Thursday, 26 September 2019

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

All Wrapped Up: Mame Kurogouchi's New Collection in Paris

The gossamer transparency of a dress in Japanese fashion designer Maiko Kurogouchi's new SS20 collection, shown in Paris. All photographs and cover picture  ~ Georges Hobeika SS19 ~ for DAM by Elli Ioannou.

Japanese fashion label Mame Kurogouchi opened Paris Fashion Week with diaphanous, layered pieces for Spring Summer 2020. Designer Maiko Kurogouchi was inspired by her country's traditions, including this season's focus on Japan's art of wrapping. Jeanne-Marie Cilento and Elli Ioannou report. Photographs by Elli Ioannou

Leafy, emerald green embroidery 
embellishes a new top in
the SS20 collection
UNDER the classical arches of the 19th century courtyard of Paris' Faculté de Pharmacie in the Avenue de l'Observatoire, near the Senate and Luxembourg Gardens, Maiko Kurogouchi held her new Spring/Summer 2020 show.

There were 36 voluminous pieces in white with dashes of colour, embroidery and mesh. Called Embrace, the collection's green details symbolise early memories as a child.

The palette of different shades of emerald were inspired by what the designer describes as "hallucinatory sunny days". The theme of the collection is based around the Japanese art of packaging, where the "art of wrapping is to wrap your heart". There are jackets and skirts made of hundreds of hand-cut, translucent sheets, designed to be like a wearable cocoon (see below). Even the dresses and knitwear have transparent panels that are like "wagashi", another form of traditional wrapping.

The theme of the collection is based on Japanese packaging, where the "art of wrapping is to wrap your heart".

 Layers of translucent sheets, hand-cut for
a voluminous jacket
Designer of the label, Maiko Kurogauchi, sees the clothes as protection for the body, created through the lens of Japanese packaging. She is inspired by found objects, the beauty of everyday things that are made special by the art of wrapping. One of her references is Hideyuki Oka’s 1972 book on the Japanese art of packing.

Another of Kurogouchi's motifs for this season's collection is the cocoon created by silkworms where she imagines looking out at the world through the pale, gauzy casing. This inspired the curving, abstract forms of the new collection and the sense of  transformation and new life being embraced she was eager to explore through her designs. Even the fringes on sleeves are described in narrative terms as representing long ago memories.

Maiko Kurogouchi dsigns very light, floating layers and soft silhouettes combined with rich fabrics and hand-made details. The collection's sandals were made to work with the different pieces and are created from mesh fabrics in green and beige while this season’s PVC bags are covered in fringes. The designer says they are like "greenery slowly overgrowing architectural structures". The shoes in black, navy suede and white were created in collaboration with Tod’s, combining Italian craftsmanship and Japanese design.

Maiko Kurogouchi is inspired by found objects, the beauty of the everyday made special.

 Fine black mesh covers a dark green blazer and
sheet skirt, worn with Tod's
Kurogouchi launched her Mame label and studio in 2010, in Tokyo. She used the word Mame because it meant "bean" like the little, green endamame you find at Japanese restaurants. Four years after she established her business, she won the Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix Shiseido Sponsorship Award for Best New Designer.

By 2017, she had won the Fashion Prize of Tokyo. This was the first edition of the award and it meant she could present her future collections at the Autumn/Winter 2018/19 and Spring/Summer 2019 fashion shows at Paris Fashion Week, receiving full support.

The Fashion Prize of Tokyo was launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japan Apparel Fashion Industry Council, with the Japan Fashion Week Organisation, to support Tokyo-based designers to expand into international markets.

The designer also won Vogue Japan’s First Rising Star Award, recognising her finely worked designs and her appreciation of Japanese heritage that she married to a contemporary aesthetic. Maiko Kurogouchi comes from Nagano, a country area in Japan where many artisans maintain a traditional way of life, a constant inspiration for her work today.

The designer started her career in fashion after graduating from Bunka Fashion College (where Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto had studied), and working for the Miyake Design Studio. For three years, she worked on the planning and design of Issey Miyake’s Paris collection. But she decided that she wanted to go out on her own and explore Japanese traditional textiles, kimonos and hand-worked embellishments and try and keep the artisan traditions of her country alive.

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Monday, 16 September 2019

A Shimmer of Sequins at Ashish in London

Long shorts decorated with mirrors and worn with a white shirt typify the Ashish aesthetic of mixing sportiness with glamour and simple silhouettes with intricate embellishment. Main photograph above by Grania Connors. Cover picture of the Stephane Rolland haute couture show by Elli Ioannou
The new Ashish collection for Spring/Summer 2020 was presented at a runway show under the soaring roof of Seymour Hall during London Fashion Week. The designer included his signature glimmering sequins combined with brilliant colour and pattern. Special report by Jeanne-Marie Cilento & Grania Connors

Lady Mary Charteris in the frow at Ashish
wearing a sequined rainbow jacket
Photo:Grania Connors
SITTING under the great arch of the Art Deco Seymour Hall in Marylebone, waiting for the Ashish show to begin, there is a buzz of excited conversation and laughter. The front row is filled with guests wearing the designer's luminous creations sparkling with sequins and vivid colour. Paloma Faith wears a crochet, georgette jumpsuit while singer Lady Mary Charteris is wearing a sequined rainbow bomber jacket and bright pink silk trousers.

Musicians play a dirge at one end of the hall while the whirr of the photographers' cameras fills the pit at the other. The show notes are minimal with a quote from controversial Indian spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, saying: “A little foolishness, enough to enjoy life, and a little wisdom to avoid errors, that will do.” Perhaps the designer's current philosophy of life.

The theatrical 1930s Seymour Hall in Marylebone
where the Ashish show was held.
Photo: Grania Connors
Ashish Gupta, originally from India, studied fine art in Delhi before he moved to London to complete an MA in fashion design at Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2000. Since he was discovered in 2001, he has carved out a career in London where he is not only known for rich, hand embroidery and brilliant hues but also for the political and social messages integral to his designs. Ashish is also considered a pioneer, championing diversity in the fashion industry. He is certainly a master of mixing high fashion with ready-to-wear and sporty designs with glamour. His combination of East and West, shimmering sequins and fine embroidery has attracted clients from Madonna to Taylor Swift.

“A little foolishness, enough to enjoy life, and a little wisdom to avoid errors, that will do.”

Billy Porter, Paloma Faith
and Adam Smith-Porter
after the show.
Photo: Grania
Ashish has won the NEWGEN award three times and has had his work exhibited at the V&A and The Met. The designer has a famous story about how he got his break into fashion which is worth recounting as it shows how some disasters can have silver linings. After he had finished his MA in London, he went to Paris for job interviews with fashion houses. But before even left the Gare Du Nord train station, his entire portfolio of work was stolen. He has said it was one of the worst moments of his life.

The designer had to get his tutor to send a letter to the High Commission in Paris because he had no papers and couldn't get back into the UK. He decided to go to India after the Paris debacle and create a limited collection of 10 pieces. A magazine editor saw them and bought a Harris Tweed sweatshirt with orange sequined bows lined with antique kimono fabric. The next week he got a call from a buyer at Browns and they have stocked Ashish's collections ever since.

The designer has always loved working with sequins and has made working with them an art form, creating a fluidity and shimmer that changes colour as the wearer moves. This season, sequins and tiny mirrors, were highlights of the new collection but the silhouettes were more utilitarian but still embellished with artisanal embroidery.

Ashish has made working with sequins an art form, creating a fluidity and shimmer that changes colour as the wearer moves

A voluminous dress embroidered
with different patterns and colours.
Photo: Grania Connors
One of the highlights of the show was model Neelam Gill wearing a long fuchsia gown for the finale covered in sequins carrying aloft a ceremonial branch. Other dresses had contrasting patterns and colours with mirrors sewn into the embroidery (see at right). Worn beneath the dress is a sequined shirt in stripes of bright blue, yellow and purple.

Decorative motifs are played down by wearing the pieces with simple canvas shoes and geeky glasses. Some models wore simple flowers in their hair and pale faces were enlivened with dark eyes ringed by black kohl.

Menswear was part of the show and the male models wore some of the collection's brightest pieces with broadly striped, sequined shirts and drawstring denim shorts covered in round mirrors.

There were also long, loose caftans worn with a deep V at the neck in dark-blue but highlighted with circular bands of bright pink and white. Other separates include a transparent magenta tank top embroidered with intricate lozenges of sequins and worn with high-waisted, patch-worked jeans covered in tiny mirrors and surrounded by fine beading. Ashish played with simple silhouettes for this collection but the complexity and
workmanship were still there to be seen up close.

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Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Travel in Spain: Tapas to Salamanca

Modern Spanish tapas can be as simple as tiny, sweet tomatoes on good bread and a dash of cheese.
Cover picture by Elli Ioannou for DAM of the Stephane Rolland AW20 haute couture show.
When Australian writer Geoffrey Maslen lived in the historic city of Salamanca, he discovered the delights of the local tapas bar. Full of life, these small emporiums offering delicious morsels and regional red wines are at the heart of every Spanish village and town

Pinchos with tuna, pepper
and onion
IF ENGLAND is a nation of shopkeepers, Spain is a country of tapas bar owners. Few countries on Earth have so many small liquor and food outlets, most of which operate not only as places that sell drinks and tapas but also as clubs, family meeting places and communal loungerooms to watch the soccer on TV, for their locals.

Every village, town and city, every bus and train station, every airport, has a tapas bar or two. Or 20 or 20,000. Outside our apartment in Salamanca, a delightful city 200 kilometres west of Madrid, I once counted more than a dozen bars within two minutes' walk - and 40 along a single street.

A short stroll from our block of apartments to the next revealed six of these kitchen-sized retreats, and most never seemed to close. They did, of course, but usually only for a few hours of darkness in what Spaniards call the madrugada. All were inevitably open by 8am and were still trading at midnight.

Salamanca is part of the Castile and León region in north-western Spain. With a history dating back to the Celtic era, it is renowned for its ornate sandstone architecture and for the Universidad de Salamanca. Founded in the 1100s and a key intellectual centre in the 15th-16th centuries, the university adds to the city’s vibrancy with its international student population.
The historic city of Salamanca
 never seems to sleep
Like other visitors to Spain, we wondered just when or if the Spaniards ever sleep. One attraction of these local dispensers of good cheer, apart from their propinquity, was the array of snacks displayed along or behind glass on the counter.

With every glass of beer or wine almost certainly comes a tapa. It may be as simple as a saucer of olives or potato chips, or as complicated as a small bowl of rabbit stew laden with numerous vegetables and served with a piece of bread.

Experts differ about the origin of the tapa. King Alfonso X, known to his subjects in the 13th century as Alfonso the Wise, is said to have been worried by rising drunkenness among his people. So he ordered his inn-keepers to provide a slice of ham or something similar with every glass of wine, which would "tapar", or keep a lid on, the effects of the alcohol.

Another theory takes the translation of tapa as "lid" and argues the snacks originated in the sherry area of Andalucia where the bar owners placed a piece of bread on top of the drinks they served to keep off the flies. This evolved into the custom of putting a titbit such as a few olives, a slice of ham or sausage on a lid to cover the drink - ensuring the food was also salty to maintain the customer's thirst. Whatever the truth, the fact is that tapas, or pinchos as they are called in some regions, have long been an integral part of Spanish life.

Even if you order a coffee or tea "con limon" in a bar, you may be offered a tapa, although it could only amount to a wee bowl of junket or a small cake. One of our favourite bars in Salamanca is in the city's Gran Via. An art deco delight that looks like an Australian milk bar from the 1950s, it always has on display a dozen or more different tapas. They range from anchovy canapes, through bread rolls filled with ham, to slices of tortilla.

A local bar with its counters loaded
with a changing array
of delicious tapas
Unlike many of the small bars in the suburbs where the food remains the same throughout the day, here the tapas are changed early in the afternoon and a different array appears. "The people are hungrier before lunch than before dinner so we have larger servings in the earlier part of the day," says Alfredo, our ever-friendly, ever-busy barman.

This young camarero's day begins about 1pm when he arrives for work and might last to 3am or later the following morning six days a week for 50 weeks a year.

I ask him to name the tapas and he rattles off "canape de anchoa (anchovies on toast), heuvos con bechemel (egg in a white sauce, coated in bread crumbs and fried), patatas bravas (diced roast potatoes which, like the eggs, are heated in a microwave before being served with a mayonnaise sauce), gambas (prawns) in garlic, bocadillos (small bread rolls with different fillings such as ham, bacon and cheese, or tomato), tortillas..." The list goes on.

Every region, every city, every town and village, and almost every bar, has its own type of tapas. Ask a barman what tapas he has and you will get a blast of terminology that only confuses the novice. The best thing is to look at the range and nominate the one that looks most interesting or appetising. In the bars we have been to, the tapas come with the drinks and whether you opt for one or not the price remains the same. But many bars now demand payment for their tapas and the newcomer needs to ask if there is a charge and what it will cost.

Fresh tapas on crusty bread with
jamón, olives, tomatoes & onion
The price will probably range from $1 to $2. Many bars also serve raciones - meal-sized servings that are usually of the same sort of food the tapas are made from, and these can cost up to $10 or more.

A media racion is half the full meal but again the visitor needs to make clear that it is a tapa, not a plate of food that is wanted. Standing at a bar, sipping a canya - a draught beer - or a glass of wine from a barrel behind the counter and snacking on a delicious tapa is one of the great pleasures of life. It is not surprising so many Spaniards have made it their favourite pastime.

Geoffrey Maslen's latest book is An Uncertain Future: Australian Birdlife in Danger published by Hardie Grant

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Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Couturier Guo Pei's Universe of Mysticism and Magic

Like a field of marigolds, Guo Pei's extraordinary embroidered silk chiffon creation, that took seven years to make. A virtuoso feat of couture, the flowery tableau was the last look of her Paris AW19/20 show. All photography including cover picture by Elli Ioannou.
Highlighting Guo Pei's growing stature as a potent creative force in fashion, the couturier showed an intriguing new collection in Paris last month and a retrospective of her work in Singapore opened at the Asian Civilisations Museum. We take a look backstage at her Autumn/Winter 2019/20 haute couture show called Alternate Universe. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography for DAM in Paris by Elli Ioannou

Roman statues in creamy marble
at the Cour vitrée flank
Guo Pei's gowns
GUO PEI is a couturier who brings not only intelligence and poetry to her work but also a questing spirit. Along with the whimsical flights of fancy she takes with the themes of her haute couture collections, she similarly likes to explore new fabrics and techniques. Her latest collection uses pineapple skins to create a series of diaphanous, otherworldly gowns.

The designer chooses the location to present her couture collections in Paris with a great deal of thought, melding the motifs of the designs with the architecture of the space. This season, she held her show under the glimmering glass roof of the Cour Vitrée inside the Palais des Études, at the École des Beaux-Arts.

The oldest and most prestigious fine art school in Paris, it is located on the left bank, across the Seine from the Louvre, in the 6th arrondissement, at 14 rue Bonaparte. The École des Beaux-Arts has a history spanning more than three centuries with a long roster of students who went on to become some of Europe's greatest artists. The Beaux Arts ethos and teaching method was based on the study of classical antiquities, including Greek and Roman statues.

The Cour Vitrée, glassed over by architect Félix Duban in 1863, was once lined with Roman classical statuary and full-size copies of the Parthenon's columns that were studied by art students. Today, there are still classical sculptures in pale, creamy travertine marble (see image above) that fill the arched niches of the great hall. They form the perfect backdrop to Guo Pei's long, columnar gowns in the ivory-hued pineapple fabric which has a rich, lustrous texture suitable for draping.

Guo Pei is a couturier who brings intelligence and poetry to her work and a questing spirit

Opening the show were twins
in richly embroidered bodices
and panniers
The silhouettes of the dresses are inspired by European civilisation, from the fluid lines of Grecian drapery and flowing Italian ecclesiastical robes to stiff Baroque English ruffs and the wide panniers of Renaissance skirts. A subtle background palette of light gold and grey gave the collection a cohesive look suggesting Greek statuary, despite the sumptuous embroidery.

The final look of the Paris show (see main picture above) was like a field of marigolds amid green grass, all created from embroidered silk chiffon and tulle that Guo Pei said took her atelier seven years to make. The model glided out wearing this flowery tableau ~ a virtuoso feat of couture ~ carrying a crowned, bejewelled black crow.

This creation summarised the sense of magic and mystery that infused the entire show, from the opening pair of conjoined twins in a heavily embroidered black and gold gown with white powdered faces, (see at right). They appeared on the runway underneath an arch of entwined black branches filled with crows. The design of the twin's panniers or side hoops originates in the 17th and 18th centuries when skirts were wide at the side, leaving the front and back flat. Guo Pei used these panels to display her elaborate esoteric decorations and rich embroidery.

A sense of magic and mystery infused this season's haute couture show

The fluttering leaves of this gown are
home to bees, beetles
and butterflies
Guo Pei called the new haute couture collection Alternate Universe as she wanted to explore transcendent ideas and philosophies about life beyond the physical realm. "I imagine it as a dream, an alternate universe, parallel to this world, where everything returns to its original state of true pureness and beauty," she said. "I see it as the start of a mysterious journey."

Beneath the transparent domed glass of the Cour Vitrée, Guo Pei created a sense of light and dark, a chiaroscuro world of strange creatures from the preternatural twins to elfin figures with turned-up skirts and curly-toed shoes.

"Humans are not masters of this world," she explained. "Monkeys sit on the king's throne under the guidance of prophets." Animals and mystical symbols are embroidered on to dresses and capes in blue and red with an impasto richness. The designer uses crows in the collection ~ realistic fabric ones draped across shoulders and skirts ~ to symbolise the afterlife. She imagines them as the messengers of wisdom between one world and the next.

Guo Pei also created pearl snails and hand-embroidered, three dimensional beetles, spiders, butterflies and bees to  cover her gowns and represent mythological creatures (see image above). Animals from Aesop's fables are created by layers of stitching in deep blues and blacks with dashes of red and gold.

 A chiaroscuro world of preternatural creatures from conjoined twins in 18th century gowns to elfin figures in turned-up shoes

 Ruching, ruffling and rosettes
using pineapple hemp fabric with
an impasto of embroidery
Long, dramatic dresses depicted scenes of angels and demons, flocks of birds and Delphic motifs (see image at right). One gown even had an illuminated manuscript worn like a belt at the waist. Another one had a hooped skirt that when you looked closely was designed like a puppet theatre, with curtains and exquisitely dressed dolls.

Guo Pei built the collection around ideas of transcendence but also as an exploration of the qualities of pineapple hemp. Originally from the Philippines, this natural fibre is highly valued and has been widely used there for 400 years as it is light yet very strong.

The hemp is first extracted from the leaf fibre of pineapple plants and then put through seven different artisanal processes, all done by hand. It is spun, rinsed, dried and knotted to produce the fabric which has a natural creamy colour with a translucent and delicate texture. The pineapple fabric is the perfect foil for the collection's Grecian style silhouettes and Guo Pei's vision of mythological goddesses.

In this collection, she experiments with the pineapple material testing out different techniques, from ruffling and ruching to smocking and pleating. The fabric also forms the base for embellishments of pearls, feathers and Swarovski crystals. The pineapple leaf has a pale ivory colour that is a good neutral background for the splendid embroidery in silver and gold of creatures great and small.

The collection is built around ideas of transcendence and an exploration of pineapple hemp

 Backstage in Paris, a bird's
nest is created as a
Backstage at the École des Beaux-Arts, before the show in Paris, Guo Pei's team were busy at work creating the elaborate hair and make-up to go with both her ethereal and extravagant creations. Bird's nests were created in piled-up locks and topped with feathered creatures. Heavily embroidered head pieces in glittering colours were carefully placed and matched with equally scintillating eye-shadows.

The make up worn by the models for this Autumn/Winter 2019/20 collection was imaginative and varied. Some models wore barely a dusting of pale powder and sparkles while others had dashes of electric blue around their eyes with a yellow-green colour on their cheeks. It took time and care for the models to be dressed in the complicated, dramatic gowns such as a dress with a blood-red heart and branches and flowers growing from its centre or the broad crinoline skirt designed with a theatre of  miniature dolls.

Guo Pei has mastered the delicate balance of creating conceptual shows full of engaging new ideas with the ability to design desirable and wearable pieces. Amid the birds with jewelled, ruby-red eyes and opulently embroidered beetles were romantic, fluid gowns with full sleeves and flattering waists and slim bodysuits with capelets that could be worn on a night out in Paris. All of Guo Pei's creations are imbued with a beguiling mystique yet she brings her terrific skill as a couturier to making them beautifully fit the human form.
Tap on images to see highlights of Guo Pei's collection in Paris and backstage before the show
A diaphanous, pineapple hemp gown depicting an illuminated manuscript in embroidery, worn like a belt at the waist of a leaf-like bodice.

An elfin figure wearing a turned-up, translucent skirt and curling shoes added to the sense of a fairytale atmosphere.
A long, fluid romantic gown with a beautiful, ruched bodice and full sleeves that shows Guo Pei's mastery of the ethereal and the wearable.
A blood-red heart with branches and flowers growing from its centre was one of the more abstract creations of Guo Pei's oeuvre.
The elaborate embroidery in blue, black and gold of this long cape give it an ecclesiastical look and depicts mystical figures and symbols and animals like a ram with curling horns.
 Guo Pei plays with forms, shapes and materials so that a dress becomes a living tableau that frames the model.
A jaunty bodysuit decorated with golden crystals and feathers and worn with a layered capelet with a high collar.
Opening the show were a pair of conjoined twins in black and gold gowns with white powdered faces. The panniers form panels where Guo Pei displays her elaborate decorations and rich embroidery.

The finale of the AW19/20 show evinced the remarkable variety of textures and fabrics Guo Pei managed to create
from pineapple skins.
A whimsical dress with a high bodice and full skirt with flowing, beribboned "curtains" framing rows of miniature dolls as puppets.

A gracefully, draped gown with a full skirt and long sleeves that could be easily be worn outside Guo Pei's mystical fashion show, sans the bird's nest. Photograph by Abbie Biegert

Backstage a model has a final touch up before she goes on to the runway wearing a dress made of fabric lilypad leaves, pearl snails and embroidered beetles.
The make-up worn by the models was suitably otherworldly with dustings of coloured powders and sparkles around the eyes and lips that were otherwise kept bare.
A feathered bird with a jewelled crown completes this outfit of gold-embossed pineapple hemp sewn with embroideries of all-seeing blue eyes.

Backstage this model wears a Renaissance-inspired dress finished with rows of tufted feathers and a bejewelled binding and topped by a birdcage with blackbird inside.

A faux-hawk adds a note of contemporary drama to this embroidered long jacket that shows an Aesop's Fables mix of monkeys and princesses and symbols of moons and suns.
Backstage at the École des Beaux-Arts, models wait to go on the runway, wearing shoes with flowered pom-poms and baroque neck ruffs made from woven pineapple fibre and gowns decorated with feathered birds and elaborately dressed dolls. 

This detail of a cape shot backstage shows the attention to detail and skill of the embroiderers in Guo Pei's ateliers. This ecclesiastical gown displays the eye, monkeys and serpents that are a leitmotif of this collection.

A monkey face embroidered in gold with blue eyes and three-dimensional fur embellishes this top with clever, elliptical sleeves and a poplin, pleated waist worn with a crocheted skirt.

Looking like a fairytale figure from Alice in Wonderland, a model waits backstage with a little, black feathered friend on her shoulder.
Backstage a model looks at her phone while an elaborate headpiece, resplendently embroidered with flowers, leaves and swags of black beads, is carefully put into place.

The versatility of pineapple fibre is exhibited in these two gowns worn backstage, showing how it can be woven to create different densities and transparencies.
Models wearing the lavishly embellished gowns that Guo Pei created from the humble pineapple skin which provides a great foil to the blue embroidery.

Coming out on to the runway under the Cour Vitrée, Guo Pei's collection of strange and splendid gowns entranced the audience. Photograph by Abbie Biegert.
Couturier Guo Pei on the runway in Paris after the finale of her Autumn/Winter 2019/20 show.

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