Fairy-tale Photography: Dennis Valdez at the Talented Art Fair

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Right in the heart of London’s hipster centre, the Truman Brewery has to be the ultimate venue for markets, events and pop-ups that are on the cutting-edge of what’s new. From 17-19 March, the Talented Art Fair set up shop in this warehouse-style space, showcasing some of the globe’s most innovative and exciting emerging talent. Amongst ceramicists, painters and sculptors, creative genius Dennis Valdez was one of only four photographers exhibiting at the Truman Brewery, presenting his breath-taking other-worldly photographs amongst the world’s best talent.

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The atmosphere for any show or exhibition is arguably as important as what is being exhibited. The Friday night private view of the Talented Art Fair certainly did well on this front, with chilled tunes courtesy of a cracking DJ, a fizz-filled bar, and a host of inspiring creatives wherever you looked. The relaxed yet exciting vibe was the perfect setting for the photographs of Dennis Valdez, a London-based photographer whose images immediately transport you to a fairy-tale world.

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Think Marie Antoinette and Narnia’s White Witch and you get a feel for what Valdez achieves. With locations including Epping Forest and former sanatoriums, the outfits, models and the impeccable composition of each image combine to create an intensely magical aura – some could say over the top, but this is extravagance done very well.

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With fairy-tale-like outfits embellished with all manner of sequins, pearls and feathers, the models in Dennis’ images could quite easily have just stepped out of a film. Headwear, in the form of elaborate and opulent crowns, coupled with lace and ruffled dresses created an ethereal vibe, and the setting of Epping Forest certainly added to the fantastical theme.

Styling of the models ranged from dreamlike 1920’s-esque feathers and lace to sultrier red-lipped, and fiery-haired looks: a palate of blacks, whites, silvers and creams enabled striking designs to really stand out. 

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The beauty of Valdez’s images, aside from the utter beauty of the models he used, is the ability to completely remove you from the greying fog of London, and take you to a fantastical place right out of a storybook. Snow Queens, fairies and historical heroines immediately spring to mind when looking at Dennis’ work, each photograph complimenting the next. Both ethereal, yet completely grounded, there is a definite weight and substance to his work. 

Surrounded by Valdez’s epic fantastical work, I am convinced that if his photography exhibition were a fairy-tale, it would be one which you just have to keep reading.

Photographs by David Meehan. Check out Dennis’ work here.

Show 7: The London Fashion Week Underdog

What happens when a bunch of (insanely) talented London students put on a show to kick off the much anticipated A/W 17 Fashion Week? This.

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Let’s face it: fashion can be insanely elitist. High prices, privileged circles, and unspoken ‘connections’ are key to the maintaining of a world that many of us will never get a taste of. London Fashion Week is proof: you only need to look at what the guests got in their goody bags, or hear a few of the Front Row names to realise that this is fashion with a capital F and a requisite to be a Somebody.

Sometimes, though, something or someone comes along to make you realise once again that this tiny bit of the fashion world is in no way representative of the whole industry. In this instance, it was Show 7, the brainchild of a group of creative fashion students from renowned Central Saint Martins (CSM) and London College of Fashion (LCF), that proved fashion, and Fashion Week, is something that is open to all.

The show was put on by seven students, all keen to make a name for themselves in the fashion world.Ciara Di Salle, Rhiannon Davies, James Walsh, Johannes Warnke, Sophia Donald, Paul Parnell and Ben Mak are all studying some variation on Fashion Design, whether it be with knitwear, tailoring, marketing or womenswear.  Mix these eclectic students together with a bunch of innovation, creativity and drive, and you have Show 7.

Forget grand halls and exotic venues, Cannon Street Jersey Fabrics, a fully functioning fabric warehouse in Tottenham, was the site of the venture. Among rolls of patterned materials and stacks of fabrics, fellow students, fashion magazines and beaming parents lined the makeshift but oh so cool catwalk.

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From Ciara Di Salle’s arctic inspired coats to Ben Mak’s leopard print gowns, Show 7 was a totally varied affair. Intricate laser-cut garments designed by Johannes Warnke appeared alongside fur and knit combos courtesy of Rhiannon Davies.

James Walsh’s bold colours and classic designs were modelled on the 60’s housewife, a fair few decades before the 90s vibe of Sophia Donald’s collection. Paul Parnell’s clothes were a tongue in cheek and completely barmy yet brilliant concoction based on the concept of Baked & Glazed, although more naughty-but-nice than their donut counterparts.

Lighting, filming and photography was done by other UAL students, meaning the whole evening was a thoroughly student-led affair. Despite this,  not one of the looks that went down the catwalk could be called anything less than highly professional and completely LFW worthy.

This was the part of Fashion Week that shunned the usual elitist model, and opened it out to pretty much everyone and anyone. What Show 7 ultimately achieved though, was to show just what can be done on a limited budget, with tons of enthusiasm, a few willing helpers, and bags and bags of potential. These kids have talent – and I have no doubt that they will be fashion’s future.

Fashion Utopias at Somerset House: where meets style meets fantasy

Utopia (noun): ‘an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’ (Oxford English Dictionary). But what happens when these utopian ideas are applied to the world of fashion?

Fashion Utopias at Somerset House is the result of this combination; a showcase celebrating emerging designers’ visions of their imagined worlds. Coinciding with London Fashion Week and the Thomas More Utopia exhibition, which celebrates the 500th year anniversary of its publication, this exhibition is where art, fashion and (pure) imagination collide.

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Divided into separate rooms which each represent a country, Fashion Utopias navigates you not only across continents, but through dreamlike worlds and fantasy places. From the Czech Republic, where clothes and accessories are suspended from trees, to Guatemala, in which giant 3D clouds evoke a dream-like aura, each room creates a different and diverse utopian vision. Portugal’s ‘BLOOM’ concept used eco-friendly cork to raise the question of sustainable fashion, in contrast to the Philippines’ dresses which were made out of leather and real bullets. The Egyptian designers, meanwhile, inspired by the Tree of Life and the Lotus flower, made use of hundreds of origami lotus flowers hung from the ceiling, taking paper-crafts up a level (or two).

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Leather and bullet dress

Admittedly, some of the pieces on display were the fashion world’s equivalent of a TATE Modern offering – aka – huh? That said, the majority of clothes, accessories, bags and especially the innovative installation and displaying of them, was pretty stunning. Technology and digital design was put to good use, the highlight being a giant moving, video-style magazine which changed display when you turned a page, thanks to high-tech code reading projectors.

The essence of Fashion Utopias was to project an imagined world of fashion, and it most definitely succeeded. The huge variety of colours, shapes, concepts and styles on offer throughout the 14 different rooms provided constant stimulation, and following the exhibition I was even more aware of the fact that fashion is essentially just another form of art. This art, however, just happens to be based on what we wear: are we all, then, living, walking masterpieces?

Made in China: Rethinking the Label

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With an increasing number of Asian designers taking to the catwalk at London Fashion Week, is it time we looked at the ‘Made in China’ label from a new perspective?

Seeing the familiar ‘made in China’ hallmark on something you own is not unusual. In fact, it is so commonplace that it is almost surprising if something is not made in China. However, the label hardly screams ‘artisan’, ‘unique’ or ‘fashion forward’: for a long time it has instead been eponymous with, let’s be honest, a sense of mass-produced and low quality tat. But, in 2016, should we be re-thinking this ‘Made in China’ phenomenon? Is it time to forget all that we know and relearn what actually is being made in China?

Primarily because of the lower labour costs, many fashion brands take their production to China – this is not unknown. However, what is less talked about is the fact that high-end brands are also getting on board with this; Prada, Armani and Coach are among the designers moving their production to Asia, where high-end manufacture competencies are growing. So, even more things are being made in China: the question is, whether many things actually designed in china? Shanghai, like any other capital city in any other country, is home to a large number of up and coming, innovative and quite frankly stunning designers. Arguably, though, their location is a disadvantage; the reputation of China as a source of one-off creative pieces is overshadowed by their role in the mass-production of flimsy Kinder-Egg toys.

 

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A piece from the Favotell pop- up, showcasing emerging Shanghai designers

But times are changing, and people are starting to recognise that just as your leather bag might bear a tag saying ‘Made in Italy’, clothes which proudly state they have been ‘Made in China’ could equally be a sign of a good quality, well-made and exquisitely designed item. With London Fashion Week underway, the emergence of Shanghai based and Asian inspired designs cannot be ignored. Designers such as Minki Cheng, Huishan Zhang, Ryan Lo and Tommy Zhong are proudly exhibiting the talent from China through designs inspired by the East, championed in the West. One such company that is aiming to re-educate the public on the growing number of emerging designers in China is Favotell, who aim to create a cultural bridge between Shanghai and London, exposing England to the huge talent from across the continent. London seems a sensible place to introduce these up and coming Shanghai designers to a wider audience; the huge number of art students and creatives in one place is bound to create some innovate mixes and merges. Favotell is exploring one cultural merge that has so far not been much explored – the link between Shanghai and London, and in December of last year launched a pop-up at Gallery Different near Oxford Street to showcase a selection from some of Favotell’s Shanghai designers. If other’s take Favotell’s lead, this could be the start of a ‘Made in China’ overhaul.

 

At this point, I think we should look at the ‘Made in China’ tag with fresh eyes: far from just being a means for cheap production, this could signal bespoke creation and innovative design. Watch this space.

 

NB: This blog was unashamedly made in England

 

More is definitely more: Christmas gaudiness, memories and a lack of style

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London has definitely jumped on the ‘more is more’ bandwagon with their festive decorations this year. I think that means I should too.  

 

Style is not just about what you wear: interior design and home décor navigate through trends just as fashion does. Just as some people may be queuing up outside Topshop to get the latest winter coat, others may be on the edge of their chair, ordering the new season’s curtains online. But when it comes to Christmas, is stylish superior? Or should we all just accept that festive decorations are meant to be gaudy and garish, and when it comes to tinsel, more really is more?

The tradition of decorating the tree, or even adorning the house with all manner of sparkly things in December is a much anticipated event in my family. Indeed it seems like most of the country get excited at the prospect of cracking out the Christmas decs, having to buy new fairy lights (because they inevitably break every year), and admiring the wealth of festive ornaments on sale this time around.

I know people that choose a different colour scheme each Christmas: gold and green last year, purple and silver this time, perhaps a red and white affair in 2016? Of course some individuals see decorating just as they see fashion, trawling through home décor magazines to find the newest way to jazz up the tree, or the latest colour scheme that the celebs are going for. Not only does this entail forking out a fair amount of dosh for new baubles, lights and ornaments each year (let’s face it, these sort of people are not ones to get their Christmas goods from Tesco), but it means discounting and forgetting the mountain of decorations that may have been bought last year, or the year before, or the year before that….

For me, part of the fun about decorating for Christmas, and bringing the battered bauble boxes down from the attic each year, is rediscovering various things we have collected: the peg doll angel I’d made when in playgroup, the straw snowflake I won in a German quiz in secondary school, the ice-skating bauble I carefully chose at the garden centre last year. Each December, we have had a tradition of each getting a new decoration, meaning that every year our decoration box gets fuller and fuller, and every time we open it, we have more and more memories to add. Consequently, our tree is never co-ordinated or colour-schemed; never minimalist or chic – it is a huge multi-coloured amalgamation of various glittery baubles, flickering fairy lights, and prehistoric homemade ‘things’. But it is marvellous this way: our tree is a 3D memory trigger. A reminder of all the Christmases we have shared together, and ultimately, something that makes us happy.

It may not be the most stylish tree in town, or the most matchy-matchy spectacle on the street, but I would much rather have all-out, if a little garish, but incredibly meaningful Christmas decorations, and I think many would agree. If you can’t break style rules once a year, when can you? I think on this occasion, crimes against fashion are completely legal.

 

Originally published in CUB Magazine, 2014

Shop til you Drop? An Alternative to Black Friday

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Head to Spitalfields Market to avoid High Street mania

Fashion in London is unavoidable. Between the Fashion Weeks, Oxford Street offers a beacon of trend inspiration and even taking a tube journey, the sheer variety of clothes is amazing. London is the ultimate melting pot of styles and looks, creating a sense that you really can wear anything (although the leopard-print unitard clad woman in Stratford caused me doubt this slightly, I must admit).

With Black Friday mania from America gradually becoming a similar mad shopping day full of deals and steals, high streets are cottoning in to the fact that this is the time to persuade shoppers they NEED that dress. (I am still fairly convinced it’s only called Black Friday from the sheer amount of black eyes acquired from wrestling fellow shoppers to the floor to get half price TVs: shopping is dangerous, people)

This week, BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour has been running a series of broadcasts on the theme of appearance. Whilst some may shun this focus as ‘shallow’, it cannot be denied that how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we judge others is influenced by what we look like. The pressure to look a certain way, to follow the newest trends and buy the latest pieces is an everyday occurrence, arguably intensified by the growing role of social media and its increasing influence on our fashion choices .

In the city, style tribes are inevitable; it’s fairly easy to tell a Shoreditch hipster from a Kings Road fashionista, but there is a great deal of looks that are unique mish-mashes of trends and pieces:  London is arguably the most diverse fashion cities  in the world.

Not only is there a wealth of high street shops and chains, but London also plays host to a good few markets and independent boutiques where you can find something a little different. I say, avoid Black Friday, shin the crowds and head to my pick of some of the city’s more unique shopping destinations to find some Christmas presents: (Note: I am not in any way pretending to be any kind of style blogger, so take my suggestions with a pinch of salt/glitter)

 

For an arts and crafts market with a bit of vintage: Spitalfields

Artisan jewellers and up-and-coming designers collide daily in Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street. Find vintage furs amongst one-off dresses, hand embroidered scarves mingling with leather boots, and all of the accessories. Daily, with special markets on certain days.

 

 For a fashion pop-up: Favotell 

The huge number of art students and creatives in one place is bound to create some innovate mixes and merges. One such merge which has so far been little explored is the link between Shanghai and London, which is where Favotell comes in. Favotell is the brainchild of Central St Martin’s graduate Kong Jialin who saw a gap in the market for a cultural bridge between the two cities. From December 1st until the 4th, Favotell are running a pop-up store near Oxford Street at Gallery Different (14 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DR) which could be the perfect opportunity to get your hands on some Shanghai-inspired outfits.

 

For shops with a bit of an edge: Carnaby Street

Just off Oxford Street sits this legendary fashion haven, with shops such as Monki and Muji that offer a welcome break from the madness and size of the stores on the main drag. Kingly Court is also a fab place to stop for a bite between shopping, and there’s some great coffee spots around there too.

 

For hit and miss bargains and a few rummaged gems: TK Maxx

This well-known chain is a favourite amongst bargain hunters for quality and designer items often at half the price. There is no guarantee of size availability, or that the same thing will be there next time, so it’s a case of grab it while you can. Shoppers must be willing to do a bit of digging!

 

For Vintage heaven: Brick Lane

Just by Spitalfields you’ll find Brick Lane, hipster central and THE place for vintage pieces. As well as the Sunday market, there are a fair few vintage shops such as Rokit and Blitz which have rails and rails of everything from sequinned dresses to lumberjack shirts and retro Christmas jumpers. At the stalls, it is always worth haggling – start low in the hope they will meet you in the middle.

 

P.S. I wish you luck on your present buying/fashion finding/Black Friday avoiding mission.