Saturday, 3 May 2014

E1.4 Hilma af Klint

Hilma af Klint was the first purely abstract painter the world has known but, as we see so often throughout history, she was overlooked by the establishment by virtue of being a woman. Most people think of Kandinsky as the father of modern abstract art but Klint, working as part of  “the Five” was generating purely abstract creations several years before him. Even in 1970, the Stockholm Moderna Museet declined a donation of her life's work. Thankfully, in the 21st century, she is finally being celebrated; the Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen currently has an extensive exhibition. I came to Klint through the use of her figurative painting, The Swan, on this sweatshirt (above) by Acne – the perfect fusion of art and fashion. Not sure if I should wear it, or hang it on my wall.

Dr Duck

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

T1.4 Iceland (ii)

The major advantage to holidaying with my parents is the chance to explore countries off the beaten path. My mother loves to drive and so we've spent many a summer touring the US, Australia, and the majority of the European continent, with me navigating from the back of the car. Usually we plan a rough route and book hotels along the way, but day-to-day I direct us to sites to visit by reading my various guide books on the go. This way we always get to see the sides of a country not often visited by tourists.

The majority of the settlements in Iceland have always been small and remote – in fact Reykjavík, the capital, was essentially a village until the 20th century – and it was these small townships and the surrounding countryside we wanted to discover. We started our trip around the iconic Þjóðvegur at Borgarnes, a small town north of Reykjavík. Here a museum explains the complex history of the early settlement of the island, as well as the equally fascinating and appropriately gruesome story of the Egil's Saga. Egill Skallagrímsson lived here and the surrounding area features monuments to the various episodes of the saga; one striking memorial commemorates the murder of Þorgerð brák in the nearby fjörður. The museum also offers a restaurant with a delicious and typically Scandinavian cold buffet table for guests. It is here that I had my first sip of the delicious Egils Malt Extrakt. Driving further north, we also checked out Reykholt, where Snorri Sturluson composed the Prose Edda. His original stone thermal bath is still visible, potentially the oldest remaining structure in Iceland. This is where, in 1241, Snorri was bludgeoned to death by Gissur Þorvaldsson and the Norwegian King Hákon's men.

Much further north, near our next hotel stop at Varmahlíð, we happened upon the turf houses of Glaumbær. We hadn't planned to see this historical site but later found it referenced in almost every museum we visited, so we're glad we did make it! Although inhabited well into the 20th century, it was the oldest inhabitants of the farm that were the most interesting. Gudridur and Þorfinnur, who lived here in the 11th century, had travelled west to Greenland and then on to what the Vikings called Vinland; their son, Snorri, was the first European to be born on North American soil.

Eventually we reached Akureyri, Iceland's second 'city', and home to a sister church to Reykjavík's Hallgrímskirkja: the Akureyrarkirkja by Guðjón Samúelsson. The church sits high above the township, rising as dramatically as the mountains surrounding the Eyjafjörður. And from here we climbed out of the valley and beyond to the volcanic expanses of Mývatn...

Dr Duck

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

T1.3 Iceland (i)

Well, I just returned from one of the most exciting trips of my life – a week spent in Iceland. For seven days we drove around Þjóðvegur 1 (also called the 'ring road'), Iceland's main circular artery, exploring every inch of the inhabited coastal regions. We experienced nature at its fullest force (more on that later) and relished in the strangely Scandinavian culture.

Iceland is an odd country, a historical fluke. The sparse population is descended directly from the early Viking settlers (and their Celtic brides) who came from Norway, Scotland and Ireland, to find more space and escape the rule of the Norwegian King. Because of expert documentation and the Icelanders' famous sagas, they have preserved their family trees going right back to the settlement period in the 9th century. Iceland is almost unique in recording its history in such detail. Iceland is also unique in having preserved its language and culture for so long. Modern Icelandic is incredibly similar to Old West Norse, the original settler language, and the population's relative isolation and small size has meant their traditional ways of life have barely changed over the centuries.

My first few days in Iceland focused on the capital, Reykjavík, and the surrounding historical region known as The Golden Circle. We explored the stunning new Harpa concert hall (and ate at its restaurant, Kolabrautin), best seen by night. We learnt about Iceland's history at the National Museum and took in the austere yet calming Hallgrímskirkja designed by Guðjón Samuel. At Þingvellir we found where the original settlers created the world's first democratic parliament – the Alþingi – and then carried on to see the original Geysir (from which all other geysers derive their names) and the impressive Gullfoss waterfalls. It was the perfect start to our trip and gave us the relevant historical and cultural information required to understand what we were about to experience in the more remote regions of the country. Which will be coming up in my next few blog posts...

Dr Duck

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

D1.7 Charging Ahead

Silver and leather bracelet by Stephen Einhorn, notes model's own

I feel like time is slipping through my fingers right now, as I move from one career and into a new one, from one city to another. In the next four weeks I'm focusing hard on finishing a key paper from my research, catching up on high school electronics for my new job, and moving into my mews apartment in Edinburgh's city centre. Somehow I'm also going to fit in a week exploring Iceland with my family, and a luxury birthday spa weekend at the Aman in London with Charlie and Anna. I'm spending a lot of time sprawled across the dining room table with my notes right now, so I'm kind of living in my comfy pyjamas or gym kit. But that's no reason not to accessorise with jewellery, to keep my spirits high. My wrist is definitely enjoying the chic simplicity of this leather and silver bracelet by London-based artisan jeweller, Stephen Einhorn. Simply serendipitous that he's also launched a new campaign and video around the making of his Flame Ring today. And with a surname that means unicorn in German, what's not to love?

Dr Duck

Sunday, 23 March 2014

D1.6 Paris - or avoiding fashion week

A few weeks ago I packed up a case of my chicest items (read: H2T outfits emergency-purchased and express-delivered from TheCorner) and headed across to Paris to visit during fashion week.  I took an apartment on the Rue St Honoré, across the street from the Rue Cambon Chanel HQ and just a stone's throw away from Charlie May's studio showroom.  This is, I think, my fifth visit to Paris during the shows, but the first one where I avoided the fashion circus as much as humanly possible.  I only stopped by Charlie's showroom in the evening for glasses of wine watching the sunset on the balcony with Charlie, India Rose, Andrew Blyszak and Clym Evernden, and paid a visit to Anna's Completed Works showroom in the Marais to see her latest display.  The rest of the time I ate (at Frenchie and Le Dauphin), I drank (at Monsieur Bleu in the Palais de Tokyo), I shopped (for the perfect shearling at Sandro), I danced (with Charlie at Silencio).  Staying so central was the best decision I've made in all my visits - Airbnb officially rocks when compared to overpriced Parisian hotels - and the ability to self-cater meant I could still enjoy my organic Greek yoghurt for breakfast.  Avoiding the fashion hoo-ha was my second best decision, although I did accidentally gate-crash the Galliano show at the Palais de Tokyo.  I'm starting a new career next month, moving to a new city, and separating myself from the fashion lifestyle is becoming more than necessary.  I want to return to that joy of design, the pleasure in finding the perfect item to wear or in discovering a new designer, which the fast-paced fashion industry is destroying for me.  I just want to stroll around the Palais Royal, take in Dries Van Noten's all-encompassing exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and then revel in a slice of speculoos cheesecake before my flight home.  

Dr Duck

Sunday, 23 February 2014

D1.5 Vin and Omi

It's very hard to define fashion. Some people praise it as art, others deride it as mere frivolity. Maybe it can be both, or something in between. Few designers, however, manage to straddle those polar extremes to create works which are at once shocking, thought-provoking and incredibly commercial. Vin and Omi are two such artists.

It's hard to find a lot of information about the pair online, but from a short meeting with Omi in the May Fair hotel after their show, I know this much. Vin and Omi were some of the earliest recipients of the NESTA (National Endowment for Science and Technology Award) fashion award, along with Alistair Carr (of Balenciaga, Pringle and McQ fame). Reading the lists of early funding prize winners (including other prestigious competitions such as NEWGEN), it's noticeable how few of the brands have gone on to become household names around the world. And the same is true of Vin and Omi – but that is not to say that they haven't been successful.

They have, in fact, been incredibly successful in many fields. They focused on fabric development and now are based in the Cotswolds where various farmyard outhouses allow them to experiment with myriad and messy new techniques. Their work with latex is particularly strong, and has led to collaborations with brands from Felder Felder through to Louis Vuitton. They have studios in the US from which they art-direct the careers of celebrities such as Christina Aguilera (they were responsible for her skin-tight, blonde-bombshell looks of the mid Noughties), produce video collections for Lady Gaga and work on public art installations. They have designed one-off pieces for many a star, including a specially commissioned dress for Michelle Obama later deconstructed by security due to Vin and Omi's penchant for hiding secret messages in their garments. Their success in all these fields is due to a) their talent, but also b) their willingness to let others shine. Vin and Omi do not micromanage their success stories — they let all their collaborators work independently, safe in the knowledge that talented people will show up with the goods.

This season Vin and Omi decided to return to London, where their 'fashion' careers began, to put on a show of two parts. The womenswear collection consisted of specially distressed printed silks and latex pieces, designed as couture items and not intended as ready-to-wear. The line of t-shirts and hoodies sported by the hunks of the show, however, are ready for commercial release. At first glance, these pieces seem to derive quite superficially from the recent Célfie hype. In fact the joke is much more personal. Just weeks before the show, Vin was undergoing brain surgery. The t-shirts feature scans taken at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford of Vin's brain bleed, quickly snapped by Omi on his iPhone. I'm not sure if I can think of a greater fusion of art and fashion commercialism.

I met Vin and Omi through Twitter, as did Jen. And at the show I recognised quite a few of the Twiteratti (Caroline looking particularly fierce front row). It's amazing how the internet brings us weirdos all together, and it is quite incredible the breadth of contacts and friendships I've forged down the fibre-optic cable. I'd just like to take this chance to thank V+O again for inviting me to see your first show in years, and I look forward to favouriting your tweets for years to come.

Dr Duck

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

D1.4 Charlie May

Phew, that's London Fashion Week over for another season and, to be honest, I'm not that sad to see the back of it. Attending all the shows can be chic and fabulous at times, but mostly it's just tiring and not particularly satisfying. It's rare you feel that buzz that reminds you why you fell in love with fashion in the first place. Now going to London, for me, is all about catching up with my best friends from around the world. Luckily, on Saturday, I got to combine the best of both worlds at my breb Charlie May's AWESOME show in the iconic OXO Tower. No Bisto-themed collection, this season Charlie kept things minimal and sporty-chic, with a greater focus on wearability and commercial appeal. These are pieces she, and the girls we hang out with, would wear. There are pieces even I'd be able to wear if she can scale them up to fit my man shoulders (got my eye on that cushioned mesh bomber jacket). I stopped by the studio the day before for model casting and got to watch her stylist, Nobuko Tannawa, at work. Go-sees are exactly as they appear on ANTM, except there the designer's best friend is rarely sipping red wine in the background. Ah, life.

Dr Duck