Bethan Cole

Category: Uncategorized

Fairy tale fashion

You might imagine that Vladimir Propp’s seminal book of theory, the ‘Morphology of the Folk Tale’, was fashion’s set text for Autumn/Winter 2014. Because at many shows there was a mise-en-scene, or series of tableaux that brought to mind the famous tropes of fairy tale and fantasy. Perhaps it’s a Game Of Thrones moment, or indeed yet another attempt to escape from global austerity into a world of the carnivalesque, but scenes of bucolic reverie and the theatrical caricatures dwelling within them just kept on cropping up.

Designers had upped the ante and cast aside familiar archetypes like princesses and wicked stepmothers though. These evocations were oblique, evocative and suggestive rather than obvious renderings of stereotypes. They were entirely contemporary references to Hans Christian Anderson and Brothers Grimm, filtered through a lens of modernity, relevant for our dystopian world of global warming and digitalisation.

At Rick Owens the models reminded of Dora and Nora Chance, the twin heroines of Angela Carter’s last novel Wise Children. Was it their carnivalesque attire or their cheeky ringletted curls and rosy cheeks that brought to mind the fictional creations of the queen of the postmodern fairy tale? At Mulberry too, there was Cara Delevigne playing little girl lost in the forest, innocent and angelic in a pristine white dress. And at Dolce and Gabbana woodland creatures adorned the clothes, with owls, foxes and squirrels beautifully appliqued and embroidered onto vivid red and cyaneous blue dresses and coats and tops. “This collection is all about fantasy, enchantment and dreams,” commented Stefano Gabanna of the wildwood theme and this fantasia of leaves twigs and branches and their associated flora and fauna could also be witnessed in the hair and make up looks of other shows too. Sarah Burton’s women at Alexander McQueen were part-woman, part wolf, with flocculent, whiskered ink-black eyebrows; their hair was pure Rapunzel – endless skeins of braiding wound round and round the head. Issey Miyake’s theme was also arcadian and pastoral, his ‘Rhythmic Forest’ show had model’s hair styled to evoke the grains in a piece of wood – pulled back and combed to create lines in it.

 

Not surprisingly, eyes, with all their expressive and entrancing potential, became the foregrounded feature on the face in many shows. Eyes with a folkloric and fantasy theme were dramatic flights of fancy on the face. And often there was a dark or strange drama to them as much as sweetness and light. At Pucci they were rimmed with black and embellished with gold to lend a magical emphasis. Pat McGrath bleached eyebrows at Alexander McQueen and Givenchy to give an otherworldly-meets mediaeval-fairy-tale-look, she also drew feathered strokes in charcoal black pencil both above and below eyes at Yohji Yamamoto. “To give the overall impression of powerful dolls,” she explained. Indeed you can imagine a current day little red riding hood peeping through faux innocent layers of false lashes, cocooned within her cloak, or an inner city fairy tale heroine made up with black and silver eyes to resemble the night sky….

 

This piece was first published in Japanese Vogue in 2014

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Copeland – ‘Because I’m Worth It’ album review

In case you are not familiar with them, Hype Williams, Inga Copeland’s previous incarnation with fellow producer Dean Blunt, were a couple of subversive pranksters. Not only did they blatantly steal the name of the prodigiously talented pop and hip hop video director and confusingly use it as their moniker. Their shapeshifting, echoic, slo mo electronica was masked by all kinds of preposterous statements – they claimed to have joined the Nation of Islam, to have stolen racoons and to have sold music by putting USB sticks into apples and selling them down Brixton market. They even claimed their own names were a lie and it got to the point where no one could sift their fictions from the truth any more. Curiouser and curiouser.

 

So Copeland’s debut album comes as rather a low key surprise, both musically and promotion wise. Seemingly no fanfare of bizarre hype and art prank statements, just this very deadpan, very straight and straight up album of arid techno and plaintive songs. But then there’s the rather hilarious appellation Because I’m Worth It – a tag line, again stolen, from cosmetics giant L’Oreal. Just look at the picture of Copeland that accompanies this album – scrubbed free of make up with grungy lank hair. It couldn’t be more antithetical to the advertising aesthetics of L’Oreal all big celebrity divas, bouncy hair and radiant, fulgent make up. Copeland’s gotta be having a laugh again – right?

 

And in fact, that grungy black and white image of her seems entirely apposite for this music. Side A is four tracks of very stark stripped back unrelenting hammer and nails techno with some interesting textural effects such as interference and echoic bass. The second track is a collaboration with Actress, more deadpan (read humourous) advice for young girls, it sounds monotonous and verging on the psychopathic, like a modern day etiquette guide delivered by a serial killer.

 

I for one am really glad a woman is making this sort of electronic music though. For too long there’d been a dichotomy between ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ hard techno, (generally played by men and made by men) and more ‘female’ and feminine’ house and garage or ambient. When I lived in Scotland in the 90s male techno heads used to call vocal garage ‘pussy music’. And even the burgeoning new generation of female electronic producers from Peaches to Grimes and Maria Minerva to Empress Of has really failed to break down this binary opposition. But then here comes a woman – Copeland – who is seemingly pretty fearless in the music she makes, (albeit quite a barren and parched music) producing quite uncompromising hard tracks like the first four on this album, which you might imagine, on listening alone, had been made by a man. So well done for that.

 

Well done also for her songs and vocals, which feature on the second side. Again, there’s something quietly melancholy and low key about them – like Portishead stripped of the grandiose orchestration – because at times she does remind of Beth Gibbons – yet there’s resolutely no film soundtrack-y melodrama here. Copeland is undoubtedly a captivating singer but it’s unlikely this album will take her much beyond the cult environs that Hype Williams dwelt in or even to a Grimes level of indie-celebrity. I hope she does garner some recognition for Because I’m Worth It, however, we need more female producers with balls and talent like this – and not to mention humour too.

 

This piece was first published in Electronic Sound magazine

The scent of the fashion show

What does fashion, or more specifically, a fashion show smell of? You might imagine it would smell of the fervent expectation of the crowd. Or the blurry sillage of a hundred high end fragrances worn by the chic spectators – of exhaled breath vapour tinged with champagne and feint perspiration and hairspray and all the other odours you get when a group of groomed and coiffed women and men congregate to watch a spectacle.

 

Increasingly it’s not just the sight and sound of fashion that impacts the senses of the crowd, it’s the smell too. Once, this was just an afterthought. Now considerable energy and work is devoted by designers and perfumers into making sure the olfactive environment is not only pleasing but also transmits the particular philosophy of the show. Of course it also adds an invisible and silent aspect: an indefinable, intangible mystique to proceedings.

 

For Spring summer 14 and Autumn Winter 14, designers chose a kaleidoscope of immersive scents to augment their show experiences up a notch. “I have always loved Floris candles and this season the abundance of the Bluebell and Hyacinth candles at my Spring Summer 2014 show filled the space and evoked a feeling of a journey through an enchanted garden befitting the mood and aesthetic of the dresses.“ says Julien McDonald.”

 

Autumn Winter 14 saw, Henry Holland choose the warm, woozy and oaken caramel smell of Whisky to convey the deshabille decadence of his theatrical ‘Debauched Debutante catwalk. “My office usually smells of the morning after the night before,” says Holland “so I was ecstatic to find out this was a hot new trend in fragrance. I immediately bought the Whisky & Water reed diffuser and it was only natural to have Noble Isle scent my Debauched Debutante show”

 

Elsewhere for AW 14, JW Anderson fragranced his showroom with Jo Malone’s divinely evanescent hesperidic perfume Lime Basil and Mandarin and Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo also opted for Jo Malone to scent their presentations. Victoria Beckham chose Diptyque’s gorgeously dry and desiccated fruit fragrance Figuer –a kind of modern classic – to be the smell of her poised NYC catwalk show and ever romantic Erdem selected Diptyque’s more darkly evocative and resinous woods Cypres, Baies, Feu de Bois and Myrrhe to be the odour of his Paris showroom. And the smell of winter was also in evidence at Tom Ford, who complemented a predominantly black and covered up collection with the very saturnine and arid scent of Tom Ford London – his latest Private Blend.

 

Scenting fashion shows has in fact become a mini-industry: in New York, the twin Goldworm sisters (Samantha and Dawn) make their living from ‘Olfactive Branding’ which includes making bespoke scents for catwalk shows – as well as hotels, art galleries and launch events. They’ve been responsible for the scents of Jason Wu, Zac Posen, Thakoon and Rodarte shows amongst others. And with Meadham Kirchhoff, a long standing relationship with Penhaligons, (who they’ve used to scent their shows for years) led to the development of their very own Penhaligon’s perfume Tra La La, which launched this April. “Benjamin (Kirchhoff) has a very good understanding of scent and can identify different ingredients and notes, which I don’t have.” Says Edward Meadham. “I have to try and explain fragrance by gesture and descriptive words of colours and shapes. Penhaligon’s and Bertrand expertly interpreted our descriptions and desires to create the perfect scent.” The resulting fragrance scented their Autumn Winter 2014 runway and is entwines candy floss sweetness and almost sadistic calignosity to dramatic effect. Not surprisingly the notes of this curiously theatrical offering include carnation ylang ylang and tuberose, melded with leather, patchouli and myrrh.

 

Indeed it’s not just a one-way relationship: perfume influencing our perception of a catwalk show. Fashion and its tableaux, can in turn be the catalyst for perfume.

“Cecil Beaton beautifully captured the charm of the English ballroom in the mid 20th century,” says Celine Roux, Fragrance Director for Jo Malone London “It’s the romance and charm of that era that we brought into our fragrance Peony Blush and Suede.  “We used romantic blooms of peonies brought in from the great estates that were reminiscent of soft pink couture ball gowns. The inspiration of fabric and texture represented in the use of suede.” Like wise Francis Kurkdijan, who has also been responsible for fragrancing a raft of fashion shows from Rick Owens and Jena Paul Gaultier to Dior and Givenchy has also been motivated by fashion and textiles to create a fragrance.

“ Fashion and Couture are part of my education (with one grandfather being a tailor and the other one a wedding dress designer), he explains. My Oud Mood collection with velvet, silk and cashmere was a take on the feeling of wearing different materials. Sense of touch and sense of smell are not very popular and yet very similar to my mind. They are personal, intimate and invisible, and yet so important.”

 

So from a fashion show that smells exquisitely of fig to a perfume that is redolent of cashmere, the interface between fashion and fragrance continues apace. It’s not for nothing that wearing a fragrance is often described as wearing an invisible garment. Conflating these two arts is a fertile place to innovate.

 

(This piece was first published in the July 2014 issue of Japanese Vogue)

Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra

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With the World Cup and the Olympics on the horizon there’s something very au courant about anything Brazilian. If you’re interested in the country’s music but can’t get any further than Azymuth you need to check out Far Out Recordings the London-based record label that’s devoted to Brazilian music. Read the rest of this entry »

Faze Action – Body of One

 

 

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Faze Action ‘Body Of One’

I must be getting old because I can very clearly remember getting sent the Nuphonic promo for Faze Action’s In The Trees, their mid to late nineties breakthrough. I can also recall the first wave of disco revivalism that was happening around that time with Dave Lee, Black Science Orchestra and Basement Jaxx as well as Faze Action. Read the rest of this entry »

Olfactive Studio

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Lumiere Blanche

 

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Lumiere Blanche

 

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Chambre Noire

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Chambre Noire

Tracking the points where the sense of sight and the sense of smell interface, Olfactive Studio is a new fragrance brand that has taken five contemporary photographs and interpreted them in perfume. The concept is down to Celine Verleure, a 46-year-old marketing and e-tail expert with a passion for fragrance, already behind olfactory hits such as Kenzo Jungle, L’Eau par Kenzo as well as the Osmoz perfume portal. Her own photography collection gave her the idea for the brand and she picked five photographs that very strongly evoke a mood or an idea. “The photographs are always pre-existing works that I find in exhibitions, museums, online photographers site,” she explains. Each photograph was the start of a creative journey for the perfumer, who used it as a visual brief. And some of the photographers – who are mostly fine art photographers – also helped elucidate their works and participated in the creative process. “Some photographers loved to be part of the creation – for example Clemence Rene-Bazin. Perfumer Dorothée Piot and René-Bazin, became friends while creating Chambre Noire and Dorothée actually bought the photograph from Clémence.” Initially, Chambre Noire looks like the image of a glittering, lit up cityscape at dusk, glimpsed through a hotel window and balcony. But look harder and you can see the reflection of the interior of the hotel room in the windowpane – the low lighting and seductive roomspace that could be the setting for a romantic rendez-vous. Appropriately, the corresponding fragrance is highly sensual, taboo even, but perhaps not in an obvious way. It is an oriental with basenotes of Sandalwood, Patchouli, Musk, Vanilla and Leather and speaks of illicit encounters, the rich odour of expensive lingerie, bodies intertwined and forbidden pleasures.

However some of the photographs produced more unexpected perfumes – Flash back, for example is a very serene, black and white pixelated picture (by Laurent Segretier) of a resting woman’s face. But it provoked an unexpected fragrance by Olivier Cresp, quite colourful and fruity with notes of rhubarb, grapefruit, orange and granny smith apple. In each instance smelling the perfume helps us re-see and reinterpret the photograph. Chambre Noire’s olfactive mise en scene is vivid enough for us to imagine lovers languishing in the soft glow of that bedside lamp glimpsed in the photograph and Flash back prompts us to smell what the clean, serene young visage in the photograph might smell like – the clarity of the fruit notes augments the serene yet obfuscated monochrome portrait – lending it a three dimensional facet. “My favourite image is the one from Massimo Vitali “Lumière Blanche” because you don’t catch it immediately (is it an iceberg? is it a rock?) actually, it is a rock in Sicily, but the image “smells” hot and cold at the same time and the perfume is a “hot milk with cold spices”. Says Verleure. Indeed in this bleached out photograph, the rock is only very faintly defined from the crystalline white of the sky by incremental grey shadows, similarly the perfume, which is smooth and creamy is offers a gentle chiascuro with it’s spores of dark spice.

 

Thus the conflation of smell and image allows us to experience a kind of synesthesia. Verleure reveals that the sixth fragrance and photograph will be revealed to the press in April This innovative project should run and run.

 

For stockist details please contact 01273 408832. Olfactive Studio fragrances are priced at £75 for 50ml and £110 for 100ml. For more information please visit http://www.olfactivestudio.com

 

This piece first appeared in http://www.neverunderdressed.com

Green People Shampoo

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During 16 years of writing about beauty, I’ve tried quite a lot of shampoos and conditioners. Its sad but true to say that I’ve never been very impressed with the environmentally friendly and organic ones – although John Masters haircare is one exception to this, Aveda is another. Read the rest of this entry »

Guerlain – Royal Extract

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Guerlain have produced a lot of very commercial fragrances in the last 15 years, whether you like them or not. But they’ve also, quietly, been producing some very beautiful limited editions and collectables, notably the translucent, delicate and pretty Aqua Allegoria scents which, for summer are in my opinion non pareil. Royal Extract is a Limited Edition collaboration with Harrods Read the rest of this entry »

Hauschka – Abandoned Cities

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The poetry of entropy: Hauschka’s concept for Abandoned City is possibly one of the most beautiful and simultaneously brutalised ideas for an album ever conceived. To compose music for and soundtrack the ruined and empty metropolis – from Elizabeth Bay, a deserted mining town in Namibia to Pripyat, a city near Chernobyl abandoned after the nuclear disaster of 1986. On hearing these requiems for lost civilisations you think of the crepuscular buildings in Tarkovsky’s Zona or the dystopian visions of JG Ballard. They are what author and blogger Mark Fisher has termed ‘Hauntological’ and they are also ontological, dealing with being and nothingness to paraphrase Sartre.

 

Thirtysomething Hauschka (aka Volker Bertelmann) occupies that compelling and increasingly populous hinterland between electronica and modern or neo-classical music. Think of a similar sort of audio to Nils Frahm – piano virtuosity and techno beats, references to minimalism and the avant-garde including Glass, Reich, Satie, Cage and Terry Reilly but also adept at electronica production techniques and what is broadly termed ambient. The structure of Pripyat, for example, owes something to Terry Reilly’s In C. It was all recorded in Hauschka’s home studio in Dusseldorf using a piano and nine microphones, six to record sound directly from his piano’s strings and another three to feed into a mixer with delay distortion and echo effects..

 

The album opens with Elizabeth Bay, which, as mentioned previously was once an industrious mining town in Namibia. This is undoubtedly the best track and the one worth downloading most, unless you intend to purchase the album in its entirety. It is based on a piece of music Hauschka wrote for a reinvention of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and was recorded in ten days flat. Sometimes speed can aid creation, force and urgency can produce the most striking and dramatic effects and so it is in this case. Elizabeth Bay is the most song-like, the most impactful melody on the album and it emanates a sort of decaying grandeur and loss very eloquently. The next most compelling track is Craco, named after a Medieval Italian village that got swallowed by a sink hole in 1963 and a cinematic roll of undulating, modulating, resonating piano motifs.

 

I listened to the whole album whilst driving at dusk in the pouring rain and, whilst it is arguable that all music sounds more heightened and romantic in this context, there was a certain frisson between the spotting of raindrops on my windscreen and the insistent throbbing and dotting of piano and string effects on Pripyat – pretty soon the rain seemed to be choreographing a kind of syncopated yet random spattering dance to some of these staccato sounds. It is arguable that post-Elizabeth Bay, which has the most profound melodic structure, the album runs on into more soundtracky, backdrop, ambient mode with each subsequent track feeling like a variation on a major theme, rather than what you might term a song in its own right. Played as an entirety it works however and the loneliness and melancholy of this music is sometimes, nothing short of sublime.