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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Bella Union Label Night at the Union Chapel

In the hallowed and intimate setting of this North London institution, four performances send shivers down our spine

Written by Rachel Clare

Naomi New was undoubtedly one of the highlights at Graduate Fashion Week 2010. Her incredible costumes dazzled the press and had me bouncing up and down on my seat at the Northumbria show and the Gala Show, there for which Naomi was one of very few students selected.

I had a chance to have a chat with Naomi about her experience of Graduate Fashion Week, more about her advice for next year’s brood, unhealthy and what the future has in store.

Why did you choose to study fashion?
I have always been fascinated with clothes, how they define who we are and communicate that to others. When I was young I used to dance and loved designing my own costumes, picking fabrics and even helping sewing on sequins; so from early on I have always known I was going to be a fashion designer.

Did you undertake any placements during your studies?
I did two internships. I spent one month with womenswear designer Aimee McWilliams, then went on to spend five months with a high street supply company, Pentex Ltd. This gave me a fantastic insight into working in fashion in two different areas.

What inspires you, both for this collection and generally?
I am a hands on designer who immerses themselves into the brief. I believe that inspiration is all around us and never leave home without a camera or a sketchpad. I like to visit as many exhibitions and museums as possible, visit archives to get a closer look at my subject and always feel inspired by theatre and film. The inspiration for my collection came from my life long love of horse riding and a visit to the royal armouries at the Tower of London where they were showing Henry VII armour. As my research developed I looked at military wear and most importantly the post-apocalypse films Mad Max.
The concept behind the collection really came from the Mad Max Road Warrior film, where Max battles with both good and bad to survive in a world that had been abused; where survivors were left with nothing. I felt that the story wasn’t too dissimilar to what we are living now, with the recession. I wanted to make a collection to equip the modern day woman in her quest to be successful throughout her life.

Your collection was one of the most flamboyant and creative of any I saw at GFW. Did you consciously decide to avoid commercial viability, or was this not a factor?
I didn’t set out to make something crazy and out there, I just knew that that was what was going to happen – it’s just me and I am very happy you think my collection was one of the most creative at GFW. That’s a massive compliment.
When designing and making the collection I was very conscious of the fact that this was probably going to be the only chance I would have to do something totally me and totally the way I wanted it. I took a risk in doing so but I worked very hard to ensure the collection was theatrical and flamboyant while still beautiful with intricate and authentic details. I think the risk paid off, the collection is everything I dreamed of.

Your collection made use of materials with high aesthetic appeal and avoided bright colours. Is there any reason for this?
The colour story of my collection was inspired by the Mad Max film I have mentioned – in the film two rival gangs fight, one dressed in white and the other black, so I decided to have halve the collection with these colours.
I wanted each look to make a statement, so I decided to have each look mainly one-block colour for the most graphic impact.
From my equestrian and armour influence I knew I wanted to use leather, suede, metal and neoprene, all fabrics that protect the body. But the Mad Max film inspired me to push the metal hardware content and look to further alternative materials such as ostrich, bone, chain, horse hair and human hair.

What did you like about Northumbria and Newcastle in general?
I chose to study at Northumbria for its amazing reputation and facilities. I couldn’t have asked for better tutors and technical staff. I’m also based close by in Sunderland and at the time of applying for universities I felt it would be foolish to move away when I live so close to a great university. Living at home also ment that I have been able to really focus on my studies.

How did it feel to be selected for the Gala show? Did you expect to win?
I never in a million years thought I would be chosen for the gala. I was delighted to show at GFW and that was enough for me, seeing my collection open the Northumbria show was amazing. In fact, as soon as the last look in my collection left the catwalk, I couldn’t stop crying! It was so overwhelming and what I had dreamed for.
When I found out about the gala I couldn’t believe it, it is such an honor that the judges liked my work and it was a privilege to show the gala judges my portfolio. The gala show itself was amazing and I got to meet some great people through it, too.

Does this open even more doors?
I think being in the top ten has opened more doors for me, I have had a lot of interest from stylists and photographers who want to use pieces after seeing them in the gala show, which is fantastic. A few looks are possibly going to China in the next couple of weeks for a promotion event for GFW, which is amazing too.

You received a lot of attention from the press, who compared your collection to both Lady Gaga and Elvis‘ wardrobes. How does that feel?
I was over the moon with all of the press attention. My muse is Lady Gaga, so when I read the references to her I was delighted. I admire her strength and individuality and feel she is the prime example of a woman who has had to use dramatic fashion in the battle to be noticed and be successful. When working on the collection having Lady Gaga as my muse gave me confidence to keep pushing myself further and further, to create something people could see her wearing, it would be a dream to see them on her.
The Elvis suggestions are a compliment too, I grew up with my dad always playing Elvis’ music and I have always regarded him as one of my personal fashion icons, so this must have shown through.

Which designers do you admire or look to for inspiration?
As you can see from my collection I like drama in fashion and have always admired Alexander McQueen’s showmanship and rebelliousness. I am also really inspired by the work of Iris Van Herpen; she uses a lot of leather in her collections with amazing detail so I worked hard to aspire to her standards when making my collection.

What advice would you give to students preparing their collections for GFW 2011?
I would tell them to go with their heart and work harder than you ever thought you could work. Always look for ways that you can improve and develop your work and ask for and listen to feedback from tutors and peers. It is the most amazing year you will ever have and all the hard work really does pay off – you will want to do it all over again.

What do you have planned for the coming months?
In the next couple of months I will be sending some pieces to China as I said and will also be showing some pieces from the collection at Pure London where they are organising a similar GFW show, which is really exciting. I want to continue making one off pieces that have a similar feel to my collection. Other than that I will be looking to relocate in London where I will be open to all opportunities that (hopefully) come my way!

Illustration by Dan Heffer

Around the monolithic event that is Graduate Fashion Week at Earl’s Court, ambulance there exists what might be known as satellite events. This is no way refers to the quality of work that is on display only to the difference in size between shows. I was lucky enough to visit the millenary on show at Kensington and Chelsea College’s end of year show.

I’m not sure whether it’s the wedding’s I’ve been too recently or the constant press attention regarding the ladies hats at certain races (hello Ainscourt) but recently I’ve been paying more attention to headwear.

Illustration by Lauren

The quality of the work on display was unmistakable and a joy to photograph through the sculpture shapes. Each Milliner had created a story around their final product, some of the topics covered envoked narcassim, Alice in Wonderland

Illustration by Rachael

to old myths and Legends.

Illustration by Krister Selin

Photographs by Sally Mumby-Croft

Bella Union are one of those labels who quietly release album after album of quality music, adiposity waylaying the hype and bullshit that so often surrounds major labels’ releases and concentrating instead on seeking out and nurturing some of the most impressive and talented folk and country artists of recent years. With the likes of Midlake, cialis 40mg Fleet Foxes, buy more about Andrew Bird and Radiohead’s Phil Selway on their books, the label is fast becoming a stamp of true quality for singer songwriters, and what better place to air the talents of a handful of their more recent signings than the echoing and intimate surroundings of Islington’s Union Chapel.
First up is Alessi Laurent-Marke, otherwise known as Alessi’s Ark. Wandering onto the empty stage barely announced with the sun streaming in through the stained glass windows, Alessi’s self-deprecating charm wins over the lucky few who arrived early. Her unique voice takes on a strange accented tone placing her somewhere between Dublin and Bergen rather than her native Hammersmith, captivating the audience from the first note. ‘Roots In My Boots’, ‘How Are Things Looking’ and ‘Woman’ are delicately executed, with brilliant acoustic guitar picking and ethereal melancholic tones. The crowd sit in silent appreciation, the grandiose surroundings lending an air of reverence to the proceedings that continues throughout the night.

Next up is Leeds native Lone Wolf (aka Paul Marshall), this time accompanied by a full band. With a sound that seems at odds with itself, Marshall clearly appreciates the value of a stadium rock anthem a la Coldplay, but toys with the folk sensibilities of so many of his label mates, not always with successful results. With a voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on the west end stage, Marshall is clearly a talented multi instrumentalist, but his songs are, at times, paint by numbers Americana with a strange clash of styles and direction. Is he folk or AOR? He is at his best when his powerful voice is softened and delicate and he can certainly nail a whistling solo, which is no mean feat. Sadly, however, I was left wishing it was headliner for the evening, John Grant, behind the mic rather than Marshall.

Third act on stage are the fascinating and one of a kind vocal outfit Mountain Man. Contrary to their moniker, Mountain Man are three girls in their early twenties from the States who perform close harmony a capella bluegrass ditties without the use of microphones or amplifiers. Their unpretentious and precocious talents are intoxicating as they giggle and grin through their charming set, with the now full crowd eating out of their dainty hands. Never before has a venue and an artist fitted so perfectly. Their madrigal stylings and pious looks are so at home in the sacred surroundings it seems hard to imagine them performing anywhere else. Their sound is at once soothing and exhilarating, steeped in a long bluegrass tradition, which seems at odds with the three young girls standing up on stage. There is no pomp or pretention, just huge amounts of talent and charisma – which makes a refreshing change. By the end of their all-too-short set, there was a universal sense of having just experienced something very special indeed with set highlight ‘How’m I doin’ left echoing round the heads of all who had the blessed luck of seeing this most fascinating and unique of vocal groups.

Finally comes the man that the crowd have been waiting for. John Grant comes with a whole load of emotional baggage. For the uninitiated, Grant suffered years of suicidal depression following the collapse of his beloved group The Czars, only being pulled out of his mental struggles by label mates Midlake, who agreed to act as backing band on his latest album ‘Queen Of Denmark’.
As the big man takes to the stage, there is a sense of relief from the crowd to see him looking so good, so healthy and so.,well…alive. King of self confessional balladry, Grant kicks off proceedings with stunning missive to a lost love ‘TC & Honeybear.’ His rich and powerful vocals echo round the vaulted chapel with his wistful piano following suit. He has a mesmerising stage presence – his sheer towering size not withstanding, he seems strangely vulnerable behind the full beard and slicked back hair. Throwing out ballad after ballad, his sincerity is touching and real, although some may find it a little soppy at times – Grant is not a stranger to cynicism and humour in his music, but the overpowering notion of heartbreak lends pathos to his music, however irreverent. He is most successful when sat at his piano – the few tracks he performs standing up front are a little awkward, but the songs are so perfect that any weaknesses in physical performance are quickly forgiven. The starkly personal and raw nature of his songs creates a special intimacy between performer and audience, his set becoming more personal catharsis than straightforward performance. Finishing his near perfect set with spine tinglers ‘Queen Of Denmark’, ‘Fireflies’ and ‘Caramel’, there were a fair few moist eyes in the crowd, mine included. An all-consuming experience.

So hats off to Bella Union, who put together an honest, unpretentious, impressive and charmingly understated line up this evening. Following the four predominantly brilliant performances showcased this evening, Bella Union are without doubt one of the most exciting and respect worthy indie labels around at the moment.

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