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Louise Wilson is quoted to have once said, “It’s easy to make freaky deaky, but it’s harder to make real clothes that people will want to wear.” Here, we take a look at a handful of freaky deaky shows that happened during London Fashion Week, narrated by Hung Tran and illustrated by Helen Bullock.
“Meadham Kirchhoff presented a collection of scrapped and scavenged articles. And yet there were regular signs of an overarching motive: shoes perfectly tied, sleeves and cuffs neatly rolled up. Method to the Meadham madness: a trashed theatre, if Hamlet had been written by a manic-depressive, nu-rave DJ.”
Simone Rocha presented a series of black dresses with wavy necklines, some barely hanging onto the models’ shoulders. They were prim, though perversely so—one only needed to lower the eyes to see tufts of black feathers stretched along the hem. A dark swan song, perhaps. Except they were marabou. Further on, Rocha used diaphanous black veils to evoke a sense of mourning, though any heavy-handed symbolism was immediately interrupted by this very vision: the model’s dress was completely sheer, save a pair of black knickers. A skilful balance of comedy and ceremony from a designer who, according to rumour, was told by Wilson to “stop looking at girls in Victorian dresses—go look at porn!”
Ashish’s mini dresses and crop tops were drenched in sequined rainbows—a trite but trusty symbol. One sweatshirt was embroidered with a bottle—a potion, perhaps—and the word ‘Rush,’ and for the cynics, there was a T-shirt with a message not so cryptic: ‘Hi Hater.’
Tom Ford returned to London Fashion Week to school the students: sheer mini dresses with sequins strategically placed over nipples; flared pants, cropped leather jackets, heels that gave absurdly tall models a few extra inches for the fun of it. Everything was a lesson in licentiousness. Any accusations of his riding on residual fame were expelled. That kind of reckless abandon was utterly convincing in a sheer long-sleeved top with nothing but black tape running side to side, barely covering the model’s nipples.
Words by Hung Tran
Illustrations by Helen Bullock
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Annie Collinge’s work can’t really be pigeonholed as fashion photography, but neither does it fit the term still life. A more apt description would be ‘art-directed portraiture’, with a penchant for extremities in colour and personality. We talk with the photographer about dull fashion, oddball Linda Leven and the risk of skin looking like plastic when taking digital pictures.
In 1999, Annie did a foundation course at Central Saint Martins, followed by studying photography in Brighton. She thinks that she would’ve been better off staying in London, as the Brighton course was quite sober, black-and-white landscape photography. Pretty old-school, the mentality. “It was called editorial photography, but that wasn’t quite the case,” she says.
“What I think is beautiful, in my pictures, is something which is (slightly) off-key, has a lot of aesthetic quality, bright colours.”
When I ask her if her style now is any different from when she started out, I hardly even have to finish my sentence before she immediately says ‘no’. She then explains, “It’s weird, but it feels like I’m now returning to how I first started shooting. I think that when all the digital cameras and that stuff came in, I lost my way a little bit. I realised over the past few years that I didn’t really like the way my pictures looked when I shot digitally. I never use lighting, because I think it looks really sharp and horrible,” she says, and when I add that it perhaps looks a bit more ‘staged’, she enthusiastically agrees. “Yes, and everyone’s skin just looks like it’s made out of plastic.”
When one thinks about the differences between shooting on film and digital – ‘one shot only’ versus the option of shooting hundreds of the same image and seeing immediate results – it’s essentially about really having to look. Does it, in Annie’s opinion, add more value to pictures, as an art form?
“I never use lighting, because I think it looks really sharp and horrible.”
“I think that in a way, it makes you concentrate a bit more. When I first starting shooting stuff editorially, there often was a 3-roll limit. That had about 12 shots on a roll, so I would have to get the portrait or whatever I was doing, in a very small amount of frames. Now, if I shoot digital, I don’t shoot that much, because I don’t want to shoot hundreds of pictures. If I do, I spend hours editing them.”
When I ask her who the people are that she photographs, she starts telling me about Linda Leven (who allegedly lives on 5th Avenue and never opens the curtains). “I was walking down 23rd street in New York (I was living there until very recently, in December) when I saw her, and she was very unusual looking. She went into Home Depot, which is a DIY store, and I was following her and her boyfriend around. They were looking at paints,” she says. Annie then approached her, and they got talking. Linda said, “I do a bit of modelling, but I don’t do full nudes.” So, Annie took a few pictures of her in the street, got her number, kept it for months, and eventually plucked up the courage to call her. This was in 2008, and they’ve shot several times ever since.
Though Annie approached Linda because she was unusual looking, when she got to know Linda better, she realised that not being conventionally beautiful is quite a heavy cross to carry, as people say horrible things on the streets. Beauty is an odd concept, one that many interpret differently, and so I ask Annie what her perspective on it is. “What I think is beautiful, in my pictures, is something which is (slightly) off-key, has a lot of aesthetic quality, and bright colours.”
The shoot she did with CSM tutor and artist Julie Verhoeven (see above) shows that off-key aesthetic quality too. About the collaboration, she says, “I really liked her work and just wrote her an email one day, saying I would like to take some pictures of her – this is a couple of years ago – so I went to her studio, we chatted, we got on. I brought some background and we just messed around. We didn’t have a big list of shots we’d be doing. I think we enjoy the same darkness and the bright colour thing.”
Why does Julie enjoy having her pictures taken by Annie? “There is a relaxed ease to her manner. She knows exactly what she wants, and there is an underlying determination which is exciting to witness, but the shooting experience feels contrary: so effortless and random. She has all-seeing eyes that move over the plain super fast to make a fabulous composition at speed. She sees beauty in the minute detail,” Julie says. What sets Annie apart from other photographers, is trust. “I totally respect her vision and way of seeing. She digs deep and shows compassion for her subjects. Annie exposes the melancholy and grief I often feel.” On the contrary, the most fun Julie’s had during a shoot was ‘being put behind a giant plastic bag and made to inhale, exhale.’
How would she call her style of working? Fashion photography? Art? Anti-commercial? “It’s kind of a combination between portraiture and art-direction. Art-directed portraits. Fashion photography is definitely something I would like to do in the future. I am always surprised how boring many fashion photo shoots are, because the industry is so creative…
When I was a student,” she continues, “there was so much more experimental fashion. I remember looking at Sleazenation and stuff like that, whereas now there’s a lot of quite dull fashion. But I love Charlie Engman, he’s brilliant.” I mention the shoot he did with stylist Tracey Nicholson, which included an old lady and a handful of backdrops, and she immediately says, “oh yeah, that’s his mum.”
She saw the two at a show opening years ago, and has been fascinated with them since. “It’s so brilliant, with his mum; so original as well. She poses naked for him as well, and stuff like that. There’s pictures of her topless in the woods...”
At the moment, Annie is finishing a book she’s been working on for 2 years. Her strategy for getting great shots? Meeting people on the subway, and inviting them to her apartment to take their pictures. Thinking about New York, she says, “I meant to go to New York for 3 months and I stayed there for 5 years. In terms of work, New York is more me. And, change is good.”Read More
“I guess in a way I am being a little mean, and it’s hard not to sit there and laugh at people. I realise – on reflection of my wardrobe – that I am just as hilarious. I’m sifting out ‘the real’ from ‘the prescribed’ when it comes to crazy,” says Helen Bullock. She’s illustrated passersby (or rather ‘people who pose at the same set of stairs for hours’) at Somerset House‘s Fernandez&Wells, throughout London Fashion Week. We ran into her at the Marques’Almeida show; she wore bright yellow eyeshadow and her hair was a mixture of at least six colours. She continued about her illustrations, “Some people may have learned their looks from Topshop, a magazine or a popstar, but I’m looking for those who are genuinely idiotic. I’m of course into the beautiful as well, but you get the real kick from the ones that leave your jaw dropped.” Here’s a handful of the scribbles she made, observing people, with the odd side-note to slightly clarify.
It was just this ridiculously loud necklace. It took over.
Big crazy rainbow girl. Just couldn’t help but stare.
She was just terrifyingly FAAAAAaaaashion.
This turban lady impressed me with the amount of space she took up (not in an obese manner – there was a lot of volume, everywhere), The fluro headscarf was rather unexpected.
Yep indeed. I kinda just like bad logos. It was Kenzo, apparently.
For more of Helen Bullock’s work, visit her helenbullock.com
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The arts are in Quoi Alexander’s blood. With his older sister being creative director of a contemporary dance company in New York, and younger sister studying acting in Seattle, he might’ve been ‘destined’ to end up being a creative of some sort. Not just any sort, though. Quoi has made his way into the Freemasons’ Hall, where Vauxhall Fashion Scout showcased a fine selection of young designers, including this year’s Central Saint Martins MA graduates Anita Hirlekar and Ondrej Adamek, alongside Quoi’s fresh-out-of-BA collection, which has been described by Dazed as ‘a bulbous reptilian skin of woven neon ribbons, coiled tape and net.‘When I ask Quoi if he agrees with Dazed’s description, he says that the concept for the collection was partially about trying to create something completely ambiguous. “When the collection is seen, the viewer may pick up on certain aspects of the collection which speak to them,” he says. The collection is an accumulation of many ideas; semantics (the study of the relationship between signs and the meaning of signs) and semiotics (the study of signs and symbols) have found their place in the design concept, for example. “The collection is completely different for me, for my helpers, for the audience… for a stylist. The work is about exploring the line between meaning and meaninglessness, symbolism and symbolic nonsense. The collection is created by me but not defined by me.”
“I decided to drill into the rubber of the platform shoes and insert the wooden instruments. I wanted the music to have a slow build up so the audience could hear the shoes, and then have breaks in the music later on for the shoes to be heard again.”Semiotics and semantics were behind his abstract concepts, but they gave way to very little visual research; so Quoi began to look at abstract- and symbolic art. “Kandinsky’s painting became a big visual reference for me, as well as many other random images which I thought spoke of something which was not obvious, becoming what I called abstract pseodo-symbolism. Many of the concepts which the abstract and symbolic artists deal with, were not relevant to the type of abstraction and symbolism I was dealing with. What I took from these artists was how I could simulate meaning by injecting symbolic non-sense into the garments.”When the drawings he made progressed, he understood his concept better and decided to do more research. Quoi says it all happened simultaneously, and that it took a while to understand and interpret the research. By January, he understood. At that point, he created his patterns. “To create my patterns, I did draping with paper and tape on a tiny mannequin. Pertaining to my research, every garment is draped in a single piece of paper: this is a limit I set for myself as an obstacle, so there’s only one pattern piece for each garment,” he says. Each pattern was then woven and laced together; it was unlike anything he had seen before. “I then scanned the final pattern piece into Adobe Illustrator and enlarged it to the size of a real human. I then printed the pattern in tyvek, a kind of un-rippable paper and continued to make alternations on the model.”
“The collection is completely different for me, for my helpers, for the audience… for a stylist. The work is about exploring the line between meaning and meaninglessness, symbolism and symbolic nonsense. The collection is created by me but not defined by me.”All the textiles were done instinctively and without reference, and because of the weight of them, Quoi knew it would be impossible to fully comprehend the shapes based on the tyvek toiles. “All the pattern cutting is extremely controlled, with many rules. While the textiles have rules in a different way, each design is instinctual and repeated; the repetition requires focus. The last two weeks [before the graduate show] mostly involved the giant flat patterns being woven and tied together. It was another rule for the collection not to use any sewing, so everything is laced and woven together.”The most important thing for Quoi is to create techniques that he has never seen before. “First, I must have an understanding and knowledge of things that have been seen in this world. Next, I experiment, and set rules so that in my mind I can’t even imagine the outcome. And lastly, to create something I have never seen before, I try to really think about how to be intelligent in solving the problems the idea presents.”At a pound shop, Quoi found foam mats, which are meant to be placed underneath carpets to stop them slipping. He liked the foam texture and decided to begin to weave into them. He used over 50 different types of materials per garment, mostly different types of ropes and fabrics which he cut into strips, but also things like bathmats, placemats, raw silk, and different plastics and rubber. “Every day new techniques were created, many were abandoned but some make it into the final garment.”Is there anything he wished had happened while making the collection, that didn’t? “If I had had more money, there are many changes I would have made – I would have gotten a lot of stuff laser cut. My helpers and I spend hundreds of hours cutting fabrics into strips and hammering holes into leather. For one pair of shorts, the entire piece is covered in holes, with fabrics woven in. I could have saved hundreds of hours if I had the funds to laser cut. At times I questioned why I was doing something so laborious, but I have no regrets.”
“I think it’s very important for me to approach this new time in my life with a mixture of naivety, instinct and humility.”One of the most amusing parts about his collection are the shoes, which have castanets built into them. During the graduate show, the models would walk and the clicking acoustics of the small instruments would resound with every step. Originally, Quoi wanted the models to hold different types of ancient instruments: castanets, clackers, noise makers and bull-roarers, having always had a fascination with the basic and ancient sound of these instruments. He wanted the girls to be a ‘full show’, so the music would follow them around, and there would’ve been no need for a soundtrack. “When I gave the instruments to the models to hold in their hands, though, it was too cumbersome and theatrical. Instead I decided to drill into the rubber of the platform shoes and insert the wooden instruments. In the end I worked with my helper Lady Ahram to create the soundtrack, I wanted the music to have a slow build up so the audience could hear the shoes, and then have breaks in the music later on for the shoes to be heard again.”During his time in London, Quoi interned for Alexander McQueen, Mary Katrantzou, and in Paris, he spent time at Chanel and Sonia Rykiel. Is there anyone, I ask, that he looks up to? “I have been thinking about this question for the past few weeks actually,” he says, “I hope I don’t sound arrogant when I say no. In terms of career, there is no one out there who I admire in their career path. Perhaps, maybe Rei Kawakubo, based on the way she has relentlessly forged ahead with her views on creativity but her career started so long ago and things in fashion have changed so much, it would be unrealistic for me to try to emulate her. While there is really no one in particular, there are many aspects of people’s lives which I greatly value, but I don’t have any idols. I look up to courage and I admire the courage I find in the people around me.”Rather than studying an MA course, Quoi is setting up his own label in Paris. He says it’s because he wants to continue doing what he likes, which is his work and his vision; ready to learn the lessons the real world has to teach. “I think it’s very important for me to approach this new time in my life with a mixture of naivety, instinct and humility, he says. “Naivety, because the goal of setting up a label is such a vast task, and many have been daunted by the huge amount of work. Instinct, because I trust my instinct more than anything in this world. And humility, because I will need to ask for help and favours from many people, I will rely on them and be indebted to them.”Fashion Scout also showcased Ondrej Adamek and Anita Hirlekar, who feature in Nick Knight’s shoot for our second print issue – you can get a copy here.Read More
We speak with Heidi Andreasen, whose digital collages grace the pages of our printed magazine. The Berlin-based artists talks about Interview magazine, digital manipulation and the German art scene.
You’re based in Berlin now, how does it compare to the experience of living and studying in London?
London is a buzzing city with many opportunities. Sometimes I really miss it, especially the people who I met at CSM. It was an extremely inspiring time and it taught me a lot. London is too expensive though, and that’s the reason why I decided to move. I really love the slow pace of Berlin and the liberal nature of the city. The art scene is young, vibrant and inspiring. It’s a great place for artistic growth.
Would you say that your work style has changed since graduating?
Since graduating I’ve been very interested in the subject digital vs organic. The style in which I illustrate started out as digital, but has slowly become more hands-on. I’ve found mixing digital manipulation techniques with hands-on collage extremely interesting. In my mind, this combination of techniques really brings out the essence of collage-making and the juxtaposition of the organic and the digital in a computerised culture.
At Saatchi, I worked closely with the creative team in creating new ideas and concepts for upcoming campaigns. Pitching and designing layouts was part of my daily routine. At Interview I had been working with their online team in redesigning their new website, which has been nominated for Website of the Year in the German ‘Lead Awards 2014′. Both experiences have been great and I’ve met some extremely talented people.
“I really love the slow pace of Berlin and the liberal nature of the city. The art scene is young, vibrant and inspiring. It’s a great place for artistic growth.”
Do you spend much time producing your own work and freelance commissions, now that you’re working full-time?
The past year has been pretty full-on. I’ve been trying to squeeze in time for my own projects in the evenings after work and on weekends. There’s been a couple of freelance projects I had to turn down due to lack of time. It’s been quite stressful when I’ve been freelancing or preparing for an exhibition while working full-time. However, I definitely learned that I get more work done when I have a busy schedule.
Quite a few of your earlier illustrations reference Dadaism and sci-fi shorts by H.G. Wells- both from the early 20th century. Have your topics of interest changed much?
Influences come from everywhere and the topics change every day. The latest series, which I created for the STITCH group exhibition in London earlier this year, was inspired by how digital imaging has changed and how it’s become a rather sterile and precise process. The idea was to reintroduce the beauty of imperfection to the precision of digital imaging.
Looking at your BA work, some of it can easily be thought of as fashion editorial. Is working in fashion something you’ve explored?
The graduation projects ‘Bloom’ and ‘Spring Up’ were in collaboration with my good friend Tristram Mason who is an amazing illustrator. We met through our course at CSM and began collaborating during our second year of uni. We both love collage and fashion, so it was a perfect match. Together we also worked on professional projects for artist ‘Kristjana S Williams’ and fashion brand ‘Beyond the Valley’.
“Creating work for online and for print is very different. It’s extremely crucial to be aware of the technical aspects in order to get the best result.”
Because some of your work is quite tactile and textured, do you approach the work that you produce for magazines, online, and exhibitions differently?
Definitely. I think a lot about the final outcome and the whole process from start to finish. Creating work for online and for print is very different. It’s extremely crucial to be aware of the technical aspects in order to get the best result. Personally, I love print and the texture of ink on paper. My family runs a small envelope and printing factory back in the Faroe Islands, so I grew up being around big presses and machinery. I think this is what sparked my interest in print.
We know a few students from Berlin, so it’s on our list of places to visit. What places would you recommend that we check out there?
Oh, there are so many places… I love Tempelhofer park, a former airport which is now a public park. It’s a perfect spot for BBQ’ing and chilling in the sun. Martin-Gropius-Bau is a well-known museum and exhibition hall which is definitely worth visiting. Every Thursday there’s the Food Market in Markthalle Neun, which serves delicious food. On weekdays the club Berghain hosts great live gigs. The list is endless…
What are your plans moving forward? Do you think you’ll stick with illustration as your medium after spending time working for Saatchi and Interview?
My goal is to continue to grow as a designer and artist. I feel like my style and approach is constantly changing so it can go anywhere from here. It’s been a long time dream of mine to create large-scale artwork. Also, fashion-related work and collaborations are definitely something that I wish to explore even more in future projects.Read More