Alternative Fashion Week is a funny old beast, look one that I’ve been getting to know rather well over the past week. And really getting to become rather fond of. Every day I rock up at 1.15pm with no idea of what the day’s catwalk show will bring. Generally I come skidding to a halt on my bike just as the stout lady with the microphone finishes giving her daily spiel to the audience, which is a funny old mixture of family, friends, industry pundits (apparently, though I didn’t seen anybody I know) and interested city boys and labourers.
On Tuesday I was still a novice, so I asked the lady at the back with a clipboard if I could sit down – being as I was press and that’s what it said on my ticket. “No.” She told me bluntly. “Not if you haven’t reserved a seat.” Oh alright then.
Don’t hassle this lady. She’s very busy. She ensures that everyone gets out on the catwalk on time.
One major issue with this event is the lack of surrounding information – Alternative Fashion Week doesn’t have much of an online presence and the bumpf that I got sent in the post was basic to say the least. It certainly didn’t warn me that I needed to RSVP or go fuck myself. I always find it amusing how, because of the way I dress and the fact that I carry a big professional camera with me (photographers generally being the scum of the earth and all that), I am treated in a certain way. Oh world of fashion, you do make me larf. Still, I like to travel incognito, so it suits me.
Some of the audience really aren’t going to help you get ahead in fashion – bemused city workers look on.
The band. They’re quite naff.
Now I actually think that the lack of a seat was a blessing in disguise – I spent about ten minutes on day one attempting to watch the catwalk shows front stage before realising that there was far more fun to be had hanging around the back, where a big old melange of models, designers, city workers, pervy middle aged male photographers and screaming organisers raced about like mad things – it made for far more interesting photos, and I got to boss the girls around when they come off stage. (Something none of the other photographers seemed to do. It must be something to do with my background as a fashion photographer because I have no qualms with telling a model how to pose. Though of course the rest of the cameras descended in front of me like locusts once I’d arranged a shot.) So whilst I can report generally on the outfits, I have no idea what any of the catwalk presentations were like. Not that I think that matters – it’s the clothes that are important, right?
“Hello young lady, can I take a photo of you because you don’t appear to have a bra on.” Believe me, there was only a pair of nipple tassles under that jacket.
The standard at Alternative Fashion Week is massively variable but amongst the huge quantity of stuff there are some really interesting designers to be found – ones that I would wager money on becoming successful. So it’s important to give into the undeniable exuberance of the occasion: everyone is quite simply having a ball. Some of the “models” may be slightly ropey, some of the designs outstandingly bad, but the fact that such an event exists to promote up and coming talent is a good thing. It’s just a shame they don’t have more resources to make sure that each designer gets as much promotion as possible: I had real trouble trying to figure out which was which. And that I at least had the choice of a seat if I had wanted.
Model or mum? You decide. Perhaps both. There are all comers here.
Alex Seroge showed a very strong collection.
Great styling from Hayley Trezise.
Over the week I have got better at making a note of who all the designers are, no mean feat when juggling camera, iphone and twitter updates. So if you see your work on my website and it hasn’t been properly credited do drop me a note and let me know. I’ve also learnt a lot about what you should and shouldn’t do at Alternative Fashion Week if you want to make an impression – and that shall be the subject of another post.
Havering College get ready to go on stage.
It’s tough when your bum is hanging out in the street.
Checking through the running order backstage.
Having free-fallen into the darkest depths of despair after the imploding of his band The Czars in 2004, page John Grant now makes a welcome return to the music scene with the help of Texas soft-rockers Midlake, sick who provide the acoustic backdrop for his rich, sickness delicate, velvet-lined vocals.
Drawing on the musical influences of early 1970s Americana, reminiscent of Jackson Browne, Neil Young and – dareIsayit – Elton John, Grant’s debut solo offering does have an easy AM melody radio vibe to it; however, don’t be fooled as the stark contrast of the subject matter demands a closer listen.
Queen of Denmark is a heartbreaking and soul-baring record dealing with the joys and pains of love, depression, destruction, isolation, being gay, wanting to kill yourself, and redemption – so pretty light-hearted stuff, really.
The album opens with ‘TC and Honeybear’, a poignant torch song about insecurity, love and loss, showcasing Grant’s tender baritone bursting with emotion against neat finger picking, fluttering flute and celestial soprano. This is followed by ‘Marz’, a track with dreamy sentiments which wouldn’t sound out of place for an eerie film’s closing credits about lost youth. Here we are projected back to the comfort blanket days of Grant’s youth when life’s complexities passed him by. Grant wistfully reflects on the beauty of childhood innocence by listing the fantastic Willy Wonka-style names of sweets and treats of his local candy store.
Even when Grant is battling with his own crippling insecurities, he manages to do this with heart-clutching humour and sincerity. ‘Sigourney Weaver’ opens with melodramatic-infused synth, where he compares himself to the actress when she battles with the aliens; a parallel that he draws to how he was feeling following his move from Michigan to Colorado, on the cusp of puberty, and being ostracised at school for being gay.
In dealing with gloom, Grant often uses humour and wit as an antidote for his pain and suffering, which he demonstrates aptly in the sprightlier ‘Silver Platter Club’. As orchestral string arrangements are traded for Beatles-inspired ragtime, complete with parade-style trumpet, Grant gets his own back by poking fun at the ‘jocks’ he went to school with who had the looks, athleticism and natural effortless masculinity, which he longed for when he was growing up, along with the durable personality: ”I wish I had no self awareness like the guys I know…who float right through their lives without a thought”.
This upbeat pace continues to weave itself into the record’s tapestry in ‘Jesus Hates Faggots’, where Grant draws on his traumatised experience of growing up gay in a religious household in small town America to direct his bile against his family and conventional society as a whole. Grant dramatically opens with: “I’ve been uncomfortable since the day I was born” to muted synth and dirty bass, with further revealing lyrics about having to face his internal demons about coming to terms with his sexuality: “I can’t believe that I’ve considered taking my own life because I believed the lies about me were the truth”.
In ‘Caramel’, Grant adopts a Jeff Buckleyesque vibrato to expose himself like an egg without as shell on one of the strongest tracks on the album. Essentially a tale of an overwhelming and consuming love, the honest and tender lyrics accompanied by simplistic piano and hypnotic synth leaves you with the feeling of being suspended into the thick darkness of space, drifting to the edges of the unknown, whilst admiring the luminous beauty of the stars from afar.
The album comes to a dramatic close with title track ‘Queen of Denmark’, which takes on a Nilsson-cum-Meatloaf slant, lyrically delivered with heartbreaking yet humorous candour: “I wanted to change the world but I couldn’t change my underpants…(my hairline) keeps receding like my self confidence”. A highly charged ballad that deals with relationship and self-destruction alike, Grant’s vocals swell with his distaste for himself and the world in general to the point where he is almost exploding with anger and frustration. A bipolar track which has Grant swinging between emotional extremes like a pendulum, it’s a raw and honest account of a person on the verge of complete annihilation and a fitting grand finale to an album fuelled by a deadly cocktail of impossible pain, regret, fear, alienation, hatred, anger and self-discovery.
Despite the danger of being labelled as just another emotionally battered singer-songwriter, Grant manages to succeed where others have failed by combining his deeply sad experiences with caustic wit and foresaking his dignity to gain compassion and sympathy. However, all of this is not without credit to Midlake. If Grant’s warm baritone and heartfelt lyrics are a high-rolling Michelin-starred gourmet meal then Midlake’s flawless orchestral arrangements would be the fine vintage wine washing it down.
The path of transforming pained experiences into exquisite art forms is a well trodden one and Queens of Denmark is certainly Grant’s testament to this. For someone who has suffered such debilitating self-criticism and self-hatred throughout their lives to the point where they have even questioned the notion of living, you can’t help but want Grant to succeed.
And with the album released to critical acclaim, a US tour already underway and a European tour starting in June, Mr Grant’s darker days may have well and truly found their place behind him.
Hayley Trezise at Alternative Fashion Week 2010. All photography by Amelia Gregory.
Day two at Alternative Fashion Week was my first full day in attendance at Crispin Place in Spitalfields, cheap and the minute I rounded the corner into the market I was met by Hackney Community College lined up to go on stage. From a brave man bearing streaks of red body paint and what looked like an extremely bad Doctor Who monster costume to the girls in towering swathes of messed up material, pilule it looked like there had been a serious riot in the art department. A promising start it was not, but such is life at Alternative Fashion Week.
Hackney Community College “wows” at Alternative Fashion Week.
After a tacky collection of short leather skirts that might be favoured by the denizens of Essex nightclubs things quickly began to look up. Charlie Chambers recycled old clothing to show an eclectic mash up of print and colour on barefoot girls.
Charlie Chambers. Not tacky.
Sample Remix is the label of designer Stacey Richards, who had named her collection Acedia, meaning “state of torpor“, often the result of spiritual atrophy. To describe this out of balance state she used strange proportions. The result? A collection chockfull of corsetry and bondage references, which meant it was a great hit with photographers. I particularly liked the delicate metal mouth muzzles which were made in conjunction with a jewellery designer. Not practical by any means, and I’m not sure what they mean, but a lot of fun visually and bound to be a hit with stylists.
Stacey Richards of Sample Remix.
A towering collection of blonde girls had been selected to model Kimberley Startup’s collection, titled Come On Now Kimi, Grow Up. In brightly coloured shoes and socks they sported sculptural clothing in pastel shades of lime, orange and lilac. A puffball dress inspired by the stackable rings of a children’s toy was perhaps not the most flattering of outfits, but the styling was clever, particularly the use of actual toys – I enjoyed the wooden train set over shoulder look. Better than a fur stole any day.
Kimberley Startup herself.
Next up was a highly polished collection from Georgia Nash, also heavy on the wooden toy front. Based on the Nutcracker – ‘The nut was too strong to crack’ – it even featured painted toy soldiers attached to the heels of shoes and a strong colour palette of red, black, cream and forest greens. I loved the layered ruffles in different fabrics and the use of oversized pearl beading embellishments. When I spotted Georgia herself backstage she was also wonderfully dressed in cascading layers.
Georgia Nash backstage.
Tanya Smith showed The Natural Look, with a purple and coral collection featuring huge rounded shoulders and massive print collars inspired by the shapes of exotic flowers at Kew Gardens. There were a few very promising pieces in this collection and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Dorota Damian is a petite blonde Polish girl and for this show she took inspiration from the traditional shapes and embellishments of her homeland to present a strong monochromatic tailored collection. Her website may be naff, but if you can overlook that there were some very pretty and accomplished garments in her line up.
Hayley Trezise won my styling award of the day, thanks to her troupe of frizzyhaired feathered models in gently tailored ruffled concoctions in a range of neutral tones. Better still, her Raggedy Compare Readings collection used entirely recycled fabrics. I’d love to know more about this designer.
Hayley Trezise at Alternative Fashion Week 2010
Look out for my next blog post, day three, coming soon…
- Alternative Fashion Week 2010 at Spitalfields Market: An Introduction.
- Alternative Fashion Week 2010 at Spitalfields Market: a review of Day 3
- Fashion Philosophy Fashion Week Poland Off Out Of Schedule S/S 2012 in Łódź: Jacek Klosinski – Hyakinth
- London Fashion Week A/W 2011 Catwalk Review: Georgia Hardinge (by Amelia)
- Alternative Fashion Week 2010 at Spitalfields Market: more from Day 4