QUARTZ!"
"COLOURS THIS SEASON TRANSPORT US TO A HAPPIER, SUNNIER PLACE WHERE WE FEEL FREE TO EXPRESS A WITTIER VERSION OF OUR REAL SELVES."
Leatrice EisemanExecutive Director, Pantone Color Institute™
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea for your own special colour or texture and we can chat about the rainbow of possibilities!
I spent last Saturday at the Victoria & Albert Museum's "Study Day" of lectures in celebration of the new publication London Couture. See a glimpse of the beautiful new book here .
The lectures were given by contributors to the book tackling various subjects on London Couture's history:
Amy de la Haye, London's Court Dressmakers
Edwina Ehrman, A Brief History
Joyce Fenton-Douglas, The Ancillary Trades
Beatrice Behlen, Clients
Timothy Long, Constructing Couture
Jonathan Faiers, The Timelessness That Ran Out of Time
Amy de la Haye, London's Court Dressmakers
Firstly Amy de la Haye set the scene to give us an idea of who these early couturiers were. Courturier was a legitimate career for a married Edwardian women, or a road to independence and success for a divorcee. Kate Reily was an example of a shrewd business woman using her creativity and cunning to keep up to date with the thirst for the latest fashions.
Even though Reily's original designs were highly praised, the British customer only had eyes for Parisienne models. In attending the show, Reilly would be obliged to purchase at least one model, but to get the most from it, she would send two buyers to view the new designs. With the idea that two heads were better than one. they would dash back to the hotel to sketch what they had seen to reproduce for their own customers on their return.
Born with Silver Scissors
We learn of prestigious dressmaker, Madam Clapham of Hull who made a point of not paying her apprentices as she wanted girls from "good families". She felt that those from a wealthy family who could support them, they would be a better class of trainee. Sadly this excluded many talented individuals born without a pair of silver scissors in their hands, unable to learn by working full time for free.
This is still affecting the fashion industry today. Many designer brands have been criticized that their unpaid intern-ships are elitist, allowing only a lucky few from privileged backgrounds to gain valuable experience with them to get the best start with their careers.
Edwina Ehrman, A Brief History
Edwina tells us of the shift in dressmakers of the 20s and 30s. The new favourites were young men like Norman Hartnell with a creative approach and an understanding of the glamorous lifestyle of their clientèle.
A Shift in Dressmakers
These men socialised with their patrons, a complete contrast to the couturiers that pre-dated them who were so intimidating to wealthy out-of-towners they would often turn to department stores rather than seek out an illustrious dressmaker and face their scrutiny.
Even the term "Designer" was now coined to appeal to a wider audience, thanks to the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers aiming to boost trade overseas during WW2. I learned more about IncSoc at The Imperial War Museums "Fashion on The Ration" exhibition, hopefully I'll share in another post soon, but here's some more info courtesy of wiki:
In March 1942 The Board of Trade invited the IncSoc members to design:
"34 utility garments suitable for mass manufacture in order to demonstrate how high-fashion elegance could be achieved within the strict rationing restrictions"
The designs were featured in Vogue magazine,
"Known as the Couturier Scheme, the project had a very high profile in the press at the time with a fashion show held to launch the clothes"-wikipedia
Parallels can be drawn to modern high street giant H&M's collaborations with elite houses and designers like Margiela, Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfield bringing their signature style to a mass market on a global scale. (You can view previous H&M collaborations here). The most recent collaboration with Balmain has even seen their sell out pieces fetch more in online auctions than original Balmain garments!
"Revealed this morning in all its embellished, whipstitched, skintight glory and, as expected, there's not one item that hasn't got wish list written all over it."
Vogue Magazine on the most recent, highly anticipated collaboration of Balmain for H&M
Joyce Fenton-Douglas, The Ancillary Trades
H&M fans have complained that the retail prices of the Balmain collaboration are too high, going into hundreds for some of the more embellished and leather pieces, which is a big step up for a high street chain with average prices usually at £14.99. However even a few hundred is still a fraction of the thousands that the official couture collections from Balmain can cost when bedecked in the finest materials. This is something Joyce Fenton-Douglas brought up when talking about the Ancillary Trades.
Couture dressmakers relied (and still do) on the Ancillary Trades for specialised skills, such as pleating, embroidery and embellishments. Rather than just the finishing touches, these can be the most desirable aspect of a whole design or be the structural basis for a garment.
These can provide the instant wow factor that gives you the fist sign that this is a special, more luxurious item.
This charming video below was brought to our attention in the lectures. It shows the Australian maker Harry Nairn hand cutting, shaping, dying and assembling all the individual parts of a silk flower in his own workspace at home.
Couture houses would historically send "matchers" to the addresses of specialised makers. These girls would seek out matching flowers, trimmings or other embellishments in the very particular shades or styles necessary to co-ordinate with the fabrics for the garments.
The names and addresses of the top artisans would be their best kept secrets to give them the winning edge against competitors. Although flattering, this was unfortunate for these highly skilled individuals, trying to maintain a living by providing an already niche service.
A Sign of Superior Quality
Joyce did highlight the fact that today's top couture designers will still work with modern artisans for these embellishments, utilising very labour intensive techniques. This gives them the maximum impact for the catwalk as well as distinguishing them from the follow-on designer copies which although can often get a close general look, will never be able to feature these specialist skills which take such a long time to produce in the originals.
Beatrice Behlen, Clients
The women who can tell these extra special pieces from the inferiors are the subject of Beatrice Behlen's talk. We learn of the rarity of these couture clients which the industry relied on and the relationships they had, often choosing only one particular couturier. Being polite and prompt payment made a client very liked and appreciated.
Textile Timeline, The life of Lady Fox
Beatrice was even able to trace the life of one such client, Lady Fox, using society columns alongside the garments she had procured to see her defining style as a textile timeline to her life. As an early adopter she knew her stuff and designers would rely on patrons like Lady Fox to invest in their work.
The term "working wardrobe" came up quite often in these talks. For these women it was part of their lifestyle to have these clothes, fit for the purpose of each area of their lives, whether it was salmon fishing in the Highlands or cruising along the Dalmatian Coast. Although extravagant in our terms the cost of these pieces meant they would fit well and be made of the best natural materials or heritage fabrics, returned to year after year so they would have to last well.
Timothy Long, Constructing Couture
Timothy told us how he originally delved into the world of couturier Charles James after discovering a collection of his garments wrapped up on mannequins in an archive he was working in.
Without formal dressmaking training Charles James had a unique approach heavily influenced by his millinery experience. We learn that to create his amazing garments, James would create hand sculpted abstract forms more like a block or last than a mannequin. By using these to create a garment it would have unexpected and new shapes, fitting the body in a different way than conventional dressmaking which relied on padding and corsets to fill and fit the body into a desired shape.
Charles James also used hidden architecture but with alternative materials for a new spin. Structures were formed by heating plastic to mould and form the unusually shaped skirt as seen in his famous "Clover Leaf" dress formed into the four portions of the leaves.
To gain insight into the internal structures of these magnificent shapes they even used technology such as hospital scanners to discover the secrets used by the celebrated dressmaker.
Fashion to Transform
Although he had a temperament and hands-on approach of a passionate artist, James was also an incredibly technical designer. The women who bough his garments were in love with how they made them look and feel. Charles was a pioneer in understanding how fabrics worked, using them in new ways to accentuate a women's body with a fanatical amount of study going into investigating and harnessing the powerful effect of materials. James was famously quoted in saying;
"Make The Grain Do The Work"
These garments were thoughtfully engineered, and this combination of vision and technique along with the support socially from Cecil Beaton and the wealthy friends of James' Mother gave him both the exposure and clientèle for his unique designs.
Exciting & Contemporary
Timothy showed us how Charles James used the same designs again and again, taking patterns from many years previous to make a new version. It is proof that if something works well for the body, it always will and the lasting beauty and desirability of great design. This is why gowns by designers like Charles James have held such appeal and can be worn today looking as exciting and contemporary to a modern audience. This was celebrated in the exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art last year, of which you can take a video tour with the curators here:
Jonathan Faiers, The Timelessness That Ran Out of Time
For all the appeal of couture as a sight to behold, the "London Look" was never going to last and this was explained by Jonathan Fairs. The "uniform" which was relied upon to give strength and order to British society during the Second World War was no longer required.
Using examples from the media coverage of couture in the mid 20th Century we can see how although beautiful, the elaborate gowns and traditions they represented were out of place in this post-war era.
One iconic editorial photographed by Clifford Coffin shows elegant models poised amongst the bombed out structure of a London mansion, intended to be "still standing strong & untouched" by the war but instead they appear as if haunting the desolate space as beautiful ghosts of the past.
A New Era of Cool
New designers were setting up their own ready to wear boutiques. Rather than the high price demanded by fine, fashionable garments, the 60s sought a new cutting edge of style where being made quickly was a bonus rather than a sign of inferiority. The quick turnaround meant it could be seen on TV and bought the next day. Instead of being confined to the high spends of the rich these new fashions were available for anyone brave enough to wear them creating new fashion muses and customers in a world outside that of the débutantes at their elite functions.
Rule Breaking Youth
It was a free for all with young girls earning their own wage to buy their new clothes or even steal them in the famous Biba store where it was almost too easy to shoplift these must have exciting pieces, made for the rule breaking youth culture.
"Girls For Girls"
These women wanted to make their own future and forget the past. Biba founder, Barbara Hulanicki was the eldest of three girls, raised by her mother and aunt following the assassination of her diplomat father by paramilitaries.
Hulaniki described Biba as run by "Girls for Girls". She explains in an interview with the independent Nov 2014;
“That’s why in Biba we only had women,
“It was meant to be for girls in the street. They were earning money and they had nowhere to go. "
Future of Couture
As in the overview from the corresponding lectures The V&As new book London Couture shows us many of it's historical aspects. For an industry which catered to the very rich and relied on highly skilled specialists we see how Britain firstly followed, then lead triumphantly, and eventually faded as the times changed and people's needs also.
But London is a thriving city of Fashion, so what can we learn from London's Couture past to use today?
ORIGINAL & BEST QUALITY
Ancillary Trades and original, specialised artisans are still necessary to create the finest fashion. Our leading British designers like Mary Katranzou rely on quality embellishments to set their designs apart from the follow on copies
Although only worn by the few, couture can inspire a generation: proof of which is the sell out Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty at the V&A this year.
INVEST IN THE BEST
Good quality lasts: vintage fashion has become a whole industry in itself, with concessions in high street giants like Topshop and even huge standalone stores, with branches in multiple cities like Cow. These pieces have lasted, can we say the same will be seen of some of the the cheaply made clothes we buy in bulk today?
Although few of us can afford the luxury of couture, we can take a lesson from the way these women built their "Working Wardrobe".
With constant "Sales" emails from online shopping deals and (alarmingly!) low prices from competing retailers it's easy to be tempted to purchase without any consideration or too much consequence but each "cheap bargain" eventually adds up...
In resisting a few more of these it may result in affording a smaller, yet much more usable & better quality wardrobe to look and feel our individual best, which to me is a bit of British Luxury we all deserve.
London Couture: British Luxury 1923 - 1975 is available in the V&A and online bookshop here. See below for a sneak peek:
This is one of my favourite places to instantly melt any cares away. Over these few years we have seen the Spar be restored to it's former glory and eaten lots of tzatziki in the little cafe overlooking the beach and it's straw parasols. The most blissful hours have been spent in the cooling waters on baking hot days, encircling the volcanic rocks and spying crabs and colourful fish.
Mosaics in the spar carry motifs from the sea and beach around it. I also found inspiration in the shapes of these sea creatures to create a special present.
I incorporated sand from the beach we all visited together into a pair of cuff-links. The two shapes are taken from my cast of a real pre-historic ammonite, and a perfect pink shell I found on the beach on our holiday.
I hope this present is a little reminder of the wonderful holidays we have spent so far, to carry a bit of those happy times away with us.
Love this idea from Mair Wennel. Called "Dirt Pattern Material" the beautiful, random patterns on this cotton shirt are created with everyday household substances which often mark and ruin clothing. By purposefully layering up colourful splashes of these pigments they have created the perfect camouflage for a piece of clothing that can happily incorporate many new additional marks from accidental spillages from every day life.
Many a slip 'twixt cup and lip.
I am really excited about bringing this new special project to Manchester this Saturday and Sunday for The Weekender at Old Granada Studios 20th 21st June.
The concept of this ring is to involve you to make your own contribution to create a unique piece just for you.
Inspired by the wonderful world of nature, it is the Caddisfly's clever larvae which helped to create the concept of this new piece.
To give themselves protection when they are in their young state they create their own tailor made casing.
They build their homes from the natural materials around them, each marvellous creature crafting their own perfect fit using their own choice of organic objects they find.
The artist Hubert Duprat even created an environment of minute gems and golden nuggets so that the larvae that lodged within could en-robe themselves in the glittering treasures. I was blown away by this when I saw them in Paris at the Dries Van Noten exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs.
For this new collection of rings I want to allow each individual to be the crafty caddisfly collecting for their own ring.
I made the very first of these rings for myself to signify a big change in my environment and keep a piece of it with me and I am really looking forward to allowing others to wear a part of the places that mean something to them too.
For each bespoke commission you can find your own materials which I can use to create your own beautifully encrusted ring.
This could be a little sand from your favourite beach, or some gravelly debris from your very own doorstep.
I will be at The Weekender, the free designer festival at Old Granada Studios this weekend to meet you and chat about this special project, but please also feel free to email me at email@example.com with any questions ideas or just to say hello!
Old Granada Studios has announced ‘the Weekender’ – a free weekend event bringing together the region’s most covetable designer-makers, independent brands and local food producers under one roof.
Sat & Sun 20th- 21st June
Old Granada Studios, Manchester.
I'll be here with my latest work in the pop-up designer store and probably dancing around the gin garden.
YES I said GIN GARDEN!
Other fun treats to enjoy include:
Cocktail Bar (in a vintage Citroen!!!)
PLaYROOM Art & craft workshops for the little makers
Specially curated products and hand made pieces from designers like Joe Hartley, Wonderhaus & Lissom & Muster boutique
Hope to see you here to join in the fun! :D
"What happens when makers eschew certainty of outcome, instead embracing chance, volatility and impermanence in their work? Wood artist Nic Webb, and silversmiths David Clarke and Hazel Thorn discuss with session chair Lottie Davies, Taylor-Wessing Prize-winning photographer and BAFTA-nominated short film artist."
This was another great event held at Collect on Friday. It invited three artist makers with different forms of using unusual and "destructive" methods to give an insight into how it can help make something new and exciting.
Nic Webb was pointing out the difference he found between the work he makes and other artists using natural materials like Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy's work is fleeting, to be experienced but only for a time as it is left to the elements meaning that without photographs many people would never see his creations.
By making an object you see the effect of a person on a material, having some degree of control in order to leave a tangible record of their existence and ideas.
Webb likens it to the Castillo Caves where the hand of the pre-historic artist is traced in pigment for future generations to see. It is good analogy for an artist maker who harnesses the powerful, primeval force of fire to scorch out his designs.
It is this fine line between chaos and control that allows the most exciting work to be created. Our idea of beauty is often formed through the unpredictability of nature.
"MAKING IS A JOURNEY TO A PLACE I HAVEN'T BEEN"
For Nic Webb his chisel is the force of the flame and his paint is the blanket of soot it creates. He says the decisions he makes are like sailing close to the wind. Go too far and you have lost the power but on riding on the edge you can control your manoeuvres and use the natural forces around you.
Hazel Thorn gave a really thorough account of her making process which I really enjoyed hearing. She explained the many steps where she will make decisions on how to form her piece. Although appearing random she plans the outcome through instinct, using ongoing analysis and careful thought allowing a piece to "grow" to her design.
Hazel says how daunting a fresh sheet of silver can be, but she is able to lose that pristine preciousness through her approach where she literally cuts her material into pieces. Then it is almost like a series of repairs, each twist and turn as the material is altered is not a limitation but an opportunity she can work with.
Hazel also highlighted how important the hands on aspect of her making process is. The incidents that occur such as when she unintentionally overheated a piece creating a new shape, means she has discovered something about her material. She can then choose whether to use this in her work having learned how to allow or deny it to happen.
David Clarke's work often provokes a big response. A skilled and talented silversmith with his graduate designs flying out to the V&A and Goldsmith's collections he eventually grew bored of making work he found repetitive.
“It’s the level of perfection in silversmithing that I really moved against – the belief that you should polish every joint until the process becomes invisible,” he says.
He insists on being called a silversmith rather than an artist. This recognises his understanding of this material through his working life so far devoted to learning and practising the skills to create with it. Through this he has earned the right to challenge it and push it. Like a close family member or old friend who can call you out on something you've done wrong when no-one else would dare, push you beyond your limits, and even make jokes at your expense. Just like your best buddies you both know how much you love and appreciate each other and would only ever want to bring out the best in both of you.
He goes against the conventions of a precious and revered material by fearlessly devouring or engulfing the silver using other materials, like baking it in salt or with lead. His work is a lesson to lighten up and enjoy a wonderful material for everything it is. It also serves as a memento mori reminding us of the fragility of a fleeting existence, to live life and enjoy it as it comes as we don't have the control we believe we have.