Monday 29 April 2024

Highlights of Milan Design Week: Illuminating the Future ~ Mandalaki's Innovation in Design and Lighting

The sunset red Giga Light designed by Mandalaki in Milan, during the city's famous Salone de Mobile. Photograph: Marco Menghi

Milan Design Week is a bustling hub of creativity and innovation, among the standout exhibits at the Rosanna Orlandi Gallery was the work of Italian studio, Mandalaki. Their new collection, Artifact, showcases how they merge sculpture and lighting, redefining the boundaries between art, design, and illumination, writes Isabella Lancellotti

The team in Milan that make up Mandalaki's studio,
Photograph: Marco Menghi
MANDALAKI'S harmonious fusion of sculpture and light is epitomized by the Italian company's new designs Hypersun and an associated table. The slim and linear forms are highlighted by the use of shimmering, hand-polished brass.

The fine craftsmanship and innovative design of each piece are enhanced by minimalist lines and plays of light from the shiny surfaces. Form and function are beautifully integrated. The Halo Edition developed sophisticated optics that are technologically advanced, combining high-powered LEDs and a form of thermal dissipation, 

The Giga Light, another, more refined iteration of the Halo Giga which the team introduced in 2021, was also launched in Milan. It has a slender and compact design and merges powerful optics that maximize light projection. Mandalaki's engineering optimizes heat dissipation and allows for precise adjustments in light intensity through a mechanical dimmer. The projection of light creates an enveloping sun, in warm, graduated hues. Like an art installation, the light washes over the viewer, engendering an experiential effect of being bathed in illumination.

Projections of light create an enveloping sun, in warm, graduated hues like an art installation, the viewer is bathed in illumination.

Halo edition, Hyper Sun table by tthe team.
Photograph: Marco Menghu
The studio embraces art, technology and sustainability with their holistic approach to design, from modular micro-houses to electric cars. Their interdisciplinary approach and experimentation aim to bridge the gap between these various sectors.

Founded in Milan twelve years ago by Enrico De Lotto, George Kolliopoulos and Giovanni Senin, they added Davide Giovannardi as a partner in 2013. Each member of the studio has a different background, from product design to economy and art. 

More recently, Mandalaki have been working on lighting. Instead of seeing it as a source of illumination, they imagine it as all-encompassing projection. Yet one that comes from a well-designed physical object. The studio has exhibited work at galleries, fairs and institutions around the world. 

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Thursday 25 April 2024

Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department and the Art of Melodrama

Beth Garrabrant

By Samuel Murray, University of Liverpool

Taylor Swift album drops have become cultural moments – whether or not you are a fan of her music. Each album in the Swift catalogue seeks to open up new themes, discussion, sounds and ideas, while retaining a sense of familiarity that doesn’t alienate fans.

Lyrically, The Tortured Poets Department is a euphoric rejection of societal expectations. It embraces all the Taylor-isms her fans have come to know and love, from her one-note melodies to her recitative delivery (sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech). And it features her signature frank and open autopsies of relationships, delivered with maturity not only in the choices of language and obscenities (“fuck you if I can’t have us”) but in Swift’s outlook on her life and relationships. This is accompanied by the rich electro-pop production of longtime collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner.

The first striking thing about the album (including its title), is the many references to poetry. The title track declares: “You’re not Dylan Thomas, I’m not Patti Smith”, pointing to other famously troubled (or “tortured”) lyrical poets.

This track sets the tone for an album where lyrics are the central feature, with Swift choosing developed imagery over catchy pop hooks. The title track is also a clear rejection of any notion that Swift is presenting herself as a bohemian, and asserts that she does not struggle for her art. In fact, she appears to mock those who do, sneering: “Who uses typewriters anyway?”

Tortured melodrama

One of the unapologetic lyrical themes of the album is Swift’s intense commitment to love, relationships and their aftermath. To help convey this, Swift uses melodrama as a narrative device. Melodrama is a genre of performance that uses heightened and often over-the-top expressions of emotion.

In Down Bad she evokes fantastic celestial imagery of “cosmic love” and being “heavenstruck”, but balances this with discovering the harsh realities of a relationship. She asks: “Did you really beam me up / In a cloud of sparkling dust / Just to do experiments on?”, perhaps suggesting that her passionate love is being taken advantage of.

Swift tempers this with the extreme assertion that: “If I can’t have him, I might just die”. This melodrama pervades the rest of the album to celebrate emotional vulnerability as she shares her innermost thoughts.

On I Can Do it With a Broken Heart Swift declares: “I’m so depressed, I act like it’s my birthday every day”, before proudly owning her emotion, declaring: “I cry a lot, but I am so productive, it’s an art”. Here, she claims that she can use heartbreak as a stimulus for creativity, rather than allow it to dictate her everyday life.

In his book Melodrama (1973) author, James L Smith draws on philosophical critiques and analyses of music, poetry and theatre to help define the core characteristics of the genre. “In melodrama,” he explains, “man remains undivided, free from the agony of choosing between conflicting imperatives and desires”.

Swift often exhibits this in her lyrical retellings of past relationships, either positioning listeners at the beginning (Enchanted) or end of a relationship (We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together).

Smith also asserts that “melodrama presses its own extreme conflicts to extreme conclusions”. This speaks to the extremes of emotion explored in The Tortured Poets Department, including frequent references to death. “I might just die, it would make no difference”, Swift opines on Down Bad. “Lights, camera, bitch, smile / Even when you wanna die” is how she describes her emotional state during the recent Eras Tour in I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.

Art forms like songs and poetry can be extremely valuable for artists to process and channel their emotions. Not only does this seem to hold true for The Tortured Poets Department, but the album functions as something of an invitation for listeners to process their own grief and heartbreak alongside Swift. An “alchemy” that turns for her own “tortured” nights into communal therapy.

Samuel Murray, Lecturer in Music, University of Liverpool

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Monday 22 April 2024

Back to Black: New Biopic only Bolsters the Amy Winehouse ‘trainwreck’ Narrative

Focus Features

By Nathalie Weidhase, University of Surrey

When Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 in 2011, many felt the world had been robbed of one its greatest stars who had barely shown us the extent of her talent. The new biopic Back to Black – directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and named after Winehouse’s seminal second album – attempts to make sense of her tumultuous life and musical output.

The film follows Winehouse – played by Marisa Abela – from the early days of her career in early-2000s London, through to global stardom. In the process, it reveals the ways in which female celebrities are objectified in contemporary media and celebrity culture, even after their death.

At the height of Winehouse’s fame, gossip tabloids still ruled the media. They created what became known as “trainwreck celebrities” – predominantly female stars who were portrayed as publicly promiscuous and frequently intoxicated. The most famous from this period include Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Lily Allen. These female celebrities were regularly shamed in the tabloid and gossip press on both sides of the Atlantic.

Winehouse shot to fame with her first album, Frank, in 2003, and was quickly considered one of these “trainwrecks” for being outspoken, performing intoxicated, and stumbling out of north London bars with her on-off lover and future husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

Throughout her life, Winehouse tried to resist this form of control and commodification. She was seen fighting with paparazzi and resisting rehab when her record company tried to get her help (she even wrote a song about it).

Abela’s ability to imitate Winehouse’s voice and mannerisms is often impressive. However, while in the early stages Back to Black tries to counteract Winehouse’s tabloid image, it ultimately fails to shift this widely accepted narrative surrounding her chaotic lifestyle.

Amy’s distinct style

The beginning of the film centres on Winehouse’s songwriting talent and musical performance, which is swiftly followed by the offer of a record contract.

Abela’s Winehouse doesn’t tire of reminding her family and the viewer that she’s not in this for the fame or money. Indeed, the film both begins and ends with her telling us that all she wants is to make music that helps people forget their troubles, and only wants to be remembered for being a singer and for being herself.

Winehouse’s distinctive personal style is central to the visual storytelling of the film. The singer became known for her trademark beehive and eyeliner, as well as a signature Fred Perry polo and skinny jeans combination. She was also known for wearing pink satin ballet flats, which gained notoriety in paparazzi photos that showed them bloodied in the public aftermath of a fight with her husband in August 2007.

The film uses Winehouse’s distinctive style to communicate changes in her health. Instead of showing the unglamorous and often visually disturbing realities of bulimia and drug abuse, the progressively more torn clothes and dishevelled hair come to signify Winehouse’s physical and mental decline.

Many of these style moments used in the film were not inspired by looks she wore in her performances, but instead were captured through paparazzi footage. While the use of these visuals amid the dramatised scenes serve as a reminder of the relentless media chase Winehouse had to endure, the film ultimately reinforces this sense of media exploitation.

Rather than offering a complex visual portrayal that goes beyond the “trainwreck” images the viewer may be familiar with, Back to Black almost banks on how recognisable they are. It relies on the tabloid media’s damaging visual narrative instead of venturing to create its own.

Victim narratives

As a biopic, the film attempts to reclaim Winehouse from the victimhood often ascribed to her. However, the story it tells reduces Winehouse’s complex character and her life to a series of episodes of suffering.

Take a scene set in the wake of her beloved grandmother’s illness and death. Winehouse’s husband is presented as the villain who exploits her trauma as a moment of weakness, to introduce her to the same hard drugs she rejected early on in the film. This sets Back to Black’s story on a familiar trajectory.

In the film, her bulimia happens in the background, with scenes briefly showing Winehouse in front of the toilet. The only somewhat explicit discussion of it appears when her flatmate complains about the flushing noises that wake her up.

These brief moments serve as markers of unhappiness, but offer no exploration of where this unhappiness may come from. They eschew the complexity of Winehouse and her mental health, and don’t offer more than the shallow broken artist shaped by tragedy and the love of a bad man – a narrative we already know.

When Back to Black does look for causes of unhappiness, it settles on odd territory. At one point, it seems to suggest that her suffering stems from an unfulfilled desire to be a mother – a take that has garnered deserved criticism.

Ultimately, Back to Black is unable to capture what made Winehouse so special: the grain of her voice, and her ability to craft stories of female experience that reject simplistic narratives of suffering.

Nathalie Weidhase, Lecturer in Media and Communication, University of Surrey

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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Wednesday 17 April 2024

West Africa’s Designers are World Leaders When it Comes to Producing Sustainable Fashion

West African fabrics and design offer a more sustainable way to produce fashion 

By Adwoa Owusuaa Bobie, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)

Every few weeks global fast fashion brands mass produce their latest clothing, pumping out garments to be sold around the world. There is growing criticism that it’s socially irresponsible to produce such large volumes of clothes so often. It leads to surplus and waste that takes a toll on the environment. And by requiring new styles so often it also stifles designers’ creativity in an industry that thrives on it.

Sustainable fashion means clothes being produced and consumed in ways that are socially responsible. But the conversation about sustainable fashion has centered mainly on the western and Asian fashion industries. Africa is discussed only as the dumping ground for the tonnes of disposable and secondhand clothes produced by fast fashion brands. My study bridges this gap by showing how fashion designers in west Africa produce their work.

Prèt-a-porter (ready-to-wear) clothing is mass produced by fashion houses – as opposed to couture that is made to measure. West African fashion designers produce what I have termed customised prèt-a-porter – a limited-edition ready-to-wear model that creates the latest fashions in measured volumes.

This is a model for sustainable fashion that allows more space for creativity and innovation and also uses environmentally friendly laundry measures to ensure the long lifespan of clothes.

Customised ready-to-wear fashion

Fashion from Africa has attained global recognition thanks to the creativity of today’s designers. However, very little is known about how the production strategy they use contributes to sustainable fashion.

Designers in Africa are likely to face economic, social, and political challenges that limit production and efficiency in the industry. However, many of the designers in my west African study turned these challenges on their head: while the market limits the possibilities of scaling up production, it in effect endorses innovative sustainable fashion practices.

But west Africa’s contribution to sustainable fashion is not just shaped by what the market won’t allow. As I find in my study, designers are also guided by the socio-cultural milieu of the fashion consumption in the cities where they live. Designers tap into this culture and grow it.

I found that the factors that shape fashion consumption in west Africa include the need to produce clothes that assert social and economic status (exclusivity), the ability to make designs that are not easily replicated (uniqueness), and the creativity to project the personality of each client in the clothes (individuality). While these needs can easily be met through bespoke production, applying them to the kind of ready-to-wear mass production done by fast fashion brands in the west is challenging. Not so with west Africa’s customised prèt-a-porter fashion model.

West African designers offer a much wider variety of creative designs compared to the homogenised designs of fast fashion brands. Most release collections only twice a year – summer and winter – instead of every two weeks like western fast fashion brands. By producing collections less often, west African designers can invest time in creating innovative designs.

Exclusivity, uniqueness and individuality

To achieve exclusivity yet remain affordable, many west African designers use cheaper machine-produced African wax print fabrics but design them flamboyantly to attain a high-end fashion standard. Or some might combine socially valued cloths with less socially valued ones. For example, wax print is combined with exclusive fabrics like the handwoven cloths aso oke and kente or with lace and other imported fabrics.

Making unique designs often requires a little tweaking of popular styles – like offering different sleeve styles and necklines, or using appliques and accessories. Laurie, a participant of the study explains that in stocking different shops across the world with her collection, “I give you at least three sizes … and then maybe two [styles] each”. Thus, in one store, she might stock two pieces of one design across the four sizes she produces, producing eight variations of one design. Of the 40 or 50 pieces she offers a store she’s featuring five or six unique designs.

Most designers emphasised the need to project personality through their pieces. Some do this by catering to a particular target market – like corporate women, businessmen and religious leaders. A Ghanaian designer like Naa projects her personality through her clothes by making something “Naa would like to wear”. Before she produces a collection, she makes a few pieces for herself within the prevailing trend in order to test the market. The styles that receive the most compliments become her collection.

Longer lasting and sustainable

By considering the consumer’s socio-cultural needs in the production process, designers produce more personalised pieces. These create an emotional bond between the clothes and the wearers. Clothes become difficult to part with and are kept for longer, extending the shelf life of west African fashion.

Long periods for the sale of each collection also prevents the pile-up of unsold clothes.

And the traditional methods of maintaining and laundering clothes doesn’t just protect the clothes, it also protects the environment. Hand washing is a longstanding method of caring for locally produced clothes and designers insist that this old method is the best. They instruct their customers on how to maintain the clothes through aeration and hand washing. This reduces the frequency of washing, protecting the environment from high emissions of carbon dioxide and pollution from dyes.

The longevity and exclusivity of the clothes offers a great alternative to the imported second-hand clothing that often ends up in landfills. (That said, the clothing market in west Africa lacks a well-structured second-hand clothing trade system for locally-produced fashion. This would ensure the even distribution of quality clothes among people with different socio-economic backgrounds.)

Ultimately, however, recycling or upcycling are reactive solutions to problems created by fast fashion. Customised prèt-a-porter production, on the other hand, is a proactive way of addressing unsustainable fashion practices.The Conversation

Adwoa Owusuaa Bobie, Research Fellow, Center for Cultural and African Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)

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Thursday 11 April 2024

Iconic Prints, Modern Flair: Pucci's Spring/Summer 2024 Collection in Rome

Eva Herzigová and Mariacarla Boscono at a historic palace in Rome for Pucci's SS24 collection
Set against the backdrop of a 16th century Roman palazzo, Pucci's new Spring/Summer 2024 collection, added a touch of brilliant colour and pattern to the historic building. Artistic director, Camille Miceli, brought along Nineties supermodels Christy Turlington and Eva Herzigová to wear her new designs. Isabella Rossellini closed the runway show in a vividly hued confection that exuded a bold, modern style capturing the designer’s skillful fusion of heritage and innovation, writes Antonio Visconti 

Designer Camille Miceli with models from 
her show, including Christy Turlington, 
Eva Herzigová and Mariacarla Boscono.

In the world of Italian fashion, Emilio Pucci signifies audacious pattern and a certain louche midcentury aesthetic that is particularly in mode now.

The latest collection, shown in Rome, called Very Vivara, not only paid homage to the brand's iconic Vivara print but also marked a significant milestone with Camille Miceli's second runway show as the house's artistic director.

The setting at Rome's historic Palazzo Altemps, added a note of grandeur and history to the occasion. Christy Turlington opened the show and brought a dash of natural glamour wearing little make-up except a dark, burgundy lipstick and sporting a long, black caftan embellished with Pucci motifs. Overall, the eclectic fusion of heritage designs with contemporary interpretations set the tone for a collection that exuded both chutzpa and an urbane modernity. 

Isabella Rossellini's return to the runway in another historic Pucci print was a moment of nostalgia and celebration. Her connection to the brand, dating back to a photo shoot in 1990, resonates with the Italian label's enduring legacy as a favorite among celebrities and fashionistas.

At the finale of the show, 
Isabella Rosselllini with 
Pucci's artistic director 

As the rippling waters of the Mediterranean inspired the Vivara print, the collection echoed the organic and geometric beauty of nature, intertwined with Pucci's signature vivacity.

The print is a symbol of Emilio Pucci's connection to the sea and the picturesque island of Vivara, near Capri. Miceli's reinterpretation of the design breathes new life into the motif, infusing it with an allure to captivate a new audience.

From designs that would work in the city to beachwear, the collection demonstrated a masterful remix of classic motifs, accentuated by three defining prints of this season: Cigni, Bersaglio, and Chiave. These prints, along with the enduring presence of Pesci and Iride, painted a vibrant spectrum of colors and patterns, from aquatic blues to floral hues.

The silhouettes presented a harmonious blend of sophistication and playfulness. Foulard-style silk dresses, ensembles in gabardine with print inlays, and asymmetric tops and skirts reflect a novel spirit.

Embellishments such as all-over paillette embroidery, leather accents, and chain details add a touch of luxury. The accessories complemented the collection's themes such as the sandals outlined with leaves and elegant bags, featuring Pucci scarf detailing and chain straps. 

Camille Miceli's long design experience plus her fresh creative vision ensured this Pucci collection was a successful blend of reinvigorated historic prints and a cosmopolitan, contemporary aesthetic. 

Scroll down to see the full SS24 Pucci collection in Rome

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