Yikes, where is the time going? This week is the last chance to see Lichtenstein – A Retrospective at Tate Modern and I managed to get my eye in fashionably late last week. If you love his classic dot artworks, this is a chance to see them in huge scale which is really not to be missed. Most people are familiar with the War and Romance era, the comic-book style ‘WHAMM!’s and melodramatic close-ups of women in distress. Less familiar for me were the mid-70s Artist’s Studios compositions – fictional studios featuring his own pictures hung on walls as well as a nod to Matisse’s The Dance. By this point in Lichtenstein’s career, his painting style was well established and widely referenced in mainstream culture, so this appropriation of his own work was his wry commentary on that.
It’s interesting studying the technicalities of some of these paintings up close. In a lot of cases the pencil marks are clearly visible; it’s nice to see the imperfections of such immaculately executed pieces. The exhibition begins with Lichtenstein’s early, controlled brushstroke works and finishes with a group of 1996 paintings called ‘obliterating brushstrokes’. These loose strokes are juxtaposed with his ‘pop’ lines and dots, they’re much smaller than his better known illustrative pieces but have just as much impact. I couldn’t tear myself away.
For some reason I was under the impression we would get to see lots of prep drawings, sketch books and the like. Maybe it was simply wishful thinking. These days everyone is so much more interested in the process – I guess we want to see the ‘magic’ in action. (Of course we never do.) But apart from a handful of prep sketches and some original comic artwork, there was little additional material. No matter, after the exhibition, I bought a copy of Roy Lichtenstein In His Studio, an insightful photography study by Laurie Lambrecht that scratches the itch of seeing the artist at work.
In other Tate news, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the brilliance of Matisse’s cutouts in preparation for a huge Tate Modern respospective next year. This will focus on his later works, when he would ‘paint with scissors’ by cutting straight into the colour to make his incredible large scale masterpieces. The exhibition is scheduled for Spring 2014.
Beauty snippets: The Bling Ring, Jean-Louis Sebagh, Lisa Eldridge, Pinterest, YSL Baby Doll, Cosmetics A La Carte, Charlotte Tilbury, Into The Gloss, Bourjois
COSMETICS A LA CARTE COLOUR AND CULTURE EXHIBITION
This is turning out to be an exciting month for beauty. I would love to make it to the Chanel no5 exhibition in Paris but frankly, that ain’t gonna happen. More achievable is the Cosmetics A La Carte ‘Colour And Culture’ exhibition next week at 50 Redchurch Street E2. Celebrating forty years of the specialist cosmetics company (I’ve always wanted one of their custom-made foundations), the exhibition is only on for five days (22-26 May, 10-6pm) so rearrange that diary and schedule it in!
BEAUTY SECRETS OF THE BLING RING
Next month sees the release of The Bling Ring which has just premiered at Cannes. Style.com ran this great interview with the film’s lead make-up artist Roz Music, which reveals the fascinating process of researching beauty for movies. I like the story of Sofia Coppola wanting a specific shade of Chanel lipstick for one of the characters that was out of circulation (well it would be, wouldn’t it). Music had to track down the ‘Kensington’ lipstick in Paris but she should have just asked me, I have a spare right here! Watch the trailer for The Bling Ring below…
LISA ELDRIDGE’S #MYLISALOOK PINTEREST BOARD
I posted yesterday about Pinterest’s UK push but I’ve just discovered this. Lisa Eldridge has created a new Pinterest board to support Pinterest’s UK ‘Pin It Forward’ campaign and it’s absolutely genius. Eldridge invites her fans (and she has a lot) to send her pictures of their recreated looks from her beaut-orial videos which she then adds to the board Your Lisa Eldridge Looks. Now that’s what I call an ‘inspiration board’! Each pin then links to the original video, sending traffic to her Youtube channel. What a clever, creative and thoroughly engaging way to connect with your following.
Charlotte Tilbury’s House of Rock’n’Kohl comes to Selfridges
Another A-list make-up artist, Charlotte Tilbury is stirring things up at Selfridges. Selfridges is proving to be a leader in experiential retail and naturally, has spotted the ‘fashionisation’ of beauty. So next month (June 17th-23rd) it’s launching a week-long event with Tilbury where the influential makeup artist will host makeovers and panel discussions to look at beauty ‘in a broader cultural and social context’ (according to WWD). Plus, of course there will be an Eye Flick Bar from the queen of the statement eye.
Into The Gloss just ran one of their fab beauty profiles on Tilbury in which the main point that everyone jumped on was that Tilbury wears her make-up in bed. (Yes way!) “If I’m on my own, I won’t sleep in it, but my husband has never seen me without makeup,” says Tilbury. “At night, I take everything off my face and moisturise — because you have to let your skin breathe a bit — but then I put everything right back on again: a little under-eye brightener, then the eye goes back on, and maybe a little tint on the cheeks. My mother said to me, ‘You always have to keep the mystery alive…”
BOURGEOUS MAGIC NAIL POLISH REMOVER
Wow, how good is Bourjois Magic Nail Polish Remover? It makes doing my nails so much less of a chore. Just stick each nail into the bottle, twist left and right and done. Easy!
JEAN-LOUIS SEBAGH ON BOTOX, EXERCISE AND RUSSIANS
I’ve only just started reading System, the new magazine that celebrates fashion industry insiders and the workings of the business. For some reason I started with the interview with Pat McGrath and ‘Botox king’ Jean-Louis Sebagh. The first half is quite annoying as I keep reading stuff about people ‘needing Botox’. Please, nobody needs Botox! The second half is more interesting. Sebagh is dead against jogging as a form of exercise as he thinks it traumatises the skin by shaking out all the padding. On the subject of facial exercises he says, “the only exercise you should be doing is smiling all the time, if you can. And chewing.” Amen!
Sebagh also talks about why Russian women don’t respond to Botox. It’s quite an interesting theory. He says, “Botox is derived from the botulinum toxin which is food poisoning. During the cold war, the Russians had very few food supplies, so they used to receive expired cans of food from Europe. They used to eat out-of-date food, so they must have had a lot of food poisoning and become immune to the botulinum toxin. You can inject 10 bottles and they won’t react. Nothing!” Who knew?
I also can’t resist posting this 1990 photo of model Amanda Cazalet from System’s interview with art director Marc Ascoli. Look at that profile…
YSL BABYDOLL MASCARA
Finally, YSL has just launched its Baby Doll mascara which has had rave reviews from the bloggersphere. I’m not really a mascara obsessive, I’m quite happy with the subtle effect I get from my Clinique Naturally Glossy mascara, but I’ve given this a go and the effect is quite lovely for more dramatic coverage. Oh and the fragrance is delicious. Here’s a video YSL has released with Cara Delevingne whipping her hair and cavorting around the streets of Paris (there are high heels and skateboards involved). Ah youth…
“It takes two years to make and two minutes to buy!” So says Kamel Hamadou, the affable communications manager of Hermès silk, hosting a rare tour of the company’s silk printing facilities in Lyon. Two weeks ago I was invited on a whirlwind trip to learn the many meticulous stages of making one of those familiar silk ‘carrés’ of which I’m the proud owner of a few, neatly folded and stored in their equally familiar flat orange boxes.
My most astonishing discovery? The utter complexity of printing involved in a silk scarf of many colours. The average scarf has around 30 colours, of which each shade has its own precise mixing process. The printing itself has to be seen to be believed, but next week, you’ll have the chance to see it all when Hermès’ Festival Des Metiers lands on the London leg of its world tour.
Arriving from China (and then on to Dusseldorf), the exhibition showing at the Saatchi Gallery will continue Hermès’ mission in sharing the knowledge and skills of its workforce beyond the secretive workshops to a wider and very curious audience. None of this is a coincidence of course. All the major brands are shifting focus from overdone logos to house codes as a way of redefining their brand and heritage to customers new and old. So for a brand like Hermès, that’s the silk square scarf (or ‘carré’) or the Birkin, while for Chanel it’s the boucle jacket, the quilting and the Chanel no5 perfume. It’s not only about product in the store or on the runway but about bringing those codes to life. Hence this exhibition and current Chanel exhibitions (Little Black Jacket and No5 Culture Chanel) that celebrate – at close quarters – the iconic elements of these brands.
But to start the whole process, you have to go right back to the original design. Part one of my Lyon tour began at a giant light box in the engraving workshop. Here, the engraver’s job is to look at the original design, commissioned from artists around the world, deconstruct the image and break it down ‘without betraying the spirit of the artist’, as our guide explains. That is, boil down a sometimes highly complex and colourful design to, at most, 47 colours. This is pretty technical stuff.
For each colour, a clear film slide is drawn, using black Indian ink, gouache, brushes and pens. For the finest detail work, an electric pen is used in micro strokes which Hamadou describes as ‘like putting makeup on’. Sounds complex, right? Well if a scarf has 47 colours then the process happens 47 times, with a new film slide drawn for each colour representing a different part of the overall image. That’s all for one scarf design. It necessitates a careful and sensitive eye and the patience of a saint. A design of 30 colours equates to around 600 hours work engraving 30 films. From here the finished engravings are transferred to computers on which each colour is assigned a number. Wait, did I mention each design might come in ten different colourways? At this point one thinks it’s a good idea to write all this stuff down.
On the printing floor we get to see some printing in action. I love the mix of delicate draughtsmanship one minute, then ultra modern machinery the next. We’re whisked past a spanking new laser machine that is being tried out but we’re not allowed to take photos or even see it. Instead we’re shown more traditional-looking screen-printing – big metal-framed screens of polyester gauze (stronger than silk screens) which are adapted to the design and the fabric being used. (A carré isn’t only silk, sometimes it’s a silk-cashmere mix.) It’s then covered in blue photo sensitive gelatine and the gauze exposed to UV light. The gelatine’s job is to stop the colour landing on those areas.
Also housed in this building are the finishing workshops where the cutting, sewing and hand rolling takes place. Here, heavy tie silks are layered and cut by hand with a lethal-looking tool that looks like a pizza wheel (spot the chainmail glove to avert nasty accidents). Long pins keep these multiple pieces of silk in place but this young fellow showed us plenty of scratches from accidental scrapes.
Everything is measured and cut strategically to minimize waste. The ties are all hand made. Watching these deft hands flying so fast and effortlessly was quite mesmerising. We also saw a natty trick where the seamstress twisted a special stitch that hides inside the tie. Look inside an authentic Hermès tie and you’ll find this unique looped knot inside.
This gleaming, spacious new workshop is where the rolled edges (the ‘roulotte’) are stitched on the scarves, all by hand. The thread is colour-matched to the border and giant pin cushions are used to pin the scarf in place. The roll is exactly 15mm, hemmed on the right side of the scarf (as opposed to the Italian way, which is hemmed on the reverse). At the exhibition you’ll be able to see this hand rolling and tie making happening live.
After lunch we drove to another Hermès facility, Ateliers A.S, where we came to my favourite part of the process – the coloration. This is why it takes two years to make a scarf. Colours are decided two years in advance by the colour committee (yes, it’s actually called that), overseen by artistic director of women’s silks, Bali Barret. Barret collects colour inspirations continuously and for each biannual collection will produce a palette that runs across the brand’s entire product output including Christophe Lemaire’s RTW.
“Bali is like a conductor and the colourists are the orchestra”, Hamadou explains, gesticulating to a delicious array of mood boards, fabric swatches and boxes of coloured card samples on a vast table. The palette has to suit all women, hence the importance of a colour committee, and a scarf design translated in ten different colourways can effectively be ten very different scarves.
Here Hamadou also explains the silk-making process – a chain from the cocoon to the thread to loom to cloth. Alas, this is where I got lost as I just wanted to play with the coloured cards in the boxes, not learn about silk worms. But Hermes silk is not any old silk. It has its own strength and stability and comes from cocoons woven by silkworms farmed at an Hermès -owned facility in Brazil.
On to the most exciting part, the ‘kitchen’ and another much more dramatic printing studio. But first, on with the health and safety footwear – a bulbous toe-cap, strapped on over our shoes like an avent-garde slingback. In a buzzing lab called the ‘kitchen’, we were shown the top secret ‘recipe book’, a file containing all the combinations of dyes to make up different colours.
For just one scarf in one colourway, you might need 25 different ‘recipes’ (mathematical formulae) for each of the 25 colours in the scarf. Where there are big quantities of a particular colour mixed, it can only be kept for two weeks, otherwise the water evaporates changing the viscosity of the dye, which affects the uniformity of the colour. Again, I loved the combo of modern technology and tradition here. A lot depends on computers but the experienced hand, eye and judgment are equally vital.
Here at Ateliers A.S we experienced a different printing experience to the one a couple of hours earlier. Here the designs are printed on a 160m long table on which an equally long piece of 100cm wide silk twill is stuck on with special glue. There are big and slightly scary machines that move along the silk methodically, printing a screen at a time with the technician checking as each square goes along, to make sure nothing has shifted.
The order of screens starts with the outline first, building the design one colour at a time and finishing with the border of the square. If the technician’s eagle eye spots an error, he can halt the process, repositioning the screen. If not, the wonky prints are deemed unusable – a disaster for 100 metres of silk. The dyes dry quickly. As each metre is printed, it’s pegged above the table on a kind of washing line so by the time the last metre has been printed, the first metre has dried. Watching this exacting process happening live was quite a thrill, how on earth do these technicians spot a tiny smudge or splash in this fast-moving process?
Post-printing comes more processes. The colours are fixed by steaming then the printed silk is washed to remove the gum residue. As this stage the silk is still a bit hard so it’s coated with a special substance to soften it and brighten the colours. Little known fact: this is also why Hermès scarves are dry clean only – ordinary detergents can dull the dyes.
Spending a good six hours learning about every stage of the scarf-making process was absolutely mind blowing – in a good way of course. So much information, science and skill to absorb. But that wasn’t it. The tour ended at quality control and here we weren’t allowed to take photos (not quite sure why). Again, a meticulous eye and years of experience are needed to weed out the not-100%-perfect scarves. While checks are made at every stage of the process, this is the place where final checks happen before scarves are packed up to go to the Paris distribution centre. We saw a scarf with a teeny tiny splash of dye (that no ordinary person would have noticed it) and another that was printed one millimeter out of alignment. Out they went, to be shredded and sold as upholstery stuffing!
These insights into the making of hand-crafted luxury items are so useful in understanding the time and skill that goes into their design and production. For Hermès, one of the most authentic luxury heritage brands, it’s important to show how its products are really made and finished. In an age of increasingly digital retail and marketing (Hermès has a scarf knotting app coming in July and I’m currently loving its Tumblr), there seems to be an equal desire for evidence of the human touch. I love digital but I also love phsyical. We’re not all robots yet!
[Above image: Koto Bolofo]
I loved Natalie Massenet’s talk at the Vogue Festival and the way she used Instagram as a modern alternative to a Powerpoint slideshow. Even better, people who weren’t at the festival could follow the presentation independently by viewing her specialy-populated Instagram feed, Nataporter_Mystorysofar (best viewed in the app).
But now Vogue has released some of the videos of the presentations, talks and panel discussions. Watch the Natalie Massenet presentation in full…
There’s something charming, and humbling about a one-to-one session with a true craftsman, not least when it comes to haute horlogerie with one of my favourite watch brands: Jaeger-LeCoultre. I’m a big fan of the Reverso watch from the Swiss luxury watch-maker (have you seen its latest collab with Valextra? Oh my!), that just happens to be celebrating its 180th anniversary with a dedicated exhibition space at Harrods. Continue reading
Showing at the Saatchi Gallery this weekend is Collect, the annual international art fair from The Craft Council, now in its 10th year. Go up to the top floor and you’ll find the Project Space, an area highlighting the conceptual work of eleven artists whose work bridges the gap between art and craft. Among them is Hormazd Narielwalla who is exhibiting five ‘Love Gardens’ sculptures, based on discarded military suit patterns. Continue reading
You may know Fornasetti for its distinctive ceramics and homewares. I certainly have an unhealthy preoccupation with the ashtrays and cabinets – especially those depicting the classical features of Lina Cavalieri, the 19th century opera singer and muse of Piero Fornasetti. But a more recent departure for the brand is its entry-point home smellies – the Fornasetti Profumi scented candles in their lidded jars (that are regarded not merely as candles but as decorative objects) and the delightful illustrated incense boxes.
Just like the boxes, the incense inside is an artisanal product. Created in Japan, it’s produced by Nippon Kodo, who have been making incense to exacting standards since 1575. At a workshop hosted by The Conran Shop to celebrate the Art of Kodo and the ritual of incense appreciation, I discovered that like calligraphy and tea ceremonies, ancient Japanese traditions are gradually going out of fashion. Globalisation favours teaching primary school kids English, not calligraphy, we were told by our Japanese Kodo master. And yet, as he demonstrated, the precise and meditative ritual of Kodo is something to be savoured, perhaps more so than ever in the information-overloaded 21st century. In a strange twist, it’s the western cultures that are learning to appreciate the age-old traditions and crafts of the East – as I’ve noticed with the recent flurry of ‘save our artisans’ retail workshops. So maybe all’s not quite lost… yet.
Right, now that Vogue Festival is out of the way, the next Vogue event to diarise is the Met Gala, coming on 6th May. Especially if you’re a celeb-loving fashion fan. The red carpet arrivals at the Costume Institute benefit will be livestreamed next Monday at 7pm EST on the Moda Operandi, US Vogue, Samsung and Metropolitan Museum of Art websites. Continue reading
Was every panelist and speaker at Vogue Festival briefed to implore us to work hard and follow our dreams? Because that felt like the overarching message of the weekend at the second annual Vogue-branded event.
“If you’re really good at what you do and have a dream, It will happen,” said Alber Elbaz on Sunday, and when Alber says this you believe him. Of all the speakers I saw, he was the most relaxed, funny and passionate and also a brilliant storyteller. But pretty much all the key speakers put their success down to a mix of talent and tenacity, plus a personal point of view. Continue reading
I’ve been at Vogue Festival today (as a guest of Vogue) and will be back again tomorrow. I’ll blog it properly but for now here’s a sneak peek of the first day of Vogue Festival highlights. Watch Natalie Massenet thank Alexandra Shulman for not giving her a job at Vogue…