Kaffe Fassett at the FTM

On Tuesday my friend and I went to the Fashion and Textile Museum to see Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour.  The last time I went to see his work was at the V&A in 1988 (was it really that long ago?), it was a record breaking exhibition with queues around the block.  I was already a bit of a Kaffe addict having been knitting the patterns he wrote for Rowan and making up the tapestries.  

This exhibition reminded me how fresh and exhilarating his approach to colour is.  I have a half finished crochet blanket which I started just after my Mother died in 2009. It is based on one of Kaffe’s quilts and I chose the wool using the “colour recipe” he gives for recreating it.  I love working on it but other projects always seem to get in the way.  Seeing the exhibition makes we want to get it out again and give it another go.

DressSome criticise his knitwear for being shapeless (which it is) but this rather misses the point which is that the colours are fundamental.  You can take his ideas and use them to create something beautiful yourself, in fact he actively encourages this.

Anyway the exhibition is fabulous and, as always, I recommend you go if you can get to it.  We had lunch at Jose’s (again) and stuck our head around the door of Susie Stone who makes bespoke women’s wear. She kindly invited us in when she saw us peering through the window and gave us a bit of a tour of her business (her silk satin LIberty print dresses are to die for).

Kaffe finishes on 29 June and in July the museum reopens with a Zandra Rhodes exhibition – she founded the museum so it should be a good one.  Just don’t try to go on a Monday as it’s closed that day (don’t ask how I know).


Craig Lawrence

One of the benefits of being a friend of the V&A is that you are invited to various members only events.  Last night I attended a talk by Craig Lawrence, a young knitwear designer who uses unusual materials and techniques to create garments that are somewhere between high fashion and art.

Barrier tape!

As a boy Craig was taught to knit by his Grandmother and he developed his technique at Central St Martin’s and whilst working with Gareth Pugh.  He said he liked knitwear because he found the process of creating the fabric for a garment adds a dimension which would otherwise be missing.  Originally he eschewed the use of traditional yarn because of the cost and started to look out for interesting materials he could use instead. He found pound shops and DIY stores could supply him with black bin liners and barrier tape; anything so long as it came in a long strand.

Many of the garment he knits are made on knitting machines but others are made by hand using extraordinarily fat needles.  Some garments are made using a loop stitch and it will take up to 20 minutes to pull each loop through to get the right texture.

Selfridges window – apparently the model was tipped like this to give emphasis to the mitts which were for sale!




He has exhibited in Japan and Hong Kong as well as London and has dress Lady Gaga, Bjork and Tilda Swinton.

I love that the V&A supports young designers like this and gives them a platform to display their work.  Craig’s garments are beautiful, innovative and inspiring; full of light and movement as if they have a life of their own.


Hartnell to Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment

One if the less well known exhibition spaces in London is the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey.  Yesterday, we braved the snow and cold and made our way to the unmistakably Zandra Rhodes pink and orange building to see the Hartnell to Amies exhibition.

The exhibition is subtitled “Couture by Royal Appointment” and shows the work of Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Frederick Fox, all of whom have designed for the Royal family.

The older exhibits are from the 1920’s, starting with Norman Hartnell designing for the Jazz Age, and moving through the century until about the 1960’s. The clothes are interspersed with elegant and sophisticated photos by Norman Parkinson

Many of the exhibits are ball dresses designed for society women of the day. There is a stunning dress at the entrance made out of a gauzy fabric covered with star shaped spangles. The sequins are sewn over a print which makes the whole thing look as if it’s covered in shooting stars moving through the sky.

It was the day wear that I found most interesting, there is a fashion these days for “vintage” clothes which means that many of the suits and dresses would not look out of date in today’s high street stores. Indeed there was a dress made out of fabric I could swear I have seen in Whistles fairly recently and several of the suits and jackets I’m sure you can buy in Hobbs.

Upstairs they had hats including the Queen’s pink bells hat designed by Frederick Fox for the silver jubilee

The exhibition is on until 23 February and well worth a visit.

If you have time I also suggest you wander a bit further up Bermondsey Street to the White Cube to see the Anthony Gormley exhibition which includes the most amazingly huge metal installation you can walk and crawl through, some spaces are filled with light, whilst others are pitch dark. It’s great fun and slightly scary!

Somewhere good to eat nearby? Apart from Borough Market I suggest you try Jose’s tapas bar or Zucca’s.


We are very lucky in London to have access to some wonderful exhibitions and galleries.  On Saturday my friend and I went to see Valentino: Master of Couture at Somerset House before going to the Lucia service in the Swedish Church in Marylebone.  This has become of a bit of a Christmas ritual for us; she is Swedish so I go with her family to Lucia and we combine the day with Somerset House which almost always has a fashion exhibition at this time of year.

The best way of getting to the exhibition is through the main courtyard, passing by the winter ice rink.  Once in the main building you can choose to either take the lift or walk down the stairs – choose the stairs they are beautiful in their own right and have been decorated with a simple length of red silk which hangs down the entire well and forms a puddle at the bottom.

The main part of the exhibition is in the long hall above the embankment entrance which has been transformed into a cat walk with the visitors walking down the red carpet and the exhibits on either side.  There must be over a hundred dresses on show and, surprisingly, very few of them are red.

I was astonished by how much intricate detail went into creating each of the dresses; hundreds of hours of embellishing with embroidery, beading, draping and pleating.  My favourite dress was a heavily beaded and rather stiff ivory lace sheath with a draped and pleated floaty train in various shades of blue that went over one shoulder and under the dress reappearing at the other side.

The last part of the exhibition was about the Valentino Atelier.  In this room they showed some of the details on the dresses and, best of all, had films showing the seamstresses making them up.  I’m always aching to see the inside of fashion exhibits and to find out construction details so this was a wonderful treat.

A couple of dresses looked like they were made out of silken cords with beads on the end, these were sewn together to give the dress shape at the top but hung freely lower down giving a swingy movement to the skirt.  The film showed each cord being sewn out of a length of silk which was then turned, stuffed with wool and then had their beads sewn on.  The final cords are only millimetres in diameter; I know how much swearing turning the shortest of tubes takes so some how I can’t imagine having the patience to make a whole dress out of them!

Another film showed roses being made out of red organza and then being covered with another layer of twisted organza to give a veiled appearance to the dress.  I was amazed by how many pins the seamstresses used to hold everything in place.

We finished the day at the Lucia celebration which is a beautiful carol service lead, as all Swede’s will know, by a girl wearing candles in her hair and followed with mulled wine and saffron buns.  All in all a perfect day!


V&A Hollywood Costumes

On Sunday I went to the V&A Hollywood costumes exhibition, along with what felt like half of London. Despite the crowds it was a great day out.

We started off by playing which of the films have we seen? And even though neither of us are great cinema goers we quickly found it was difficult to find a costume where we hadn’t seen the film.

The information about the designers thought processes was particularly interesting. For example Jason Bourne’s clothes were chosen because they were so ordinary. Usually the audience can pick out a character in a crowd scene because they are wearing a particular colour. In Jason Bourne’s case they wanted him to get slightly lost in the crowd scenes so intentionally dressed him in drab clothes. Harrison Forde’s hat in Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on an Australian hat but with the brim modified so you can get a better view of his face.

Where films had been remade (they had several of Cleopatras and a brace of Elizabeth I’s) you could see how the era the film was made in influenced the costume. Apparently contemporary films are the most difficult to dress because everyone knows about current fashions and you probably don’t want the actor to stand out from the normal.

The last room was were they showed the iconic costumes; Marilyn’s sunray pleated dress, Audrey’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress, Superman, the Blue’s Brothers and 007’s tuxedo. The last exhibit of all being the Judy Garland’s ruby slippers.

So what was my favourite? Well it has to be Meryl Streep’s costume for the song they sang through the credits at the end of Abba (was it Waterloo?). An all in one covered in sequins with tight trousers flared from the knee.


These lovely lions an be found outside the Natural History Museum until 9 September. They were crocheted by Shauna Richardson and represent Richard the  Lionheart‘s crest. They are made entirely out of wool from the Peak District.

Being in a glass cage they were difficult to photograph but I rather like the way you can see the museum reflected onto the lion above.

Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum

First of all I must start by explaining my antipathy towards the Design Museum. I’ve been to several exhibitions there and they have all been as dull a ditch water. It’s not the subject matter that’s been the problem, it’s always the way the exhibition is displayed.  You know how sometimes things are so achingly hip that it feels like all life has been drained out of them? That’s what I thought of the Design Museum; too many brilliant white walls, too many tiny little signs offering very little in the way of explanation, an approach that was intellectual to the point of exclusion, no interactivity and no theatre.  So when they announced they were planning a Christian Louboutin retrospective I instantly decided it wouldn’t be worth going to even though shoes are my favourite thing.

What persuaded me to change my mind was this short film on Vimeo explaining the making of a hologram with Dita Von These. Somehow it didn’t seem like the Design Museum’s thing at all, so a couple of friends and I popped over there late yesterday afternoon.

Anyway I have been proved completely wrong! This is the most amazing theatrical exhibition.  One floor of the Design Museum has been completely transformed with dark red walls and subtle lighting to show off the shoes.  Dominating the first room is the hologram of a shoe which turns into a dancing Dita von These which turns back into a shoe.  There is a carousel and various other stands all displaying the most amazing shoes and boots each with their own little light.

At the back there is a small room showing videos, again video installations are not one of my things but as it was a day to eat my words I found these very entertaining and could have stood for hours watching them.  Another room is an atelier which goes some way to explaining the design and fabrication process which goes into each shoe.  The last room is the fetish room and has all sorts of extraordinarily kinky shoes; not for the fainthearted.

The exhibition is on to 9 July and I urge you to go.  Personally I will be dream of owning some of those red soles for a long time to come!

Bats, Spots and a Golden Gown

One of the things I love about London is that there is always something to do. On Thursday my friend and I visited the Hayward Gallery and Tate Modern and then on Friday we went to the V&A.  We saw so much wonderful stuff it’s difficult to know how to condense into a single post but my favourites (in no particular order) were:

Jeremy Deller’s video showing bats leaving their cave.  It’s shown in 3D and it makes you feel as if the bats are swirling around you  and is absolutely mesmerising.  You can find it in the Joy in People exhibition at the Hayward Centre.

Brain Activity by David Shrigley (also at the Hayward) is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time.  If you haven’t come across David Shrigley you should have a look at the film he made for Pringle of Scotland

Yayoi Kasuma is a Japanese artist whose speciality is spots and she is exhibiting at Tate Modern.  There were several fabulous pieces in the exhibition including this room of wonderfully coloured pictures.  The final installation is the “Infinity Mirrored Room –  filled with the Brilliance of LIfe”.  It’s very disorienting – stepping into the room felt like stepping off a precipice (I very bravely let my friend go first!).

Lastly the Golden Spider Silk cape at the V&A is just incredible.  Yes it really is make out of spider silk (apparently it’s difficult to collect spider silk as they have a habit of eating each other) and yes silk really does come out of the spider that golden colour.