1. Christina Donoghue: Atelier
A love letter to the handmade, Atelier pays homage to modern-day craft practices and the makers behind them. With an emphasis on craftsmanship across all its unique forms, I hope to document the stories of these makers and their journeys, centring around the idea of process and love; the love that these artisans put into their work and the love they have for it. If you are intrigued by making, whether it be fashion design, jewellery design, ceramics or art, this magazine is for you. In a world obsessed with technology, where the digital age rules supreme, Atelier is for those that want to slow down and appreciate the inner workings of handmade beauty. Born from an appreciation for the Surrealists and Dadaists, Atelier offers a slice of nostalgia, presented in a romantic, tangible, and most importantly physical, way.
2. Francesca Palmacci: Rabble Rouser
Rabble Rouser is a digital platform that aims to speak truth to power in both political and fashion circles through investigative work and satire. Rabble Rouser’s raison d’être is to bring common sense to a world of chaos. Rabble Rouser publishes a wide array of journalism ranging from investigative work, satirical pieces, cultural commentary, and interviews with rabble rousers who have bridged the gap between politics and fashion such as the creative director of George Magazine, Matt Berman and the former editor of Teen Vogue, Phillip Picardi. Rabble Rouser values the written word in its purest sense, speaking truth,
3. George Pistachio: Schmagazine
Schmagazine is a whale of a time; its pages are square, its contents are strange, its wrists are limp. First and foremost a fashion magazine, it speaks to queer readers who seek the storytelling and dark fantasy elements of style and subculture. The name Schmagazine is a childish and sarcastic reduplication; a distortion of the standardised publication we’ve become accustomed to. The graphic design remembers the colourful playbooks of 1950s, while features explore irreverent and often dark topics, such as a voyage into the adult baby community, the 'underground puppeteering mafia’, interviews with Gareth Wrighton and Sue Tilley, musings on fantastically loathed clothing, and more.
4. Hannah Connolly: Make Do
Make Do is about making the best of it, all while looking to the past to make comment on the present and hope for the future. It is a publication that explores fashion and culture beyond the limits of London. Exploring regional identities, history and culture, bursting the bubble of coldness that fashion publications often leave in their wake, Make Do does not operate as a private members club, but as a magazine with its doors left firmly ajar. Heavily influenced by Northern upbringing, Make Do is peppered with humour, and hopes to dispel a few fashion myths along the way. Features include: All Aboard - The Sartorial Legacy of the Railways, Fashioning Sense - Christopher Shannon, Youth Culture Museum, the New Museum and how they are combatting COVID-19, Get Hooked - The Enduring Nature of Crochet in Times of Crisis, and Last Orders - The New Wave of Working Men's Clubs. Make Do, a magazine best enjoyed with a pint.
5. Honor Cooper Hedges: Gag
Gag: A Very Pretentious Magazine
a piece of cloth put in or over a person's mouth to prevent them from speaking e.g. 'they tied him up and put a gag in his mouth'
a restriction on dissemination of information e.g. 'every contract contains a self-signed gag'
a device for keeping the patient's mouth open during a dental or surgical operation.
Put a gag on (someone) e.g. 'she was bound and gagged by robbers'
Choke or retch e.g. 'he gagged on the wine'
[Informal British] be very eager to have or do something e.g. 'I'm absolutely gagging for a pint'.
Gag is a very pretentious magazine, lampooning the pretentiousness and excessive vanities of the fashion industry. Self-aware as it is silly, Gag is a life and style journal for the nauseatingly highbrow; fashionistas with a mild superiority complex, a touch of self-loathing and, of course, a sense of humour.
6. Isobel van Dyke: Van Dyke
From September 2020, all schools in England will be required to teach about LGBTQ+ relationships and identity in lessons. The introduction of the new curriculum will be a historic moment for queer culture, and Van Dyke magazine is a celebration of this. The publication tells the stories of those who have grown up under the restraints of Section 28, as well as those who are committed to undoing the effects of it. The magazine features interviews with LGBTQ+ teachers Andrew Moffat, Claire Nicholls and Millie Millington; as well as teenagers such as transgender activist, Ben Saunders, and 15-year-old girls based in the South West.
Van Dyke asked queer creatives from across the globe to answer the question, 'What was your school experience like as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?' and has collected answers from the likes of Sharna Osborne, Sinéad O’Dwyer, Heather Glazzard, Nora Nord, Hal Fischer, Maria McKee, Paul Flynn, Desiree Akhavan, Cecile Tulkens and Louise Gray.
As said by Birmingham teacher, Andrew Moffat, ‘no one is born homophobic, racist, or discriminatory, it all stems from learnt behaviour’. It is through understanding that we will gain acceptance, and through education that society will begin to understand.
7. Kate McCusker and Freya Martin: Clamour
Clamour is a style and culture magazine for young people disillusioned by the anodyne glossy. (And the end of the world. We’re quite cut up about that one too.) Clamour covers stories like legendary Channel 4 news reader Jon Snow’s extensive tie collection, and the film industry’s new way to shoot ethical sex scenes. There’s no typical Clamour girl, but she probably feels as strongly about Marks & Spencer’s lingerie, Coke Zero, and the defiantly ugly interiors of rich people’s houses as editors Freya Martin and Kate McCusker do. The pair met in their first year at Central Saint Martins and have remained firm friends and accomplices since. They dedicate this first issue of Clamour to the never more salient words of Eric Andre: 'Sometimes you throw brunch, and sometimes brunch throws you.'
8. Lawrence Francis Alba Harrison: Flawed
Flawed is a magazine exploring the quality of authenticity in worn and second-hand clothes, with a focus on practical and individual style. It’s true our imperfections make us individuals, and this philosophy shouldn’t be overlooked for our second skin. Blemishes upon our clothes are an honest representation of life, symbolising narration, character and endurance within its form. Exploring and featuring like-minded individuals, from designers to restorers, collectors and enthusiasts who are all united in flaws, Flawed believes good clothes never die, and longevity in your wardrobe is a luxury only time, love and wear can achieve.
9. Lucy Fowler: Mind the Gap
Mind The Gap is your ticket beyond the London-centric bubble that’s pricing out our generation, diving into the overlooked sounds and styles nestled in the far corners beyond Zone 6. Issue One is dedicated to Britain’s DIY scenes of today, portraying the self-taught generation that grew up alongside the internet, and who produce, design and write from their bedroom floor, whilst stacking shelves to pay the rent. Read about the newest, self-made independents filling the gaps in their own niches across the UK, including Adam Jones and his pub-inspired garments, Bug Teeth’s dreamy shoegaze, Sean O’Connell’s forthright shots of Yorkshire, and Karren Ablaze’s fiery ’80s zine days. Very exciting stuff. So, watch your step as you hop from the four walls you’ve been stuck between since March, into those familiar grey and rainy streets of Britain’s enduring underground.
10. Matthew Gillespie: Aesthete
Aesthete is a fashion magazine which believes in beauty for beauty's sake. Published quarterly in print form, it explores every aspect of culture, from clothes and books, to interiors and music, to scent and painting, and beyond, tying these different worlds together with one common thread: the pursuit of the contemporary aesthetic sublime. Its first issue, for summer 2020, features profiles on the fashion designer Walid Damirji, painter Mhairi McGregor, and interior designer Gavin Houghton; interviews with Edinburgh-based perfumers Jorum Studios, musicians Maria and Nathalia Milstein, artist Robin Whitmore, and fashion curator Pamela Golbin; a review of the exhibition Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things; and thought pieces contemplating Scottishness and the state of the fashion exhibition.
11. Morgan Bowden: Crass
It has been 20 years since the beginning of the 2000s, the noughties, Y2K. It was a time where Heat magazine sold half a million copies a week and Big Brother first hit our screens. In fashion, designer monogram was all the rage; Galliano churned out the Dior monogram and Burberry Nova Check was ubiquitous whether people liked it or not. This was a decade that was unapologetically hideous and simultaneously glamorous. Fuelled by nostalgia and an awareness that I wasn’t the only one [who felt this way], I created Crass; a magazine that is as much a zeitgeist of the era as it is a celebration of both 'good' and 'bad' taste with interviews spanning from Diana Vreeland’s grandson Alexander, to Big Brother winner Pete Bennett.
12. Phoebe Shardlow: Slap!
Ahoy, Slappers! In these uncertain times of Goop and Poosh you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed about who to turn to and seek solace in – so here’s Slap! Remember your older sister’s weirdly sexy, goofy party girl best friend distilled over 70 pages of top-notch journalism. It’s a beauty magazine for the girls who come home in last night’s make-up, the girls who let yesterday’s foundation fester on their face whilst re-watching Top Gear on Dave and nursing a hangover. Slap! is a step-back from the sterile world of current beauty journalism and pressure to spend money. Slap! looks back at what got us into make-up in the first place – whether it be Bratz dolls or 2012 Tumblr. After all, Slap! just wants to have fun.
13. Trey Gaskin: O.T.T
O.T.T is a fashion media platform that celebrates glamour, nostalgia and black culture. Reflective of the way we receive our news today, each article has a podcast that correlates with the theme. Guests of the podcast include: Pat Cleveland, Misa Hylton, Jawara Alleyne and Harris Reed.
THE LOST VOICE OF ARTS AND CRAFTS
When making a magazine dedicated to the beauty of the handmade, it's needless to say that the founding father of the arts and crafts movement, William Morris himself, is worth a mention or two. Especially when the magazine in question has been put together in a town that was influenced by Morris's socialist ideas: Welwyn Garden City.
Best known today as a designer and craftsman, while also a Victorian voice for socialism and an active supporter of the Garden City movement, it is more than apparent that William Morris' skills varied far and wide, as did his work. He was an artist who undoubtedly accomplished more than most in his lifetime, proven by his doctor's prognosis of his illness in 1896, 'his disease was simply being William Morris and having done more work than most ten men.'
His legacy can easily be traced through fashion's market today. The Morris & Co. signature–a distinct floral pattern, embellished with vibrant hues of greens and blues–has continually made an appearance across fashion's spectrum, from the company's collaboration with titan high street retailer H&M to Liberty's trademark house print. Britain's homes are also no stranger to the naturalistic leafy patterns: there's nothing more distinctly British than a clustered floral design adorning the curtains and bedsheets of the middle class.
Morris' floral wallpaper, with its elegant swirls of vines, flowers, and leaves, all in perfect symmetry, are some of the 19th century's most iconic designs. Instantly recognisable, they boast a near-spiritual passion for beauty that remains unmatched today. It's these woodblock-printed wallpaper designs that can still be found all over the world, printed for furniture upholstery, curtains, ceramics, and even fashion accessories. These mythical and nature-centric patterns can be seen up close in London's V&A, Kelmscott House in Oxford, and the calling home of the arts and crafts movement, the Red House in Bexleyheath, designed by Philip Webb and completed in 1860.
A craftsman who, like many craftsmen and women, believed in making and designing instead of getting machinery to do it for you, Morris committed himself to many practises that made use of traditionalist methods, one of which is known as the Kelmscott Press. Established in 1891, the Kelmscott Press was, as Morris described it, a 'typographical adventure' and is remarkably hailed by writer William. S. Peterson as 'the most celebrated private press in the history of printing.'
The style of publishing was consistent as it was wholly intricate, producing authentic works of art that when held, bare the laborious task of the many that helped put them together. All the volumes produced feature thick, handmade linen paper, durable hand-sewn binding and are encircled by the most decorative borders, with so much plant-life rich embellishment, the pages often seem fragranced. Writer David Dunlap wrote of this beauty in his 2013 article for the New York Times, commenting on Edward Burne-Jones' distinctive baroque style used to illustrate The Works of Chaucer, a 556-page volume which was meticulously printed two pages at a time between the years 1894-1896: 'To say that the Kelmscott Chaucer is ornate is like saying that a peacock has tail feathers; true enough, but something of an understatement.'
When something is made by hand, it's truly unique and like no other. There's always a story behind it, swarming in the shadows of a signature stamp marked with love. Morris understood this, writing about the importance of handmade beauty in his 1891 article titled, Art, in which he noted, 'nothing which is man-made will be ugly, but will have its due form and its due ornament, and will tell the tale of its making and the tale of its use.' He realised the romance that came with the handmade, and that to be made by hand meant character, individuality and beauty; a rawness that machinery could only dream of.
Despite his death over 120 years ago, his work still resonates with the arts and crafts generation of today. The lampworkers, jewellery designers, zine makers and leather workers featured in this magazine all share similar passions as Morris did in the mid-19th century. From book design, tapestry, textiles and his socialist ideologies, Morris' work engulfed the Victorian era and even came to influence the birth of the town I grew up in, Welwyn Garden City - a place that's urban as much as it is rural.
THE DEMOCRATIC DILEMMA
Hollow phonies or righteous vicars? New York elites are playing an old game and pose major questions about the viability of the democratic party.
Think elite, think East coast, think egotistical - the three Es. They live in million-dollar brownstones and send their kids to boarding schools in Connecticut, their tender feet parading around in six-inch exotic skin heels that never touch the gum-strewn cockroach-crawling streets of New York City. Their driver is their Roman chariot, their saviour from being exposed to the perils of a less-than-perfect reality.
This doesn’t sound ideal, but hey, at least they always vote Democrat - although many 'I’m with her' stickers had to be gracefully peeled off the back of their Maserati's with a gold-plated knife (they never cook anyways). It is them, the seamless and silent influencers, except this time they aren’t influencing on your Instagram feed but rather influencing elections. The Kremlin might as well be moved to a three-story brownstone with preferably a red door. From the 2016 election they were unanimously 'I’m with her' because a. she is a woman and they gravitate to any form of identity politics unless it threatens to take away their wealth and b. because, as mentioned above they thought Bernie would take away their wealth and tax them into oblivion.
Anna Wintour, occupier of the iron throne immune to all scandal, Vogue, is a doting supporter of South Bend Indiana Mayor, Pete Buttigieg. An endorsement made on the safeguarding of money. No woman? No Warren? Maybe she was afraid Warren would take over the tethered reins of Vogue herself and the next day everyone would be wearing Lululemon pants with pussy hat pink and Democratic donkey blue blazers.
Wintour’s net worth of $35 million is a humble $16 million away from succumbing to Warren’s millionaire tear-inducing tax plan of taxing two cents from every 51 millionth and thereafter dollar earned. Modern American elitist liberalism is counterrevolutionary. They know the revolution is within the alt-right so they stick to the basics, donating a lot of money, attending fundraisers in wine caves dripping in Swarovski crystals. Most Americans don’t want to be told what to do by an ostentatious Brit with a royally large net worth - we fought a revolution to avoid this happening again.
Vogue did not respond to comment as to whether they will be endorsing a candidate in 2020. Attention within the steely walls of Vogue has drifted from endorsing candidates to the cancellation of the 2020 Met Ball. The catalyst? A pandemic.
The problem is pervasive in the New York fashion set. Michael Bloomberg, fellow rich New Yorker, garnered the support of former Vogue employee Selby Drummond who took a leave from her new position at Snapchat to campaign for [his presidential bid]. Leandra Medine of The Man Repeller, and the human equivalent of gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, Derek Blasberg, all endorsed Bloomberg. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City now sees himself as a beloved figurehead. [The elite] don’t want anyone to disrupt the system, they want a plutocrat who will favour the same people that Trump does.
Now that Biden is the [Democratic presidential] candidate, Drummond promotes Snapchat advertisements, Bloomberg tweets the occasionally viewed Biden endorsement, or stunning political commentary like 'wtf is this'. Blasberg is busy having a love affair with homemade banana bread, promoting an interview with Miley Cyrus for the Wall Street Journal and asking philosophical questions like, 'do you think the pigeons miss us?' Medine is missing her nanny and lamenting about the perils of early morning Zoom calls.
The epitome of this phenomenon is Karlie Kloss. She’s married to Jared Kushner’s brother, Joshua Kushner. She posted a photo of herself voting for Hilary in 2016 on Instagram (brave, Presidential Medal of Freedom for this, please) and gave an interview to Vogue UK for the August 2019 issue lamenting about how 'hard' it is being married to Jared Kushner’s brother and how her 'liberal' values are what matter most to her. This doesn’t stop her, however, from attending tennis games with the demonic cocktail that is Wendi Deng (Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife), Princess Beatrice, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner. The only one missing, unfortunately, was Jeffrey Epstein.
From inside the castle walls, I spoke to Phillip Picardi, formerly of Teen Vogue and Out magazine. Picardi is not telling people who to vote for, but encouraging them to be more involved with the primary process. He warns that, in his eyes, 'fashion is wary of genuine critics' and 'often avoids politics for fear of alienating a “broader” consumer base. In this age of capitalism, why stand for something and risk conflict when you could just stand for nothing and collect a profit?'
BATTLE OF THE BULGE
There’s a reason David Hasselhoff isn’t sporting a pair of Speedos in Baywatch.
Summer didn’t come as expected this year. It’s not that the sun refused to come out (quite the opposite, actually). We’re locked indoors, brooding over last year's holiday photos with our skimpy swimsuits gathering dust. A blessing in disguise perhaps, as a survey from YouGov in 2018 proved Speedos as Britain’s most reviled item of clothing, with only 13% of people having a favourable opinion. Is the knowledge we’re avoiding the visual assault of a man in speedos enough to make light of this dark situation? Absolutely not - but it’s the little things. And what little things they are.
On a surface level, there’s not much to talk about with Speedos. A surprisingly complex composition of textiles; nylons, Lycra, Spandex, polyesters are packed into the fabric of the itty-bitty men’s swim brief to perfect their streamlining qualities. One’s wobbly and otherwise protruding pecker is compressed into an elegant aerodynamic mound, inspiring a cacophony of nicknames including ‘budgie smugglers’ (or ‘parrot smugglers’ for wearers who are pleased with themselves), ‘banana hammocks’, ‘marble bags’, ‘sluggos’ (in Australia), ‘sungas’ (in Brazil) and my favourite, ‘dick sling’.
While clearly beneficial for athletes–many young gay men had their sexual awakenings watching diver Tom Daley vacuum-packed into Speedos–they’re also worn regularly by those less likely to perform at the Olympics. Even the word evokes bronzed, tortilla-skinned dads at the beach on their proud belly-first march to the beachside bar. He’s the same man that strips fully nude in the middle of the gym changing rooms to floss his crack. Confidence is key, as they say to the world: 'just be thankful I’m not completely nude.'
If loving your physique is wrong, the Speedo wearers don’t want to be right. Generation X onwards have generally rejected the Speedo in favour of their conservative cousin, the board short. With no audacious exposure, they withhold the air of mystery about what exactly is going on between one’s legs. In Speedos the enigma comes ready solved. When Tom Daley’s salacious selfies surfaced, no one clutched their pearls in shock. It’s for this reason that the Speedo was banned in the Alton Towers swim park as a form of censorship for the youth.
Meanwhile in many French pools, anything longer than a Speedo is banned for the greater good of the public. Any prudish male in hopes of hiding his natural contours will sadly have his dream shattered under the rule of law enforcing pool attendants. Why must the Frenchmen parade in this micro uniform? Hygiene. Board shorts can be worn anywhere after all, bringing dust, sand and all other matters of unwelcome contamination. Where else is it acceptable to wear a Speedo but to swim?
Similar rules are in place in Belgium and other parts of Europe. An atlas can be graffitied with a pen to define which parts of the world are pro or anti-Speedo. Or to put it bluntly: the liberals and the prudes. According to the ‘Flip Flop Report’ by Expedia, the Speedo is most popular amongst the Brazilians, where it has a 92% approval rating. It’s not entirely alien to perceive of a nation that doesn’t hate their bodies. Under the sweltering sun, the closest thing to naked is, of course, the most practical.
The stigma surrounding Speedos has been prescribed by the symbol of what they represent: liberalism and hedonism, of gay men, sporty men, fashionable men, exhibitionists and dads; of both not giving a damn about how you look and giving lots of damns. The Speedo brand itself has done a fantastic job remaining polarising from the outset. Every brand’s dream, the Speedo has become a noun that describes all Y-front men’s underwear, ubiquitous beyond the company’s reach. The first model by Speedo, founded by Sydney-based Scotsman Alexander MacRae, looks positively demure by today's standards. Designed in the late 1920s, it’s a racerback swimsuit that extends halfway down the thigh, but revealing the back and shoulders in this time was radical.
As if sipping on one of Alice in Wonderland’s ‘Drink Me’ potions, the costumes got smaller and smaller, and the Speedo as we endearingly know it as now was unveiled in 1961. The first man to be spotted in a pair was arrested on Bondi Beach, Australia, for public indecency - but fortunately was released after it was ruled there was 'no pubic hair' seen. Yes, Speedos evoke a gut wrenching-reaction in many of us, but they’re not a prosecutable offence. I happen to enjoy the Speedo, best in a tasteful navy to compliment a tan, but most importantly I enjoy the confidence they bring to people. Fellas, loosen up a little and swim against the current, you might enjoy it.
Long before the outbreak of COVID-19, my friends came up with an ingenious idea to enjoy the finer things in life–pubs, bars and parties—sans being there yourself.
For the past few months we have all spent our time doing our bit and staying put at home, working, finishing degrees, navigating house shares, baking and then a bit more baking. In temperatures of 25°C and higher I had envisioned myself in beer gardens and in parks amongst friends, but with the outbreak of COVID-19 came social distancing orders that have put life as normal on hold indefinitely as the world navigates unprecedented times.
Yet, long before the turning point of February, I had been enjoying nights out with friends without the need to be there physically. Living in London, 300 miles away from family and friends and with little time to travel back up north, it's safe to say I had missed a fair few gatherings. As the announcement of a close friend's engagement came to me via FaceTime, I realised there was no way to be there to enjoy the celebrations. Instead I resigned myself to hearing about the whole thing after the fact.
Unbeknownst to me, I arrived at the party promptly drink in hand and by the end of the night I was dancing away propped up in the arms of boozy pals. Except I wasn't there myself, not really. I had been printed out life-size and stuffed into the back of the taxi, all 5'11 of me laid out on the upholstered back rest. All possible thanks to one particular friend, enlisting the help of her uncle who owned a printing warehouse, committing fully to carting around a life-size cutout in tow of the group, and marking the start of a series of nights out that saw Cardboard Me having a much better time than I myself was probably having.
One night, whilst particularly intoxicated, Cardboard Me was barred entry to the club: 'she's too drunk girls.' Recorded in all its mortifying glory, I was taken up by a surly security guard and given a time out in the cloak room: 'Pick her back up on your way out please.' Not my finest hour but, like all good dutiful friends, I was picked up and taken back home in a taxi.
Another night on the town to mark 21st birthday celebrations, my friends had a slight lapse in judgement, probably owing to a few too many drinks. After being kicked out of the hired venue for reaching max capacity, I was left behind. A pick up was arranged for the morning, and I did a walk of shame carried by hungover friends back to my rightful place in the cupboard 'til the next time. Perhaps even worse was my week-long stint at the taxi rank, where I was once again left behind, the taxi driver taking me back to the depot until someone remembered to check in. Cue an hour and half journey to collect me. Though there is no documentation as to what I had been up to, a rather disgruntled taxi manager let them know that having me in the office had been somewhat of a nuisance.
The antics of Cardboard Me was well-documented otherwise. Cardboard Hannah had her own following, her nights out recorded and shared with myself and followers: What will Hannah get up to tonight? On one occasion I was briefly stolen by a stag party, cue a bar to bar door check to see if my 2D figure could be seen from within the club. I was found albeit a little worse for wear, with scuffed edges and a bent leg.
The nights continued, by now more than a little disgruntled. The once perfect rendering had become a droopy, scratched pile of cardboard, but Cardboard Me kept at it. She was at the christening reception of a close friend—the church felt like a little bit of a stretch—,40th birthdays, dinners, and when I can't make to the group FaceTime, whoever is the current custodian places me diligently in the frame.
The turn of the decade marked the end of Cardboard Me. The New Year's celebrations that see most of us indulge in a few too many drinks saw my friends indulge in more than a fair few. Cardboard Me made her last taxi ride into Leeds city centre and was subsequently lost somewhere between 03:00 and 04:00. The last video evidence showing her whereabouts was on the stools of McDonalds, with a take out bag on her head. In the wake of COVID-19 it is more important than ever to think of others and keep our distance, finding the ways we can be connected with our friends and family without meeting face to face. Cardboard Hannah may have seen the end of her days, but I like to think wherever Cardboard Me ended up, she had one hell of a time before she went.
PHOEBE ENGLISH: ‘Recession is always met with a swing back into excess’
London-based sustainable designer and founding member of the Emergency Designer Network, Phoebe English, interviewed during the peak of coronavirus in the UK, talks scrub-making, humanity's thirst for excess and her vision for fashion in the COVID-19 era.
‘I think fashion has this perception of being frivolous and unnecessary.’ It’s very easy to dismiss fashion's importance in a time like this when we’re having flashy images, celebrities and glossy magazines shoved down our throats. But go beneath the surface and there’s an entire network of dependency. ‘It’s part of an expanse of suppliers, craftsmen, farmers and manufactures, all over the world who are all connected because of this industry.’ She continues, ‘We don’t experience it like that, we’re not cotton farmers or indigo dyers, we’re not working in sweatshops, it’s an extensive industry and a huge amount of cultures rely on it in order to survive, I think that’s a really important thing to remember.’
But what about Phoebe’s own practice as a fashion designer? How has her business been affected by this worldwide mess? ‘It’s been really hard,’ - I could have guessed - ‘we don’t qualify for government support, we work with a lot of freelancers who can’t receive any support either, and I can’t apply for furlough, it’s frustrating, a lot of people are slipping through the net.’ It’s insane to hear, scandalous even. In May, Phoebe English was announced as one of the 37 brands to receive emergency funding from the British Fashion Council, so that’s some good news.
Outside of her own brand there are also major changes happening across the entire fashion industry as a whole. ‘There’s not much consuming going on, it’s all gone pretty dormant.’ But will our new-found moderate, make do and mend lifestyle last? Or will there be a mega upswing of so-called revenge spending? ‘If you look at fashion history and cultural patterns, any depression or recession is always met with a big swing back into excess.’
‘I hope that isn’t what’s going to happen, it could go either way,’ she continues. I admire her positivity, as by this point I’ve lost pretty much all my faith in humanity’s ability to learn from our mistakes. ‘We’ve advocated a more cautious view of excess in terms of consumption, we’re creating and producing beyond our planetary boundaries. I’d hope we can turn to a more thoughtful way of making and consuming. So we’ll see.’
Luckily for Phoebe she’s already been operating on entirely locally sourced materials, long before lockdown and coronavirus became part of our collective lexicon. Her most recent womenswear collection was made entirely from surplus fabrics sourced within a 10-15 mile radius from her studio, where it was also made. She also owns all of her materials, which, she tells me, makes it easier to recreate archive and bespoke pieces, which are a big part of her e-commerce. ‘We will make anything from past collections, our stuff is carefully produced, people don’t want to just click and receive stuff like you would do on Boohoo or somewhere like that.’
Even though her major stockists like Dover Street Market and Selfridges are closed, Phoebe is still functioning confidently. ‘As soon as the shops open we can get our deposits paid and ship things out, but in terms of making thinks we’re fine. A lot of other houses don’t work like that, they’re wondering when the mills in Italy or Hong Kong will reopen. So I feel like we’re in a pretty good place because of that.’
Another one of the biggest changes on the heels of coronavirus is the fashion show becoming virtually extinct. Saint Laurent and Gucci both announced they would no longer show collections on schedule; there are whispers on the grapevine the fashion show as we know it is completely over. ‘It’s a set up that’s over a hundred years old.’ Perhaps this is a catalyst that we desperately need. ‘We don’t have physical seasons anymore because of global warming, yet we’re still fitting fashion to a seasonal structure.’ Phoebe herself often takes time out from the London schedule. ‘I know from myself having autonomy over when I show something is I’ve been working towards for years; taking time out to research makes my collections better quality, it’s more genuine, rather than just churning work out.’
NOT IN FRONT OF MY KIDS
Inside Andrew Moffat’s classroom, the Birmingham teacher whose bravery made headlines last year.
On Christmas Eve 2018, teacher Andrew Moffat received a message from a colleague reading, ‘I don’t want to ruin your Christmas, but you’ve got to watch this video.' The video in question is an hour-long presentation by Dr Kate Godfrey-Fausset, titled The Problem with Relationship & Sex Education (RSE). Her presentation warns parents of the dangerous ‘homosexual agenda’ being taught across UK schools without parental consent or knowledge. She states that if children are not able to spell the word ‘sexuality’, then they shouldn’t be taught its meaning.
For half a decade, the children of Parkfield Community School in Birmingham have been taught about different types of families. Whether that be families with different religious beliefs, different ethnicities, or with same-sex parents, the children at Parkfield are taught what it means to live in ‘modern Britain’. Andrew Moffat began teaching these lessons five years ago, with everything running smoothly until Godfrey-Fausset’s video went viral last Christmas.
The video was sent from parent to parent, household to household. When the school reopened after the Christmas break, protestors were waiting at the gate. The school, whose population is 99% Muslim, was accused of ‘exploiting children’s innocence’ and disrespecting religious beliefs. Andrew Moffat was held personally responsible and received death threats and letters of abuse. Before our meeting he had to make sure my ID was real, confirming that I wasn’t an imposter with a hidden agenda.
Squeezed into chairs made for much smaller bodies than ours, Andrew and I met at Parkfield school back in January—one year on from the first protests. The school’s pride for their teacher is evident from the moment you walk through the door. Newspaper clippings, framed photos of Andrew and banners that read ‘No Outsiders’ decorate the school’s reception area.
Andrew Moffat’s lesson plan, No Outsiders, teaches exactly what it says on the tin: diversity and inclusivity. It includes 35 lessons, all of which focus on modern society. Of the 35 lessons, only three have any mention of LGBT+ topics. Although queer topics take up such a small percent of the syllabus, protestors were adamant that ‘Mr Moffat turns children gay’. ‘Parents thought I was running through the corridors and high-fiving children, shouting “I’m gay,”' he told me.
After the first protests, the school made the decision to remove the No Outsiders lesson plans from the syllabus - a win for the parents but a huge step back for society. A few months later and the lessons were reevaluated and introduced once again, this time with parents having the option to withdraw their children from RSE lessons. Thousands of primary and secondary schools in the UK have taught diversity for years, however for the few not quite caught up, it has now been made a mandatory part of the curriculum for all English schools to teach more inclusive lessons, including LGBT+ topics.
After one of the worst years of his life, the bravery of Andrew Moffat has led to a degree of nervousness. The backlash and torments that he faced would make anyone hesitant to answer a knock at the door, however it’s the support he received that kept him going. When a Muslim mother and her two children attended Birmingham Pride and cheered on their favourite teacher, Andrew Moffat witnessed the change that his work had inspired.
When he was legally advised not to interact with any parents at the time of the protests, one mother demanded an audience with him. Andrew sent a message that he was unable to see her, but instead of turning away she waited two hours in the school foyer until she spotted him. He admits he was concerned for what she had to say, only to be filled with hope when she shook his hand and urged him to not give up. She reminded him that he had a support system and was not alone. Whilst there were parents against him, there were thousands in support of No Outsiders too.
But looking past colleagues and parents, the biggest supporters of Andrew Moffat are his own students. ‘Children love No Outsiders because it makes them feel safe. Unfortunately it is the case that every single child knows what it is to feel left out,' he says. In primary schools especially, children are constantly navigating their personal identity and friendship groups. A child’s biggest fear is being left out, so when you teach a program called No Outsiders, that child is made to feel safe and part of something. ‘If you ask a five year old at this school what No Outsiders means, they’ll say, “We all play together,”’ Moffat tells me. He continues by reaching into his bag and pulling out some recent work by a Year One student of his. ‘This is a drawing one of my students gave me,' he says, laying down a crumpled, A4 piece of paper. The drawing illustrates six people lined up, captioned with a language legible only to teachers. Andrew explains that underneath each of the figures the child has written ‘Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish.' The drawing is titled ‘No Outsiders'.
It’s likely that 10-year-olds at Parkfield Community school could tell you more about our society than their parents could. ‘By Year Two, the students know about different races, by Year Three, they know about religion and disability, and by Year Five they know about being gay or lesbian, and by Year Six they know about transgender people and the Equality Act too,’ explains Andrew. This being said, he confesses he was frustrated when the press picked up the story last year. ‘They made me into an LGBT+ teacher—which is true—but No Outsiders is more than that. They only focused on the gay part.'
‘Do what you want… just not in front of my kids,’ is a well known phrase to the LGBTIQ+ community. To us, it has become a punchline in conversation, but to others, the phrase has become a permanent, and sincere, tagline. The sentence comes with a similar weight to, ‘I’m not homophobic but…’ and is spoken by those who are blissfully unaware of their own homophobia. It translates as the parent being accepting of LGBTIQ+ individuals, so long as their own child doesn’t identify that way, or isn’t encouraged to identify as part of the community. Ironically, they are rejecting the community within a statement intended to communicate acceptance. Protestors outside Parkfield held up signs that read ‘We are not homophobic!’ - the ‘but...' may not have been written, but it was certainly present.
‘No one is born racist, homophobic, or discriminatory, it all stems from learnt behaviours,’ says Andrew. By teaching children about diversity from the age of four we are also teaching society to be more accepting. Teenagers today care less and less about sexuality, labels and categories. With the help of the new curriculum, the generation that comes after them will be even more aware of different individuals that make up our society. People today tend to stare at what they’ve not seen before, whether that be a woman with green hair, a man in heels, or a child with two mums. The work of Andrew Moffat will be seen in a decade’s time, when gradually, society stops staring.
THE LAST KING OF CLERKENWELL
Legendary photographic printer Brian Dowling: 'Yohji Yamamoto rang up to say the pictures were historical. I said, Are you sure he doesn’t mean hysterical?'
What is a great fashion photograph? 1986: the shaded stencil of a woman, like the shadow of a moth inside a lampshade, blacked out but for the brilliant red bustle bursting from her coat, as designed by Yohji Yamamoto and captured by Nick Knight. 1991: an uncredited young black man dazzling a suburban footpath in a striking orange blazer and flat cap, styled by Simon Foxton and shot by Jason Evans. 1996: Dutch-American model Guinevere Van Seenus, a haughty headshot behind a slanting roll of salmon wallpaper, shot by Craig McDean for Jil Sander’s Spring/Summer catalogue. 1997: Amber Valletta sailing through the gloaming on the river Tiber, wearing a semi-sheer Prada gown, her hair knotted loosely at her nape and Glen Luchford somewhere behind the lens trying to get the shot before the boat began to gain water (he didn’t — they reshot the next day).
What is the common watermark that runs through all of these legendary images; that’s there in every print and blasphemous reproduction? The golden touch of Brian Dowling, the former owner of London’s most beloved commercial dark room, BDI Colour Lab. 'People say I don’t work anymore, but I’m always bloody coming in,' says Dowling. We are sitting in the Photobookcafe in Shoreditch, Dowling’s base since BDI was bought—staff, equipment, Dowling and all—by print company Rapid Eye last April, following a hard fought, but ultimately lost, battle to keep Dowling in his Old Street premises amid rising rents and deep-pocketed developers.
When we meet (in the heady days of mid-March when such things were allowed) Dowling is just back from the Dublin Film Festival, where he was attending the premiere of a documentary about friend and collaborating photographer Perry Ogden. We’re sitting upstairs having coffee alongside tourists and freelancers, while downstairs, separated by a plush red rope, printers are dodging, burning and printing in the darkroom. It’s the perfect Shoreditch set up, without any of the stale gimmickry you’d expect to come tacked to it, namely due to the steady stream of delivery men and photographers sweeping in and down the stairs, and the rarefied air of actual work being done that follows them. It is a small relic of an East End long since lost to money.
Despite an unofficial retirement—actually, it’s the busiest retirement I’ve heard of—Dowling is still to be found in the darkroom frequently. His latest project is a book by longtime collaborator Anton Corbijn: a collection of the Dutch photographer’s prolific (in some circles) work for Depeche Mode. 'They’ve got so many followers — I didn’t realise how big they are. Luckily we’re in the 2000s now, so we’re on the straight and narrow,' he laughs. The book, to be published by Taschen, continues the men’s successful collaborative ventures in music photography—Dowling printed much of Corbijn’s noted photographs of U2, including the band’s first colour album cover for Achtung Baby in 1991. Before that, everything that Anton had shot was black and white. He was basically a black and white photographer until he met me and decided, alright, let’s do some colour.
Dowling’s heavy hand in creating some of the most memorable band portraits of the 80’s and 90’s was an early prophecy. In the first days of BDI Colour Lab he was given Suggs from Madness’ holiday snaps to process: 'They were at their peak and he didn’t want them going to the chemist.' Dowling says this with the dry insouciance of someone who’s worked a long time within spitting distance of fame, but remains resolutely unmoved by it. He talks about nascent photographers—Lea Colombo is among the favourites to have darkened his door of late—with the same enthusiasm as he does his prolific work for Nick Knight or Juergen Teller. He speaks in a cutting Cockney that can no longer easily be got. He is the nicest person involved in the fashion industry I’ve ever met.
Dowling started his career as a printing apprentice on Fleet Street in the early 60s; back in the tobacco fug days of needing to pass a full medical before getting the job, though Dowling’s fascination with printing had started long before, when, growing up in the East End, his father would print the family’s holiday photos in the bath. 'I found it fascinating when you watched them come through - it was like Paul Daniels magic. And even now, if I go into a dark room and just watch the print come up, I still get the same feeling. Not that you see anything with the printing machines they have now.'
He was working a Sunday shift on 17 March 1968, when anti-Vietnam protesters, Vanessa Redgrave front and centre, clashed with the police outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. Dowling was on break at home, waiting for his Sunday dinner when he got a frenetic call from one of the other printers asking him to get back. 'I don’t think I even had any dinner — my mum had just done it.' He still sounds vaguely disappointed about this, 52 years later. 'It got to the point where there was so much film coming in that even the picture editors came down to develop. I was printing, and another boy was outside glazing. We worked nonstop until midnight. I just remember the picture editor coming down and saying: "I know what’s going to happen: this is going to be about the police, not the riot. It will be about the police trying to control it." And it was.'
It was working for the Press Association (PA) that Dowling first came across what would become his life’s work: colour. 'They opened a co-let colour lab on Warren Street, which in those days was a load of car dealers, a load of gangsters, I thought. It was a right place to walk down - you daren’t even look at anyone,' he laughs. 'It was there that I started learning how to do colour.' He remembers working all night to print the Prince of Wales’ Investiture in 1969; a seismic event for colour printing in the press. 'He was 21, the same age as me, and I’d just gotten married.'
Between his shifts on Fleet Street, Dowling picked up odd jobs as a wedding photographer. Many of the other printers at the PA had side hustles doing photography, and Dowling followed their suit in doing a quick print at work, and then taking it back in the evening. Soon he was able to make more from wedding photography in a day than what his job at the PA gave up in a week, and so he rented a dark room at Charterhouse Square, calling it BDI Colour Lab. 'And that’s when Nick Knight walked in the door.'
Dowling’s relationship with Knight was one of the most fruitful—if unacknowledged—in the latter’s career. Knight walked into BDI as a student photographer looking for a decent print he couldn’t get himself, just as his career was about to mushroom. And mushroom it did, beginning with jobs for the then-nascent i-D magazine and the iconoclastic The Face, and progressing to campaigns for major fashion houses with Dowling in the sidecar for it all. Between them, they managed to turn Yohji Yamamoto to colour campaigns and catalogues; ushering in a new colour era for the designer who had theretofore favoured the severity of black to showcase his genius cutting. (Dowling’s darkroom seems to have a habit of turning even the staunchest of monochromists to colour.)
'When Nick came back from shooting [Yamamoto’s 1986 catalogue] in France, we printed and sent the first six to eight pictures. We’d printed the one of the girl in red, and that was the first colour picture Yohji ever did. Afterwards, Yohji phoned up Nick at BDI and told him he loved the pictures,' says Dowling. 'When he saw the girl in red he wanted to do all his pictures in colour. Nick said to him: "But you only do black clothes. Why are you having the pictures in colour?" And Yohji answered, "Well, we’ll just have to make clothes in colour!"' recalls Dowling, delighted with the opera of it. His own opinion when Knight hung up the phone and told him Yamamoto thought the images were 'historical' was decidedly different: 'Are you sure,' he wondered aloud to Knight, 'he didn’t mean hysterical?'
With Dowling’s diary booked three months in advance, this was the period that one disgruntled photographer trying to get an appointment called it 'The Knight and Day Lab', because Knight and Corinne Day were the only two people who seemingly could get a foot through the door. Day, who died in 2010, was known for her gauzy portraits of a newly-hatched Kate Moss for magazines including The Face and British Vogue; and was a rare female gaze in a boys' club. 'Corinne, by her own admission, wasn’t the best photographer in the world,' shrugs Dowling. 'At the beginning, a lot of her shots were overexposed, or she couldn’t get the lighting quite right. But we got through all that, we fixed it, and as time went on she improved. But she had a good eye for it, and that’s what counts. I was doing loads of pictures for Corinne with Kate in those early days.'
‘I’ve picked up a copy of i-D and there’s a picture on the cover that I printed. Turn over, and there’s an advert I printed. Turn over and look, there’s another one. I could go through half the magazine and I’d printed it in those days,' he says, bemused by his former stamina. Diary delays withstanding, though, there was always one photographer who miraculously managed to get himself on the books. 'Nick would book me three months in advance, and he’d book me three days a week for three months. He never arrived until midday, so he’d give me the print order the night before and say, "Bri, will you test them up for me?" So that by the time he came in, I’d have them all tested up. Well, the amount of times Glen [Luchford] would come in at nine, and ask me to do a quick print. He’d ask: "Who’ve you got booked in today?" and I’d say, "I’ve got Nick in at 12." And he’d say: "Great, that give us three hours then. Let me know when it’s half 11 and I’ll go." And the amount of times he was still there when Nick arrived, and he’d say, "Oh hello, Nick. I won’t disturb you, I’m just going. Can you get that done next week for me Bri?" He knew he couldn’t book a day, so he’d just chance it. He’s so funny like that, Glen.'
Dowling cites Luchford’s wispy campaigns for Prada between 1997 and 1998 ('he done three on the trot,' as the printer puts it) among the work he is most proud of. Though his response to Luchford coming to the darkroom door with news of the lucrative campaign was so typically Dowling. 'When Glen said to me, "Alright boy? I’ve only gone and landed a Prada campaign." My response was, "What’s that?"' he laughs. Despite spending a lifetime tangentially—but not at all reluctantly—working in fashion, Dowling remains contentedly outside it. 'I still can’t afford designer fashion. I’m not the man at C&A, I’m the man at M&S, me.' The idea that someone might buy seven identical designer pairs of jeans and seven identical t-shirts, as the fashion gentry would have it, is absurd to him: 'What sort of fashion is that? What is it with these photographers - they’ve got to have seven pairs of everything?'
Knight, however, was always to be discerned in a suit. Dowling nearly keeled over the first time he saw him in jeans. 'He’s the most immaculate person. When he used to come to me, you’d think he was going to a wedding. I said to him once, forgetting that he’d probably been to four meetings before seeing me, "Why do you always wear a suit down to print?" And he said: "I wouldn’t even think of dressing any other way to come and see you." I was touched.' Dowling is graceful, if also amused, about the success—not to mention wealth—garnered by the photographers he has spent his career printing for: from Knight being mobbed by Japanese teenagers at the airport, to Luchford opening a boutique hotel on Venice Beach akin to Fawlty Towers. They are successes far more trumpeted than his own, quieter ones. But that nearly every photographer contacted by Dowling, while he was putting together the book that would be an overdue celebration of his own career, Fashion Image Revolution, allowed their photographs to be used for free, suggests that photographers are all too aware of this man’s indispensable role in their own branded artistry. Published in 2018 by Prestel and penned by Charlotte Cotton, Fashion Image Revolution brings together the most defining images of Dowling’s portfolio - and probably of the last fifty years in fashion. Any reader of the book previously unaware of Dowling’s radical techniques in the darkroom will be wholeheartedly behind Peter Saville’s assessment of Dowling as 'the haute couturier of printing.'
One thing glaringly lacking from Dowling’s oeuvre is the presence of female photographers: an oversight owing to the boys' club sanctimony of the industry, rather than any personal vendetta on his part (Dowling has two daughters; one of which did his accounts before also getting taken on by Rapid Eye). 'I suppose Corinne Day was the only woman I worked with in the early days. And funny enough, the photographers coming to me now are women. So to see these young girls like Lea Colombo and Jenny Brough—well I mean not girls, they’re thirty odd, but they’re younger than my daughters—being so fascinated by the craft is fabulous.'
However that women are now allowed into the arena isn’t exactly a feat for the gender pay disparity: 'In those days, when we did Yohji, we had a million quid’s budget to produce the catalogue and all that.' By today’s monetary standards, it’s hardly the going rate, what with the transience of digital advertising, and our own fickle consumption. (Dowling sends me a follow up email to ask I clarify he wasn’t bragging about the money.) But where photographic technology is rapidly changing, dragging printing along with it, photographers are all too aware of the spontaneity, which often sparks something brilliant, that can only be found in a darkroom. And though technology might be replaceable, a master craftsman like Dowling is not. He is living proof of what can make fashion brilliant, and what makes it at home in London. 'Yeah, those was good old days,' he says; not all wistfully, but in the assured tone of someone who knows the best days are still to come.
Adam Jones loves pubs. He’s worked in them, sat in them and now creates clothes out of them. The 28-year-old fashion designer is sat in another one today to talk about why.
It seemed fitting to meet Adam Jones in a pub. Surrounding us are the mats, carpets, wallpapers, framed pictures and colours that Jones rips apart and stitches back together for his pub-inspired garments, which he’s been creating since 2015. You’d think someone who has spent most of their time both working and relaxing in pubs would be bored of them by now, but Jones seems perfectly happy, half-blending into the surroundings, speaking in his quiet Welsh accent that melds into the chatter.
Jones is an observer. Growing up in the border town Froncysyllte, Wales, a ‘Welcome To England’ sign sat at the end of his road. This sign perfectly encapsulates his placement in the fashion world - observing somewhat from the edge, yet designing with an insider’s knowledge. Graduating from Manchester School of Art in 2013 with a BA in Fashion Design, Jones then went to work for menswear brand Christopher Shannon with the late Judy Blame’s recommendation (who found and supported Jones’ work through Instagram). He then went on to set up his own brand, showing his first collection at the pub he worked in, for London Fashion Week Men's in 2016.
Jones describes his own collections as a messy 'wabi-sabi' view of Great Britain - a style originating in Japan that favours roughness, irregularity and the mundane over perfectionism. Recycled beer mat vests, horse head and dog prints taken from pub signs, and early pigeon-inspired designs from his graduate collection all ooze with Jones’ vigilant eye for the everyday things we tend to lose sight of. Fashion is no stranger to taking rubbish and turning it into garments–Matthew Needham and Patrick McDowell are two designers both reusing old materials to create new–but Jones manages to keep the concept feeling fresh with his chosen assortment of discarded textiles and personal touch.
Jones’ parents–dad a factory worker, and mum an NHS worker–have no background in fashion, but he took an interest in clothes early on. Dressing up in clothes from his grandmother, who he describes as both an artist and a hoarder, and drawing garments and trainers first gave him the itch to learn design. At 16 he enrolled in a fashion design course at a local college in Wrexham, learning to pattern cut for two years and giving him an advantage to his classmates in Manchester. His Welsh hometown is also where he first spent his time in ‘old man pubs’ with his friends. 'Growing up there I hated it,' he says. 'It was like Midsomer Murders - tug of wars, bake sales, everyone has to have their gardens nice. You’d have to walk half an hour to get the bus into town, I just really hated it.' Going from the country to the city, however, he realised he could learn to embrace the clutter of ordinary nonsense to which locals may become oblivious. Pubs in his hometown suddenly became beacons of inspiration, the faded colours, dated décor and graphics drawing him in. Now his Welsh roots are what keeps him grounded in his identity as a fashion designer.
Building his label has been a constant uphill struggle. After graduating, he made the decision to move back in with his parents for two years to be able to fund freelance designing. Working in a fancy-dress factory and paying £60 a month for a studio, he’d hop on a bus from work and spend every evening until 22:00 in his studio before a half an hour walk home. Jones now designs and manages his brand in his small London bedroom, working two jobs to scrape by on a London living wage. He recently set up a GoFundMe page to help fund his designs, raising £1190 of his £8000 target to be able to grow his business. It’s a story heard far too frequently today - a London artist or designer working tirelessly to fund their projects but left with barely any time or mental space to create - and it’s why a lot of artists are basing themselves elsewhere. 'So many young creatives are moving to Margate and these seaside coastal towns,' he says, 'which I have thought about, but I am still clinging on.' Rent prices in London continue to go up, Jones’ own rent rising nearly £100 since last year. It raises the question of how long young artists and designers, particularly those from a low-income background, can feasibly continue living and creating in London.
Even with these setbacks, Jones is determined to continue designing. In five years’ time he hopes he’ll be able to work full time on his brand, to have a studio, that Grayson Perry will become Prime Minister and for people in Wales will still be 'freaky.' For now, I leave him sitting by the arcade machine, pint in hand, taking in the sights around him.
Walid Damirji is not an ordinary fashion designer. From his wayfaring youth to his extraordinary clothes, he has taken an eccentric route in reaching true beauty.
The idea of the 'fashion designer' is a funny old thing. In the modern imagination, this figure has become something of a stock character, and the personality attached rarely inspires admiration. Influenced by such burlesques as Absolutely Fabulous and The Devil Wears Prada, and by certain inexplicably real characters, many think that fashion designers are both vacuous and cruel - little Neros who preside over empires and worship at the feet of nothingness. It is a far cry from the days of Charles Frederick Worth, the Englishman who invented haute couture in the 1850s, when the designer was an obscure yet sacred individual, depended upon by the royals and stars who would flock to the Rue de la Paix to be costumed in their own myths. Those days have all but dried up. But, in a quiet mews in Hammersmith, London, one fashion designer is carrying on the old tradition, dreaming up clothes which beguile and fascinate in a style never seen before.
'I’m very busy,' Walid Damirji tells me on the telephone, talking in his joyful, coloratura voice. 'I’m working with these Victorian undergarments. Our next collection is going to be what we’re calling The Light Victorian—there will be lots of bloomer details and pleats, as well as shirting. I’m working more and more with vintage, I think the way that people wear it is so banal.' Damirji is the genius of the quiet mews, and these intriguing and slightly cryptic words, spoken at the height of coronavirus, are proof that his creativity will stop for nothing. Since 2011, he has owned his own house, By Walid, and designs clothes as well as homewares using the most extraordinary materials imaginable. He has created monastic coats out of embroidered Qing Dynasty silk, trousers from hand-painted Edwardian tulle, jackets from Aubusson tapestry, and many a thing from exquisitely pale antique gloves. When one sees Damirji’s garments one cannot help but stare. Unlike the trend-afflicted fashions of today, they lure one in with their quiet silhouettes and intricate surfaces - what myths do these clothes reveal?
Like his work, Damirji himself is a glinting thread, a true original who has lived a symphonic, unpredictable life. He was born in Switzerland in 1963, the son of Iraqi parents who had fled revolution and who, after their son’s birth, were granted asylum by the British Government. 'I grew up between France and England,' he says. 'My upbringing was very cosmopolitan. I had a German governess, I had a French tutor, and we spoke Turkish, French, Arabic, and German at home.' This world of different soils and tongues seems to have been the perfect atmosphere for an artistic child, as Damirji tells me that he was 'always sketching and drawing.' But the seeds of his love of fashion were sown when, at the age of six, he was taken to one of Yves Saint Laurent’s red-lacquered Rive Gauche shops. 'It was so otherworldly, it hit me,' he says. 'It was the combination of all of the prints and the colours and the textiles. I was fascinated just to walk past and look into the windows of any Saint Laurent shop. It was always Saint Laurent for me, growing up. I didn’t really think of anybody else.'
Yves Saint Laurent might not be the first designer whom one would associate with Damirji’s work. Often known for his Le Smoking tuxedo suit of 1966, Saint Laurent is recognised as being the first to concoct haute couture in the style of menswear. But, alongside his sublime tailoring, he left behind a spirit of bohemian fantasy which, one could say, is echoed in Damirji’s clothes. Just as Saint Laurent was inspired by Russian shugays, Chinese damasks, and bejewelled Indian embroidery, Damirji too has a love of folkloric looseness and the shimmer of the distant past. At this time, though, the world of Saint Laurent seemed unreachable, because soon after his fashion awakening Damirji was sent off to boarding school in England. 'I wasn’t unhappy but I wasn’t happy,' he says about this time in his life. 'I was dying to see what was going on outside in the world.' Although trapped in a place far removed from the glamour of Paris’ Left Bank, the creative Damirji found ways to express his passions, altering his school uniform to eradicate its dowdiness and assembling a collection of antique textiles. The designer was born.
MY GRANDMOTHER, DIANA VREELAND
Following the release of his third book, Alexander Vreeland discusses the transformative former editor of Harper’s Bazaar and American Vogue, and a pioneer of good taste: his grandmother — Diana Vreeland
An unrivalled career that spanned six decades transforming Harper’s Bazaar, American Vogue, and created the Met Gala, Diana Vreeland is the woman behind it all, her trailblazing approach to fashion leaving a truly ineradicable mark.
It is sometimes easy for family members or friends to say; ‘to me, they were simply themselves,’ but Alexander Vreeland knows better. Though to him Diana was always 'Grandmother', the brilliance of her work was never neglected, compelling him to write three books on her career with the most recent, Bon Mots, published in March 2020. This full-hearted level of respect and adulation ensured that she was always Diana Vreeland first, and his grandmother second.
Diana’s career was propelled by her appointment to Harper’s Bazaar in 1936 where she remained until 1962. The legendary editor-in-chief Carmel Snow had seen her at a party dressed in 'Chanel, of course,' and invited her to start work. Initially introducing her 'Why don’t you…' unorthodox advice column which included suggestions such as, 'rinse your blonde child's hair in dead champagne to keep it gold, as they do in France,' by 1939 she found herself promoted to fashion editor, where she honed the editorial skills that would prove paramount for her eventual move to American Vogue. In 1962, she was announced Vogue’s associate editor for a mere one year before a swift promotion lead to her cardinal title as editor-in-chief.
Alexander’s first book Memos: The Vogue Years (2013) is dedicated to this period where her unconventional means of communicating was carried out largely via memos as opposed to staff meetings. 'I really wanted to approach that from the point of view of how she communicated, because you have this situation where she came to Vogue and transformed the magazine in a very significant way. She didn't change the staff or get rid of everybody - or question it. She had a very, very strong vision of what she wanted, and these memos were the way that she communicated to the creative team she was working with. You can see that they include a tremendous amount of direction and encouragement, but not a tremendous amount of judgment or putting people down.'
Though she could be formidable, at times inciting fear in assistant Ali MacGraw (something she admitted in the documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011) directed by Alexander’s wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland), Diana was a woman who knew exactly what she wanted, and exactly how she wanted it. She was both clear in her direction and eternally supportive. 'What was really inspiring was how genuinely interested she was in my brother and me when we were little kids and how she would always be speaking to us from a voice of acceptance and encouragement and never telling us what to do — which was wonderful,' recalls Alexander. 'That led to me having a really great relationship with her, really, from when I was a teenager. I would tell her what I was thinking and she would listen. She was very supportive of what I wanted to do; it never turned into a relationship where she was telling me what I should do with my life.'
The son of an American diplomat, (Frederick Vreeland, the youngest of Diana’s two sons), Alexander spent most of his childhood in Europe, moving to New York at the age of 30 - a history not totally dissimilar to his grandmother’s. Diana was born in Paris in 1903, something she half-sincerely attributed her stylistic sensibilities to, in a quote that’s included in Bon Mots; 'The first thing to do, my love, is arrange to be born in Paris. After that, everything follows quite naturally.' She later briefly lived in London where she had a lingerie business, which served Wallis Simpson and her rendezvous with Edward VIII, before eventually settling in New York. 'I think that she'd always say that Paris was her favourite city but she always worked and lived in New York. She was a New Yorker and I think that New York facilitates people who want to do things. I mean, she worked right up until the moment she passed away, so you have a city where there’s a vitality and productive energy. I think she was very aware of that.'
EVERY KYLIE MINOGUE ALBUM, RANKED
Kylie Minogue has thirteen* studio albums and it’s about bloody time someone ranked them. So that’s exactly what I did.
The pint sized Princess of Pop, described by the British tabloids as 'the smallest creature on earth, from Australia, massive teeth, wears funny hotpants.' But Kylie Minogue is a lot more than her petite rear, white jumpsuits and sickeningly sweet love trysts with Jason Donovan. She’s sold more than 80 million records worldwide. She’s starred in Hollywood films like Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 Moulin Rouge!. Fashion-wise she’s worked with Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, Alaïa, Stella McCartney and Nicolas Ghesquière to name a few. In 2005 she fought breast cancer and won. She’s starred in an episode of The Vicar of Dibley, dated Michael Hutchence and even recently launched her own line of rosé wine (available in Tesco for a steal at £9 a bottle). Can you believe this insanely glamorous tiny woman first found fame on Australian soap opera Neighbours?
My mum is a next level Kylie Minogue fan. I was raised on Miss Minogue’s music to the point I teethed on her 1997 album Impossible Princess. By the age of seven I was already attending concerts, and at 21 I have now seen her live four times (a hardcore indie music phase during my teens really put a spanner in the works with my love for Kylie). I wrote my dissertation on Kylie, I spend hours scouring eBay for magazine covers with her on, my mum dyes her hair the shade of blonde as Miss Minogue and even bought the same 'Gucci' cowboy boots as her. When a friend of mine meets my mum for the first time they almost always go, 'Doesn’t she look a bit like Kylie Minogue?'
But Kylie’s not just for my mum and I or horny dads across the country - she’s a gay icon too! Kylie Minogue is such an ally for the LGBTQ+ community that in 2016 she refused to get married until Australia legalised same-sex marriage. Kylie’s loyal fan base of gay men are so strong that when I attend her concerts I hardly ever have to queue for the women’s loo - that’s also one of my mum’s reasons as to why she likes going to gay bars so much. Her track Your Disco Needs You is perhaps the gayest song of all time - each concert she performs it hordes of muscly, oiled-up shirtless male dancers storm the stage bearing Pride flags.
If anything, I feel overqualified to rank every Kylie Minogue album ever - but I’m doing it for you, my slappers! I’ve gone on far too many dates now with boys who think there’s nothing more to Kylie than I Should Be So Lucky and Graham Norton chat show appearances. HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO PLAY CONFIDE IN ME FOR YOU TO GET IT? Editor’s Note: I’ll be excluding compilations and live albums. Anyone who disputes the positioning of Impossible Princess is more than welcome to come to my home after lockdown and settle this debate stan-to-stan.
*Christmas albums not included!
- Light Years (2000)
A perfect 10. Four times platinum, this was the album where Miss Minogue became queen of the clubs. Starting strong with her immensely successful disco-influenced dance single Spinning Around, widely considered one of the best pop songs of all time. Light Years was Kylie’s glorious comeback after a commercially unsuccessful and doomed indie era with 1997’s Impossible Princess. The album artwork, shot by Vincent Peters in Ibiza, was meant to depict Kylie returning to her throne as the princess of pop. Her long-time stylist and best friend William Baker said of the cover: 'Surrounded by the infinity of the blue sky and ocean, Kylie returned to her rightful place!' Light Years was the album which gave us her mighty duet with Robbie Williams, Kids, and the raunchy single On A Night Like This. Other top tracks from this album include Butterfly, Light Years and Password (in my humble opinion).
- Fever (2001)
Fever would be another perfect ten but I don’t believe in draws. If Light Years was Kylie reclaiming the throne then Fever was her seizing the entire kingdom (it’s rightfully hers after all). Another brilliant marriage of disco and Euro pop, Fever was only Kylie’s second album to be released in the United States (the first being Enjoy Yourself, in 1989). Arguably Minogue’s strongest album, Fever gave us the songs which defined pop in the early aughts - the lead single was Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, followed up by Love At First Sight and In Your Eyes. Finally came Come Into My World, the single which won Miss Minogue a Grammy for best dance track of 2003. The album artwork, once again shot by Vincent Peters, sees Kylie bound to a microphone wearing a pair of Manolo Blahniks. *Chefs kiss*.
THE ORIGINAL DOLL: A Look Back on Lil Kim’s The Notorious K.I.M Album
Toy stores are going out of business left and right, but it is no secret that we are currently in the height of the 'doll era.' The presence of women in rap within the past three years has skyrocketed, and thank God for that. Compared to their male counterparts they are out-rapping them. Unlike the men they aren’t mumbling the same regurgitated flow, and they are more committed to giving us sickening visuals and killer looks. And as the prefix Lil' has been commonplace for many of these men, the girls have become the generation of 'dolls'. We have Kash Doll (real name Arkeisha Antoinette Knight), Asian Doll (Misharron Jermeisha Allen), Cuban Doll (Aaliyah Keef), Dreamdoll (Tabatha Robbinson) and most recently Ivorian Doll. Asian and Cuban Doll are neither Asian nor Cuban but that is topic for a different piece. But 20 years before the arrival of the 'dolls', and eight years before Nicki Minaj revamped the Barbie aesthetic, Lil Kim proved herself to be the original doll on her sophomore album, The Notorious K.I.M.
As boundary-pushing and influential as Kim’s second album was, it was in this era that really cemented the 4’11 rapper as a fashion icon and the original doll. Arriving at her album release party in a blonde Curly Sue wig, blue contacts, and with her Vivienne Westwood dress adorned with a crystal bustier and feathered skirt to the floor, it was confirmation that there was a new doll in town. Kim’s elaborate vision plus her stylist Misa Hylton’s craft was responsible for this. Around this same time, her working relationship with David LaChapelle took off. The now iconic LaChapelle photo of Kim naked with nothing but the Louis Vuitton logo sketched on her body, was meant to be her album cover but the late Ingrid Sischy was so obsessed with it she demanded it be an Interview cover in November of 1999.
Kimberly Jones had already excited and polarised the world as a prodigy of the Notorious B.I.G and member of the rap group Junior Mafia. On her debut album, Hardcore, in 1996, Jones asserted herself as a sex positive, petite yet still street rapper with the first lines off the album being: 'I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw lips to the shit/Handle it like a real bitch.' The infamous poster of a 17-year-old Kim squatting down in a cheetah bikini with a matching sheer silk robe shook the streets, had parents upset, and gave men a treat. With her first album, she was a paradox to the notion that women had to dress in baggy clothes and be masculine to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field. Alongside Foxy Brown, whose Ill Na Na album debuted a week later, Kim shifted the paradigm for women, to embracing femininity, dressing sexy and giving men the same energy they were given.
Then a lot happened in the following four years. Her mentor and lover the Notorious B.I.G was murdered in 1997. She had a falling out with Brown, a former friend. She had a minor role in the 90s teen classic film She’s All That. What also transpired was the beginning of Kim’s status as a fashion icon. The diamond cluster hustler started doing campaigns with Candies and Viva Glam. She graced the covers of The Source, i-D and Out Magazine in which she professed she wanted to 'work on becoming an icon in the year 2000.' And she did. Her style, though always raunchy, became elevated, and she started wearing her famous blonde wigs and coloured contacts. The year 2000 saw Kim doing campaigns for Iceberg as well as closing the first Baby Phat fashion show in a bra, panties and floor-length faux fur coat with a train. Most of the collection Kim could point out was inspired by her.
The album, with its title an homage to the late B.I.G, took her two years to complete. She made initial progress then decided to go in a different direction. With a lot to prove on top of the already great pressure of delivering a strong sophomore album, she was also up against the speculation that she wouldn’t be able to do it without B.I.G. who had ghost-written for her in the past. There was an album leak which happened nine months before the expected release, which included Diamonds feat. Kelly Price, and an uptempo remake of Donna Summer’s Bad Girls featuring RuPaul.
When the album finally came out it was a genre-diverse, extremely well produced album with guest appearances from Grace Jones (Revolution), Mary J. Blige (Hold On), and Sisqo (How Many Licks?) and featured production from a young Kanye West (Don’t Mess with Me). The album was met with mixed to positive reviews with NME saying: 'the best record to come out of the Junior MAFIA gang since Biggie‘s posthumous Life After Death, this long-awaited comeback proves Kim‘s still the queen of rap.'
With the praise of her avant-garde look and style came harsh and often unwarranted critique. In recent years Kim has been under constant criticism, ridicule and speculation about her changed appearance, with comments around her nose, and her plastic surgery. An interview Jones did with Newsweek leading up to the album’s release read: '"All my life men have told me I wasn't pretty enough - even the men I was dating. And I'd be like, 'Well, why are you with me, then?'" She winces. "It's always been men putting me down just like my dad. To this day when someone says I'm cute, I can't see it. I don't see it no matter what anybody says."'
It continued: '"I have low self-esteem and I always have," she says. "Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-hair type. Really beautiful women that left me thinking, 'How I can I compete with that?' Being a regular black girl wasn't good enough." And the implants? "That surgery was the most pain I've ever been in in my life," says Kim. "But people made such a big deal about it. White women get them every day. It was to make me look the way I wanted to look. It's my body."'